One thing that trips people up all the time in the Church is when the scriptures give us messages that need to be read on multiple levels. In today’s society we value straight talk, speech that is plain and simple to understand. The scriptures were not meant to be straightforward. They were written to be understood by the Spirit, not by a person’s intellect alone. When we talk about Christ being the bread of life we are speaking both literally and figuratively. The trick is figuring out how the description fits into both categories at the same time.
In this week’s reading assignment (John 5–6; Mark 6:30–44; Matthew 14:22–33) Jesus performs the miracle of feeding the 5000 men with just five loaves and a couple of small fish. So he literally was able to physically feed people, making him a source of food. For many of the people, being able to get a free meal was a wonderful thing. Even in an out of the way place where there were no vendors to sell them food, Jesus could provide them with a meal. Sweet ride for those who wanted to cash in on a good thing.
The lesson on the physical side of this tale is demonstrated by Jesus. He took the five loaves and two small fish from the boy who had some food and multiplied it to feed 5000 men. The disciples told Jesus that not even 200 pennyworth would be able to feed this multitude. That sum of money was about two thirds of a yearly salary for one person working seven days a week. In other words, even that much money would be insufficient to properly feed all those people. Yet Jesus was able to take what little they did have and multiply it so that they had great excess. They took up from the crowd, after everyone had eaten their fill, 12 baskets of food. Even their leftovers was far greater than what they started with.
After Jesus made the point that he could physically feed the people, he declared himself the bread of life. The people, trying to understand what he was talking about said that Moses gave them a sign of God’s power by physically feeding the people for 40 years with manna in the wilderness. Jesus corrects them and tells them that it wasn’t Moses who gave them the manna, but God. But now God has sent the “true” manna or bread from heaven. They were only thinking of physical food, so they were completely confused.
31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.
33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
Christ tried to teach them in the following verses what his relationship was with the Father, but the people couldn’t understand because they were only thinking of physical bread. The bread Jesus was talking about consists in the words of eternal life given from the Father to the Son, and taught by the Son to all of God’s children. When the Lord says that we need to live by every word that comes from His mouth, he is saying that the kind of life God lives can be ours, but only if we learn to live as He lives. The teachings of how to do that are the words we need to live by. This makes them our bread of (eternal) life. By living according to all of God’s words we make it so we can live forever in God’s presence. And like real food, the word of the Lord satisfies and fills the soul, bringing us joy.
The concept that those who come to Christ will never hunger is both literally and figuratively true. Those who live their lives without Christ feel an emptiness within them that can only be filled or satisfied with the truth found in Christ’s gospel. Their longing, hunger, desire for a place of belonging, for answers to life’s questions are all satisfied with the gospel of Christ. Those who come to Christ will never experience that sense of hunger or personal emptiness again. Those who believe in Christ will never crave or thirst for a place of belonging and the knowledge of their origins and the potential of their destiny again.
Search the scriptures
Let’s change direction and talk about John 5:39. Jesus is talking about the law of witnesses. He is telling the people that he cannot witness of himself, but if they will go and search the scriptures, the scriptures will witness of Christ.
39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
What is the difference between reading the scriptures and searching the scriptures? Here is an example that compares reading to searching. When you walk through your home it is like reading a book. You see the overall look of the house, note a few details as to where things are or where they should be, but your focus is not on anything very specific. But if you lose your car keys and have to go searching for them, now you are being very detailed in what you look at. You are thinking about where they might be, how they might have gotten to where they are, and how you will deal with life once you find them.
When we read the scriptures we are often reading like we read a novel, for relaxation, for a sense of diversion or to feel good. When we search the scriptures we are on a mission to find something, to understand something, to make something fit in place because we want closure. There are many reasons for searching the scriptures, but search them we must. If we search the scriptures we will find that they do indeed testify of Christ. They speak of Christ, rejoice in Christ, testify of His mission and prophecy of Christ. He is found throughout their pages spoken of by prophet after prophet. This is what the Jews were missing. They had become so hung up on the outward ordinances and daily rules of the Law of Moses that they could no longer see how the Law pointed them in all things toward Christ.
Christ, and his sacrifice for the sake of all of humanity is the focus of all our scriptures. But it is so easy to get sidetracked by individual stories or other doctrinal points that we need to remind ourselves that the scriptures don’t become the bread of life until Christ becomes the central purpose and focus of our reading of the scriptures. When we go searching the scriptures for any topic, we need to make sure we understand how Christ fits into the picture. All things in the gospel center on Christ.