The bread of life discourse, outlined in John 6, immediately followed the feeding of the five thousand. In typical Johannine methodology, numerous Old Testament comparisons, in particular that of Moses and Yeshua, are presented as evidentiary proof to the Jews that Jesus is truly the Messiah, the giver of life. Jesus clearly identified himself as the bread of life, a figure of speech pregnant with meaning and purpose for not only the 1st century hearer, but for the modern seeker of eternal sustenance.
The Apostle John presents a magnificent theological interlude in his gospel account of the spiritual deliverance available to humanity through the person and work of Yeshua. The pericope of John 6 demonstrates that as manna provided physical salvation for the children of Israel, Jesus, as the bread of life, provides eternal life to those who place their trust in him.
MANNA AS THE FORESHADOWING OF YESHUA
When Yeshua presented himself as the bread of life, he clearly utilized a typology that was an essential element of the “most crucial book of the Pentateuch for Israel’s history and theology – the Book of Exodus.” This proclamation was in response to the crowd’s continual appeal for a sign as a demonstration of his power and authority. The perishable food that Yeshua had referred to in John 6:27 clearly referred to the manna provided to the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings. In contrast with this historical precedent which so permeated the teachings and beliefs of the Jewish people, Yeshua is presented as the source of imperishable food. Jesus is the manna from heaven sent by God to provide life for his people.
This was no small claim that was made by Yeshua due to the inherent messianic undertones subsumed within his “I am the bread of life” commentary. It was widely asserted in the Jewish beliefs of the period that Jeremiah had hidden a jar containing manna that he placed in the ark and the Messiah was expected to produce the hidden manna to the people of Israel thus revealing himself. Additionally, as denoted by William Barclay, rabbinic teaching averred that “as was the first redeemer so was the final redeemer; as the first redeemer caused the manna to fall from heaven, even so shall the second redeemer cause the manna to fall.”
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand resulted not in sufficient evidentiary proof of Jesus superior status to that of Moses. Rather, the multitudes sought further evidence for the claim that Yeshua had made. Essentially, the Jews disregarded the loaves provided to them as an indication of manna from heaven as the provision had initiated itself from merely earthly loaves made from everyday ingredients. The manna which they sought was a “different thing and a real test.” As noted by F.F. Bruce, they rationalized among themselves, “let the second Moses vindicate his authority in a similar way – not by a once-for-all feeding but on a more lasting basis.”
In response to the disillusionment of the multitudes and their insistence of additional miraculous signs, Jesus first reminded the Jews that it was not Moses who provided them with the miraculous provision of sustenance in the form of manna, but rather it was a gift from God. Yeshua then explicated further the true meaning of the provision of manna to their forefathers. He saliently indicated that the manna was just a symbol of the bread of life given by God and was targeted merely at answering hunger; a physical need. The claim being made by Jesus in relation to the manna which the Jews sought from him is that Yeshua is the bread sent from heaven to provide a solution to the spiritual hunger which constantly hounds the soul of man. Calvin rightly avers that the “bread with which Moses fed their bellies was not true bread…the manna came down from the visible heaven, that is from the clouds; but not from the eternal kingdom of God from which life flows to us.” The manna provided to the children of Israel in the wilderness was a mere foreshadowing of what Yeshua, as the Messiah, can provide. But wait, there’s more!