This significant narrative encompassed the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walking on water, the Lord’s teaching on the Bread of Life, and Peter’s confession of faith. Although they appear to be stand-alone accounts, they are not. The Lord’s discourse on the Bread of Life is the central revelation of the sequence of events.
With a boy’s infinitesimal daily ration of five barley loaves and two fish, the feeding of the five thousand (the figure was probably larger as only adult Jewish males were numbered; John 6:10) culminated with a collection of twelve baskets of leftover bread fragments, eliciting a reaction from the crowd, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:13-14). Predictably, it was not His earlier teachings that evoked wonder and appreciation on this occasion. Why would the leftovers prompt such an extraordinary response? The Jews in those days were not unfamiliar with similar Old Testament miracle stories of God’s provision through the prophets. One such incident was His largess expressed as a result of Moses’ intercession in the Sinai, by providing quails in the evenings and bread-like flour in the mornings during their forefathers’ escape from Egypt (Ex 16:8-19). Two other Biblical stories are the prophets Elijah resupplying the Zarephath widow’s empty bowl of flour and oil continuously (1 Kings 17:9-16), and Elisha multiplying oil in numerous vessels for a prophet’s widow (2 Kings 4:1-7). With these historical accounts in memory, it seemed inevitable that the crowd were on the verge of forcibly making Jesus their king, driving Him to withdraw to the mountains around Galilee (John 6:15-16).
No doubt, the principal object of the astonishing, miraculous exercise was for the benefit of His disciples, to find enough food to feed the hungry crowd after a teaching session by the Lord (i.e., in John 5). Not unlike many of His teaching sessions, Jesus did not immediately explain His actions nor the meanings of His parables to the crowd; viz., if they did not see beyond the hidden symbolic import sufficiently to follow-up in further enquiry, there was no necessity to elaborate (c.f., Matt 7:6). Perhaps we are no different from the crowd of seekers and followers, who dutifully hear the Word being preached each week, but are unable to recall its content to respond to it in the long-term. The Lord Himself was pragmatically prescient in His mode of teaching when He said, “I speak in parables, because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand (Matt 13:13). Those who were intrigued to discover more, they sought Him out and He filled-in their curiosity with more explanation at the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:28; John 6:22-58). There, He addressed the symbolism of the miracle in His following homily (John 6: 59). When Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread of Life (the Greek word used for life here is ‘zao’ not ‘bios,’ meaning to experience life to the full), He was not merely differentiating a life in Him from one that excluded Him but was significantly focusing on the quality of this God-given life, a life that went beyond only existing in this world. The gift of eternal life is more than just an ordinary life (c.f., John 6:27).
The character of this radical metaphor, the Bread of Life, is Jesus Himself, and it is this personification implied in the ingesting language that appeared to be so repulsive to many of His early followers (John 6:52-61). Again, Jesus did not thoroughly enlighten them what He meant. Later, after the smaller gathering had dispersed, He turned to His disciples to further explicate: He was speaking spiritually about Himself in relationship to those who choose to follow and obey Him (John 6:61-65; c.f., Eph 5:18; Heb 5:12-14; Isa 53). Our God desires a dynamic relationship with His people, and when we are born again by His Holy Spirit, He dwells in us and enriches our lives (John 6:29); hence, we will never be spiritually hungry once we have tasted of His fellowship (Note the present tense used throughout this passage; John 6:53-58). Emphatically, it is the personal obedient relationship that sustains His abundant life in us (John 10:10), for without it, we will still go hungry, and probably fill ourselves with worldly pursuits! Therefore, it becomes imperative that we appreciate Peter’s confession and make it our’s each day, “Lord, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).