The biblical feast of Passover is based on the death of a lamb. It remembers the night in which God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt. Its a deeply spiritual ceremony, and every part is full of prophetic meaning. But the two most essential elements are the blood and flesh of the lamb. The lambs blood was smeared on the doorposts and lintel (top crossbeam of a door), and the lambs body was roasted whole and eaten. As centuries passed the meal came to include a cup of red wine that above all other meanings was meant to remember the lambs blood. It had protected each household from the angel of death who swept through Egypt that night. When the angel saw the blood he passed over that house.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum He went into the synagogue either just before Passover or possibly during the week of Unleavened Bread that follows it. Only days before He had fed ten to fifteen thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish, and that miracle, on top of all the healings He was performing, was stirring excitement in the entire region. So many had watched Him break the bread and fish and had eaten the food themselves that He was being pursued by crowds everywhere He went. They were convinced that He was the promised prophet with powers as great as Moses (Dt 18:15-19). Those barley loaves had fed them like manna had fed their ancestors in the wilderness, and they wanted Him to become their king.
When the people who had eaten the loaves and fish finally caught up with Him in Capernaum, they tried to persuade Him to give them more bread, but He refused. He told them they were asking for the wrong kind of bread, and they were seeking to satisfy the wrong kind of hunger. Using the picture of manna which had appeared on the ground each morning during the years of the Exodus, Jesus told them that God had sent the manna from heaven to be more than a practical provision for their physical needs; it was also meant to be a prophetic symbol. By sending that miraculous bread God was telling Israel that someday He would send another kind of bread from heaven, one which would satisfy a much deeper kind of hunger. He would send His Son to satisfy the longing in every human heart to escape death and find eternal life.
Jesus said this while sitting in the synagogue in Capernaum, and the place must have been packed. But mixed in among the congregation were Pharisees from Jerusalem who had come to Galilee to confront Him (Mt 15:1). That year He had not gone down to Jerusalem for Passover, so it appears they had come looking for Him. In the midst of His teaching Jesus used an illustration drawn from the Passover to describe why He had come to earth. It shocked everyone who heard it. He began with the image of the manna and then suddenly switched to the image of the Passover lamb, and He compared Himself to that lamb. He said just as Israel had been required to eat the flesh of the Passover lamb and place its blood on their doors, He too would die. He would give His body and pour out His blood so that eternal death might pass over those who believe in Him. He wanted everyone in the synagogue to recognize that the Passover ceremony spoke of Him. Eating the lamb was a way of partaking by faith in the protection the lamb provided. And drinking the cup of red wine was a way of partaking by faith in the protective power of the blood on the doorway. Heres what He said,
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 (Jn 6:51).
The religious leaders took Him literally and asked, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? (Jn 6:52), so Jesus said to them,
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. 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 (Jn 6:53-58).
To invite that congregation to believe in Him, Jesus rolled two great Old Testament images into one. Like manna, He said He had been sent from heaven to feed them, and like the Passover lamb, it would be necessary for Him to die violently to rescue them. His body would be crucified and His blood poured out, so they could escape from death.
A year later
During a Passover meal in an upper room in Jerusalem the following year (Jn 13), Jesus made this same comparison between Himself and the Passover lamb, only this time there could be no confusion over what He meant. He held up a portion of the unleavened bread which is used in the meal and said,
This is My body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me (Lk 22:19).
Later in the meal He held up the cup of wine which is called the cup of redemption and said,
This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood (Lk 22:20).
By eating the bread and drinking from the cup which He passed to them, these disciples were saying to Him, I believe in You. You will give your body in death. Your lifes blood will be poured out for me. By eating and drinking I receive by faith what You will do for me on the cross. Like manna You came from heaven to give us life, and like the Passover lamb You will die to deliver us from death.
Back in Capernaum (Jn 6:66-69)
No one that day in Capernaum understood what He meant, not even His own disciples, but to their credit they remained loyal and didnt abandon Him. The crowd had taken His words literally and thought He was talking about some form of cannibalism (Jn 6:52, 60-61). Of course He wasnt. He was using manna and the Passover as parables to illustrate spiritual truths. And He tried to tell them that, but they wouldnt listen. He said, Does this cause you to stumble?... It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn 6:61-63). In other words, Surely you dont think Im speaking to you literally. Im trying to explain to you spiritual principles. Theres no physical substance you could eat that would save you. All salvation is found in the spiritual realm. Im trying to tell you that Im going to die for you and that you must believe that fact and receive it personally to be saved.
The real problem
Then Jesus put His finger on the real problem. He told them why they didnt understand. He said people who do not consider themselves to be sinners, those who believe they have done nothing wrong, feel no need for God to do something so drastic to rescue them. God sending His Son to die simply makes no sense to them. Why would He do that? But those who are aware of their sin and know they are in serious trouble are desperately hoping that somehow God will make a way to give them mercy. He described this group of people as those being drawn to Him by the Father. Listen,
Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me (Jn 6:43-45).
Many times during Israels history God had sent prophets to warn the nation to repent, and lately John the Baptist had been the Fathers voice calling people to prepare themselves to face the Messiah. Those who knew they were sinners and listened to that voice had repented and been baptized, calling on God for mercy. They longed for the assurance that their sins were forgiven. They were watching for a Savior, so when they met Jesus and understood who He was and why He had come, they also understood why He would have to die: it was for them.
Receiving the Fathers gift
Those who are hungry, know they need bread. Those who are sick, know they need a doctor. Those who are sinners, know they need a Savior. Those who are willing to listen to the voice that convicts them of sin, are able to hear the voice that assures them that God has made a way to rescue them. Those who listen to the Father gladly listen to His Son, because the same voice that has been showing them their need is now showing them their answer. The question today is do you and I hear that voice? Lets listen to it once more. Its offering us bread from heaven: John 6:51-58
1) According to Jesus a guilty conscience can be a good thing. What did He mean when He said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick (Mt 9:12)?
2) Exodus 12:1-13, 21-28 describes the first Passover in Egypt. As you read through those verses count how many times you see something that describes Jesus.