The manna of the wilderness did not impart eternal life. Those who ate the manna in the wilderness died because “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The Master contrasted the living manna (Himself) against the manna in the wilderness. He implored the people to set aside their objections. He said, “I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life” (John 6:47-48). Yeshua is the heavenly bread that came forth from the mouth of the LORD, “the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die … if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:50-51).
Some of the people in the Capernaum synagogue that day (many of whom had come looking for another miraculous feeding) misunderstood. They objected and began to argue with others, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52).
Undaunted, the Master turned their misunderstanding into a further teaching: “Amen, amen,” He said, “I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (John 6:53). The image is disturbing even outside of a Jewish context where the Torah severely censures ingesting blood. Yeshua took the imagery even further: “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” (John 6:54-55).
How were the people present that day supposed to eat Him? Yeshua was not actually made of manna or bread. Nor did He expect the congregation in the Capernaum synagogue to gather around and begin to cannibalize Him.
He explained to the people, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56). In other words, consuming the Master’s flesh and blood consists of abiding in Him and allowing Him to abide within oneself. Like food that nourishes the body and becomes one with the human body, Yeshua nourishes the human spirit and becomes one with the spirit.
In the Torah and the teachings of the rabbis, the manna from heaven mystically represents the study and incorporation of Torah—the Word of God—into one’s consciousness and life. A similar meaning lies behind the Master’s words. Yeshua compared Himself to manna. Eating the manna (which is Messiah) symbolically means coming to Him, looking to Him, and believing in Him. He had already made that much clear earlier in the discourse:
- This is the work [required by] God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. (John 6:29)
- Come to the Son, behold the Son, and believe in Him. (John 6:35, 40)
- Listen to the Father and learn from Him and come to the Son. (6:45)
- Believe in the Son and receive everlasting life. (John 6:47)