Biblical Definition Of
The special significance of blood in the Bible is that it commonly signifies death; not death through natural causes, but death through killing or violence. In the language of the Bible, anyone responsible for the death of another has upon him the blood of the dead person, and the one who executes the guilty avenges the blood of the dead person (Num 35:19; 1 Kings 2:32-33,37; Matt 27:4,24-25; Acts 5:28; Rev 6:10; 17:6). Likewise those who lay down their lives for others are, so to speak, offering their own blood (2 Sam 23:15-17; Rom 5:6-9).
The life of the flesh
Blood has this special significance because ‘the life of the flesh is in the blood’ (Gen 9:4; Lev 17:11; Deut 12:23). However, the Bible’s emphasis is not on blood circulating through the body, but on shed blood; not on blood’s chemical properties, but on its symbolic significance. Since blood in the body represents life, shed blood represents life poured out; that is, death.
One of the principles on which Israelite law was based was that all physical life belonged to God and was therefore precious in his sight. This was particularly so in the case of human life, because men and women are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26). Any person who killed another without God’s approval was considered no longer worthy to enjoy God’s gift of life and had to be executed. In this case the executioner was not guilty of wrongdoing, because he was acting with God’s approval. He was carrying out God’s judgment (Gen 9:5-6). Therefore, until a murderer was punished, the blood of the murdered person cried out for justice (Gen 4:10; Num 35:33; Deut 19:11-13).
Animal life also belonged to God. God allowed the flesh of animals to be a source of food for human beings, but in the law he set out for Israel, those who took an animal’s life had to acknowledge God as the rightful owner of that life. They took the animal’s life only by God’s permission. Therefore, they poured out the animal’s blood (representing the life that had been taken) either on the altar or on the ground. This was an expression of sacrificial thanks to God for benefits received at the cost of the animal’s life. Any drinking of the blood was strictly forbidden (Gen 9:4; Lev 17:3-7,10-14; 19:26; Deut 12:15-16,20-28).
The blood of atonement
Because of this connection between shed blood and life laid down, God gave the blood of sacrificial animals to his people as a way of atonement. Their sin made them guilty before God, and the penalty was death. But God in his mercy provided a way for repentant sinners to come to him and have their sins forgiven, while at the same time the penalty for their sin was carried out. An animal was killed in their place. People received forgiveness through the animal’s blood; that is, through the animal’s death on their behalf (Lev 17:11).
This symbolic significance of blood was clearly illustrated at the time of the Passover in Egypt. The sprinkling of the blood around the door was a sign that an animal had died in the place of the person who was under judgment. The firstborn was saved through the death of an innocent substitute (Exod 12:13).
The blood of Christ
Human beings live in a body of flesh that is kept alive by the blood that circulates through it. Therefore, when Jesus became a human being he took upon himself the nature of ‘flesh and blood’ (Heb 2:14; 5:7; cf. Matt 16:17; Gal 1:16; Eph 6:12). All humankind was, because of sin, under the penalty of death; but when Jesus Christ died on the cross in the sinner’s place, he made salvation possible. He broke the power of sin through his own blood (Acts 20:28; Eph 1:7; Titus 2:14; Rev 1:5; 5:9).
In the New Testament the expressions ‘blood of the cross’, ‘blood of Christ’ and ‘death of Christ’ are often used interchangeably (Rom 5:7-9; Eph 2:13,16; Col 1:20,22). To have life through Christ’s blood means to have life through his death. There is no suggestion of using Christ’s blood in any way that might be likened to the modern practice of a blood transfusion. Christ did not give his blood in the sense of a blood donor who helps overcome some lack in another person. He gave his blood through dying to bear the penalty of sin (Rom 3:24-25; Col 1:14; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:7). Those who ‘share in Christ’s blood’ share in the benefits of his death through receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life (John 6:54-58; 1 Cor 10:16).
The book of Revelation uses the symbolism of Christ’s blood in relation to the presence in heaven of those killed for the sake of Christ. Yet their fitness to appear in God’s presence is because of Christ’s sacrifice, not theirs. They are cleansed through Christ’s blood. This does not mean that they are washed in blood in the sense that clothes are washed in water, but that they are cleansed from sin through Christ’s atoning death (Rev 7:14; cf. 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 1:7).
Under the Old Testament system people’s access to God was limited. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest, and he alone, could enter the Most Holy Place, the symbol of God’s presence. Even then, he could enter the divine presence only by taking with him the blood of a sacrificial animal and sprinkling it on and in front of the mercy seat. This blood was a sign of a life laid down in atonement for sin, so that the barrier to God’s presence through sin might be removed (Lev 16:1-34; Heb 9:7,25; for details of the ritual).
But Christ, the great high priest, entered the heavenly presence of God, not with his blood but through his blood. He entered by means of his death. Christ has no need to carry out blood rituals in heaven, for he has already put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb 9:12,24-26). Just as he entered God’s holy presence through his blood, so his people can have boldness to enter by the same blood. They claim for themselves the benefits of his death (Heb 10:19).