Authors note: This is the fourth installment of a five section series on the theology of food. It is written as a guest post by Karolina Beveridge, who holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Providence Christian College and runs her own gluten free health blog. To read the last installment, click here. To start from the beginning of the series, click here.
In the book of John the Jewish feasts are more pertinent than they are anywhere else in
the New Testament (Hoskins 160). It appears that the reason for this is that in John’s Christology, Christ is the fulfillment of all the institutions of Jewish history. John’s original audience was Jewish, and the context was just post the Temple destruction in circa AD 90. The Jewish people were devastated by this catastrophe upon their primary religious institution. John’s gospel pointed to Christ as fulfillment of Judaism (Brown, Hoskins, 160). One of the primary motifs in John is also the new messianic community of Jews and Gentiles (Wirzba, 9). Due to the fulfillment in Christ as Temple, and the designation of the people of God also as the Temple, the identity of the people of Israel, the kingdom of God, was being expanded in a way they had
never expected (Jer. 31). Christ’s work had ushered in the new creation, their new identity.
The gospel of John distinctively links the miraculous signs of Christ with his Christological claims to the Jewish feasts (Yee 27). They were significant acts with deeper meanings to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear (Bauckham 1).The first sign of Christ, from which the theme begins of Christ as the living water, was at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). When the wine ran out Jesus directed that the six stone jars used for purification rituals be filled with water (2:6-7). When the master of the feast tasted the water it had become extravagant wine, and this was a manifestation of the glory of Christ (2:9, 11, Bauckham 2). The transformation of water into wine at this wedding feast recalled the prophesy of Isaiah, in which a feast of well aged wine and rich food was served for all nations on the Mountain of Zion in the new age (Isaiah 25:6-9). It was a sign of the salvation of God that Israel hoped for, at which they would state, “This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9). In Psalm 104, amidst praising God for his provision evident in creation, comes a statement full of eschatological significance, and fulfilled by Christ as shown in the gospel of John. The Psalmist states that God has given, “wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15) Jesus turns the water, a symbol which anticipated everlasting life of the new age, into wine, which was a
sign of life enlivened with abundance, indicating the arrival of this new age (Bauckham 2). He fulfilled water, turned it into wine, designating the sign of life furthermore into a sign of rejoicing.
In John 5, Christ traveled to Jerusalem and performed more Christological signs. The arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem for the festival came at a time of high messianic expectations and diverse opinions regarding his identity. In John 5, Jesus had healed the lame man on the Sabbath causing much controversy, and then performed the miraculous sign of the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6 (Brown, Kostenberger, 215). When Jesus boldly claimed to be the source of the living water, Jews reacted saying that he must be the Messiah (7:41, 42) or the Prophet (7:40), and the Pharisees asked why they did not arrest him (7:45) (Kostenberger, 217). Such strong reactions from his listeners were due to the rich Messianism these statements implied, due to the Old Testament typologies that were regularly recalled through the Jewish practices (Hoskins, 163).
These were Christological claims of divinity.
In John 6 Jesus multiplied the barley loaves to feed the five thousand, another remarkable sign that recalled Old Testament typologies of manna and unleavened bread. The crowds had followed Jesus to the mountain after crossing the Sea of Tiberias. This in itself has rich theological tones to it in the language. The mountain recalls the Old Testament theological theme of the Mountain of Zion or Mount Sinai (Brown 232). The crowds, who in verse 2 and 3 were already with Christ, in verse five are described as coming towards him, expressing the theological theme of coming to Jesus (Brown 233). Jesus then asks Philip “Where shall we ever buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 5:5).This question parallels that of Moses to God in
Numbers when he led the people through the wilderness, “Where am I to get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:13) (Brown 233) Another similarity is when a servant came to Elisha with twenty barley loaves which he commanded be fed to the soldiers, and there was plenty for all and extra (2 Kings 9, Brown 246). In Ruth also, Boaz gives her a small bit of grain and she eats and has plenty (Brown 246). These Old Testament miracles were typifying the work of Christ, to be the bread of life for all. Jesus tells everyone to recline and he gives thanks, (εὐχαριστα in John, not εὐαγγέλιον as in the Synoptics, Brown 233), breaks the bread and then he himself passes the bread which he would do again at the Last Supper (Brown 234). Then the fragments are gathered up when everyone has had enough. The Greek for fragment was a word used in early church to describe the bread in the Lord’s Supper. The root of the word for “gather” in the Greek was also later used to describe a gathering of believers for the Lord’s Supper (Brown 234). There were twelve baskets left over from the five barley loaves, showing the miracle of transforming and fulfilling from incompletion to completion.
The next day the crowds seek him on the other side of the sea (John 6:24-25). Though amazed by his signs, the crowds were blind to the bread symbolism and rather, simply wanted more bread. Jesus, as the one sent by God, rebuked them for working for the food that perishes, pointing them instead to the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27, 29). He then states that this bread is his flesh which he will give up as the source of life for his people, followed by the metaphorical eating and drinking of his flesh and blood language in anticipation, again, to his death on the cross (John 6:51, 53-56; Hoskins 177). Still they do not recognize the significance of the feeding of the five thousand, and ask for yet another sign to confirm his messianic claims (John 6:30). They refer to manna, the sign of Moses. Christ corrects them stating, “Truly, truly, I
say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:32)
The bread of life discourse ensues and Christ makes one of the seven, “I Am” statements recorded in the gospel of John stating, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). The “I Am” statements of Christ paralleled the Shema, “I Am the Lord YHWH your God”, so in saying this, Christ was claiming that he shared in the divine identity, which to the monotheistic Jews, was a title belonging to God alone. He offers that they partake of this bread that they may never die (John 6:35, 50). His invitation here parallels and fulfills the eschatologically framed statement in Proverbs 4:5, “Come, eat of my bread; drink of the wine that I have mixed.” After the miracle of the five thousand loaves the Israelites had proclaimed and seemingly recognized the true identity of Christ stating, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (6:14), yet during they still did not fully grasp the signs because their eyes were blinded (John 12:39-41). Jesus, as
the manna from God, is the Messiah, the true bread of life and manna fulfillment (Brown 269).
Closely corresponding with the wine/water fulfillment of Christ, is the fulfillment of light. Later in John, in correspondence again with a sign, Christ claims to be the light of the world... Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me…will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). This statement has baptismal overtones of new life and rebirth, pointing also to the Holy Spirit soon to indwell God’s people (Brown 329). Soon after his light discourses in the synagogue, Christ performs the sign of healing the blind man with the mud, showing in a tangible, physical way, the triumph of light over darkness that his work was to accomplish (John9:1-41). Light in the Old Testament was connected to the pillar of fire theophonies that led the Israelites by night in the wilderness, or the glory of God when he appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Light was also seen as the manifestation of God when his glory returned to the Temple and the eschatological glory in Jerusalem (Ezek. 1:4-28; 4:1-17 and Isaiah 60:3-17) (Hoskins, 168). Jesus proclaims to be both the light and the source of light for his people, replacing the other sources of light such as the Temple (Hoskins 169). The claims of water and light fulfillment occurring chronologically at the same event fulfilled Psalm 36:8-9 which states, “you gave them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Therefore when Jesus made proclamations of living water, he indicated that the new age
was at hand and that he was the source of fulfillment of all the symbolism entailed in the light rituals (John 7:37-39, 8:12; Hoskins 160).
The greatest number of references to feasts in John’s gospel was Passover, since by its fulfillment, the other Jewish feasts and the Temple were fulfilled (Hoskins 176). The Passover fulfillment follows a theme throughout John. The first time Passover is mentioned, it is the occasion for Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, anticipating the death of Christ as the fulfillment of both the Passover and the Temple (John 2:13, 23) (Hoskins 176). The next mention of Passover is in the context of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, at which Christ was himself, “true bread from heaven.” (John 6:32). The final Passover coincided with the coming of the hour of Jesus’ death, at which the main emphasis was Jesus as the Passover lamb fulfillment (Hoskins, 178). For example, the fact that the soldier did not break Jesus’ leg despite the fact that it was customary to do so, showed that Christ fulfilled the requirement that the Passover lamb be unblemished and roasted whole, without a single of its bones broken (Ex. 12:10). Instead the soldier pierced the flesh of Jesus’ side and the blood and water poured forth as the climactic expression of his sacrificial pouring out of Christ as the final Passover sacrifice (Hoskins 179). At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that drinking of the cup is to their advantage (Bavinck 457). The public testimony of friendship and shalom made when a communal gathering shared a meal applies to us in the New Covenant as sharers in the body of
blood of Christ (Schaeffer 126). This is why in the New Testament the betrayal of Judas was so shocking just after he had eaten, with Christ and the disciples, of the Last Supper (Fujimara 149). No less shocking was the fact that Christ announced that one among those sharing the meal would betray him. The meal between Christ and his disciples was a Jewish meal of haberim, one between close friends, often sharing a banquet within a home (Smith 651). A betrayal was antithetical to all the connotations of covenantal closeness that meal sharing implied.
At the Lord’s Supper, Christ furthers the theology that he is the bread of life and the food of eternal life. The sacrifice of Christ’s death fulfilled the necessary requirement of the gruesome sacrifices of the various Jewish feasts, but is directed by Christ to be participated in with rejoicing. These realities are given the reinforcement of the sacramental signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to reinforce them (Clowney, 271).At the Passover meal, Christ institutes the New Covenant in which he states, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20; I Cor. 11:2, Clowney 284). The bread was the replacement element for the Passover lamb in the post-exilic period, but Christ not only claims to be the Bread of Life, but also the Passover Lamb. Passover was seven days long, plus one more day. Seven is the number of completion but the added one anticipated something further to come by its incompletion.
When Christ rose on the third day, it was this eighth day of Passover. By his resurrection this day was transformed to becoming the Lord’s Day, fulfillment of the eighth day of Passover. The Passover Sabbath on the seventh day, being followed by the eighth day expected fulfillment. This is the reason why in the New Covenant the Old Testament seventh day Sabbath was changed to the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week as we celebrate it today. The eighth day became the first day, the beginning of the new creation.
In the New Testament, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, all events by which believers were secured with the gift of eternal life, all occurred at Passover With the death and resurrection came the ultimate turning point in history, where the people were given the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in believers. Due to this, in the New Age of post-Passover fulfillment, the church has perfect communion with God having been released from the bondage of Satan who has been dethroned from his previous place as ruler of the earth. Believers now have every Spirit blessing (Eph. 1:3). So great is this reality that according to Paul, believers dwell in the heavenlies with Christ who is on the throne. Throughout John’s gospel this theology is made clear.
The convergence shown in the blood and water flowing from Christ at his death is significant (John 19:34). This merging of symbolic imagery expresses the uniting of many biblical, anticipatory themes of fulfillment in Christ (Hoskins, 180). For example, with the shedding of the sacrificial blood, came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is symbolized by water in Scripture (Hoskins, 179). In Isaiah, the water from the rock was not only an occasion celebrated of the past, but an image of the new age connected to the outpouring of the Spirit (Isaiah 12:3, 30:23-25, 33:16, 21; Hoskins, 164). Furthermore in Zechariah, it was prophesied that the living water would flow eternally from the New Jerusalem in the age to come (Zech.14:8, paralleled with Ezekiel 47:1-12; Hoskins 165).
When we feed on Christ we draw our life from him (Clowney, 287). “Remembrance” in the Old Testament was thought of as the past event actually becoming a part of the present. (Klauck, 363) This connection is vital to recognize as it happens now through the eating and drinking of the blood and body of Christ every time we partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Christ is the true manna, to partake of him is to receive life (Clowney, 286). The Spirit is this life, who opens the heart so that we can believe and receive this life. Christ calling the bread his “body” and the wine his “blood”, and then telling us to partake of it he is telling us to have union with him and in a sense “become him” (289). When we have union with Christ, we are no longer under the dominion of sin. Satan is dethroned by our act of partaking of the feast. We are
joined to one another in this meal as well (290). Just as in Judaism, to partake of a meal was a communal act of shalom and fellowship, the Lord’s Supper does the same thing. We partake of “one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). It is the seal of the promise of union with Christ and his body in the present, with eyes to the future where it will be fully realized (290). When his people took the sacrifice they were accepting his messianic claims and his sacrifice for them (289). Christ is the perfect sacrifice, which we are to remember each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, with enjoyment, for it is the sign and seal until the time of Christ’s return at which complete fruition will occur at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Bavinck, 549).