Fight times during His final year of earthly life, Jesus startled His listeners by
using a mysterious phrase beginning with the words “I Am.” Only the
Apostle John records these cryptic, self-revealing declarations in his Gospel.
John sets the stage for Jesus’ first declaration by recounting the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels: the feeding of the 5,000. After Jesus fed and addressed the multitude, He retreated to the nearby hills known today as the Golan Heights. His disciples sailed back to Capernaum.
By foot and by boat the people followed Jesus to Capernaum, where they cornered Him in the synagogue. Jesus ignored their shallow questions and bluntly challenged their motivation: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:26-27). With these piercing words Jesus moved the conversation from their desire for physical nourishment to their need for spiritual sustenance. After Jesus described the spiritual bread that He offered, the crowd pleaded, “Sir… give us this bread” (John 6:34).
The throng’s approval plummeted when Jesus declared that He alone was the Bread they were seeking. Jesus proclaimed: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). It did not take long for the fickle crowd to turn their backs on Jesus. The Jewish leaders “began to grumble because He said, ‘I am the Bread that came down from heaven'” (John 6:41).
The crowd came looking for bread, and Jesus offered them Himself—the Bread of Life. The cost of discipleship was simply too high for many to pay. Jesus illustrated the sacrificial cost with an unforgettable, startling metaphor: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven… This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
Sadly this discourse ended with many followers leaving Jesus. “‘this,’ they concluded, ‘is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60, 66).
Thankfully, this is not the end of the story: “‘You do not want to leave, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'” (John 6:67-68).
Jesus’ penetrating question resounds throughout the ages. His faithful disciples must ever follow Peter’s example and response.
William Francis, The War Cry