“And the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”—1 John 1:7
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ.”—1 Peter 1:18–19
We have a vivid recollection of an emergency call to save a man, the victim of a ghastly accident. One minute he was the picture of health; two minutes later he was dead, completely exsanguinated by a laceration of his aorta. A massive hemorrhage always presents a problem of the first magnitude for a physician. And where such a hemorrhage continues, death invariably ensues, showing so clearly the scriptural truth that “the life is in the blood” (Gen 9:4, GNT).
But to some, even the suggestion of our Lord’s shed blood being necessary brings the retort, “This is a slaughter-house religion, a concept of God which the modern mind cannot countenance.” Such a belief, it is argued, is “sadistic,” “revolting”,” “outrageous,” “masochistic,” an “atonement of retaliation,” and other vigorous terms. After all, blood atonement was practiced in the ancient world. For instance, when a plague struck the city of Athens, a man of poorer class offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people. So the notion of blood atonement being associated with the Christian religion is understandably abhorrent.
What, then, is the relationship of the blood of the Son of God shed on Calvary to God’s plan of redemption, and how is it different from the blood atonement practiced by the ancients? Could it be a mysterious evidence of God’s love?
Let us then examine two aspects of blood atonement from the Bible: its importance and its significance.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF BLOOD ATONEMENT
The Bible tells us that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were types and symbols of the death of Christ on the cross, and the New Testament affirmations about the blood shed on Calvary require us to take them in their rightful context and accept them as the inspired explanation of the central event of all history. Where we fail to understand all that is implied is our fault and not the fault of God’s plan.
In Hebrews the apostle Paul speaks of the tabernacle service as symbolic of Christ’s atoning work. Read Hebrews 9:12–14 and 10:28–29. This is clear evidence of the overwhelming importance of God’s holy provision for our sins and also the awfulness of sin, which made such provision necessary.
The blood that flowed at Calvary was real blood. The implication and effect of that blood is for all ages, and becomes real and precious to us through faith. Jesus, in instituting the sacrament of remembrance, says: “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Further, when Paul met with the Ephesian elders, he spoke of “the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28); while to the church in Rome he writes: “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith (Rom 3:24). “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9).
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD ATONEMENT
What is the significance of this blood that runs like a red line through the story of redemption?
Noah was warned against eating “flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof.” Equating blood with life is fully compatible with the concept of Jesus giving His life for the redemption of mankind.
In our own scientific age, there are thousands living today who owe their lives to blood transfusions. By analogy, it can be reverently said that, in a mystical sense, the Son of God is the great universal Donor, giving new life to the sinner who trusts in His shed blood for cleansing.
That there is a symbolic or prophetic note in the shedding of Jesus’ blood is self-evident. Man stands in judgment before God and in the midst of judgment God offers mercy and forgiveness. By faith the blood of the murdered Son of God stands between us and the righteous judgment of a holy God. The blood of bulls and goats could not fulfill that outcome.
The implications of His blood are inexhaustible in their effect on those who accept new life in Christ. Paul reminds us that there is a duality in the blood of Christ, which not only brings us redemption, but also brings us near to God. Read Colossians 1:19–20. To the Christians in Colossae, he tells of God’s good pleasure that in Christ “all his fullness dwell[s]” and immediately speaks of the work of Christ: “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” And Peter is equally emphatic with reference to the blood of Christ in telling us that our redemption was not purchased by silver or gold, “but with the precious blood of Christ.” John speaks of Christians walking in fellowship with Christ, a relationship made possible by “the blood of Jesus Christ.” Read the same theme in Revelation 5:9.
In all this we are confronted by a great mystery. This side of eternity, none of us can know the full implication of God’s great act of redemption in Christ. To rationalize either the nature of sin or the cost and means of our salvation will result in our eternal undoing, for “justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9). A bloodless religion may appeal to the aesthetic sense, but it is as dead as an exsanguinated corpse. Why question that which God has done for us?
In 1822, a Swiss preacher and evangelist from Geneva, Henri Abraham Cesar Malan, was addressing an audience of distinguished guests. A noted musician and soloist named Charlotte Elliott played and sang. Impressed with her performance, Malan approached her, saying, “As I listened to you, I thought how tremendously the cause of Christ would benefit if your talent were dedicated to the cause of Christ. You know young lady, you are as much a sinner in the sight of God as a drunkard in a ditch or a harlot on Scarlet Street, but I am glad to tell you that the blood of Christ can cleanse.” Before he could complete the sentence, Charlotte snapped out a rebuke for his presumption. Malan replied, “Lady, I mean no offence. I pray God’s Spirit will convict you.” The meeting adjourned. Deeply troubled, Charlotte returned to her home but could not sleep. The face of the preacher appeared before her with his words still ringing in her ears. In the early hours of the morning, she sprang from her bed, took a pen and paper, and with tears coursing down her cheeks, Charlotte Elliott wrote out of an impassioned conviction of surrender the words of a poem that subsequently became a famous hymn “Just as I am, without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me.”
It is not easy to humble our hearts, minds, and wills and submit them to God, but there is a great reward to those who say from a yearning heart, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”
“What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”—Robert Lowry
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University