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Volume 8, Issue 1: Stauron

The Blood of the Cross

Jim Nance

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Lev. 17:11).

"This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20).
When our Lord instituted that memorial supper, the picture He presented of His death was one of shed blood. Yet crucifixion itself is not a particularly bloody means of death. Death by crucifixion apparently comes about by asphyxiation, not loss of blood. Why then this picture? Why do the writers of the New Testament use so frequently the phrase the blood of Christ rather than simply referring to the death of Christ ? Someone might answer, "They referred to the blood of Christ to show that His death is the fulfillment of the bloody animal sacrifices of the Old Testament." Granted, but we would then ask the question from the other direction: why did God use bloody animal sacrifices to picture Christ's crucifixion?
To answer, let us look how the Old Testament uses the word blood . Immediately after the Flood the Lord commanded Noah, "You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Gen. 9:4, cf. Deut. 12:23). God's people were not to eat any animal while its flesh was still living, and because of the association between life and blood, they were not to eat any animal from which the blood had not been released. Some scholars have connected life and blood to the point of assuming that the life of a sacrificed animal remained in the blood after it was shed. By this reasoning, some inferred that Christ's sacrificial bloodshed cleansed us, not so much by His vicarious death, but by freeing up His lifethat is, His bloodto be given to us.
But a far more common association made in the Old Testament is that of blood and death . The Lord also spoke to Noah, saying, "From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed" (Gen. 9:5-6). From this passage it is clear that bloodshed is synonymous with violent death. This is also seen when the Lord says to Moses: "If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed" (Ex. 22:2, cf. Deut. 21:1,7). These passages clearly cover all means of death, bloody and unbloody. Nobody would argue that if the thief was strangled to death then this law would not apply. To shed blood simply means to kill.
The New Testament writers regularly interchange the words death and blood when referring to Christ's work on the cross. "For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself . . . having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death" (Col. 1:19-22). All things were reconciled to God by the blood, that is, the death of Christ. And not only reconciliation, but the other aspects of Christ's atoning work were also obtained by His blood: redemption (Eph. 1:7), propitiation (Rom. 3:25), justification (Rom. 5:9), and sanctification (Heb. 13:12). Our entire salvation was purchased by the death of Christ, and the payment for that purchase was the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19, cf. Acts 20:28). As money represents value and worth, so Christ's blood represents His death.
On the Day of Atonement the high priest would sacrifice the bulls and goats outside the tabernacle, but would carry into the Most Holy Place the representation of that death in the form of the animal's blood. Even so Christ, with His own blood, "entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12). The blood of Christ is the precious representation of the death of Christ, which is perhaps why the Apostle John presents blood as one of the three that bear witness of Christ on earth, along with water and the Spirit (1 John 5:8). Similarly, the author of Hebrews declares that we have come "to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel" (Heb. 12:24). The better thing it speaks of is Christ's life-giving death.
Thus we should understand that Christ's physical blood (the actual plasma, blood cells, and so on) had no intrinsic power in itself. His blood was not magic. When Jesus cut His finger in the carpentry shop, nobody's sins were atoned for. Rather, we are atoned by Christ's death as God's purposed, ordained sacrifice, and His blood shed in death is a witness of the whole work of God in that sacrifice, whether it was the blood which He sweated out in the garden, the blood from His scourging and beating at the hand of Pilate's soldiers, the blood from His hands and feet at the crucifixion itself, or the blood which flowed from His spear-pierced side.
"In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Cor. 11:25-26). So when we partake of the cup in the Lord's supper, we both remember and proclaim to one another Christ giving up His life in death. Christ presents His death to us in the cup of His covenant, and He presents His death to the Father in the blood of His cross.

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