In John’s gospel narrative, chapter 6 marks both the height of Jesus’ popularity and a drastic turning point in his ministry. At this time, Jesus feeds more than 5,000 people with just a few loaves. This miracle should remind the crowd and John’s readers of several passages in the Old Testament – 2 Kings 4:42-44, Exodus 16, Psalm 23, and others. The similarity between this event and God providing the Israelites with manna through Moses was unmistakable. Even the people, who almost always misunderstand Jesus, realize that this act indicated that Jesus was “the Prophet” like Moses who was promised in Deuteronomy 18 (John 6:14). However, more than fulfilling the role of Moses as the provider of sustenance, Jesus claims also to fulfill the role of the bread: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus not only provides the means for satisfying our needs; he satisfies them himself.
The claim of verse 35 may allude to several Old Testament passages, but it is remarkably reminiscent of Isaiah 55. In chapter 55’s opening verses, God calls through the prophet, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” God promises free sustenance for the hungry and thirsty. And not only does he fulfill the need for free, but he makes richer provision than necessary, offering milk and wine in addition to water. In light of this offer, God continues, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2).
How much effort and money do we spend on things which do not satisfy? Have you ever noticed that no matter how much you eat, or how good the meal tastes, or how nutritious it is, you will still end up hungry the next day? Even in our physical food, we are reminded of the futility of any attempt we may make to fill ourselves up. All earthly needs and pleasures are the same. We put effort into them, but the gratification we receive is temporary. How much effort and energy do we spend trying to fill ourselves up with work, money, possessions, vacations, and pleasure – things which are “not bread”? Our effort and money are wasted if we spend them seeking these things instead of the free bread which Jesus offers. As he says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). Only that food, which is Jesus himself, will ever satisfy. Does our time and effort reflect an interest in the true “bread from heaven” or “that which does not satisfy”?
How long will you choose to “spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” God invites us to this feast: “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:3). When we hear God’s word, and when we fill ourselves with the actions, attitudes, and teachings of Jesus, and when we remain completely in Jesus (John 6:56), we have access to a fulfillment that all earthly pleasures deny. “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2).