Jesus often used physical illustrations to portray spiritual concepts that were difficult to understand. One of his most obscure lessons had to do with spiritual sustenance or what Jesus referred to as the bread of life (John 6:35). The context of this conversation was a miracle Jesus performed in which he fed more than 5,000 men, women, and children with five barley loaves, and two small fishes (John 6:9). Afterward, many people followed Jesus across the sea of Galilee to Capernaum because of the meal he had provided them. Reprimanding the people for their focus on temporary satisfaction, Jesus said, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27). The Greek term translated meat, brosis refers generically to the intake of food (1035), but it is also associated with animals grazing in a pasture, such as sheep, one of Jesus’ favorite metaphors for God’s children. What Jesus was telling the people was that spiritual food was more important than physical food in terms of what he could provide for them. With regards to his purpose for being on earth, Jesus’ primary objective was to educate people about God’s kingdom and to assure them of eternal life.
Jesus said of himself, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus emphatically stated that spiritual hunger and thirst could be eliminated by means of a relationship with him, but then he made it clear that not everyone had been given access to this provision. It was first necessary for God to draw or choose someone to be a member of his heavenly kingdom (John 6:44). Jesus’ implication that God would exclude some people from his kingdom was probably intended to deter those who thought that partaking of the spiritual food he provided meant automatic entrance into heaven. In reality, eternal life was something that few people were interested in. The word Jesus used to describe God’s part in the conversion process “draw,” or helkuo helko in the Greek, literally means “to drag” (1670). In other words, God takes people against their will and causes them (most likely through unpleasant circumstances) to want to go to heaven. A related word that provides additional clarity about God’s selection process is the Greek word helisso which means to coil or wrap (1667), suggesting that God must first tie the person up in order to drag him or her into his kingdom.
Jesus probably added further confusion to people’s understanding of spiritual food when he said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Greek term translated flesh, sarx refers to the meat of an animal that is used as food (4561). The point Jesus was making was that his death on the cross would be the thing that all believers would have to eat, or in a spiritual sense, partake of in order to receive eternal life. Ultimately, Jesus’ death was the key to salvation, and therefore, the food that brought eternal life, but what Jesus wanted people to understand was that “eating” meant they would have to fully digest or comprehend the sacrifice he made in order to get the benefit of it. It was the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross that gave believers access to heaven, but it was through the individual’s personal comprehension of his sacrificial act that God granted salvation. In other words, it was through an internal, invisible process, like the digestion of food, a person received salvation, God’s gift of eternal life.