by Jacob Roberts
Last week’s devotional addressed the name of God and what I AM can teach us about both God’s identity and our own (To read last week’s devotional, click here). While the name I AM reveals a wealth of information about God, I concluded the devotional with two main takeaways. First, the name shows us that God possesses a level of objectivity that cannot be matched by anything or anyone else, meaning that He is the standard by which everything else must be judged. Consequentially, we cannot make God into who we wish Him to be, but rather we must worship Him for who He is. The second takeaway follows logically from the first. If we cannot make God into who we want Him to be, then we must be conformed to His will, not He to ours.
It is through these two points that we will explore the seven I AM statements made by Jesus in the Gospel of John. While Jesus uses the phrase “I AM” in many places to declare his divinity, John records seven times when Jesus follows the phrase with a predicate noun to describe and explain what it means to be I AM. And just as we saw how Moses’ crisis of identity was answered by understanding God’s character, so also will we find clarity in Jesus declaration of I AM.
In John 6, Jesus provides his first such statement, declaring, “I AM the bread of life” (6:35). The full meaning of this statement comes into focus if we keep in mind the group of people he speaks to. In verse 4 we are told that it was close to the start of Passover, meaning that the Jews interacting with Jesus in this passage would have been studying the scriptures about the exodus from Egypt and the flight into the desert.
Specifically, we know that they would have read about God’s gift of manna. This bread was given to the children of God in response to their concern about finding adequate food in the desert. In response to what they perceived as their greatest need, God provides them with “bread from heaven,”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily. (Exodus 16:4-5)
Through the restriction of “[gathering only] a day’s portion,” God provides not only for the physical need that the Israelites felt was so pressing, but also for a more important need, to learn dependence upon Him. Despite God’s command, some of the Israelites rejected God’s instruction to only collect a day’s worth. In doing this, they metaphorically declare that they knew how to provide for themselves better than God, that He should conform His plans to their will and provide for them in the way that they deemed best.
It is within this context that Jesus asserts, “I AM the bread of life,” revealing himself to be the ultimate gift of provision from the Father. As many Midrash glosses indicate, the Jews of Jesus’ time understood that there would be a connection between the bread of heaven and the coming messiah (e.g. Midrash Rabbah Eccles. 1:9). Jesus declares that He surpasses the manna of the desert because “he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Thus, those who come to Jesus are utterly satisfied as Christ banishes both spiritual hunger and thirst.
Jesus intensifies this declaration to be the bread of life by clarifying how He has come into the world to fulfill not his will, but rather the will of the Father. He explains, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 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” (John 6:38-39). Just as God was sovereignly good in His gift of the manna—providing for the true need of His people to learn dependence upon Him—He has also sovereignly sent Jesus into the world, providing for the true need of the people: attornment and spiritual restoration.
After Jesus finished speaking, however, John records that the crowd began “grumbling about him” (John 6:41). Just as the ancient Israelites questioned God’s provision through the manna, so also did the crowd question God’s choice to provide Jesus as messiah. But why would anyone disapprove of Jesus?
Similar to the ancient Israelites who mistakenly believed that their greatest need was food, many of the Jews of Jesus day mistakenly believed that their greatest need was political restoration. As a result, they wanted their messiah to be a political or military leader that would restore the glory of the nation of Israel, which had lost nation status and fallen to Roman control. This Jesus standing before them, the man claiming to be the messiah through his declaration to be “the bread of life,” was nothing like the messiah they had in mind.
This reaction, however, contradicts the truth found in Jesus’ I AM statement. By asserting “I AM the bread of life,” Jesus declares that He is God’s perfect provision, meeting needs that align with the will of God rather than the will of man. In this way, Jesus reveals His identity as perfect provider, which, in turn, reveals our identity of receptive child.
But what about you? Do you accept God’s provision as He has given it, or do you expect God to provide for you in the way you have envisioned? Have you been praying for God to meet a temporal need in your life when there is, in reality, a much bigger spiritual need that He is attempting to address? Do you try to abandon your role as receptive child and take on His identity, exasperatedly attempting to be the perfect provider that you were not created to be?
In his perfect will, God has provided everything we need, even eternal life through His Son. It is not our job, then, to provide for all of our needs, but rather to “believe in [Christ]” so that we might “have eternal life” (John 6:40). May you rest this week in the knowledge that he is indeed the bread of life.