In Lewis Sperry Chafer's Systematic Theology, he calls bread "the staff of life," the most universal and the most complete article of human food. So, when referenced in the Bible, bread is the symbol of God's supply for human needs. Therefore, bread has been considered a sacred element, even by the Egyptians. For the Jews, bread sustained a typical significance, but to the Christian, it is symbolic.

The Staff of Life

The Bible uses the term "bread" to indicate physical nourishment in general. In "Genesis 3:19, God said to Adam, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food (bread)." The word bread occurs twenty-five times in the book of Genesis and over a hundred times in the Pentateuch. In Exodus 16:4, manna was bread which God rained down from heaven for Israel. In Old Testament times, bread was often the only item of food. Because of these facts nothing could serve better than bread as a symbol of God's care.

The Typical Significance

The best examples of the typical significance of bread are the wave loaves, which were waved before God during the Feast of Pentecost (Leviticus 23:17-20). The antitype is the Church as seen by God ever since her beginning on the Day of Pentecost. The feast which immediately preceded Pentecost in Israel's calendar was the Feast of First-Fruits, and it anticipated Christ in His resurrection. He became indeed the First-Fruits of those who slept (1 Corinthians. 15:20). In God's perfect order, the Feast of Pentecost occurred just fifty days after the Feast of First-Fruits. This careful measurement is indicated by the words in Acts 2: 1, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come." On this succession of feasts and the meaning of the wave loaves, Dr. C. I. Scofield wrote, "The feast of Pentecost, (Leviticus) vs. 15-22. The anti-type is the descent of the Holy Spirit to form the church. For this reason leaven is present, because there is evil in the church (Matthew. 13:33; Acts 5:1, 10; 15:1). It is now loaves, not a sheaf of separate growths loosely bound together, but a real union of particles making one homogeneous body. The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost united the separate disciples into one organism (1 Corinthians. 10:16, 17; 12: 12, 13, 20). The wave-loaves were offered fifty days after the wave-sheaf. This is precisely the period between the resurrection of Christ and the formation of the church at Pentecost by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:12, 13). With the wave-sheaf no leaven was offered, for there was no evil in Christ; but the wave-loaves, typifying the church, are 'baked with leaven,' for in the church there is still evil" (Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 156-57).

Christ said that He was the Bread which came down from heaven (John 6:41), and that His flesh must be eaten and His blood must be drunk in order to receive eternal life (John 6:48-58). In John 6:63, He said, "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life," and He explained that He is referring to spiritual rather than physical realities. In John 6:60, the people said, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" However, Christ also declared that this same gift of eternal life is conditional based upon believing on Him (John 6:47). In John 6:29, He said, "This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent." Also, in John 6:37, He said, "All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." It follows then that the demand for His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drunk is an intensified and realistic figure pointing to the actual reception of Christ as Savior. This figure of speech or intensification of truth corrects the error that to believe upon Christ means no more than an acknowledgment of the historical fact of Christ, including the worthy purpose of His life and death. Saving faith can be exercised only if there is Spirit-wrought vision and understanding and if the individual becomes committed to Him as a living Savior. It is one thing to believe that Christ represents all He claimed to be, but it's another thing to depend upon Him with complete abandonment for a personal salvation. The true believer can say with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6: 68). This testimony becomes clear evidence of the kind of confidence which rests in Christ alone. Just as food and drink must be received in order to sustain physical life, Christ must be received in order to sustain spiritual life.

This is why Christ chose bread as the symbol of His flesh, as if something to be eaten; and, wine, "the blood of grapes," as the symbol of His blood. It is in Jacob's prophecy of Judah that this passage about "the blood of grapes" occurs. Genesis 49:11 says, "He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes." Also, Genesis 14:18 says that Melchizedek met Abraham and "brought forth bread and wine," using symbols of a completed redemption. In John 8:56, Christ said, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Abraham was the sole example of the outworking of grace as seen in the New Testament; and, Abraham, being "born out of due time," saw the finished work of Christ and was saved in the same way in which all are saved. The receiving of the bread and wine speaks of redemption and also of a constant appropriation of Christ as the branch draws upon the vine. Also the breaking of bread is a testimony directly to Christ respecting this vital dependence upon Him.

Owen Weber 2012