John 6:24-66 — The Bread of Life — LeGrand Baker

When Jesus identified himself as the bread of life, he was calling on a very ancient symbol that equated Jehovah/Jesus with the tree of life, his body as the fruit of that tree, and his blood as the waters of life. The Jews who listened to him would have understood that this was another assurance from him that he was the Jehovah of the Old Testament. But most did not listen.

During the ancient Israelite Temple drama, Psalm 45 was sung as part of the ceremony that represented their experiences at the Council in Heaven. That psalm gives the foreordination blessings of both the earthly king (think: King David or King Benjamin) with all the men who participated in the congregation, and his queen and all the women. After the king received his blessing, he did obeisance to Elohim, who had spoken the words of the blessing, and then turned to Jehovah and said,

7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
8 All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad (Psalm 45:7-8).

The reference to Jehovah’s fragrant smell is very important. In ancient Israel, kings and priests were anointed with perfumed oil. Even though the Old Testament editors do not describe the oil with which the kings of Israel were anointed, the record does give an explicit recipe for perfuming the oil with which the High Priests were anointed. The formula is given along with the command that this sacred oil may be used for no other purpose except that anointing (Exodus ch. 30 & 40).

We see a similar situation in Psalm 45:8, where the king acknowledges that Jehovah’s garments still hold the fragrant smell of the anointing oil. In doing so, he also gives us the formula by which the sacred oil was perfumed: “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia.” The oil was, of course, olive oil, the product of the fruit of the olive tree, which in ancient Israel represented the Tree of Life. Myrrh is a perfume made from the sap of a small tree. Aloes is a perfume made from the heartwood of another tree, and cassia is a perfume made from the bark of still a different tree. So, on the stage of the ancient Israelite temple rites, the one who played the role of Jehovah had just been anointed with a sacred oil whose fragrance were a composite of all the parts of a tree—either an acknowledgment or a declaration that Jehovah is the Tree of Life. {1}

Nephi reiterates that belief when he tells us that the angel described the fruit of the tree and the waters of life as the love of God

8 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.
9 And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.
10 And he said unto me: What desirest thou?
11 And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.
………………
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.
24 And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.
25 And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.
26 And the angel said unto me again: Look and behold the condescension of God!
……………………
31 And he spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; and the angel spake and showed all these things unto me. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.
32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
33 And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world (1 Nephi 11:7 – 36).

Alma uses its imagery to teach us how our faith may mature from only a desire to know the Savior, through a sequence of growth experiences until we can taste the light, pluck the fruit of the tree of life, and then become an expression of the tree itself (Alma 32:35-43).

In the sacrament prayers, those concepts become very real. The blessing on the bread is a covenant and the blessing on the water is an assertion that one is keeping that covenant.

In John 6 the Savior uses the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness as an example of the fruit of the tree, then identifies himself as that manna, saying he is the bread sent from heaven.

Reverences to the tree of life are found throughout the scriptures and other ancient writings. The tree was at the center of the Garden of Eden. Adam’s royal scepter was said to have been a branch of the tree of life. The menorah in the Tabernacle, and then in the Temple, was a lampstand that burned olive oil and gave light to the building. It is said to have represented the tree of life and it is also a symbol of prayer. {2}

There are many kinds of trees and other plants that have been used to represent the tree of life. Anything that nourishes might be appropriate as that symbol. For example, the 23rd Psalm begins in a Garden of Eden-like setting where the sheep represent the people, the “green pastures” are the fruit of the tree and the “still waters” are the waters of life.{3}

The Savior also identified himself with a symbol of the tree of life when he described himself as the “true vine.” The vine is the tree, the grape is the fruit of the tree of life, and the wine is the waters of life.

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17 These things I command you, that ye love one another (John 15:1-17).

The name/title the Savior uses here, “I am the true vine,” is not found in the Old Testament, but was apparently a part of the ancient Israelite religious tradition. It was probably on the brass plates, for it is cited by both Nephi and Alma.

15 And then at that day will they not rejoice and give praise unto their everlasting God, their rock and their salvation? Yea, at that day, will they not receive the strength and nourishment from the true vine? Yea, will they not come unto the true fold of God? (1 Nephi 15:15).

17 That they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God (Alma 16:17).

In ancient Israel, as in most of the ancient Near East, the olive tree was most frequently used as a symbol of the tree of life. The olive represented the fruit of the tree and olive oil represented the waters of life. Olive oil was very precious. It was used for cooking, as a lotion to sooth and heal the skin, as a lamp fuel that gave light to the house. In early Christian times it was used to anoint the sick with a prayer that they might be healed (James 5:14).

Jesus is “the Christ.” That name is equivalent to the Hebrew word Messiah. Both mean “The Anointed One.” Jehovah was anointed with perfumed oil in the Heavenly Councils, as depicted in th Israelite temple drama, but the only mention in the New Testament of Jesus actually being anointed during his life in this world is this statement by Peter.

37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judæa, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him (Acts 10:37-38)

Early Christians also apparently received a ritual anointing, for they were reminded by John the Beloved, “But ye have an unction [that word is “anointing”] from the Holy One, and ye know all things (1 John 2:20).”

Olive oil was used to anoint kings and priests, and was, therefore, symbolic of their kingship and priesthood authority.

All three—the olive tree, the bread, and the wine— came together at the culmination of the Savior’s earthly mission.

The olive tree was also symbolic of the Savior’s Atonement. The cross was made of olive wood. Some early Christians thought of the cross as the tree of life, with the Savior’s body was the fruit of that tree, and his blood was the waters of life. {4}

At the Last Supper the Savior used the same language he had used in his “bread of life sermon.” He taught how his body is the bread of life and his blood is the waters of life. Thereby, he explained what he meant in the John 6 sermon when he said one must eat his body and drink his blood. At the Last Supper he said:

26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:26-28, see Mark 14:22-24. For Paul’s explanation see 1 Corinthians 11:23-34).

An even better explanation is found in 3 Nephi. In his account of Jesus coming to the Nephites, Mormon made a point of telling us that Jesus himself provided the food and drink for the entire multitude.

4 And when they had eaten he commanded them that they should break bread, and give unto the multitude.
5 And when they had given unto the multitude he also gave them wine to drink, and commanded them that they should give unto the multitude.
6 Now, there had been no bread, neither wine, brought by the disciples, neither by the multitude;
7 But he truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink.
8 And he said unto them: He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled (3 Nephi 20:4-8).

The meaning was unmistakable. The Savior had symbolically—and literally—reintroduced the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve back into their paradisiacal Garden home, where they could be in God’s presence and eat freely of the fruit of the tree of life and drink from the river of the waters of life.

We also get a sense of that at the beginning of Revelation where John writes,

7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

In the last chapters of John’s Revelation, those who reside in the Holy City (celestial kingdom) have the right to eat the fruit of the tree of life and drink freely of the waters of life.

6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son (Revelation 21:6-7).

1 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
….
14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
….
16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Revelation 22:1-2,14-17).

Now, having discussed the meaning of the bread of life and of Jesus’s saying, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him,” here is the context of those teachings in John 6.

24 When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.
25 And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?
26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?
31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.
33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
36 But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not.
37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day [JST: “and I will raise him up in the resurrection of the just at the last day”].
41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.
42 And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?
43 Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves.
44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

[JST John 6:44 No man can come unto me, except he doeth the will of my Father who hath sent me. And this is the will of him who hath sent me, that ye receive the Son; for the Father beareth record of him; and he who receiveth the testimony, and doeth the will of him who sent me, I will raise up in the resurrection of the just.]

45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.
47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
48 I am that bread of life.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
59 These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.
60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?
62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.
65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him (John 6:24-66 – emphases added).

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FOOTNOTES

{1}Psalm 45 is a three act play. It is discussed in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. These two paragaraphs are taken largely from that book, first edition, 292-93; 207-08, second (paperback) edition, the one on this website. The full psalm is discussed on pages 255-305 and 181-217 respectively.
For discussions of these trees and their perfumes, see the articles about myrrh, aloes, and cassia in The Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible.

{2}The Savior referenced it in the Sermon on the Mount when he said,

14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
15 Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house;
16 Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven (3 Nephi 12:14-16)

{3}Psalm 23 is also a three act play. It is discussed in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition, 619-41 second (paperback) edition, the one on this website, 441-57.

{4} See C. Wilfred. Griggs, “The Tree of Life in Ancient Cultures.” Ensign 18, 6 (June, 1988): 27-38.
The Gospel of Philip says the cross was made of olive wood, in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. James M. Robinson,153.

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