Who Gave the Bread From Heaven?
John / Chapter 6 / V30-33
The Gospel according to John Chapter 6 portrays Jesus as the true bread from heaven.
Jesus is the true bread that came down from heaven. He is the living bread from God to give life to the world. Whoever eats of this bread will not see death but will live forever and this bread is none other than Jesus’ own flesh and blood, which is His body. Whoever eats of His flesh and drinks of His blood has eternal life in him and Jesus will raise him up at the last day (v54). Unlike earthly food that spoils, Jesus is the heavenly food that endures forever. He who feeds on this food will never go hungry or thirsty but will live a rich and fulfilled life from now on until eternity.
These words spoken by Jesus are not to be understood literally. For even if we could swallow the whole Jesus, we will still die. Flesh counts for nothing – it is the Spirit that gives life. The words spoken by Jesus are spirit and they are life (v63). He who believes has everlasting life (v47). It is when we believe in what He preached and receive Him as our Saviour that we actually “eat” Jesus. The true meaning of “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” is to have a share, a portion of His life.
When we receive Jesus into our life, we receive all His divine qualities at the same time. One of these qualities would be the ability to live forever – “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me… he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (v56-58) We will have the whole Jesus in us when we believe in Him. We do not literally eat Jesus.
This sermon is truly great. It has the power to deter those who come to Jesus with the wrong motives. He who seeks Jesus for earthy gains will eventually leave Him for he finds His teaching hard to accept (v60 & 66). But those who come to Him for spiritual benefits recognise that Jesus actually teaches words of eternal life (v68-69).
This article aims to clarify the meaning of a mistranslated verse in this chapter. Making clear its meaning will help one take hold of the rich lessons contained in it.
In this sermon, Jesus taught His disciples what ought to be the right motive for following Him.
A group of people sought Him after He had fed them with the famous “five loaves and two fishes” miracle (v1-24). They intended to make Him king by force, thinking that He could take care of all their bodily needs once He became their king. They yearned for someone like Moses to be their leader, a prophet who could work miracles to feed them (v30-31).
They were concerned only with the physical; they followed Jesus merely to fill their stomachs. Hence, Jesus reprimanded them, telling them they should labour for food that did not perish and not the food that spoiled (v27). He then proceeded to compare physical food with that of the spiritual food He was about to give them.
The mistranslated verse is v32, highlighted in red:
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” ~Jn 6:30-33
It may appear here that Jesus was correcting a mistaken belief. It seems they had mistaken Moses to be the one who had rained down the manna from heaven. So Jesus clarified that it was God, not Moses, who had worked these miracles, in order that they would correctly put their faith in God, and not man.
But something is amiss here. We notice in their question to Jesus that they neither mentioned Moses or God. They merely addressed the person as “He” – He gave them bread from heaven to eat. So, did they refer this “He” to Moses? Though they did not specify whom, could it be that Jesus knew their thoughts and therefore corrected them?
These people took their knowledge on manna from the books of Exodus and Numbers:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you…” ~Ex 16:4
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” ~Ex 16:15
It is impossible to have mistaken the bread to be given by Moses and not by God from the above verses, since their meanings are so clear. They should know very well that manna was given by God through Moses, and not by Moses’ own power. Hence there is no misunderstanding here for Jesus to clarify.
From their question to Jesus, we know that their main concern was food. Who gave the food was not critical. They wished Jesus could do the same as Moses, by feeding them with miracles like their forefathers. It would be irrelevant for Jesus at this juncture to have told them in whom they should put their trust, for their problem was never a misplaced faith but the failure to recognise the importance of their spiritual needs.
Furthermore, it contradicts the verse that immediately follows. “It is not Moses… but my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven” (v32), if this true bread from heaven is referring to manna, why then did Jesus continue to say, “for the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v33) ? For we know very well that manna is just a kind of physical food. It cannot give life to men, and those who eat of it will still die (v49, 58). Obviously, the phrase, “but my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven” is not referring to manna, but Jesus. For Jesus is the real true bread from heaven, He is the bread of God that comes to give life to the world.
Hence, what did Jesus mean when He said, “it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven?” What He really meant was, “What Moses has given you is NOT the true bread from heaven (manna comes from the physical heaven, not the spiritual heaven, and it possesses only the physical properties), but now what the Father is giving you is the REAL true bread from heaven, which comes from the spiritual realm and has the power to give life to the world. It is I, Jesus.”
Jesus is not correcting a misunderstanding. He is telling them the manna given by Moses is not the real bread from heaven, though the manna did come from the sky. The real bread from heaven given by God is Jesus Himself. Manna is just a type, foreshadowing the real object – Jesus to come.
Below are the corrected translations of verses 32 to 33:
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, what Moses has given you then is not the true bread from heaven, but what my Father is giving you now is the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
With the correct translated meaning, we can now draw up a chart comparing manna with Jesus. Please see the table below:
Given by Moses (v31-32)
Given by God (v33)
From the physical heaven (Ex 16:13-14)
From the spiritual heaven (v33)
Food for the flesh (Nu 11:7-8)
Food for the soul (v51)
Food that spoils (v27)
Food that endures forever (v27)
Eat and yet die (v58)
Eat and live forever (v58)
Receive by consumption (Nu 11:8)
Receive by believing in His words (v63)
Jesus could have easily performed miracles to feed them like He did earlier on, but this was insignificant compared to the spiritual food He truly wanted to give them. This giving of His flesh and blood would be able to save them eternally; it was the greatest miracle ever performed by Jesus, and they should come to Him for this miracle instead – to be fed spiritually and live forever.
We should constantly remind ourselves not to come to the church for earthly gains. We should not crave for the warmth, free meals or financial helps offered by the church. We must remember that the main function of the church is to supply spiritual food, which is Christ’s body. Non-Christians need to eat this food to have eternal life. Christians need to eat this food to grow in the Lord.