The remainder of chapter six (all the way through to verse 71) is a lengthy discourse from Jesus which builds upon the miraculous feeding (vv. 1-15) and his “I Am” statement on the sea (vv. 16-21). From the opening words of John’s Gospel (1:1) Jesus has been directly identified with God. The “I Am” of the burning bush (Exodus 3) is the “I Am” walking upon the sea. Having declared himself in both word and deed Jesus will challenge his followers to accept him for who he truly is.
For the people of Jesus day, bread represented the most basic building block of nourishment. This is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus teaches us to pray for “daily bread,” as a sort of shorthand meaning the basic necessities for nourishment. In the miraculous feeding, Jesus took the basic necessities and turned them into a feast for thousands. Now he will declare of himself, “I Am the bread of life.” Jesus is the fundamental necessity. He is the food that nourishes.
Like so much of John’s Gospel, the necessity of believing Jesus is front and center. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (vs. 29), “He who believes in me shall never thirst” (vs. 35), “Everyone who believes in him shall have eternal life” (vs. 40). In this lengthy teaching Jesus compares believing to eating; that is being nourished upon Christ. It is graphic language that is intended to draw upon God’s supply of manna in the wilderness only now Jesus Christ is that heavenly Manna who fully satisfies the soul. As J.C. Ryle expresses it: “Whatever we need for the relief of our hungering souls, Christ is ready and willing to bestow. Whatever mercy, grace, peace, strength we require, the Son of Man will give freely, immediately, abundantly, and eternally.”