30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Unbelief, v. 30-31
The Demand for a Sign
In the previous section that we looked at last week, Jesus revealed the motives and the bad hearts of the crowds, for they did not come to Jesus for the purpose of the sign, but just to get their bellies filled. Jesus exhorted them to work not for the bread that perishes, but for that which endures to eternal life. The crowds then ask what work they must do, Jesus says, “believe in him whom he has sent.” So then as we move into verse 30 today, we see that the crowds demand a sign, to prove what Jesus is saying, and in so doing they appeal to the miracle their fathers experienced in the wilderness, receiving manna from heaven, six days a week.
It’s a bit outrageous that they could ask to see a sign after they just experienced the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. They are essentially saying to Jesus, “Yeah, that wasn’t good enough. Moses gave our fathers manna from heaven six days a week – beat that!” How ungrateful! How blind!
Here we see that it is a heart of unbelief that demands signs from Jesus, as Jesus says in other places, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign!” Jesus just told them in verse 29 that the work that God requires is that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Instead of believing, the crowds say, “Well, what sign can you show us?”
It is a testament to the deadness of our hearts before regeneration that they are asking for a sign and saying that their fathers ate manna from heaven, when they just experienced the feeding from five loaves and two fish. Was that not enough to see and believe? Maybe you are sitting here this afternoon, and you are not a converted person with faith in Jesus Christ. How much have you seen and heard of God’s Word that is before you, and yet you do not see and believe, and demand more signs or works from God? Is what you have seen in God’s Word not enough? The truth is that it will not be enough, unless our eyes are opened by the Spirit of God and we are given spiritual eyes to see the Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world, the bread of heaven, as our dear redeemer.
It’s a bit ironic that the crowds refer to their fathers receiving manna in the wilderness, because they themselves are being just like their fathers were. Do you remember how the manna came about? The people, who had just been rescued out of Egypt, are grumbling because they are hungry and had more food in Egypt. Exodus 16:2-3, “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” Do you realize what’s going on here in Exodus 16? The Israelites were rescued from Egypt, and during that process did they not witness the ten plagues rain down on the land, and yet they were spared? Did they not just pass the through the Red Sea as the waters were parted and they walked on dry ground while the Egyptians were swallowed up and drowned by the waters right behind them? How in the world could you be so ungrateful and unbelieving after seeing that!? And lo and behold, this generation right in front of Jesus, is doing the same thing. God in flesh is standing right in front of them performing signs and miracles, and yet they are ungrateful and unbelieving.
Is this you in some way in your life? Has God not done so much for you and been so faithful, and yet you are ungrateful and grumbling for something more? Are you ungrateful and discontent with where your life is at, grumbling for something more, and so you miss the glory and the wonder and the gifts that God has showered all around you? It’s easy to waste your life being grumbly and ungrateful. The difference between a happy life and a grumbly discontent life is not possessions or circumstances, the difference is Christ, and the joy therein. Don’t let your heart be poisoned by bitterness and unbelief.
True Bread from Heaven, v. 32-34
Jesus responds to this audacious demand by the crowds by saying, “It wasn’t Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it was my Father, and he gives you the true bread from heaven, which is me.” Essentially he’s saying, “You want a better sign like that of your fathers receiving bread from heaven? How about this: I am the true bread from heaven.” In fact, as the scene in John 6 will continue to unfold over the coming weeks, essentially Jesus is saying, “the bread of heaven your fathers ate in the wilderness, was never about the bread, but it was always about me – I am the bread of heaven.” Yet they are in unbelief. Even though in verse 34 the people said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always,” it is not said in faith, for Jesus says in verse 36, that they have seen him and yet do not believe. Some commentators even think verse 34 was said in a mocking or sarcastic way. But let us now turn our attention to the bread of heaven.
Given by the Father
Note first that both the manna, and Christ, the true bread of heaven, is given by the Father. The manna wasn’t given by Moses or Aaron, but it came down from God as he desired to provide and care for his people. The manna was not given by the Egyptians, or any other pagan nation, it came down from heaven. Such is where Christ came forth from, down from heaven, sent by the Father, to do the Father’s will, and to be the ultimate provision and care of God to his people.
Comes Down from Heaven to People on Earth
Note second that the manna and Christ, the true bread of heaven, came down from heaven to people on earth. The people did not climb up to heaven to retrieve the bread, neither do we climb up to heaven. In terms of our salvation this is monergism – meaning God alone comes down to us and saves us himself through his Son Jesus Christ. We don’t cooperate with God in our justification adding something to it, meeting him halfway. No, the manna came from heaven all the way down to the ground. Jesus came from heaven all the way down into the grave and back up again. He did it. Jesus paid it all. If Christ does not come down to us we are not saved. This is the whole theme of this time of year for most Christians – the incarnation, in which the light of the world came down from heaven and shone in our darkness, in the dark of night, and we who once walked in darkness have seen a great light and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Like Manna, the Life we Receive from Christ is Undeserved and Unmerited, Given to Sinners
Notice as well that both the manna and Christ, the true bread of heaven, is wholly undeserved and unmerited and given to sinful people. The Israelites were such grumbly sinners, yet God gave them manna to eat. Are we not just as bad as they? What did we do to deserve the gift of Christ, our true bread of life? Nothing but sin! This is why Jesus said back in verse 27 that the food that endures to eternal life is that which the Son of Man will give to you. He gives it. It is a gift. It is not a wage which we earn and are deserving of. Christ did not die because there was something meritorious or valuable in us. The dignity we have as human beings made in the image of God is not why Jesus came to die. It was because we marred that image with sin – it was for our sin that Jesus came to die, sin which thoroughly worked its way through the totality of our being, requiring total redemption. The true bread of heaven came for undeserving sinners.
Notice next the obvious here that I’ve been saying: The True Bread of God is a person (Jesus Christ), v. 33, “For the Bread of God is he…”
So what does this mean that the True Bread of God is a person, Jesus Christ? What does it mean that Jesus is the true bread from heaven given for us?
- He gives us life
- First, it means that he gives us life. Verse 33, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
- He is our sustenance
- Second, it means that Jesus is our sustenance. Both physically and spiritually, which is the intent here. In him we live and move and have our being, and he is our daily bread, that nourishes and sustains our spiritual lives. It is by feeding upon Christ that our souls are sustained. Being a Christian is not merely making a decision for Christ at one point in your life and then going from there. Rather, it is a continual feeding upon Christ as he sufficiently sustains all of our needs and gives us grace and strength to persevere.
- He is our daily portion
- Along these lines, this means that He is our daily portion. Our daily bread. The Israelites received fresh manna each day, double portion before the Sabbath so they did not gather bread on the Sabbath. If they tried to save some over for a day that was not the Sabbath, it would go bad with stinking maggots. This was to test them and teach to trust God, and learn that he provides daily what we need. When we think we are overwhelmed with life, or when we think we have sinned God out of mercy, his mercies are new every morning.
- Maybe you’re one of those people who worry all the time. Do you not know that each day has enough trouble of its own, and yet you worry about the future? Jesus teaches us: don’t worry about tomorrow, what you will eat, or your clothes, what you will wear. Look at the lilies of the field, how your Father clothes them, and the birds of the air, how your Father feeds them. How much more will he take care of you? Do not worry, each day Christ is our portion anew. You will not run out of Christ for your needs. Just as the crowds ate until all were filled, so we will continue to have all of Christ that we need to fill us and satisfy us. Do you trust him? Do you believe him? You have no reason not to.
Notice also that like bread, Christ came to the world through humble means. How ordinary is a loaf of bread? How un-glamorous is a piece of bread? It’s so simple and ordinary. The Lord’s Supper is not a big steak dinner with shrimp and fancy desserts. It’s just bread and wine – ordinary staples. This is how Christ identifies. This is how the glorious Christ, King of the universe, and Creator of all came into his creation – through such humble and ordinary means and appearances. After all, the crowds are looking right at the eternal God and they don’t recognize him – he just looks so ordinary. He didn’t come with great pomp and circumstance, but in a lowly manger, not even room for him in the inn. So it is that he comes to us – in the ordinary means of grace, simple things like prayer, preaching, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and the Word.
Notice this as well: The True Bread from Heaven gives life to the world, not just the Israelites. Verse 33, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They wanted a sign that was greater than what their fathers experienced in the wilderness? Well here it is: Jesus is greater than what their father’s experienced in the wilderness. He is not only bread from heaven for one nation on the earth but for the world – for all the nations.
The Manna was for Israel, Christ is for the world. Christ is food for the entire globe. Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” Paul says in Romans 1:5 that he has received grace and apostleship “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…” Christ is given to the world by the father as the bread of life as something much greater than the manna Israel ate in the wilderness – Christ is for the nations. Think about it: we are all apart of the nations. We are not ethnic Jews here. If you go back far enough, all of our ancestors were total pagans, lost in utter darkness, as unreached people groups. And if Christ did not come to be the bread of heaven that gives life to the world, we would still be utter barbarians. But instead the bread of heaven has come down and given life to the world, and we are here today in 2019 and we know the Lord and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he has changed our lives and he has given us his Spirit and self-control, and we have eternal life. We’re not barbaric pagans anymore! We have the knowledge of the glory of the Lord! All by grace. So amazing.