References to the Old Testament punctuate Jesus’ miracles and sermons in John 6. Jesus fed the 5,000 (Matt 14:13-21//Mark 6:30-44//Luke 9:10-17) just as the Lord fed Israel with manna in the wilderness. But Jesus promised that the food He had would provide eternal life. On foot Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee (Matt 14:22-36//Mark 6:45-52) to escape the crowds that sought another meal. When they found Him, Jesus proclaimed that if anyone listened to God, they would listen to Him.
(1) In John 6:30-31 the crowds following Jesus after He fed the 5,000 asked Him for another sign and cited Ps 78:24 to imply they wanted more food. Psalm 78 recounts Israel’s wilderness wanderings and sin. Though God’s people failed to heed His word, the Lord remained faithful. After Israel entered Canaan, the Lord gave David to Israel so that he would be their king and expand Israel’s territory in Canaan. When the crowds found Jesus, they quoted Ps 78:24, “He rained manna for them to eat; he gave them grain from heaven,” to justify their demand for another sign (John 6:31). Since their fathers had enjoyed such miraculous verification of God’s blessing upon them in the wilderness, should not Jesus—who claimed to be sent from God—provide the same to His followers? Jesus said, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33). Jesus expanded the crowd’s view of Ps 78:24, urging them to look beyond even the profound miracles of old and to look to Him as the true bread from heaven.
(2) In John 6:45, Jesus quoted Isa 54:13 to argue that one could only understand the Old Testament by heeding His teaching. Predicting the future glory of Jerusalem, Isaiah said, “Then all your children will be taught by the LORD, their prosperity will be great” (Isa 54:13). In John 6:45, Jesus capitalized on Isaiah’s prophecy that in the future day of grace, the descendants of Jacob would receive direct instruction from God. Jesus had been sent from God as the bread of life (John 6:35). But Jesus quoted Isa 54:13 as a validation of not only His role as the teacher sent from heaven, but also the fact that only those who are drawn by God respond to His teaching. Jesus said that His ministry was in full accord with the work of the Father.
(3) In John 6:49, Jesus told the crowds that the manna their fathers ate in the wilderness did not sustain them unto eternal life. After the exodus, each day the Lord provided Israel manna to eat as they traveled toward Canaan (Exod 16:12-36). The daily provision of manna was the Lord’s means of testing His people and reminding them that they needed to walk by faith in His sustaining power. But Israel failed to walk by faith when the scouts grumbled that the people in the land were too strong for them or the Lord (Num 13:1-14:38). Israel even complained about the manna the Lord provided each day (Num 21:4-5). Manna did not sustain the people to eternal life but testified that, though God was gracious and faithful, Israel was hard-hearted. Among those registered by Moses and Eleazar, only Joshua and Caleb would enter the land; everyone else died in the wilderness (Num 26:63-65). Jesus said to the crowds who were chasing Him for another meal, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51).