When Jesus told the Jews who were present in the synagogue in Capernaum, I am the Bread of Life, he used a metaphor with a deep vein of meaning in Jewish culture, indeed in much of the broader Ancient Near East Culture. As Baker Encyclopaedia of the Bible points out: “A large proportion of the time and energy of mankind since the fall until the industrial revolution has been occupied in the production of bread.” He was presenting himself in a way that had immediate meaning to the Jews.
The meaning of I am the Bread of Life went much deeper than the satisfaction of physical hunger. Here are three ways in which this metaphor is deepened in the biblical text:
Thing 1: At the time that Jesus spoke these words, every single week for the past 1500 years!! the Levites had baked 12 loaves of bread and placed them in the tabernacle/temple. The purpose of these loaves [called showbread] was to symbolize God’s presence with his people. [Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary—NNIBD]
Thing 2: In this passage, Jesus calls himself “the true bread of heaven” (5.32), “the bread of God” (5.33), “the bread of life” (5.34), and “the bread which came down from heaven” (5.41) [NNIBD] Do you think that perhaps Jesus was directing their attention to what took place in the temple week after week after week?
Thing 3: Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night that he was crucified. In the course of that supper he took bread and said, Take, eat; this is My body (Matt 26.26). “By his sacrifice, Christ became the Bread of Life for His people, that they may eat of Him and find forgiveness of sin and eternal life” [NNIBD].
We can learn a lot by putting down our phones and computers and the things that so easily keep us from thinking, and consider what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the Bread of Life.”