When Moses led the congregation of Israel out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the Sinai Peninsula, God fed His people with Manna. (cf. Exodus 16)
The word “manna,” means, “what is it,” which was the question the people first asked when they saw the substance lying on the ground in the morning. Manna was a round, white substance, like a coriander seed, yet with a taste like wafers made with honey (cf. Exodus 16:31). It could be boiled or baked, and it fed the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 16:23, 35)
Manna was, unequivocally, a supernatural substance, and is sometimes referred to as “the bread from heaven.” (eg. Exodus 16:4; Psalm 78:24, 105:40) It appeared with the dew in the morning and then evaporated from the ground with the sun when not gathered. Moreover, it operated a little differently depending on the day of the week. From Sunday to Friday, any manna not eaten during the day began to rot overnight and go bad. (cf. Exodus 16:17-21). But on Friday night, and all-day Saturday, it didn’t do this. Manna prepared for consumption on Friday would last through till the end of Saturday.
Part of the reason for this was practical and instructive for God’s people. He wanted them to learn to take no more than they needed, from day to day, relying completely on Him each day. Yet He had also commanded them not to work on the Sabbath, or Saturday, which included as part of the command, no cooking. The manna thus operated in a way that allowed the people to keep God’s command.
But there was, perhaps, another reason God had for the manna that didn’t see corruption: it was a foreshadowing of the death and burial of His Son.
Time and space preclude a full discussion of the symbolic importance of manna in relationship to Jesus Christ, and while some might think such a relationship is a stretch, it was Jesus Himself who pointed His followers to consider Him in relationship to the manna with which God fed the Israelites.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is recorded as having preached an entire sermon devoted to the subject that He Himself was the true bread of heaven. After Jesus miraculously supplied some 5000 individuals with food, the crowds came to Him again, demanding to be fed. They reminded Him that Moses had been marked by giving bread to the people of God, to which Jesus replied, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give 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.” (John 6:32-33)
He also spoke to them saying, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.” (John 6:48-50; NKJV)
Thus we see this connection made, symbolically, by Christ, between Himself and manna. So how does this all relate to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ?
Jesus died on Passover, and was buried that evening, during the period of time we would call Friday night. His labors were over and He rested on the Sabbath in the tomb, awaiting the triumph of Sunday morning, when He would rise again.
Of this time, David, who was a prophet of God wrote of Jesus, saying, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10; ESV) Jesus was in the tomb, by modern reckoning for somewhere between 24 and 36 hours. While there is some small internal decay of a body immediately following death, bacteria, we are told, does not begin to truly work on the body until after two or three days have passed. Jesus was not dead long enough for this process to truly get underway.
So we see this connection. Jesus was the true Bread of Heaven, sent from God to give life and sustenance to God’s people. In the wilderness, come Sabbath, manna, the bread of heaven which foreshadowed Christ, did not see decay, and when Jesus was in the tomb on Saturday, He likewise did not see decay.
Some might think this to be a trivial sort of point, but as we contemplate it, we must be moved by the incredible forethought that God put into His plan, foreshadowing it every step of the way, so that the whole of the Old Testament speaks to us today, pointing us over and over to the work of Christ, as was written, “now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11; NKJV)
What is our conclusion then? Let us hear what Jesus said in this matter: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:27; ESV)
If you would like to learn more about the true Bread of Life, and the eternal life He gives, , the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.