Jesus is in the middle of a dialogue with the Jews as He taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. He has just emphasized the need to believe that He is the Son of God sent by the Father. His hearers aren’t so sure, so they quiz Him further.
30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?” (If you are really the one God has sent, what sign do you do in order that we might believe?) 31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’ “ 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.” (Jesus ignores their request for a sign, and goes on with His discussion about bread. Unlike the manna in the wilderness, God is sending you “new bread”. This bread is not coming from Moses, but from God Himself.)
33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” (This “new bread” from God gives life.) 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” (The crowd is still focused on the physical, thinking whatever this bread is, we want some.) 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (Jesus says plainly, “I am the bread of life. I am not only the giver of the gift, the new bread, but I am the gift itself!)
36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. (In this one verse, we have reference to God’s sovereignty in salvation… “the Father gives”, man’s responsibility in salvation… “the one who comes”, and our security in salvation… “I will not cast out”)
38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (The will of God is not the wish of God. It is the promise of God. The will of God is not a wish that everyone who believes in the Son will have eternal life. It is a promise that everyone who believes in the Son will have eternal life. It is God’s will. It is God’s promise. It is God’s purpose. It is God’s plan that “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life.” The salvation message is made quite clear as John zeroes in on its essential truth.)
Now, what is the audience reaction to all this talk of Jesus, the bread of eternal life? 41 Therefore the Jews (probably refers to the congregation in the synagogue, not just the religious leaders) were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” (The Jews are complaining because Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” To them this does not make sense; it borders on crazy talk.) 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”
You can understand why this does not make sense to them. Messiahs do not grow up from little boys! They knew Jesus’ parents. In this area of Galilee, some in the crowd may have known Jesus as a child. To say He is the Son of God, the Bread of Heaven is too much of a stretch for them. I used to think that being in the crowd, hearing Jesus in person, would have made it much easier to believe; seeing Christ in the flesh. But it some ways, seeing Jesus in person made it harder. They knew Him as a regular person. He was as far removed as possible from their Messianic expectations. No, for His first century hearers, the need to believe by faith was just as great, if not greater, than our need to believe by faith.
We were not in that Galilee crowd. For us looking back it does make sense, because we hear Jesus’ words through the ears of faith. Because we have only known Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, His words make perfect sense to us. But the requirement of faith is the same now as it was then. Their faith requirement was to believe in spite of being well connected to Jesus’ humanity and linage. Our faith requirement is almost the opposite. It is to believe – almost 2000 years after the fact – that Jesus did come in the flesh and was and is who He said He was. Salvation comes by faith. “Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (Jn 6:40).