“Seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” John 6:5–11
In John 6 we read how Jesus performs a major miracle, multiplying a small amount of bread and fish to feed over 5,000 people. Some have used this passage to try to say that Jesus had to wait for the boy to offer his food before Jesus would do his part. Applied to our spiritual lives, that message would be: “God cares about you, but he wants you to show that you really care about him before he will act. He wants you to make the first move and show him that you are serious. After you respond, God will look upon you with favor and good pleasure. God may even ‘use you.’”
Nothing could be further from the true meaning of this miracle.
Jesus: the bread of life
When Jesus’ first-century audience sees this miracle, they corner him and beg him to explain: “What do your works mean? Come on! Tell us what you’ve come to do. We want to know. We’d like you to be our king. We have an agenda for you.”
Jesus reminds them about the bread (or manna) God provided in the desert with Moses and reveals, “It was my Father who brought the bread from heaven in the desert. And now my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. And it’s me! I am the bread of life. I am the true life that has come down from heaven.” Jesus declares himself to be the one who can truly give the life of God: “If you do not have me you do not have life.”
In Jesus’ words about being the bread of life, claiming that he is the life of God on earth, we are looking at the heart of Christianity. We do not climb up to God; the bread comes down from heaven. We cannot climb the ladder to God through some technique or effort. Rather, Christianity teaches that we are alienated from God until Christ comes to us. God came near to us in Christ, so Christ could overcome the sin which separates us from God and then bring us near to God, giving us new life through his Spirit.
God has come down
To understand this is to get at the heart of what Jesus is about. We do not inherently have “spiritual life.” Christ is our spiritual life on our behalf (Col. 3:4), and he gives us the Holy Spirit. As the bread of life, Jesus disarms us of our self-reliant spiritual efforts. We do not naturally come near to God. He must come near to us. A relationship with God is based on God coming down to us through Jesus, the bread of life from heaven.
It is not that we have risen to spiritual heights, but that the bread of heaven has come down to us. It is not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us.