Blood was very sacred to the Jews of Bible times. They considered that blood contained the life, and they got this idea from scripture. In Deuteronomy 12:23 we read: “But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat.” Obviously this was not just a temporary understanding as we see in Leviticus 3:17: “This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must not eat any fat or any blood.” We even see the understanding of the sacredness of blood passed on by the apostles to the early church in Acts 15:29: “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”
Because of their views on the importance of blood, the Jews have developed the elaborate rituals of kashrut regarding certain foods and especially the slaughter of animals. For instance, an animal must be ritually slaughtered by the shochet (religious slaughterer) and all the blood drained out of the carcass before it is can be regarded as kosher or pure for consumption.
In Bible times the Jews also took great care that human blood not be shed casually or needlessly. God himself declares in Genesis 9:5: “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” We also see the great significance of bloodshed in Genesis 4:10. After Cain had murdered his brother Abel, “The LORD said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.’” The Hebrew speakers find a hidden significance in this statement. The Hebrew word for “blood” (de-mey) is in the plural. They feel this conveys the idea that all the “bloods” of those who would have been Abel’s succeeding generations were crying from the ground.
So blood could not be shed lightly in ancient Israel. Even if someone was killed accidentally it was still necessary for the avenger of blood in the family of the slain to pursue the one responsible and to avenge the bloodshed by taking that person’s life (Num. 35:6-34). The only hope for such a one was to be able to flee to a designated city of refuge. There that person, if he were truly innocent, could live on in safety.
BLOOD WAS RESERVED FOR SACRIFICE
In Israel, blood was reserved for sacrifice, and in this sense ancient Judaism was a very bloody religion. Israel was literally born in blood as the Passover lamb was slain for her deliverance. This blood was placed on the doorposts of all Israelite houses and they were protected as the death angel passed through the land of Egypt (Exo. 12:1ff).
After Israel was delivered from Egypt the whole sacrificial system was established by God in the wilderness. The Tabernacle with all its furnishings was set up and the sacrificial system instituted. This system required the constant shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals. The blood of these animals had to be sprinkled upon the altar to make atonement for sin (Lev. 4:5-6). God says of the blood: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:11). Over the centuries as the Tabernacle and later the Temple stood, there must have been millions and millions of sacrifices; millions of gallons or liters of blood shed.
Virtually all sacrifices required the blood of slain birds and animals. Hebrews 9:22 develops this by saying: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
STILL TODAY IT IS THE BLOOD THAT MAKES ATONEMENT
Today religion has become a bloodless thing. We have a bloodless Judaism, and surprisingly a near bloodless Christianity. In Judaism the only thing resembling a blood sacrifice is the quaint orthodox custom of kapparot, or the swinging of a sacrificed chicken over the heads of those seeking atonement. In Christianity the whole idea of blood sacrifice has virtually disappeared in the last two or three generations.
About the only time we are reminded of blood is when we partake of communion. The preacher may recite the words of Matthew 26:28: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Outside of communion there is hardly a mention of blood or of the cross. A few generations ago we preached a lot about blood and sang a lot of songs and hymns about the blood of Jesus and his sacrifice. Lately we have stopped preaching about these things and those old hymns on the blood in many cases have been carefully expunged from our hymnals.
The modern and postmodern church tries to deal with the guilt of sin with self-improvement programs and with our multitude of counseling programs. Yet the stain of sin remains upon the conscience and the ugly spot of sin will not come out. The Bible still makes it clear that only blood can take away the guilt and stain of sin. Yet, in the truest sense, it was never the blood of animals that really took away sin. In Hebrews 10:3-4 we read: “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” The sacrificial animals were merely symbols of something that was to come. They were virtual reality.
In Psalm 40:6-8, the Bible speaks of the true reality or the all-sufficient offering in these words: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, `Here I am, I have come– it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.'” Amazingly, this is an account of a talking lamb. Jesus as the Lamb of God is saying to his Father that he is ready to make the eternal sacrifice for the sin of humankind. Indeed, he did make that sacrifice on Calvary as he shed his precious blood. That blood was shed forever and is available to this very day as a covering for our sins.
Thus we know through the Gospel that the only redeeming blood is the blood of Jesus shed long ago on Calvary’s cross. That old hymn of Robert Lowry sums it up so well:
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! Precious is the flow that makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
The apostle in 1 John 1:7 says: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Clearly, it is the blood sacrifice of Christ the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world and continues to do so. We no longer have to hide in our guilt and shame. The popular author, Derek Prince, makes a very important observation about this last verse. He says that “The blood of Jesus cleanses only in the light.”* In other words, if we fail to confess our sin and bring it into the light, our sin remains.
THROUGH THE BLOOD WE CAN STAND BEFORE GOD
Jesus has made the necessary blood sacrifice for us. We can now enter into fellowship with God by believing and accepting this sacrifice for ourselves. In Hebrews 10:19-23 we read:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
It is only the blood that makes atonement and brings us into the presence of God. Nothing else will atone for our sin. When the death angel came to the doors of those Israelites back in Egypt we might wonder if he asked any of these questions: “Have you done a good deed today?” “Have you lived a pretty good life and attended church regularly?” No, the death angel didn’t ask any of these questions. He looked for only one thing. Was the blood of the lamb upon the door, or not? If it was there the house was safe. If it was not upon the door the firstborn in that house died instantly.
So far as we know from the Bible the Lord still looks for the same thing on the doors of our hearts today. He is still saying, “when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exo. 12:13). Quite contrary to our postmodern bloodless churchianity, God still considers the blood sacrifice as crucial. The blood is the life and without it there is only death and condemnation. But with the blood of Christ there is eternal salvation.
– Jim Gerrish
Publication date, 2004
*Derek Prince, War in Heaven, God’s Epic Battle With Evil, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2003), p. 163.