Last week, we explored the Bread of Life Discourse in terms of it’s two movements: believing and eating. This week, we will look at a key Old Covenant foreshadowing of the New Covenant Eucharist: the manna. You can read more about the gift of the manna in Exodus 16 and Numbers 11. It was a unique gift of food for the Hebrew people during their desert wanderings that came directly from heaven (Ex. 16:4). Psalm 78 calls it “the bread of angels” (Ps. 78:25). It is described as small, white, round and light as frost (Ex. 16:13-14, 31). The sweet tasting manna couldn’t be hoarded or stored, but had to be received daily as a gift every morning with the dew (Ex. 16:21).
Following the multiplication of loaves, manna was understandably on the minds of the crowds that pursued Jesus and subtly challenged him to produce manna like Moses, ““What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31). A cynic would say, “Ah, they simply want Jesus to feed them physically.” But something else may be at work here.
Manna and Messiah
Rabbinic writings, ancient Jewish commentaries, and the New Testament all reveal that first-century Jews were expecting a Messiah-Prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15) and with him the return of the miraculous manna from heaven. The crowd’s request may have been provoking him to reveal that he is the Messiah by restoring this ancient gift, not simply to feed them physically, but to usher in the Messianic age.
What no one expected is that Jesus will declare that his Father is the true giver of that bread from heaven and that he himself is that Messianic manna, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41).
The people murmured in response, reminding each other that his origin was Nazareth, not heaven. Internally they are asking, “How can he be the bread? After all, doesn’t bread need to be consumed?”
Jesus answers their doubts with another shocking statement, “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” (John 6:51).
As the sermon continues, we will see that Jesus won’t dial back the language of consuming his flesh as the new and true bread from heaven, but rather intensify it. How is this going to be possible? Only through the sacramental mystery of the Eucharist.
Old Testament signs, like the manna, are foreshadowings of something much greater to come.
Dive in Deeper
Manna sustained the Hebrew people for a generation, giving them everything they needed for sustenance and survival. What are the ways the Eucharist has sustained and nourished you through the years?