For more than 50 years, I have annually observed the New Testament Passover as instructed by Jesus Christ. Each time I have marveled at the significance of what Christ taught His followers and how meaningful each of the elements and symbols are for my life today.
In a way, Jesus Christ’s entire ministry for mankind is condensed into what happened on that evening! Let’s take a closer look. The Gospel writer Luke shares this account of what happened that evening:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
“When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, ‘With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’
“Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me’” (Luke 22:14-19).
The apostle Paul later explains what he had been personally taught by Jesus Christ:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Key symbols of Christianity
The very heart and core of Christianity is wrapped up in the symbols of the bread and the wine that Jesus shared at the Passover the night before His death. Christ established a practice for Christians to follow and carefully examine today.
The Passover evening began with Jesus washing each of the disciple’s feet, as recorded in John 13:1-17. This showed His humility and service to humanity and the need for Him to cleanse us while also setting an example for us to follow. He followed up with the symbols of the bread and wine. Drinking the Passover wine represented accepting Jesus’ shed blood as payment for our sins that we may be forgiven as part of the New Covenant He offered.
The prophet Isaiah eloquently described this meaning: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
When we take part in the Passover service today we reenact the solemnity, the intimacy of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, with one another and with ourselves. We leave the past behind as we reach out towards immortality and the Kingdom of God.
As Christians, we are admonished to examine ourselves prior to the service: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
So, what is it about the Lord’s body that we are to discern or understand? This brings us to a closer look at the symbol of the bread representing the body of Christ.
The living bread that makes eternal life possible
Before the Passover and addressing a large crowd near Capernaum, Jesus boldly proclaimed: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51).
We want to live forever, but most are not sure this will happen or how it’s possible. This uncertainty worsens the grief and heartache for many when a loved one or someone close dies. People try to stretch out physical existence and grasp for the elusive essence called life but only find themselves staring at a mirage in a desert of desperation and wishful dreaming.
What is it about the bread of which Jesus spoke that we should focus on? And what can we learn that will grant certainty in answer to the question of man’s mortality and immortality?
Humanity seeks assurance to a question that Job asked thousands of years ago: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). Job answered his question in the same verse: “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come” (King James Version). He was looking to a time beyond this life when a change would bring eternal life.
Again, a careful reading of John 6:51 is where Jesus Christ reveals an important secret of living forever. The secret is in the meaning of bread.
The biblical observance of Passover is followed immediately by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast, including the two Holy Days that bookend it, is about bread! What is the point of this emphasis? Is there something more about eating the bread and God’s command to eat unleavened bread during this feast (see Leviticus 23:6) that we might be missing? Certainly God’s placement of the Feast of Unleavened Bread right on the heels of the Passover must have special significance.
Jesus Christ is the Source of life
When you come to understand all that the bread represents, you will understand the deepest, loving intentions of God toward humankind. It is here that we experience God’s graciousness towards us. It is coupled with our responsibility as His children who will then embark on an eternal fulfilling relationship.
So let us examine some of the lessons of bread as it equates to life—for eternity and for the here and now.
Jesus Christ is the source of eternal life, as we read in John 6:51. And as He said, if you want eternal life you must “feed” on Him. Furthermore, He stated in the Sermon on the Mount that there is only one path to eternity: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). We must pay careful attention as to what that pathway is!
Life does not originate from spontaneous chemical reactions. Neither does it spring into existence from nothing. The world’s great philosophers and thinkers, outside of God’s revelation, cannot explain what life is. Scientists have failed to create life from lifeless matter. All life comes only from preexisting life, and that is not ultimately of this physical realm. Man can prolong, pass on and reproduce himself, but he cannot create the very essence of life.
Bread represents sustenance of life—nurture and feeding. Even today, a “breadwinner” in a family is whoever earns a living and provides for the family. Bread is also referred to as the “staff of life.” One of the petitions in Jesus Christ’s model prayer is to regularly ask, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). He meant food and nourishment in general, along with all it represents for us.
Multiplying bread to feed thousands
Again in John 6:51 Jesus taught a profound lesson about bread and life. Thousands came to hear Him (John 6:10; Matthew 14:21). The time was just before the Passover (John 6:4).
Jesus started a discussion about bread and eating at this large outdoor gathering of people who came together to hear Him speak. After He finished His teaching, and aware of people wanting to eat, Jesus asked Philip about what they could do to feed the large crowd. Philip responded by saying that they had too little money to buy enough food. Then the disciple Andrew interjected that there was a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. But this obviously was not a solution for a gathering of that size.
Jesus knew this and, as He already intended to, turned this event into a lesson. He instructed that the people sit orderly in the grass. He then gave thanks and instructed that the disciples distribute the boy’s fish and bread to the crowd. Miraculously, there was plenty—even enough for leftovers!
A more important lesson about the Bread of Life
The weightier lesson of this experience came the next day when the people followed Jesus by boats to see Him again. This time He spoke to their self-seeking motive, which was to get another free meal. He said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:26-27).
Jesus further commented about the value of bread when the people brought up the manna that God provided for the Israelites during their wandering in the wilderness (see Exodus 16).
“Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘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.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’” (John 6:31-35).
The point of Jesus’ teaching should be clear to us as well. He compares the sustenance of physical food, which gives us limited physical life, to the far greater sustenance from Himself, our life-giver, to grant us eternal life! Do we feed only on physical food, or do we seek what will give us life eternal?
In His discourse, Jesus clearly made His point about the superiority of immortal life and the unprofitability of mere physical existence: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 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. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:47-51).
Abiding in Christ
This brings us to another very important aspect of the Passover Bread.
Jesus continued His pointed teaching about what kind of relationship matters with Him and leads to eternal rewards.
Notice what He further said in the same context: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:54-56).
We now move to an active full-time relationship with Him that results in a changed mindset and results in bearing fruit. Jesus described the kind of relationship He desires to share with us in His final teaching that last night with His disciples after their Passover together, telling them:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:1-8).
The Passover bread represents this conscious, close relationship between Jesus Christ and us. Note how Paul expressed it in this passage in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (KJV).
Writing to the church at Rome (and to us today), Paul gives this exhortation: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
Ask God to transform your life, not just reform it! Ask Him to make you fruitful by developing a different, unselfish mindset. Ask God to help you say the right things, think the right things and do the right things. Be intent on wrapping your life around Jesus Christ: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
Bread and suffering
Suffering is not easy. It’s difficult to face and endure pain and hurt. The symbolism of breaking the bread at the Passover represented Jesus Christ’s sufferings. He suffered humiliation, mocking, beating, torture and an excruciating execution—which were represented by the breaking of bread at the Passover with His disciples. “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” He told them (1 Corinthians 11:24).
We are admonished to take this into account whenever we suffer. As 1 Peter 4 states: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1).
And we read later in the same chapter: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Jesus said to the multitudes following Him, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). Following Him involves sacrifice and sometimes enduring great trial.
But the Bible also says: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13, New Living Translation).
We may be disheartened in the face of all the tests, trials and suffering we may have to endure, but consider the troubled lives of those who are not Christians. Yes, maybe we may have much to endure as a Christian, but it’s harder in the long run to endure not being a Christian!
Christ said that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Endurance is not gliding through constant enjoyment but means making it through difficult times. And that is what God requires of us.
Of the many questions we receive from our readers, by far the most prevalent have to do with why we must suffer. Why can’t Christians be exempt from pain?
To become a disciple of Christ we must be prepared for the suffering that will come with that, including some suffering common to man. We live in a world of horrendous injustice, evil and pain. People around us are suffering from health problems, betrayals, addictions and relationship issues with children, parents and partners. And many of these things don’t resolve themselves very easily. How can a Christian deal with that? We have to learn to “suffer with Christ”—to learn from the suffering aspect of being a Christian.
The bread: Christ’s suffering for us
The answer to why we experience suffering lies in the suffering of Jesus Christ pictured by the broken bread. He gave Himself to us seeking closeness, presence, togetherness and a relationship. And to accomplish that, He came to experience our pain.
He came into our suffering now. In His last instructions to His disciples on that final Passover night with them, Christ encouraged them with these words: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Through God’s compassion on us through Christ, we have compassion toward others: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
The lesson of unity
Paul in describing the Passover service made a thought-provoking comment about another meaning of the bread: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, English Standard Version).
In taking of the same bread, says Paul, the members of the Church are one through that bread. We become part of Him and, through Him, of each other.
Jesus’ final prayer before being arrested concerned His disciples then as well as His followers throughout all time. He prayed for their unity: “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11)
He specifically prayed that His followers of all ages would be one, unified as He and His Father are one: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).
While Christians have not done well in being united, it was still Christ’s recorded prayer and His desire. So we must ask ourselves: How we can bring about unity and peace? Certainly we know that after Christ’s return, mankind will be united, and there will be a different mindset and spirit. However, the question remains: What is our role in being peacemakers and bringing about unity today?
The Days of Unleavened Bread
As mentioned earlier, the Days of Unleavened Bread follow the Passover. It is indeed interesting that there is such an emphasis on bread over the course of these days.
In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Paul was writing during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Notice what he stated about the meaning of leaven and being spiritually unleavened: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Leavening, an agent such as yeast that causes bread dough to rise in baking, is a representation of being puffed up and proud. But being spiritually unleavened means we are seeking sincerity and truth. This is yet another significant meaning of the unleavened bread eaten at Passover.
Finale: The bread
The story of Christ’s purpose is found in the symbols of the bread and wine He instituted at that final Passover with His disciples. His death for us is depicted by the wine. His life is pictured by the bread, for He calls Himself “the Bread of Life.”
Jesus Christ is the Source of life, and He desires for us to follow Him to eternity. There is no other way. He is the Bread of Life, and His desire is that we partake of Him—so that He becomes part of us and we of Him. Our duty once we understand this is to abide in Him, to live our lives with Him in us. We are to imitate Him, to be like Him in every way.
Also, as we live out our reality in the world today we are to understand and appreciate Christ’s suffering for our benefit. He offered up His life so that we can have life—life everlasting. He has compassion on us, and in the same way we should have compassion on others. We have encouragement in a world that, without the gospel message, is without hope—a hope that we live by through the revelation of God’s Word that we are so blessed to have received.
May we have our part in the unity of the Bread of Christ, and may God open our eyes to this great revelation and pathway to eternity!