The special prayer that our Master taught his disciples can be found in both Matthew 6 and Luke 11. The wording of each varies slightly, but both contain the mysterious Greek word epiousion, the word conventionally translated “daily” as in “daily bread.” But in my book First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer (and in summary in the video below) I present an alternate opinion that is common among many scholars: epiousion means something to the effect of “tomorrowly”—that is to say, “Give us today our bread of tomorrow.”
Furthermore, this bread of tomorrow is not just the mere provision of a meal in advance; it is the future messianic kingdom realized today. It is the “bread in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15) and the “hidden manna” (Revelation 2:17) that many from the east and west will eat as they “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
Lend Me Three Loaves
This interpretation sheds light on the passages in Luke that follow. Immediately after the Our Father, Yeshua presents two other teachings connected by an important thread. First, there is the parable of the midnight guest:
And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” (Luke 11:5-8)
After this, Yeshua teaches us about making requests to God:
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:9-13)
We ask in the Our Father for our “bread of tomorrow.” The host with the midnight visitor asks his friend for “three loaves.” In the third case, the son asks for food from his father. Many manuscripts include in Luke 11:11 the phrase “if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone” (which in any case matches the version in Matthew 7:9). Thus, each of these three adjacent discourses refers to making a request for bread (or at least food).
A Divine Awakening
In the parable of the midnight visitor, it is clear that the host represents a disciple of Yeshua in prayer and the friend symbolizes our heavenly Father. But if the bread of the Our Father is the bread of the Messianic Era, then the parable which follows may have a deeper meaning than it seems at first. This idea was first pointed out to me by Sheldon Wilson, a good friend of mine.
The host wakes his friend at midnight to ask for bread. His friend wishes to delay until morning, but the host insists on receiving the loaves now. Thus, the host is asking for tomorrow’s bread today.
Night is a common metaphor both in the Bible and in rabbinic literature for exile. Morning likewise represents redemption. The bread that would normally be received in the morning (the provision of the Messianic Era) is asked for in the midst of the night (the exile).
God objects, “My children are with me in bed.” The Jewish people are in the midst of exile—the oppression and occupation of Rome, and later, destruction and diaspora. But we beg for a divine “awakening,” like the Psalmist who cries, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” (Psalm 44:24 ESV)
The reason to ask for bread is the arrival of a midnight visitor. The mysterious guest who arrives during the dark exile represents Yeshua himself, the appointed redeemer who had come prematurely, at a time when the world was not yet ready for the full redemption. Nonetheless, his followers—those who welcomed him—merit to receive a foretaste of the bright dawning of redemption.
Ask and It Will Be Given
Based on Yeshua’s words, it might seem that we should receive anything we ask for in prayer, even exorbitant wealth or other worldly pleasures. However, the conclusion of his teaching reveals that we do not have such a blank check. Rather, he specifies, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
The promise of ruach hakodesh (“Holy Spirit”) is also shorthand for the promises of the Messianic Era. This is in reference to prophetic passages that speak of the spiritual elevation Israel at the redemption:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 3:1[2:28])
And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:27)
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3)
When Yeshua promises that “everyone who asks receives,” he is speaking about the foretaste of the Messianic Kingdom, summarized as “the Holy Spirit” and symbolized by the bread of tomorrow, the fish, and the egg. The stone, the serpent, and the scorpion are likewise representative of the harshness of exile. As the Israelites prepared to enter the promised land, Moses taught the people not to forget God,
who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:15-16)
The wilderness was their exile. Instead of serpents, scorpions, and dry rocks, they were sustained with bread from heaven and fresh water.
We, too, are sustained in the midst of this long exile by our Master’s teachings and the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. Let us not cease asking, seeking, and knocking until the bright morning of complete redemption dawns.