Here is my take: Jesus is going to declare something. It is going to be bold. It is being set up by this conversation. Jesus has good news. Jesus promises us the bread of life! Astounding and bold for sure. No one else has ever made that claim. Jesus is the only one. And Jesus is delivering on this promise every day. That makes me want to shout!
When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.
So here it is. This is bold! Jesus says in John 6:35:
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Bread is considered a staple food — i.e., a basic dietary item. A person can survive a long time on only bread and water. Bread is such a basic food item that it becomes synonymous for food in general. We even use the phrase “breaking bread together” to indicate the sharing of a meal with someone.
Why it matters: Bread plays an integral part of the Jewish Passover meal. The Jews were to eat unleavened bread during the Passover feast and then for seven days following as a celebration of the exodus from Egypt. Finally, when the Jews were wandering in the desert for 40 years, God rained down “bread from heaven” to sustain the nation (Exodus 16:4).
This is a phenomenal statement! By equating Himself with bread, Jesus is saying he is essential for life. The life Jesus is referring to is not physical life, but eternal life. Jesus is trying to get the Jews’ thinking off of the physical realm and into the spiritual realm. He is contrasting what He brings as their Messiah with the bread He miraculously created the day before. That was physical bread that perishes. He is spiritual bread that brings eternal life.
Jesus is making another claim to deity. This statement is the first of the “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel. The phrase “I AM” is the covenant name of God (Yahweh, or YHWH), revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). The phrase speaks of self-sufficient existence (or what theologians refer to as “aseity”), which is an attribute only God possesses. It is also a phrase the Jews who were listening would have automatically understood as a claim to deity.
Notice the words “come” and “believe.” This is an invitation for those listening to place their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. This invitation to come is found throughout John’s Gospel. Coming to Jesus involves making a choice to forsake the world and follow Him. Believing in Jesus means placing our faith in Him that He is who He says He is, that He will do what He says He will do, and that He is the only one who can.
There are the words “hunger and thirst.” Again, it must be noted that Jesus isn’t talking about alleviating physical hunger and thirst. The key is found in another statement Jesus made, back in His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” When Jesus says those who come to Him will never hunger and those who believe in Him will never thirst, He is saying He will satisfy our hunger and thirst to be made righteous in the sight of God.