And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they knew not what it was. And Moses said to them…
The manna, which is described in ver. 4 as "bread from heaven," was typical of Christ, who is "the true bread from heaven" - "the bread of God which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world" (John 6:31-34). The connection in John 6. is with the Jews' demand for a sign. The interrogators reminded Christ of how their fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it was written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat! (Psalm 105:40). The design of Jesus in his reply was, first, to wean their hearts away from merely carnal expectations in connection with his appearing, and, secondly, to lead them to see in the gift of manna, as well as in the miracle he had just performed - the feeding of the multitudes - some-thing more than the mere supplying of bodily necessities; - to see in them "signs" (John 6:26 - "Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs," etc. Rev. Ver.) i.e. types, allegories, suggestive earthly symbols, of spiritual realities - of what he was in himself, of the work he came to do, of the relations in which he stood to perishing men. The manna is thus figured as "spiritual meat" (1 Corinthians 10:3), a type of Christ as the living bread for the souls of men. Consider in illustration of this analogy -
I. THE NEED WHICH EXISTED FOR THIS PROVISION. The Israelites were in the desert, where nature, if left to itself, would inevitably perish. Their supplies of food were exhausted. The whole multitude would have died of hunger, had not Divine mercy interposed for their relief. The manna which God gave them literally stood between them and death. In this circumstance we see one feature imaged in which Christ clearly appears as the bread of life. When he uses: this language of himself he means to tell us, that just as these Israelites under Moses absolutely hung for any hope of life they had on that food which was miraculously supplied to them; so does the world hang - hang absolutely - for its life, its salvation, its eternal well-being on him. It needs eternal life. Its heart craves for it. It is perishing for want of it. But if it is ever to get it, Christ says, it must get it through him, through receiving him, through appropriating what he is, and what he has done for it as Saviour.
II. THE SUPERNATURAL CHARACTER OF THE PROVISION. There could be no question as to the supernatural character of the supply in the case of the manna. The Israelites needed to be saved, and God saved them by a miracle. There was, as it were, a distinct opening of heaven for their benefit. The hand that fed them came from the unseen. In like manner, Christ lays emphasis on the fact that he - the bread of life for men - is "bread from heaven." The salvation that embodies itself in him is no salvation of man's devising, nor one which, even had the thought of it entered his mind, man could ever from his own resources have achieved. If the world is to be saved at all, if it is to be delivered from its woes, if it is to have eternal life, Saviour and salvation must come from heaven. Our hope, as of old, is in God, and in God only. It is not for us to provide, but only thankfully to receive, and earnestly to appropriate the salvation. God gives us the bread from heaven; gives it freely; gives it as bread which no efforts of our own, however laborious, could have enabled us to procure; gives it, that is, as a Divine, supernatural bread, the boon of sovereign grace.
III. THE AMPLE ABUNDANCE OF THE PROVISION. The manna was given in abundance. There was neither lack nor stint. The table that was spread in the wilderness was one of royal bounty; as in the later miracle of the loaves, "they did all eat, and were filled" (Matthew 14:20). There was, as in the father's house in the parable, "Enough and to spare" (Luke 15:17), overflowing provision. How significant a fact when the heart is putting to itself the question, Will Christ's death avail for me? He calls himself "the true bread which cometh down from heaven;" and it cannot be but that this feature in the type will be reflected in the antitype. There is provision in Christ for all. He gives his flesh for the life of the world (ver. 51). He is come that men "might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). No stint, no lack, no scarcity in the salvation of Christ.
IV. THE PROVISION NOW, AS THEN, NEEDS TO BE APPROPRIATED. It was nothing to the Israelites that the manna, sparkling like pearls in the morning sunshine, lay all around them; they must gather, they must eat, they must make the "bread from heaven" food for their own life. So with Christ and his salvation. He calls himself "bread," to bring out strongly, not only what he is in himself in relation to human wants, but what men must do with him, if they would partake in the life he comes to give. He must be received, "eaten," inwardly appropriated, fed upon, made part, so to speak, of our very selves; only thus will the new life be begotten in us. This "eating" of Christ is parallel with the "believing" of other verses (vers. 29, 40, 47). Some, remembering this, may be disposed to say, it is only believing. But the use of such a metaphor should rather teach us how real, and inward, and appropriating a principle, this believing on Jesus is. It is clearly no slight, transitory act of mind or heart which is denoted by it, but a most spiritual, most inward, most vital and personal energy of appropriation; a process of reception, digestion, and transformation into spiritual substance, and new powers of spiritual life, of what we have in the Saviour. How great Christ must be, who thus declares himself to be the bread of life for the whole world - the support and food (consciously or unconsciously) of all the spiritual life there is in it! No wonder that the work of works which God requires of us is that we believe on him whom he has sent (John 6:29).
V. WHAT THERE IS IN CHRIST WHICH CONSTITUTES HIM THE WORLD'S BREAD OF LIFE. We set aside as unsupported the analogies which some have sought between the roundness, sweetness, whiteness, etc., of the manna, and qualities in the person and work of the Redeemer. It is, however, clear that if Christ is the antitype of the manna, and the true bread which cometh down from heaven, it must be in virtue of certain qualities in him which admit of being specified. And what these are, it is not difficult to show. He is the bread of life to men -
1. As incarnate God. In the humanity of Jesus Christ, the Divine is brought near to us, and made apprehensible, and provision is also made for the communication of the Divine life in its fullest, richest form to our souls. In him dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). He is the medium of the communication of that Divine fulness to us (1 John 1:16). In him, the Divine life is embodied in a holy, perfect humanity; and in that form - a form which brings it within our reach, which makes apprehension and assimilation possible - it is presented to us to be partaken of.
2. As an atoning Saviour. Did Christ not bear this character of Atoner, he would not be truly bread of life to the guilty. Our guilt, our sin, our whole moral condition, stands between us and God, an insuperable barrier to the peace and fellowship for which we crave. But Christ has taken away that barrier. He has made a sacrifice of himself for sin (John 6:51). To appropriate what I have in Christ, is, accordingly, to appropriate to myself the certainty of forgiveness through his death, the assurance of peace with God, the knowledge of reconciliation. And to have done this is already to have begun to live. It is to feel the awakening within me of new-born powers of love, and trust, and service; to feel the dread and despair that before possessed me vanishing like a dark nightmare from my spirit, to be replaced by the joy of pardon, and the sense of the Divine favour. It is to realise the accomplishment of that spiritual change which the Scriptures describe as a "passing from death unto life" (John 5:24). "Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
3. As a life-giving Spirit. Jesus is what he is to man, in virtue of his possession of the holy, life-giving Spirit - the personal Holy Ghost - by whom he dwells in the hearts of his people, and through whom he communicates to them all the fulness of his own life. This operation of the Spirit is already implied in what we have said of the results of faith in him. He is the effectual agent in converting, quickening, enlightening, sanctifying, comforting, strengthening, beautifying, and spiritually edifying the souls of such as attain to salvation. The influences of this Spirit in the soul are but another name for eternal life. And Christ is the giver of this Spirit. It is from him the Spirit comes. His work on earth has opened the way for the free communication of the Spirit's influences. He dwells by this Spirit in each of his members, nourishing, strengthening, and purifying them, To nourish ourselves upon Christ is to take more of this Spirit into our hearts and lives. Thus is Christ the bread of life. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.