Immortality. Life everlasting. The Ancients were obsessed with it, using all their power and wealth to try and secure it. One such example was Emperor Qin of China. By the time he was forty years old, he was sacrificing to mountains and rivers, and spending the remainder of his waking moments searching for immortals. Seriously. At one point he sent a group of scholars to search for a famous Taoist master who had gained immortality by eating a certain flower. The scholars never found the flower-eating master, and years later, Emperor Qin experienced what is appointed for us all—death. The once living emperor died.
It’s easy to look down our sophisticated noses at such simplistic notions, but we still engage in our own immortality projects today. In 2019, the health and fitness industry did a whopping $30 billion in business. Seriously. And while few of us would come right out and say, “I want to avoid death,” most of us readily admit we want to live as long as we possibly can, and we’re willing to try or do or pay anything to that end. It’s a safe bet that if a current scientist discovered there were high chances at immortality by eating a certain flower, the farmer who owned a field of those flowers would suddenly be a very wealthy man indeed.
After a satisfyingly baskets-left-over miracle involving bread, the multitudes heard Jesus refer to the bread that Moses gave, the manna that saved the lives of their ancestors in the wilderness. They knew that story well. But then they heard Jesus talk of a bread from heaven that would surpass the manna of Exodus, a bread that would guarantee eternal life. With that, Jesus had their attention, and the people cried, “Sir, give us this bread always!” (John 6:34). Jesus answered, declaring: “I am the bread of life… No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again” (v.35).
Essentially Jesus was telling them, “Psssst! It’s me, standing right here in front of you. I am the bread of life, that bread from heaven.” He then followed with:
“The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him up on the last day, because my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (vv.54–56).
His declarations, true as they were, proved to be too much for some. It was then, Scripture tells us, that many of His disciples turned back and stopped following.
From our vantage point, it’s easy to be disappointed with those literal-minded, short-sighted early disciples, the ones who stopped following Him. But how many of us are willing to abandon any and all life-enhancing, life-prolonging “bread” in favor of the only food that brings eternal life? To those who stood before Him, and to us as well, Jesus says, “I am that bread. Feast on me.”
Written by John Blase