Possessing a true human nature, Jesus experienced the pangs of hunger and thirst just as we do. We have seen this already in our study of John 4, for Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well to give Him a drink while He rested from His journeys (v. 7). Furthermore, the disciples were in town to buy food during most of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (v. 8), both for themselves and, as today’s passage implies, for our Savior (v. 31).
No doubt, Jesus was truly hungry and thirsty, according to His humanity, both when He spoke with the Samaritan woman and when His disciples later returned to Him and encouraged Him to eat. Yet on both occasions, Jesus did not take hunger and thirst as an opportunity merely to satisfy physical needs. He used physical needs to instruct others in spiritual realities. With the Samaritan woman, He spoke of her need for spiritual renewal by promising to give her living water if she would but ask (vv. 10–15). When the disciples of Jesus encouraged Him to eat, He took the opportunity to explain that true sustenance comes not by bread alone, as we see in verses 31–34.
Our Lord referred to food that He had to eat that His disciples did not know about, and this confused His disciples, for they thought He was talking about food that He had acquired from one of them (vv. 31–33). The food of which Jesus spoke, however, consisted of doing His Father’s will and accomplishing the mission His Father gave to Him, namely, obedience that secures the salvation of His people (v. 34). There is probably an echo of Deuteronomy 8:3 here, an important passage in which Moses tells the Israelites that they live not only by physical bread but by every word that proceeds from the Creator. Also, one cannot help but think of Jesus’ wilderness confrontation with Satan wherein He quoted Moses’ words in order to resist the temptation (Luke 4:1–4).
That Jesus said His food was to do the will of God shows us just how much serving His Father satisfied Him. Christ could not maintain His life apart from accomplishing the mission given to Him; it was more important to Him than bread and brought Him more joy than anything else. John Calvin comments on today’s passage that Jesus “means not only that he esteems [God’s will] very highly, but that there is nothing in which he takes greater delight, or in which he is more cheerfully or more eagerly employed.”