Aug 1, 2004

The Blood of the Covenant

4 Min Read

One of the chief points of evangelical Christianity that was most offensive to Protestant Modernists in the great debates against Fundamentalism in the early twentieth century was the centrality of the blood of Christ for salvation. Many a would-be “sophisticated” Modernist sought to write off the very heart of traditional Christianity as “a slaughter-house religion.” Presumably they would replace trust in the cleansing blood with faith in their own good works, humanist wisdom, and political achievements. The drastic decline of the influence of so much of Western (or as Philip Jenkins terms it, “Northern Christianity,” that is, of the rich, European and American democracies) Christianity must be traced to their disdaining what God the Father values the most.

To pretend that one can come to God without blood atonement simply means that one is not coming to the one true God, to the God of the Bible, for the God of Holy Scripture lives in holy love. Yes, some have invented a convenient God of “love” who has no character of holiness in which that love functions, and to which he holds his image-bearers accountable. But this is a mere idol of the mind, who can be used to do the bidding of his deluded inventors. You will not meet such a “God” in the Scriptures. On the contrary, the true God of infinite love is at the same time a God of infinite holiness. That is why Hebrews 9:22 states: “without shedding of blood is no remission [of sin].”

From Hebrews 9:11 to 10:22 the inspired author exalts the supreme value of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ as the one and only way to give sinners the priceless gift of a thoroughly clean conscience (Heb. 9:14; 10:22) and immediate access to the holy and loving presence of almighty God (Heb. 10:19–22). He exalts the effective power of the blood of Christ to cleanse our humanity and give us boldness of approach to God (Heb. 10:19) by contrasting it with the blood of goats and calves, bulls and heifers (Heb. 9: 12–13). But before we explore this significant difference between the two sorts of sacrifice, we must first understand their underlying similarity.

Animal sacrifices can be traced back to the time of Abel (Gen. 4:4), and some would even trace it to God’s provision of animal skins to cover sinful Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). But the regular system of substitutionary sacrifices of animals to cover human sin was instituted as part of the Mosaic economy. The book of Leviticus is the most detailed manual of the animal sacrifices and rituals. Although very complex in its outworking, the basic principle is plain. According to Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” Sacrifice is a way of acknowledging that life must be given for life if mortality is to be reversed.

So, the Levitical ritual, with its blood shedding of lambs and goats, and the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary to a certain degree proceed on similar principles in conformity with the loving and holy character of God, that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” We must note here that the shedding of blood for the gracious remission of sin — whether of animal substitutes or of the very Son of God — is a provision of the love of God, not a cause of His love. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son … .” Because of God’s love, He Himself provides the very sacrifice that His holy character requires for the sinner to be saved. In no sense does the sacrifice of blood cause God to love us. On the contrary, the love of God provides the sacrifice by means of which sinners can be forgiven and transformed to live once more in the divine love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

The author of Hebrews shows that animal blood did not get Christ into the heavenly Holy of Holies, where — upon the divine acceptance of the completed sacrifice of His own precious blood — the once crucified, now risen One has obtained eternal redemption for all His people (Heb. 9:12). He shows that animal sacrifices could not “perfect forever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14); only the once- for-all offering of Christ could do that.

Why then “is it not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin?” (Heb. 10:4). Old Saint Anselm can help us here. As he pointed out in Cur Deus Homo (Why Did God Become Man?), since God is an infinite Person, sin against Him involves the sinner in infinite guilt. But no mere human (being finite) can purge away this infinite guilt. Two things would be required at the same time to do so. First, the sin must be paid for in the same nature where it was committed (human personality) — and thus, animal sacrifices are not sufficient. Second, the human person who purges that infinite guilt must be infinite Himself in order to have such limitless effects. And that is precisely who the Lord Jesus is: an infinite person — infinite God in true human person. Animal blood no doubt could temporarily cover sins, but only the blood of Jesus Christ could totally remove sins.

It is a sign of regeneration when we value what God values. Hebrews 9 and 10 show us that for this reason, the Christian heart will always magnify the blood of Christ.