Christian Churches of God
One Bread, One Body
(Edition 3.5 19940402-19991125-20070119-20180326)
This paper examines the concept of Christ as the Bread of Life and the Bread of God, commencing from John 6:24-63.
One Bread, One Body
John 6:24-27 So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Caper'na-um, seeking Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal." (RSV)
These were people who followed Jesus for entertainment purposes, which centred not on the signs he gave but on the physical comforts he provided. This view still prevails today where people enter the body for social reasons, not the least of which are the physical comforts provided.
John 6:28-33 Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" 29Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." (RSV)
This was a difficult concept for many to comprehend. How could Jesus, a man, be the bread of God? They thought, as many do today, in physical and not in spiritual terms.
John 6:41-55 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." 42They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, `I have come down from heaven'?" 43Jesus answered them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. (RSV)
The Jews understood this only on a physical level. The terminology appears to indicate Jesus was referring to some kind of cannibalism. However, we all understand from the subsequent activities that Jesus wasn't speaking of cannibalism.
John 6:56-63 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." 59This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper'na-um. 60Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" 61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offence at this? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (RSV)
Jesus was referring to sharing in the Kingdom of God and participating in his mission and work, which is symbolised by the terms eating and drinking of his life and the message which is from God (Jn. 4:34).
John 4:34 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (KJV)
As Christ’s food is that he does the will of the Father, so too we eat from the body of Christ in doing his work.
There must be a continual drinking in of Christ's life – his mind, his words, his attitudes and examples – because, in that way, we partake of the divine nature of God as Christ does (2Pet. 1:4). In that way we become living stones, disallowed of men but chosen of God and precious, built up into a spiritual house as an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1Pet. 2:4)
Our spiritual lives are to be bound to the life of Messiah as a peculiar people, as a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. Each and every one of the elect is of this royal priesthood.
Jesus pointed out in John 6:63 that the flesh profits nothing. Our human existence is a transient thing and exists only to educate us in the responsibility of the Kingdom of God. We must realise that God desires us to focus upon the spiritual. We must understand that our physical lives, our flesh, spiritually speaking, profits nothing.
Romans 8:6, 12-13 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. ... 12So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh -- 13for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. (RSV)
To be carnally minded means to die. By the power of God's Spirit we are to be put to death. We are not simply to be on top of carnal attitudes – we must be dead to them.
Romans 8:16-17 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (RSV)
Overcoming sin requires self-denial. The process of self-denial is not asceticism. Christ laid down his life to obey God.
1Peter 2:21-23 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (RSV)
Christ was never accusative. Christ did not excuse his behaviour on the basis of other’s carnality. This was evident among the sons of God. Michael the archangel dared not make a railing accusation against the adversary when he struggled with him for the body of Moses (Jude 9). Christ bore our sins so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
1Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (RSV)
Furthermore, by his example he showed that to live for righteousness requires and implies the likelihood of suffering. This suffering is in the process of working with and for the body of Christ.
1Peter 2:25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (RSV)
The healing Christ brings is that of reconciliation to God.
Now when Israel was brought out of Egypt, they came out as a unified group of people. They were also accompanied by aliens who attached themselves to Israel and were saved within the protection of the body under Christ in the wilderness and were fed on the manna, as was Israel. They discerned the body of Israel and worked with Israel to attain to salvation as they saw it, which at that time was a physical salvation. One of the lessons the Passover season teaches us is what it means to be reconciled to God and to our brethren and unified with one another. That is, these days teach unity following on from a discerning of the body, and the participation in the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ (1Cor. 11:18-34).
To bring about unity between us requires self-sacrifice in our lives; that is, the giving up of our prejudices – the giving up of our desires and personal ambitions. We have a commission of Jesus Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. We have no say as to who is placed in the body. We can only discern those in the body by the fact that they speak according to the Law and the Testimony (Isa. 8:20).
The Lord's Supper bread represents the body of Messiah, and the cup of wine represents the blood of Messiah.
1Corinthians 10:16-17 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one bread, for we all partake of the one loaf. (NIV)
1Corinthians 10:16-17 You would agree that the cup of blessing for which we give thanks is a means of sharing in the blood of Christ. You would agree that the bread which we break is a means of sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is one loaf, and because we all receive a share of the one loaf, although we are many, we are one body. (Barclay)
1Corinthians 10:16-17 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a very sharing in the blood of Christ? When we break the bread do we not actually share in the body of Christ? The very fact that we, many as we are, share one bread makes us all one body (Phillips).
There is a message in the activities we undertake at the Passover. It is that through our sharing of the bread, we signify we are one body. When we partake of the bread we are saying:
· that we have discerned the Body of Christ which is the Church,
· that we are reconciled to God, and
· that we are reconciled to one another.
The discerning of the body is the identification of the Body of Christ, by the discerning of doctrine and the right division of truth. By our partaking of the Passover we are identifying with the body of Jesus Christ. In effect we are saying that the people with whom we take the Lord’s Supper are the identified body of Christ, as the true spiritual Israel. If we do not agree with their fundamental doctrines then we have no business being with them for the Lord’s Supper.
The bread represents the body of Christ which is not simply the physical body Christ had as a man, but the spiritual organism he is head of, that is the Church. Because we each eat a little bit of bread from a common source, we share as partakers in that single spiritual organism – the Church – through the Holy Spirit.
When we eat of the bread we are making a commitment to become one with each other as brethren, even as the bread is one.
Christ gave his life in sacrifice for us that we might be one (Jn. 17:21). So too we should commit our lives to become one. God's objective is to build a family, united together. However, that objective requires building unity among ourselves. God is not a respecter of persons. He is not concerned about our income levels, our educational background, our ethnic background, or our cultural background. He sees beyond these things and desires us to have the same love for one another as He has for each of us. So to partake of the Lord's Supper bread is to acknowledge to God that Christ is not divided. We acknowledge the common unity and equality of the elect as a kingdom of priests (Rev. 5:10).
The bread of the Lord's Supper has specific lessons concerning the unity God wants to build in us.
1. Christ chose bread to symbolise his body and the Church
Messiah did not choose meat to symbolise the Church in spite of the fact that his actual body was flesh. The analogy of the wine is also important in determining the lessons of the covenant of God. This has been dealt with in the paper The Covenant of God (No. 152). In the Lord’s Supper, when it came to symbolising his body and the spiritual body of the Church, Christ chose bread.
What is it that bread can teach us that other aspects might not illustrate?
Bread in the Middle East was and still is a staple of the average person's diet. Several kinds of grain were well known, the most common being wheat (ISBE, Vol. 1, pp. 540-543, art. Bread). Barley was a second but less popular grain used for bread making. Bread was both a staple and a symbol of hospitality. Strangers were to be offered bread and water (Neh. 13:lf.), and people were not to be sent away without them having been given bread (Mat. 14:15-21). The host would break off a piece he had in his hand and give it to his guest. In this way it also became a symbol of community and mutual responsibility. By eating the bread a guest became bound to his host.
If we were someone's servant and ate of our master’s bread, then we were bound to speak his or her word (1Kgs. 18:19; cf. 1Kgs. 13:9). The priests who ate at Jezebel’s table were tied to her false religious system and so taught for hire, which God condemns (Mic. 3:11) and waged war on those who did not feed them (Mic. 3:5).
When Christ used bread to symbolise his body and the Church, it already had a rich history of symbolism behind it.
2. The first-fruits of the harvests are made into the bread of the Tabernacle
Bread, as we have seen, could be made from wheat or barley grain and, less often, millet. In times of extreme hardship lentils and beans might be added to the mixture but normally bread started as grain. Grain is often used to symbolise humans in God's Plan of Salvation. In James 1:18 in the Barclay translation we read:
James 1:18 By an act of his own will, through the word of truth, he brought us into being, for, just as the first fruits of the harvest are specially dedicated to him, so he intended us to have the first and highest place in all creation. (Barclay)
The term first fruits here is from the Greek aparche and Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon defines it as: to take away the first fruits of the produce of the earth which was offered to God; the first portion of the dough, from which sacred loaves were to be prepared.
The first-fruits develop from Christ as the Wave Sheaf of the barley harvest. The elect, at Pentecost, symbolise the wheat harvest.
The Bible shows us that the world is portrayed as a field of grain (Mat. 13:24-51). True Christians are likened to grains of wheat growing among tares. Grain was also used to picture the resurrection of the dead, which is the hope of Christians.
1Corinthians 15:35-38,42 But perhaps someone will ask, "How is the resurrection achieved? With what sort of body do the dead arrive?" Now that is a silly question! In your own experience you know that a seed does not germinate without itself "dying". When you sow a seed you do not sow the "body" that will eventually be produced, but bare grain, of wheat, for example, or one of the other seeds. God gives the seed a "body" according to his laws – a different "body" to each kind of seed. ... There are illustrations here of the raising of the dead. The body is “sown" in corruption; it is raised beyond the reach of corruption. It is “sown" in dishonour; it is raised in splendour. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. As there is a natural body so will there be a spiritual body. (Phillips)
Many grains of wheat are required to be ground down to make the flour for a loaf of bread. The Church, the body of Christ, is made up of many Christians; human lives harvested by God as a first-fruits of His great harvest of humanity. They are refined in the gleaning and grinding process so that they become fine meal of the Temple offerings. In this way they become the shewbread. This shewbread was confined to Levi but David showed by his consumption of the shewbread that it was to extend to his line in Judah as part of the Messianic priesthood of Melchisedek (Mat. 12:4; Mk. 2:26; Lk. 6:4). The shewbread stood outside the Holy of Holies with the candlestick and the table, whereas the Holy of Holies had the golden censer and the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark had the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded and the tablets of the Law (Heb. 9:2-5). They were all overshadowed by the Covering Cherubim (see also the paper The Ark of the Covenant (No. 196)). The shewbread was a precursor to the heavenly manna, which could not be accessed until the Holy Spirit had made the way open from the death of Christ. Thus the earthly bread symbolised the precursor to the heavenly bread; the physical preceded and gave way to the spiritual.
3. Bread is a composite structure
As varieties of grain-flour and even vegetable flour are used to make good bread, so it is with the Church. Christians vary like grain types and as the first-fruits vary.
Nutritious bread requires three main parts of each grain: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. Again this is symbolic of the Church. It takes many types of people brought together to make up the one loaf of the body of Christ. Diversity among the membership of Christ's body should not divide it. The diversity should strengthen the body and add discernment – as iron sharpens iron – and add health to the body.
Romans 12:4-5 In a single body there are many parts, and each part has its own function. In the same way, although we are many, our union with Christ makes us one body, and we are individually living parts of one another. (Barclay)
Paul uses the analogy of a human body with its various parts to show us how, even though we are different, we are nevertheless members or critical living parts of one another under the direction of Christ who is the head.
Romans 12:6-8 Through the grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let us give all that we have to our teaching; and if our gift is stimulating the faith of others let us set ourselves to it. Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let the man in authority work with enthusiasm; and let the man who feels sympathy for his fellows in distress help them cheerfully. (Phillips)
So we should be using the talents we have and those of whom God is building within us to help bind the body of Christ, the bread of Christ, together. The fact that we are different should not divide us; it should rather stimulate us to build unity in our relationships with one another. Each person who is asked to serve should be cheerfully supported by those who entrust him or her with the office. By this conduct in office and differences of operations and administrations we show who has the approval of God (1Cor. 11:18-19; 12:5).
4. Being an unleavened loaf
It is thought by many that Christ used unleavened bread to symbolise his body during the Last Supper. Deuteronomy 16:5-6 shows that the period of the Passover must be spent in temporary accommodation. The Jews no longer do this. Some people in error assume that the Jews also have the day wrong and that 14 Nisan is the true Passover and thus the first day of Unleavened Bread. Both views are wrong. The Jews removed leaven on 14 Nisan; however, the texts require that the entire home be evacuated from 14 Nisan as Christ portrayed by his actions on 14 Nisan. It is thus probable that no leaven was taken with the group on 14 Nisan and that leaven was in fact removed from 13 Nisan. The ancient Jewish traditions also indicate eight days of unleavened bread are involved, but their eighth day is at the end not at the beginning. Thus Judah differs in its activities.
On the evening of the Preparation day of the Passover, the home was searched for leaven by candlelight and this was burned the next day (Pesahim i-iii). The Greek word used in the Gospels and 1Corinthians 11 for “bread” is artos and is used by Josephus to describe the unleavened shewbread or bread of the presence in the Tabernacle (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 3.6.6), which is a type of Israel and the Church. Paul's comments in 1Corinthians 5:6-8 also seem to hint that the Lord's Supper bread was unleavened. However, the Law requires that no leavened bread be consumed with the blood of a sacrifice, and for that reason we would refrain from leaven. It is certainly not the meal of Exodus 12 which is eaten on 15 Nisan and which represents the body of the lamb slain, who is Messiah.
Leavened bread, as we all know, has pockets of air between each of the particles which make up the bread. If there is a lot of air in the bread it will eventually crumble and fall apart. Leaven represents the Spirit. The old leaven is that of malice and wickedness. The unleavened bread represents sincerity and truth (1Cor. 5:8). The new leaven is of the Holy Spirit symbolised by the loaves at Pentecost.
The wrong spirit, the spirit of competition, vanity and pride, divides and separates Christians from each other. Paul discusses this harmful spirit.
Romans 12:3-4 As your spiritual teacher I, by the grace God gave me, give this advice to each one of you. Don't cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all. (Phillips)
Romans 12:16 Don't become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don't become set in your own opinions. (Phillips)
Romans 14:13 Let us therefore stop turning critical eyes on one another. Let us rather be critical of our own conduct and see that we do nothing to make a brother stumble or fall. (Phillips)
Exaggerated ideas of ourselves will lead to us becoming critical of others and in turn divide us as members of the body of Christ. Pride and vanity are the root causes of division between the brethren. We must examine our own attitudes and lives in the build up to Passover and reconcile ourselves to our brother. If we deleaven our lives of pride and vanity – those things which puff up and drive wedges between people – we will be much closer together in the Church, in our families and in other relationships as well.
5. The water of God's Spirit
Water mixed with flour makes dough. The water of the body of Christ is the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:37-39; Acts 2:18). As we drink in of that Spirit, as we let it "soak through" us and so change our minds and natures, it will bind us together.
1Corinthians 12:12-13 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one spirit to drink. (NIV)
1Corinthians 12:12-13 The body is a single unity, although it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, many as they are, are one united body. It is exactly so with Christ. Whether we are Jews or Greeks, whether we are slaves or free men, through the action of the one spirit our baptism has united us into one body. We are all saturated with the one spirit. (Barclay)
The more we follow the lead of God's Spirit, the more it will saturate our beings and the more we will take on the nature of Christ and so become one with one another. But there is still more needed. It is not sufficient for us to simply have God's Spirit to bind us or stick us together as flour in bread. The bread needs texture and smoothness. That then leads to the next point.
6. The oil of God's Spirit
It is common in most bread recipes to add some oil. The oil gives the bread texture and smoothness. Again, there is a parallel for the body of Christ, the one bread of the Church. As well as just sticking together we need smoothness and harmony in our relationships with one another. In the Bible, oil is also used to represent God's Spirit. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25 is an example where oil was used to typify the Spirit of God. God's Spirit in us, as we all know, produces fruit (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:9; Rom. 5:5). The primary fruit of God's Spirit working in us is agape love. Agape love is outgoing concern for others; self-sacrificial love for others. It means out-going affection and concern for one another that can overlook the faults and weaknesses we each have. It means a willingness to put the needs, cares and concerns of others before our own. This means also to subjugate our own interests to the needs of the body. We must work together in the body to demonstrate we are part of the body. If we do not fellowship with other baptised members on a regular basis, we have a serious spiritual problem. We must not forsake the gathering together of ourselves. The first questions should be, Do these people believe as I do? If they do, then the Christian has no business worshipping apart from them. Minor divergence of opinion cannot be seized on to excuse separation.
Philippians 2:1-4 If there is such a thing as Christian encouragement, if there is such a thing as love's comforting power, if you and I are really sharing in the partnership which only the holy spirit can make possible, if you really wish to show me a heartfelt sympathy which is like the mercy of God, make my joy complete by being in perfect harmony of mind, by joining in a common love for God and for each other, by sharing in a common life, by taking every decision in unity of mind, by never acting from motives of competitive rivalry or in the conceited desire for empty prestige. If you want to make my joy complete, instead of that each of you must humbly think the other better than himself; each of you must concentrate, not on his own interest, but on the interests of others also. (Barclay)
Colossians 3:12-15 You are God's chosen people, dedicated and dear to him. You must therefore clothe yourselves in compassion, in kindness, in humility, in gentleness, in patience. You must bear with each other, and, if anyone has something to complain about in someone else, you must forgive each other. You must forgive each other as the Lord forgave you. And, to crown all, you must clothe yourselves in love, which holds all the other qualities together and completes them. Only Christ can enable men to live in a right relationship with each other. It is this unifying power of his which must dictate your every decision, for you were meant to be one united body. (Barclay)
The water of God's Spirit creates in us that common bond which helps us stick together, but the oil of God's Spirit produces in us the fruits of God's nature, which helps us live together in unity. When we care about our brothers and sisters and choose to serve them in kindness, humility and compassion, we will become one bread.
The last ingredient that generally goes into bread is salt.
7. Salt in the bread of Christ signifies zest
Salt in bread adds savour to it. In a similar manner, zeal in our lives, a passion and enthusiasm for the things of God and the purpose to which He has called us – both our commission in this life (Mat. 28:19-20) and our great reward and responsibilities beyond (Rev. 5:10; 20:4-6) – adds a savour to the Church that will cause it to be noticed by those not yet called.
Matthew 5:13 You are the salt of the earth (RSV)
Mark 9:50 Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." (RSV)
Having salt within ourselves, or a zeal for the common things of God we share, will contribute to peace within the body of Christ. We need to stir ourselves up to make sure we never lose this enthusiasm or salt that God would want us have as a part of the one bread of Christ. Just as we are the salt of the earth in the context of being sparingly called and placed, so too is the bread given taste by this medium. The Church is to rightly combine its attributes and common abilities to do the work of God. As Paul said, we must work to eat. If we do not work at the faith we do not eat of the bread.
When we eat of the Lord's Supper bread, we are acknowledging to God that we have discerned that the Church is Christ's body and that, just as the bread is one, so we are committed to become one with our brethren within the body of Christ. This, becoming one, is a process whereby we put out the pride and vanity which divides us and work instead with God to let His Spirit bind us and smooth our relationships with one another in love, and to develop an enthusiasm for the common purpose and the task He has given us. We are not in this alone. We are in this together. Let us strive to become one bread, one body.