The Crimson Flow
The inspired writer of Hebrews affirmed that “apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (9:22). This sacred text either states, or implies, several things:
- There is a human condition known as “sin” (cf. vv. 26,28).
- That condition requires “forgiveness.”
- There is a divine plan by which that forgiveness is obtained.
- Somehow, that plan involves the shedding of blood.
From the book of Genesis, to the concluding narrative of Revelation, the Bible is a story of blood. The spiritual rebel finds this concept detestable. A religious modernist has written:
“From the earliest records of primitive sacrifice man has been obsessed by the efficacy of innocent blood to save from disaster. Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches have perpetuated this primitive tradition in all their ritual, in their hymns and sacred books. Realistically, shed blood is horrible beyond words; imaginatively, it has been used as a symbol of the omnipresence of sacrifice in human life. The scene when the priest carries the struggling little animal in his arms, takes it to the edge of the altar, or rock, or lintel, and draws a knife across its throat, letting the jet of blood spurt from its throat and fall on the stains made by blood shed before . . . [represents] a subconscious delight in gore. . . [and in this] there is also an ancient superstition that there is some magic efficacy in the murder of the innocent” (Park, pp. 917-918).
It requires little perception to determine that the preceding quotation is thoroughly infidelic in tone, with no semblance of respect for the sacred Scriptures.
Old Testament Previews
Beginning in Genesis there is the record of Abel’s sacrifice of the “firstlings of his flock,” concerning which God “had respect” (Genesis 4:4), because the sacrifices were made “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4), i.e., according to divine directives (cf. Romans 10:17).
The Passover animal, with its shed blood, was the divine remedy for saving the lives of every firstborn of the families of Israel (Exodus 12:13). These acts also typified the death of Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:7). When the law of Moses was given, numerous “sacrifices” were required. The most common Hebrew word for “sacrifice” (zebach) derives from a root meaning “to slaughter.” The noun form occurs about 160 times, while the verb is found some 133 times. Josephus calculated that more than a quarter of a million animals were slaughtered at Passover time in Jerusalem. Many believe that his figure is grossly exaggerated. One scholar has estimated that the number was more like 18,000 (Jeremias, p. 82). Nonetheless, there was a “crimson river” of blood that foreshowed a Calvary!
As the Old Testament documents were compiled across the centuries, there were increased references to the coming of the Messiah who would shed his blood for the sins of humanity. Isaiah, for instance, spoke of him who would be “led to the slaughter” as a lamb (53:7). He also indicated that Jehovah’s suffering servant would “pour out his soul unto death” (53:7,12). “Soul” frequently denotes “life,” of which blood is the depository (Leviticus 17:11). This appears to be the suggestion in Isaiah’s descriptive.
Zechariah foretold of a time when a “fountain” would be opened for “sin and uncleanness” (13:1). In the same context the edict is issued: "Awake, O sword against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow. . . " (v. 7).
The Testimony of John and Jesus
The theme continued as Jesus embarked upon his public ministry. John the Baptizer introduced the Lord as the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); the implication of a blood sacrifice is clear.
Christ carefully tutored his disciples about his impending death, though they scarcely could fathom the idea (cf. Matthew 16:21ff). On the evening of the last supper with the twelve, Jesus, in connection with the institution of the communion meal, said: “. . . this is [i.e., it symbolizes] my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
New Testament Writers
It is hardly necessary to pile up evidence establishing the fact that the writers of the New Testament affirmed a connection between human redemption and the shedding of Jesus’ blood. The theme is everywhere — either explicitly declared or implied.
The blood of Christ was the purchase price for man’s salvation (Acts 20:28), the cost of divine propitiation (Romans 3:25), the means of reconciliation (Ephesians 2:13), the avenue of peace with God (Colossians 1:2), and the access to the riches of divine grace (Ephesians 1:7).
This question must challenge every sincere student of Scripture. But why did Christ have to die in order that the sin problem might be remedied? Was there no other way?
Surely it must not be concluded that the heavenly Father arbitrarily chose the path of a blood-letting suffering for his beloved Son, if another solution was available. Here are the facts of the case.
Human rebellion against the will of God constitutes sin (1 John 3:4). Because Jehovah is a perfectly holy being (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), he cannot ignore man’s wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13). His justice (cf. Psalm 89:14) demands that punishment be extracted. The “wages” of sin is death, i.e., separation from God (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23). If, therefore, fallen humanity was to be reconciled to the Creator, and, at the same time the justice of God be preserved, a means of satisfaction would need be effected. An innocent life would have to “stand in,” thus paying the price of atonement. This very thing, Paul argues, was accomplished by the Lord’s death. He affirms that fallen man may be:
“. . . justified freely by [divine] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26).
But why the shedding of blood? One recalls that an inspired writer declares that “apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins]” (Hebrews 9:22), and yet the blood of animals was not sufficient to pay the price for sin (10:4).
From the heavenly vantage point, human life is resident in a person’s blood (see Leviticus 17:11). If it were possible, then, for someone to subject himself to the rigors of temptation, and yet pass the test without sinning (cf. Hebrews 4:15), he, in the divine scheme of things — if he so chose to do — would be qualified to forfeit his own life (by the offering of his blood) on behalf of those who would avail themselves of his generous gift. In such a procedure, mercy would be lovingly extended, and, at the same time, divine justice preserved. What a plan!
The NewTestament concludes with a significant emphasis on the “lamb” that was slain. The Greek term arnion (lamb) is found 29 times in the New Testament; 28 of these are in Revelation. It will be by virtue of the lamb’s blood that we will be viewed as victorious ultimately (12:11).
Accessing the Blood
Once the premise is accepted that the shedding of Christ’s blood was necessary for man’s reconciliation with God, the question becomes: How is that hope realized?
It is commonly asserted that the Lord’s cleansing blood is accessed at the point of faith, and most particularly is it insisted that baptism has nothing to do with acquisition of pardon. The following points will highlight the fallacy of this dogma.
- Jesus affirmed that “forgiveness of sin” is connected with the pouring forth of his blood (Matthew 26:28); it is also a fact, however, that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins” to the penitent believer (Acts 2:38). Since the Bible does not contradict itself, one must conclude that both are elements in Heaven’s plan for human redemption. Christ provided the sacrifice; man, through obedience, accesses the remedy.
- In the book of Revelation, those who had triumphed over tribulation had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 7:14). The washing is attributed to the Savior’s blood. But Saul was told to “be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). The washing by blood, and the washing of baptism, are not mutually exclusive; they compliment one another — each in its own place, being essential.
- The sinner’s conscience is "cleansed’ by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14); moreover, as a result of that blood, he is “sanctified” (cf. 10:29). Yet, Paul argues that both cleansing and sanctification are the result of “the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). It is generally conceded that the “water” of this passage is baptism. Even those who oppose the connection between baptism and cleansing admit this fact (Robertson, p. 545). In addition, one’s “conscience,” that is cleansed by Jesus’ blood, makes an appeal for that result in the act of baptism (1 Peter 3:21 ASVfn; ESV). There is, of course, no virtue in the act of baptism per se; there is however, validity in obeying God’s plan in order to receive the cleansing effect of the Savior’s death.
In giving consideration to the blood of God’s Son, other matters should be weighed carefully as well.
The Blood of Jesus and the New Covenant
In the flickering light of that ever-so-dark night, Jesus instituted his memorial supper. In connection therewith, he said: “. . . this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28).
The Mosaic covenant had its blood, but as mentioned earlier, it was not efficacious to pay the ultimate price for sin (Hebrews 9:22); only the blood of Jesus could accomplish that (Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 9:15). The ninth chapter of Hebrews is perhaps the “bloodiest” segment of the New Testament. No fewer than 12 times the crimson flow is mentioned. There is an emphasis on the superiority of Jesus’ blood, and the ratification of his covenant thereby.
In view of this, how incredible it is that so many, who profess an identification with Christ, would seek to justify their practices by an appeal to the covenant that had nothing but animal blood. The Romanist seeks justification for his clerical priesthood, the Adventist validates his “sabbath-keeping,” the denominationalist finds his mechanical instruments of praise, etc. What an insult this is to the blood of the new covenant.
Christ’s Blood and the Church
As noted earlier, Paul contended that Christ “purchased” the church “with his own blood” (Acts 20:28; cf. Ephesians 5:25). The Greek text is even more vivid. The middle voice form suggests the idea that Jesus “purchased for himself” those who constitute the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20); they belong to Christ (note the possessive form, “Christ’s,” in Galatians 3:29).
In view of this reality, how can it possibly be claimed that the church was but an “afterthought” in the divine scheme of things — as some millennialists allege? How can it be charged that, while “the church” may serve a helpful function in God’s order, nonetheless, it is not absolutely necessary that one be “in the church” in order to be saved? Are men utterly oblivious to the fact that Jesus is said to be the “savior of the body,” (Ephesians 5:23) this latter term being the equivalent of the “church” (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18,24)? What an egregious fallacy it is — a reflection upon the Savior’s death — to denigrate the church in the way sectarianism does.
Christ’s Blood in Worship
Just prior to his death, Christ, in anticipation of the establishment of his church, instituted the Lord’s supper (see Matthew 26:26-29, etc.). The communion consisted of two elements — eating bread, which symbolized Jesus’ body, and drinking the “fruit of the vine,” which was representative of the Savior’s blood. It was a solemn ceremony during which the participants reflected, with the deepest discernment, the significance of the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:29). Attempts to amalgamate it with strictly social engagements met with the severest rebuke (1 Corinthians 11:17ff). Those today who are anxious to revive this digressive spirit (see Smith, pp. 127ff) should be sobered by Paul’s rebuke.
In his analysis of the mood that the church must have as it engages in the sacred communion, the apostle warns that those who trivialize the communion elements, going through the motions of eating bread and drinking the cup “in an unworthy manner,” become “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).
In view of that stinging admonition, is it not appropriate to ask: What is to be said of those who neglect the Lord’s day communion altogether — and that for the most mundane of reasons, e.g., family outings, sports events, etc.? What sort of culpability relative to the Savior’s body and blood does one of this disposition sustain? The answer is too frightening to contemplate.
Christ’s Blood and Apostasy
There may be no passage in the New Testament quite so terrifying as the warning of Hebrews 10:26-29.
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire that shall devour the adversaries. A man who set aside Moses’ law died without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, shall he be judged worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant whereby he was sanctified as an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
Some Hebrew Christians were on the brink of apostasy. They were under the delusionary influence of certain Jews who sought to convince them that Jesus of Nazareth was not the true Messiah; rather, they were to wait for the genuine article, who would come eventually.
It is out of this background that the inspired warning takes its rise. Those who were tempted to “sin wilfully,” i.e., revert to a life of flagrant, unrestrained wickedness (so the force of the present participle), in the expectation of a different Savior, were to be sorely disappointed. Moreover, there were grievous consequences associated with such a course of action — not the least of which was that the defectors would be counting “the blood of the covenant whereby [they] were sanctified [as] an unholy thing.”
The Greek term rendered “unholy” is koinos, which, in this context, most probably means that which is “of little value, because of being common. . . ordinary, profane” (Danker, p. 552). The word is rendered “defiled” (Mark 7:2), “common” (Acts 10:14), and “unclean” (Romans 14:14 – 3 times). In Hebrews 10:29, koinos denotes that which is disesteemed in contrast to that which is prized.
This attitude reflects a repudiation of the validity of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin, and throws back in his face every blessing flowing from his loving heart. It is difficult to imagine the hardness that is harbored in the soul of one who is so incredibly insensitive to divine love. Count the number of people you have known who have turned their backs on Christ and pitched their tents back into the squalor of the world.
It is not difficult to see how vital it is to understand the role of Jesus’ blood in God’s redemptive plan. Let us appreciate that, and do nothing to nullify, or detract from this gospel truth. May we live and teach so as to honor the death of Christ.
- Danker, F. W. et al. 2000. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
- Jeremias, Joachim. 1969. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. London: SCM Press.
- Park, J. Edgar. 1952. “Exodus,” The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon.
- Robertson, A. T. 1931. Word Pictures in the New Testament_. Vol. IV. Nashville, TN: Broadman.
- Smith, F. LaGard. 2001. Radical Restoration. Nashville, TN: Cotswold.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.