Deeper layers of meaning drawn from the Hebrew scriptures bring fresh understanding to Yeshua’s famous I AM statement.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I AM the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” (John 6:47-50)
This post resumes a series on The Life-Giving I AMs of Jesus. John’s gospel is strategically structured around seven miracles, seven discourses, and seven I AM statements. It turns out that each of these seven I AM statements has an integral relationship to the Feasts of the Lord, and understanding that context dramatically amplifies their meaning. During this series, I’ve had the privilege of partnering with author and teacher Lauren Crews to delve into these I AM statements. (Although this one is my own, so please don’t blame Lauren 😉 ).
The Feasts of the Lord come in two clusters–four in the spring, and three in the fall. We covered the I AM statements that revolved around the Fall Feasts while they were occurring last fall–I’ve put links to those at the very bottom of this post. And now, with Passover and the Spring Feasts drawing near, it feels like a great time to pick up the series with the I AMs that revolve around the Spring Feasts. (I didn’t exactly plan this, but I think the Lord had it worked out!)
Just this once, we’re going to jump backwards chronologically. The events we’re looking at today occurred toward the end of the Galilean phase of His ministry, during the spring before the events we looked at last fall. We’re honing in today on the first of His seven I AM statements.
Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. Therefore Jesus… (John 6:4-5)
So John lays out an explicit link between the Feast of Passover and the events of Chapter Six:
By linking these events to Passover, John also links them to Moses, the law-giver and freedom-bringer of the Hebrew Scriptures.
For example, think about the feeding of the five thousand. Even the middle-of-nowhere setting (Matt 14:15)…
Hillside above the Sea of Galilee
…brings to mind the way God provided manna in the wilderness. This was a point the crowd didn’t miss. (John 6:30-31)
Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)
“The Prophet who is to come into the world” referred to one of Moses’ most important prophecies:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. (Deut 18:15)
We’ll come back to this in a moment, but…
For Yeshua’s first-century audience, bread was a powerful symbol, especially at Passover season. Unleavened bread would play a central role in the upcoming Passover observance, of course, both as a reminder of how God led the children of Israel out from slavery “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Ps 136:12), and how He provided for them in the wilderness (Ex 12:17).
Not only did bread have a starring role at Passover, it also featured in the Hebrew worship experience in several other ways which give Yeshua’s analogy deeper resonance.
“Bread of the Presence”
Bread was ever-present in the Temple. Twelve loaves of lechem ha panim לֶ֥חֶם פָּנִ֖ים (“bread of the presence,” also referred to as “showbread” and more literally, “bread of faces”) were perpetually displayed on a golden table within the Holy Place before the veil–one of only three objects placed there. Hint: all three objects speak of Christ!
Showbread with table, on display at a Temple Institute reenactment. Source: https://www.facebook.com/The-Temple-Institute-22738684968/
The loaves were unleavened, baked from something like semolina flour, shaped in molds for display on a rack as shown in the photo, and large. Each loaf weighed about eleven pounds!
The Talmud describes that a miracle took place every week: When the priests came to replace the [lechem ha panim] with new loaves every Sabbath, they found that those of the previous week remained fresh and hot upon the table, like the moment they were baked. This miracle was seen as a clear confirmation that the Divine Presence indeed rested in this holy place.
Three times a year, when the children of Israel made the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple—on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot—they were shown the table and the showbread. “Look at how beloved you are by G‑d!” the Kohanim would tell them, pointing to the showbread, which stayed hot and fresh even though it was left out for a whole week.
So the Galileans who witnessed Yeshua’s miracle would have seen the showbread many times, and would have heard the priests testify to the miracle of this “bread of the presence,” which was always before the Lord in His Temple. And they would be expecting to see it again soon, when they journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover.
The showbread symbolizes the material abundance that G‑d gives to the Jews. It’s a continuous reminder that our livelihoods and food come only from G‑d….
Jewish sources also tell us that if a priest ate a portion of bread as small as a bean, he would be completely satisfied. Do you see a clear connection to Yeshua’s statement?
I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:35)
For me, this is the punchline. The vast majority of the thousands who enjoyed Yeshua’s miraculous meal on that Galilean hillside never got the chance to taste the Temple showbread. That was exclusive to priests–unless you were born a male in the line of Aaron, you could never be in the club.
These people had heard many times about the miracle of the warm, fragrant showbread, perhaps had even smelled its aroma, but had never had a chance to taste it.
But as followers of Yeshua, we are royal priests, a holy nation (1 Pet 2:9). Each and every one of us has full access to this miraculous, spiritual Bread of Life. Do we take advantage of it?
I’m not talking about swallowing a morsel of bread, or a dry little wafer, at a communion service in church. And I don’t believe that’s what Yeshua was talking about, either.
I’m not talking about sniffing the aroma. I’m talking about feasting at the table! I’m talking about real, continual intimacy.
One more point. After Yeshua’s bread had been distributed to the five thousand and they had eaten until they were satisfied, the disciples collected twelve baskets of remnants. The same number as the twelve loaves on the showbread table!
Golden Jar of Manna
Behind the veil, in the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant was also meant to contain a golden jar of manna. (The ark was no longer there by Yeshua’s day.)
I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh…. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever. (John 6:51, 55-58)
Yeshua is telling them–and demonstrating with powerful signs–that His ministry is far superior even to that of Moses, which they will celebrate shortly at Passover. He issued a pointed reminder that God gave the manna, not Moses (John 6:32), and that manna didn’t preserve life forever. Whereas Yeshua Himself is this new “bread of life” (John 6:35) which gives eternal life (John 6:40).
And as the showbread was given to sustain the priests, Yeshua is the lifeblood which will sustain us, His royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). The gathering for bread at our communion table symbolizes this intimacy–just as the weekly gathering of priests to eat the showbread from the golden table did. But the spiritual truth of Yeshua as our spiritual food goes much deeper.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”… As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. (John 6:60-66)
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” This is why I don’t believe Yeshua was talking about a fleshly ritual involving a physical form of bread. He was talking about fully partaking of the miraculous life in the Spirit–walking in this wonderful intimacy with Himself that He died to give us access to.
John 6 has been called the “anti-church-growth” chapter. Note that Yeshua started the chapter addressing a multitude, which dwindled to a smaller circle of disciples, and by the end of the chapter He was down to just the twelve (John 6:2, 60, 66-67).
So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60, 67-69)
Are we sustained day to day by Yeshua’s spiritual manna? Are we living every day like we believe He has the words of eternal life?
Are we giving Him all our loaves and fishes?
The Great I AM
Perhaps this would be a good point to add an important note about the seven I AM statements of John. As I’ve been digging into this, I’ve come to realize it’s true that there are seven that follow the strict formula “I AM the….” And of course, the number seven is always significant in the Bible, representing perfection and completeness.
BUT, there is an eighth I AM in John that is also of earth-shattering significance: the “Great I AM.” And if seven is the number of completeness and perfection, eight is the number of renewal and regeneration.
Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins. (John 8:24)
When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am. (John 8:28)
Before Abraham was born, I am. (John 8:58)
The previous post in this series went into that pivotal “Great I AM” in more detail.
But what was the reaction of many who heard Yeshua’s Great I AM claim?
Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him… (John 8:59)
Are we living as if we believe all His claims? Unless people around us believe that He is “all that,” they will die in their sins.
One other use of bread in the Temple would have been familiar to Yeshua’s listeners. At the copper altar in the outer court, offerings were made daily, consisting of–get this :)–a yearling lamb with wine and unleavened bread. So by comparing Himself with the bread of life, Yeshua was subtly foreshadowing His sacrifice a year later at Passover as the Lamb of God.
By the way, did you know that Bethlehem (beth lachem) means “House of Bread”? How interesting that the One who called himself the “bread of life” was born in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of prophecy!
As we’ve discussed, with His “bread of life” statement, Yeshua claimed a greater ministry than that of Moses. Moses called down “bread from heaven” and instituted the “bread of the presence.” But Yeshua IS the “bread of life!”
According to the Deut 34, Moses was unique among the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures because
Like Moses, Yeshua knows the Lord “face to face” and beholds His form (John 1:1, Heb 1:3,13). (NOTE: “face to face” is panim el panim (פָּנִ֖ים), the same Hebrew word used in lachem ha panim, the phrase translated “bread of presence” aka “showbread”! The showbread speaks of intimacy, which Yeshua epitomizes at the right hand of the Father, and which is our birthright as believers.)
John J. Parsons on Hebrew4Christians.com provides an astonishing list of thirty stunning parallels between Moses and Yeshua. I’ll cherry-pick a few here:
I think this one bears special emphasis.
Moses was a type of Yeshua in that both were willing to die for the sins of the people. After the Sin of the Calf, Moses pleaded with the Lord to forgive His people. “But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” (Ex 32:32) Moses’ offer was declined, of course, as only a sinless sacrifice would do. (Heb 9:14)
How, then, was Jesus a prophet “like Moses” (Deut 18:15)? Well, like Moses, He was a Jew, a Leader, a Prophet, a Lawgiver, a Savior, a Teacher, a Priest, a Healer, an Anointed One, a Mediator between God and man—speaking the words of God—and like Moses, He offered Himself to die for the sins of the people.
– John J. Parsons, Hebrew4Christians.com
But please, please consider this:
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God… (Heb 10:28-29)
God’s judgment is one of those “difficult statements” that “causes many to stumble,” but it will come nonetheless. Don’t stand on the fence today.
Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”… (2 Cor 6:2)
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! (2 Pet 3:11-12)
Let’s live every day in the light of our belief that Yeshua alone holds the words of eternal life. Let’s give Him ALL our loaves and fishes. Let’s step up to the table!
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.
Here are the previous posts that revolved around the Fall Feasts: