Friday, May 13, 2011

Five Ways the Old Testament Foreshadowed the Eucharist

I just finished reading Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre, and it's fantastic.  He does a great job of showing how various things from the Old Testament point to Christ. I wanted to use today's post to show five different ways the Eucharist is prefigured in the Old Testament, and what each of those things shows us about the Eucharist.  

I. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life

Pitre didn't cover this one, but it's important.  In the Garden of Eden, there's a tree that brings about death -- the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil  (Genesis 2:16-17) -- and a tree which brings about eternal life -- the Tree of Life  (Genesis 3:22). Pitre doesn't cover this in his book, but it's an important prefigurement. It shows us both that damnation can come about through something as simple as disobedient eating (that is, after all, what produces the Fall), and that eternal life can come through eating the Fruit of the Tree of Life.  When 1 Peter 2:24 and Galatians 3:13 describe Christ's Redemption as coming through the "Tree" of the Cross, they're making an allusion to Eden.  Christ is the Fruit of Mary's Womb (Luke 1:42), the prophesied Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:15). When we eat the Eucharist, we're partaking of the Fruit from the Tree of Life, which God has promised us would provide eternal life.

The idea that eating a certain spiritual food like the Eucharist would do anything seems odd to some. But in light of Eden, that sin entered the world through eating, it's not so strange at all that it should exit it the same way.


II. The Passover Lamb 

The Passover Lamb was efficacious: that is, it produced an effect.  If you sacrificed and ate the lamb, your firstborn would live.  Eating the lamb was part of the ritual, and was commanded by God (Exodus 12:8-11).  In the New Testament, Christ, the firstborn of God, is explicitly called "our Passover Lamb" (1 Corinthians 5:7), and commands us to eat His Body (Matthew 26:26) to live forever (John 6:54).  Like the first Passover lamb of Old, the Sacrifice of our Passover Lamb on the Cross is the Atonement of the world, which we partake of most directly by eating the flesh of that same Lamb in the Eucharist.


III. The Blood of the Covenant 

In Exodus 24:8, Moses sprinkles sacrificial blood on the people, and declares “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  In the New Testament, Christ declares of the Eucharistic CupThis is My Blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(Matthew 26:28).  The fact that Moses was prefiguring Christ wasn't lost on the New Testament writers, either: Hebrews 9:18-23 connects these two events quite neatly, showing that in both cases, the blood was used for the forgiveness of sins.

But that's not all it does.  After Moses says those words in the Old Testament, he and a few others are immediately "taken up" where they eat and drink in the presence of God (Ex. 24:9-11). In the New Testament, the Eucharist is a direct Communion with God, the only thing better than eating a Heavenly meal in His Presence.  So Exodus 24 shows to us how the Eucharist (1) seals the Covenant, (2) forgives sin, and (3) leads to immediate Communion with God, and (4) leads to Heaven.


IV. The Manna

Pitre does great work with old rabbinical writings which show that the manna was tied in with Jewish expectations of the Messiah. It's the food of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, the food for the journey.  It stops once they arrive in the Promised Land (Exodus 16:35).  And significantly, this food comes down from Heaven.(Psalm 78:24), and it's the food of angels (Psalm 78:25). In the New Testament, Christ is clearly presented as the New Manna.  For example, in John 6:48-51, Jesus declares:
I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
And in the Lord's Prayer, we're to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Mt. 6:11). That immediately sounds like the manna. But it gets better. As Pitre noted, in the English, instead of asking for our bread for "this day," or our "daily bread," we're asking for our daily bread this day.  It's strangely redundant.  It turns out that the Greek word here for "daily" is a neologism -- we know of no use of it prior to Mt. 6:11 itself.  And it turns out that it literally means "super-substantial." So a more accurate translation would be like St. Jerome's translation of these words into Latin, in which we ask for our daily, supersubstantial Bread. That makes clear that the new Manna we're to eat is supernatural food.  It also is in keeping with the rest of the Our Father, which consists of six other spiritual requests.


V. The Bread of the Presence

Exodus 25 called for the creation of a special Table in front of the Ark of the Covenant in which to place what's commonly called the "Showbread."  A more literal translation is "Bread of the Presence," so the NASB translation of Ex. 25:30 reads, "You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times." It was apparently called this because it was placed in front of the Presence of God, so anyone who saw this bread saw something which was perpetually before Him.  Four times a year, on special Jewish holidays, the priests would bring it out to show the people, as a reminder of God's love for them.

There are two features which make the Bread of the Presence significant.  First, despite the Sabbath prohibition against any work, the Bread of the Presence was offered up every Sabbath by the priest (1 Chronicles 9:32).  Second, it was at the heart of a fascinating account in 1 Samuel 21.  David's troops are hungry and go to the Temple for bread. The priest replies, "There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women." (1 Sam. 21:4).  In other words, David's men could partake of the Bread of the Presence, provided that they had been celibate from women over a specific timeperiod.  That's because the bread was to be consumed only by the priests (Leviticus 24:9), who were required to be celibate during Temple service.  So David and his troops are being treated as priests.

In the New Testament, we see Christ creating a New Priesthood through the image of the Bread of the Presence. Specifically, in Matthew 12, the disciples were eating grain they'd plucked while they walked.  The Pharisees rebuked Jesus for letting His Disciples "work" on the Sabbath.  Mt. 12:3-8 then relays Jesus' response:
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Interestingly, the first two examples both involve the Bread of the Presence. The first is the example I just mentioned, from 1 Samuel 21. The second example is that the Bread of the Presence is offered on the Sabbath.  Together, we see Christ treating His Disciples as priests, able to partake of the Bread of Presence on the Sabbath, with the Lord of the Sabbath Himself.  Because the Eucharist is tied so fundamentally with the notion of the Priesthood, it's striking that Jesus draws that connection through the Bread of the Presence here.

Of course, more fundamentally, the whole notion of a Bread of the Presence at all is intensely Eucharistic. Catholics refer to the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ.  That is, instead of bread that perpetually sits before the Presence of God, as under the old Covenant, it's bread that is miraculously turned into the Presence of God.  

VI. Conclusions

From the Old Testament, we see (1) Redemption through the eating of the Fruit from the Tree of Life, (2) Salvation by eating the Passover Lamb, (3) the Blood of the Covenant which cleanses sins, binds the Covenant, and leads to a communion meal with God Himself, (4) the daily Bread of Angels come down from Heaven, and (5) the Bread of the Presence, which sat before the Face of God, which was sacrificed by the priests, and which the priests ate before God.

All five of these things point in the direction of the Eucharist. If it's true that the Old Testament types point to the fuller and more perfect realities of the New Covenant, as Hebrews 8:3-6 says, we should expect nothing less than the reality that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

7 comments:

  1. Very nice summary - and yes, it is a terrific book!

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  2. You reminded me of my discovery regarding the Eucharist, and enjoy reading it:
    Genesis 3:5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

    My version: For God knows that in the moment you are able to eat the fruit of Mary,then your eyes will be opened, and you shall be like Jesus,capable to distinguish who is Jesus and who is Satan.

    This could be applied to the old testament itself.

    I read the book twice and I received even more light through it which I am preparing to post on the suitable occasion.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your 5 points. I have heard mention of Pitre's book (Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist) and am now determined to purchase a copy!

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  4. Wonderful and enlightening. Can we, therefore, validly call Our Lady, The Tree of Life?

    Similarly, is the Tree of Knowledge, in person, Satan?

    Salve Maria!

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  5. Charles, send me a link when you write that up. I love the countless parallels between the Fall and our Redemption on Calvary and at the Last Supper. The New Testament reads like a reprise of Genesis 1-3.

    Roderick, perfect. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

    Martin, interesting theory. There's an obvious sense in which the Tree prefigures the Cross, but given that the Fruit (Christ) comes from Mary, I think that it can be quite reasonably be read as a Marian as well as a Crucifixion foreshadowing.

    Certainly, for the other areas in which we see the Eucharist foreshadowed, Mary's quite connected -- She's prefigured in the Ark which held the Manna, and in the Temple which held the Bread of the Presence. Look at the transition from Revelation 11:19 to Revelation 12. You see the Ark, the Temple, and then Mary.

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