What Is This Manna?
When Jesus shows up on the scene in the Gospel of Mark, he keeps astonishing everyone. Mark didn’t get the memo about not reusing the same words in your writing. He keeps saying “amazed” and “astonished” and, my favorite, “immediately.” But, since God is the real author of Mark’s Gospel, we know that the repetition is not for lack of a thesaurus. It is not due to limited vocabulary. The repetition is there to help us. Jesus amazes and astonishes everyone with signs and wonders as he delivers them from sickness, disease, sin, and bondage, just like Yahweh amazed and astonished everyone with signs and wonders when he delivered his people from bondage and slavery.
After Jesus’s first show of miraculous power in the Gospel of Mark (his healing of a man with an unclean spirit), the amazed people turn to each other and say, “What is this?” (Mark 1:27). In the Septuagint, which is a Greek version of the Old Testament that Jesus and the Jewish people of the day used, that phrase, “What is this?” is the exact same phrase that the Israelites uttered when they first saw the manna in the wilderness and turned to each other saying, “What is it?”1 The same Greek phrase is translated as “What is it?” and “What is this?” This echo of the exodus story, this repetition of phrase, is an early tip-off of what the apostle John makes explicit. Jesus is the bread come down from heaven. He is our miraculous heavenly provision.
The people seek a sign from Jesus as explicit as the manna their forefathers ate, asking him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30–31). They seek a sign like bread falling from heaven not because it would make them believe, but because they were bent on not believing. They seek a sign of raining grain, even though they had watched him multiply bread for a multitude. They are disingenuous. They don’t care about signs. They want to be in control of the situation. So Jesus answers them:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:47–51)
What is this? This is the bread of heaven standing in your midst. If you refuse to eat it—which means to believe in him—there can be no eternal life, but only an expectation of death.
The Bread of Offense
I remember my face getting hot as though someone had turned on a stove inside my body. I read my email with distress. The words from this dear fellow Christian were rebuking me in a way that seemed to sink right into the deepest parts of me—I felt uncomfortably seen and hurt. My mind quickly began to work my way out of it—looking for the errors in the email, the sentences that could have been more accurate, the ways I hadn’t been understood properly, which were real enough.
Yet, I could see opposing paths before me—the path of self-justification or the path of repentance, the path of offended-ness or the path of humility, the path of life or the path of death. I could rebuff this rebuke as hurtful and demeaning, or I could receive it as the faithful wounds of a friend, sent to me for my welfare by the God who is working all things for my good. All I knew of this person—a faithful life, a humble demeanor, a teachable spirit, wisdom and knowledge of the word—was begging me to take this rebuke seriously. And with the help of God’s Spirit at work in me, I did take it seriously. It remains with me to this day as oil on my head and nourishment for my bones.
You live for the Lord and by every word that comes from his mouth.
When Jesus’s many disciples heard his narrow and seemingly outrageous statements that not only was he the manna come down from heaven, the bread of life, but that they must eat of his flesh in order to have eternal life, they had two paths before them. They could grumble and be offended and leave, or they could turn to him as the way, the truth, and the life—the true bread from heaven. And both of those things happened. Some grumbled as Jesus asked them, “Do you take offense at this?” (John 6:61). We know they did take offense, because many of his disciples “turned back and no longer walked with him” after his teaching (John 6:66). But not all. Some remained. “So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:67–69).
The bread of Jesus is the bread of offense. There is no way around it. If you follow him, if you receive him, if you love him, if you die his death and live his life, then you too will be offensive. Like my friend who was willing to rebuke and offend me for my good, you will be offensive to many because you don’t live to please them or to be liked by them, but you live for the Lord and by every word that comes from his mouth. Because of that, a counterintuitive thing happens: we can actually love our friends and neighbors with the offense of Christ, knowing that for some it will not be mere offense or a stone of stumbling, but true life—the precious cornerstone on which they stand.
The manna isn’t quite what we were expecting—it is eternally better—it is Jesus Christ.
- Τί ἐστιν τοῦτο is the Greek phrase in the Septuagint translated as “What is it?” and in the Greek New Testament as “What is this?” In the first case it refers to manna; in the second case, it refers to Jesus’s teaching.
This article is adapted from Bread of Life: Savoring the All-Satisfying Goodness of Jesus through the Art of Bread Making by Abigail Dodds.
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