First, context provides the clue as to the meaning of the miracle (John 6:1-4). Jesus performed the mighty miracle during the Passover season of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread was a religious celebration combined with patriotic fervor. Passover resembled our New Year’s, Easter, and July 4th holidays in family celebration. Passover occurred in the first month of the Jewish calendar. Passover celebrated God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from severe bondage in Egypt through the application of the blood of a sacrificial animal. After the Exodus deliverance, God provided “bread from heaven” in the form of manna.
The patriotic emphasis of Passover connected to the Jewish expectation of a prophet like Moses (Deut 18) and the hopes the expected prophet would reproduce the miracle of deliverance as well as again provide “bread from heaven.”
The combination of religious and patriotic celebration explains the association in the mind of some in the crowd of prophet (v. 14) and king (v. 15).
Second, Jesus explained the meaning of the miracle by means of His claim, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). The Old Testament set forth bread as rich religious symbol.
First, bread symbolized the presence of God. God instructed Moses to set forth twelve loaves of bread (shewbread or bread of the presence) on a table in the Tabernacle as a reminder of the covenant (Lev. 24:8) and God’s sustaining and nourishing presence.
Second, bread symbolized wisdom. In Proverbs 9:5, wisdom invites people to come and eat of her bread. Third, because bread was a gift of hospitality, bread functioned as a key promise of the end-time banquet (Lk. 14:15-24; Rev. 2:17). Jewish rabbis viewed “bread” as a symbol for the revelation of God through the Law of Moses.
Jesus fulfilled all aspects of the religious symbolism of bread. He is the revelation of God’s new law. He is the Bread of the Presence (shewbread), the visible reminder of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. Furthermore, Jesus is the Bread-Wisdom of God inviting people to come and partake of wisdom by ‘eating.”
Moreover, as the Bread of Life, Jesus prepares the end-time banquet. Most important, partaking of the Bread of Life is necessary for eternal life (vv. 47, 51-59). Bread represents the “flesh” or “body” of Jesus given on behalf of the world. Jesus connected eternal life with believing (v. 47) and “eating His flesh” (v. 51). In the act of eating, an individual assimilates the physical bread into his or her life.
Likewise, partaking of the spiritual bread of the person of Christ means to assimilate Him into life. When we eat physical bread, the bread becomes a part of who we are—the bread is in us. Likewise, Jesus claimed that an individual who assimilates Him into his or her life through faith has the life of Christ within. Because of the indwelling Christ, the believer “lives”—a continual, present experience of personal relationship with Christ the source and nourishment of real life.
Have you partaken of the Bread of Life—the One without whom spiritual, eternal life is impossible? Do you have the indwelling Christ within you? Do you continually eat of His nourishing flesh through continual faith? Do you have the assurance that you will participate in the end-time feast He prepares?
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