Key Number Four: Blessing The Bread

 

 

Last time we saw that after the two disciples “constrained” Yeshua, “He went in to stay with them”. Then we read:

Luke 24:30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them

Luke 24:31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.

First of all, let us understand how this meal looked from the traditional Jewish point of view. Sharing meals has always been a very important part of Jewish community life. At the beginning of the meal, the traditional blessing is always said as the bread is broken: “Barukh attah ‘Adonai ‘elohenu Melekh ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz” –
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”.

Since it was the Passover week, it would have been matzah, not regular bread, so the Blessing on Matzah would have been added:  “Blessed are You, our Lord God, King of the Universe who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to eat Matzah.”

The one who recited the blessing, did so while literally breaking the bread – exactly as we are told Yeshua did. In this sense, it was a traditional Jewish meal of Chol Ha-Moed  (Passover week).  Or was it?

In the Babylonian Talmud, we read: “The host should break bread” (Berakoth 46). In Jewish tradition, the host – the head of the household – is the one who always says the blessing and breaks the bread. Strangers who are invited to the meal usually wait for directions from their host and quietly receive what is set before them.

However, that is not what we see here. Clearly this was not a regular guest!   Instead of waiting for his host’s direction, this stranger is taking the host’s place: He is saying the blessing and breaking the bread! We can imagine that this behavior must have caught the attention of everyone in the house.  Where did this authority come from?

Here I would like to quote a passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The Qumran Sectarians seemed to believe in the eternal Savior (they believed it was Melchizedek), who would come as man and was known to them as the Teacher of Righteousness.  The Teacher of Righteousness was a priest. Let us have a look on a fragmentary document 1QSa (sometimes called The Messianic Rule) and see what this text says about the Priest; [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [enter] … and [no-one should stretch out ] his hand to the first fruit … before the Priest, for [he is the one who b]lesses the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine … …  (column 2, lines 18-21).

‘No-one should stretch out his hand to bless the bread’: it means that, in the days of Yeshua, there was an understanding that when the Messiah came, no-one should stretch out his hand to bless the bread before Him. The authority to bless the bread first clearly belonged to the host – or to the Messiah.  And when, in our story, this stranger acted in the house as one that had authority,[1] we can imagine that, even though the eyes of the disciples were still restrained, their hearts, that had been burning along the way, were now filled with excitement and anticipation. His behavior was a definite sign to them of His messianic dignity.

But there is something even more significant going on here – something that the Essenes didn’t know and the disciples had not yet understood – but Luke makes   very clear for us here. There is no question that, even in early Christian tradition, the blessing of the bread was a reminder of the last supper Yeshua had with his disciples before his death, and therefore a reminder of his suffering – and this is something that Luke is really stressing here: that Yeshua is recognized while he is blessing the bread, means that the Messiah is to be recognized by his suffering.  It is highly characteristic that Luke introduces the concept of the suffering Messiah very strongly into the body of his writings. The expression for: Christ to suffer – παθειν τον Χριστον – appears five times in Luke-Acts: Lk. 24:26, 24:46, Acts 3:18, 17:3, 26:23.  Remarkably, although we also find the word suffer (παθειν) in the other Gospels, we never find it in conjunction with the word ‘Messiah’.  Luke is the only one who unfolds this concept concerning the Messiah; he is the only evangelist who explicitly says that the Messiah has to suffer. In his sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:36, Peter says: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ,” meaning that God has made Yeshua both Lord and Messiah through Him being crucified and raised from the dead. The messiahship of Yeshua only became real (and recognizable) after and through His suffering and His resurrection.

So, before proceeding to the second volume of his work, Luke provides us with another very important the key to the whole story of Yeshua and His messiahship. This is our key for today, KEY NUMBER FOUR: Yeshua is recognized while breaking the bread – and this is the sign of 1) His messianic dignity and 2) His suffering.  First, His authority in the house in taking the host’s place and blessing the bread was evidence and proof that this was indeed the Messiah sitting before them; then, the blessing of the bread reminded them of the Last Supper and of His suffering. It is highly significant that in the beginning of our story, after Yeshua reproached the disciples for their lack of understanding, He began His teaching session on Tanach with these characteristic words:  “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory”? The Messiah had to suffer – and only then did the appointed time come for His messiahship to be revealed.

[1] Mark 1:22

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (38 comments)

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  1. Arend Warmels

    Thank you very much for being a Guide to direct your readers attention to those ‘little’ wonderful details which such far extended significance in the Scripture, that completely change the perception of this well known story that is talked about each year. Looking forward to much more from you! Exciting reading material

  2. Paul Kristofferson

    Very enlightening , I found this very helpful in understanding Luke’s account of this incident. Thank you Prof Blum

  3. Fr Youssef

    Many thanks for this wonderful insight
    Especially explaining the Jewish tradition of the breaking of the bread
    What is Matzah , is this unleavened bread?

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, matzah ( Hebrew: מַצָּה‎‎ ) is an unleavened flatbread. The Jewish people eat matzah during Passover festival, when chametz (leaven and the grains that can be leavened) is forbidden.

  4. jane z mazzola

    I have always loved reading this story, & imagining how these 2 disciples came to understand Jesus/Yeshua as the Messiah as he blest & broke the bread at table w/them. It takes on even more wondrous import, with your explanations, Julia, of the ritual courtesy that would have been observed & the symbolic ritual, almost liturgy, that was conveyed to them by Jesus’s taking this role reserved for the host or the awaited Messiah. Their awakening to the fact that indeed, it was Jesus/Yeshua in their midst & that He was this awaited Messiah who had suffered & was now alive with them.

    Thank you again.

  5. Militza Erceg

    I have read the four keys but the explanation for this one is amazing! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!!

  6. Bobbie Ann Cole

    This is most enlightening. I love the parallels that you draw.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Bobbie!

  7. James Ashmore

    Thanks Julia for the enlightening! Not to be critical, but I have a sincere question: I realize the Essenes understood Messiah alone had the authority to take the bread and bless it, but was that concept understood by all the Jews at that time as well? Is it true that the two disciples understood this? Thanks much.

    1. Julia Blum

      It is a very good question, James. The fragment I quote is taken from DSS – it doesn’t mean, however, that nobody else shared this understanding. Moreover, even if this belief was indeed peculiar to the Essenes only, the disciples still could have been aware of it: after all, there were many Essenes in Jerusalem and other towns as well, not only in Qumran. In any case, it gives us a wonderful explanation of otherwise unexplained detail: why Jesus, formally being “just a guest” who was kindly invited for the meal, – why and how , all of sudden, he would take a place of the host and would break and bless the bread. He did have the authority to do it – and this authority was recognized as Messianic authority.

  8. Ardythe Kropp

    Your teaching is such a blessing. Thank you for sharing with us!

  9. Dorothy Healy

    How amazing it is to walk through this very familiar story one step at a time – each step uncovering another profound insight. Thank you Julia for unfolding this story – one step at a time – so we can savour each step and forever see it in a brand new light.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you , Dorothy! I am always blessed by your comments!

  10. Henrietta Wisbey

    Dear Julia
    Just read this blog. Amazing So so amazing Thank you.
    I was doing a piece of writing for our church yesterday and I concluded with this short piece:
    And their eyes were opened
    deeply treasured words
    lay buried and unseen
    now laid bare and opened—
    These very sufferings
    These very things
    The gateway and the path to glory
    These things had come to pass.

    I had been writing around the phrases these things and it came to pass!!
    We serve an amazing Saviour.
    Henrietta

    1. Dorothy Finlay

      Wonderful insights Julia. I have always thought that Yeshua was recognised by the nail prints but never thought of the Jewish role of His Kingship and Lordship being thekey that ‘opened their eyes. Thank you for this Julia.

      1. Julia Blum

        Thank you Dorothy! It’s always a blessing to hear from you!