In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, the apostle records that Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (6:35)
We see that the people to whom Jesus is speaking had been among those 5,000 men, plus women and children that had been fed by five barley loaves and two fish the day before. They followed Jesus to Capernaum, looking for signs and wonders, like the sign provided by Moses in the wilderness when he prayed on their behalf and they were sent manna. (6:30-31)
In declaring himself to “the true bread from heaven.” (6:32), he differentiates himself from the temporal food that God sent to their ancestors. He is the living bread about which Moses prophesied:
“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
Jesus continues by explaining that he is living bread, given by God the Father. This bread is Jesus’s flesh, that he “will give for the life of the world.” (6:51)
Jesus tells his listeners that they must “eat his flesh and drink his blood” (6:53), much like one might comment that they “devour” the book that I recommend to them. So then, to eat his flesh and drink his blood is a metaphor for getting to know Jesus in a personal, intimate way.
John opens his gospel with the statement:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (1:1-4)
Jesus reveals himself to be “living water” to the Samaritan woman, promising to quench her spiritual thirst.
By declaring himself to be “bread of life”, Jesus reveals that he will not only satisfy their spiritual hunger, but will provide them with eternal life, if they believe in him.