If the Bread of Life Discourse teachings were metaphorical, why did the disciples stop following Jesus?

Was Jesus speaking metaphorically in the Bread of Life Discourse?

Initially, the crowd believed Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Jesus addressed these metaphorical interpretations the crowd had and gave “literal imagery” 5 TIMES. By the third time, the crowd finally took him literally.

First Literal Imagery

“So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 32-33

The crowd did not believe Jesus was referring himself to actual bread. They believed he was referring to literal bread, similar to what they ate the day before and were satisfied (multiplication of loaves). “Sir, give us this bread always.” 34

Second Literal Imagery

After the crowd did not understand, Jesus said to them: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen me, you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” 35-38

Instead of focusing on the “bread of life” reference, the crowd questioned Jesus’ claim that he came down from heaven. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 42

Third Literal Imagery

Jesus addressed the crowd a third time with vivid imagery:

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 48-51

Now They Take Him Literally

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 52

Would angry arguments break out over a metaphor?

Fourth Literal Imagery

After the “angry arguments” among the Jews, Jesus provided even more vivid literal imagery, starting out with an ultimatum, to get the point across that he is not speaking metaphorically, but literally:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 53-58

Disciples Take Him Literally

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, this saying is hard, who can accept it? (60) Is a metaphor hard to accept? No!

Fifth Literal Imagery

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? (61). What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (62) Is a metaphor shocking? And would it require Jesus to “prove” that he is the Son of God by ascending to heaven?

Jesus speaking “literally” in the Bread of Life Discourse would be shocking and this would require him to provide proof that he is the Son of God and can do these miracles, to those who are weak in their faith. Instead of ascending to heaven, he allowed many disciples to leave him and he did not call them back (66).

Jesus also asked if the 12 disciples were going to leave too? Over a metaphor?

Key Points

When Jesus spoke of metaphors like: I am the vine, I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world, I am the door, etc… did the following happen:

  • Did Jesus give “literal imagery” several times when presenting these metaphors?
  • Did angry arguments break out when describing these metaphors? 52
  • For any of these metaphors, did the disciples say, this metaphor is hard, who can accept it? 60
  • Did any of these disciples believe that these metaphors were “not metaphors” and should be taken “literally,” like in verses 52 and 60.
  • Did Jesus give ultimatums with these metaphors that threaten the disciples eternal salvation, like verse 53?
  • Did Jesus describe these metaphors and then say, do these metaphors shock you? 61
  • With any of these metaphors, did Jesus have to make a statement to legitimize himself that he is the Son of God and can do anything, including ascend to heaven. 62
  • After Jesus presented these metaphors, did many disciples leave Jesus and no longer accompany him? 66
  • After presenting these metaphors, did Jesus ask if the 12 disciples were going to leave him too? 67

Disciples left Jesus due to “lack of faith?” Click Here.

The New American Bible, Revised Edition