As you read this paper, you will notice that many Scripture references are made as different points are discussed. Please take the time to stop and read these references as you read this paper. You can make the choice to simply read what is written here and make this an intellectual, religious exercise. Or, you can read the Word of God, meditate on it, submit yourself to it and ask the Holy Spirit to impart life to you by giving you a deep and genuine appreciation for what Christ did for you on the cross. The choice, as always, is yours.
The phrase "blood of Christ" is found several times in the NT, along with several other similar references, such as: "His blood", "innocent blood", "My blood", "blood of the covenant" and "shed blood". In every instance, each reference to the blood of Christ is a synonym for the saving work of Christ on the cross, His spiritual death, the fullest expression of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:13).
This phrase is used interchangeably in the NT to represent 5 separate areas of truth all related to what Christ accomplished on the cross. They are: expiation, to make amends for wrongs that have been committed, in this case, the sins of man (Revelation 1:5); redemption, paying the price required, paying the price required to avoid punishment for sin (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, I Peter 1:18, 19); propitiation, to satisfy an offense and gain the favor of the one that had been offended (Romans 3:25); justification, right standing with God, His approval based on obedience (Romans 5:9); and sanctification, to be set apart as holy, consecrated (Hebrews 13:12).
Salvation Prior to the Cross
The principle that is taught in Romans 3:25 shows the means of salvation before the cross.
"(Jesus Christ) whom the Father determined beforehand to be the propitiation by means of faith in His blood to demonstrate the Father’s righteousness, because He had passed over those sins previously committed through the delayed judgment of God."
Through the full span of what will be the history of mankind, from the fall of Adam to the end of the millennium, there is only one way of salvation – faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). No one (and in John 14:6 Jesus means no one) will ever get to the Father except through the Son. And as Paul explains above, for those who lived before the cross, God delayed His judgment, waiting for the time when He would judge the sins of the world on the cross and in His own perfect Son.
In the same way that we look back to the cross, the believers who lived before the cross looked ahead to the coming Savior. The phrase "blood of Christ" describes the work of Christ on the cross in terms similar to those revealed by God since the time of Adam. That revelation involved ritual animal sacrifices specifically designed by God to picture the coming Savior and illustrate the sacrifice He would make on the cross.
Prior to the cross and the writing of the Scriptures, God commanded certain specific rituals as expressions of worship (always a picture of submission) and training aids to teach truth. Among these were certain animal sacrifices designed to teach salvation and repentance. Beginning with the first presentation of the Gospel (Genesis 3:21), continuing through the family offerings (Genesis 4:4, 8:20, 22:1-14), and then on to the Levitical offerings (Leviticus 1-5) and, finally, the special Holy Day offerings (Leviticus 23), the shedding of animal blood illustrated the future salvation work of the Savior. These sacrifices all illustrated the exact same salvation principle: someone who was acceptable to God would have to die in place of sinful man. The innocent would die in place of the guilty. The Son of God would take the judgment due to sinful man upon Himself (see II Corinthians 5:21, I Peter 2:24, 3:18).
The innocent animal’s blood was an excellent representation of a life given on behalf of others, because the animal’s life was in its blood. The reference found in Leviticus 17:10-14, in which we find the statement "the life of the flesh is in the blood", refers to animal flesh only! The seat of man’s physical life is his soul resident in his body (Genesis 2:7). Man’s physical death occurs when his soul is separated from his body. But his soul is created in the image of God and is eternal. Animals die when their physical function is destroyed and at that point they cease to exist. Ritual animal sacrifices required the total sacrifice of the animal. They died and their bodies were burned and reduced to ashes.
An animal’s blood being pumped out of its carotid arteries was a graphic illustration of death. The blood of sacrificial animals was a perfect visual aid. No one could see the actual future judgment that the Savior would endure, but the animal’s blood could be collected and carried through the various detailed rituals that pictured this future judgment. Accompanied by the priest’s explanation, these rituals were clear representations of the real event that would occur in the future (Hebrews 10:1). However, the blood of animals was only a picture of the reality that was to come. Neither blood nor physical death was ever the means of salvation.
The sacrificial offerings were a part of the Mosaic Law, but no one was ever saved by keeping the Law (Romans 3:19). The Law did not provide salvation, it revealed sin and the remedy for sin in Christ (Romans 3:20). Instead of providing salvation, these ritual offerings contained revealed truth, which, through repetition, taught the Jews how to appreciate their matchless Savior and how to approach God, submit to Him and have a relationship with Him.
Why did God use so much blood and violence? The sacrificial offerings were designed to shock those who participated in them into recognizing God’s immovable character, and were a constant reminder that His righteousness and justice demanded that real judgment be carried out in dealing with man’s sin. A realization that is almost entirely lost in what passes for Christianity today.
The violent death struggle of a strong, healthy animal tore away all the sweetness and silly sentimentality people are prone to have, and forced them to focus on the uncompromising standards of an Almighty God. The sights, sounds and smells along with the priest’s explanations of these rituals were a continual, graphic and unpleasant reminder of God’s future judgment of their sin. And even at that, the animal’s violent suffering gave the Jews only a partial glimpse of the terrible judgment Jesus Christ would have to bear, when as our substitute, He would go to the cross to pay the price that Divine justice would demand.
The Levitical Offerings and the Blood of Christ
When the NT mentions the "blood of Christ", the purpose is to relate the cross to the animal sacrifices of the OT. In the OT, the blood was literal and the judgment was symbolic, but on the cross, the blood was symbolic, while the judgment was literal. The animal on the altar represented Christ on the cross. The animal’s throat was cut so it would shed its blood and die physically. The physical death of the animal illustrated the spiritual death of Christ. It is this spiritual death that provides our salvation.
Four out of the five Levitical offerings authorized by the Mosaic Law required the shedding of blood. Three of these offerings taught specific truth regarding salvation. They were the Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1) teaching the principle of propitiation, the Gift Offering (Leviticus 2) also teaching propitiation, but through the perfect person of Christ and the Peace Offering (Leviticus 3) teaching the principle of reconciliation. Two more offerings taught the principle of repentance. They were the Sin Offering (Leviticus 4) acknowledging unknown sins and the trespass Offering (Leviticus 5) for known sins.
When the Jews "brought an offering" to the Lord, the Hebrew verb is qarab, which means "to draw near, to approach". Thus, these offerings represented the fact that God had provided the means by which sinful men could draw near to Him – through the principle of substitutionary death.
Those who brought offerings did so from his own free will (Leviticus 1:3) as an expression of his sincere desire to draw near to the Savior. The mature Jewish believer understood, as he looked forward to the coming of Messiah that these offerings only pictured the reality that was to come. He knew that the blood of sacrificial animals could not save him, and that only the future work of Christ on the cross could make his salvation possible.
This is as good a place as any to point out the fact that regardless of whether you lived under the Old Covenant or the New, the way you must approach God is the same. Under the Old Covenant it’s clear that human nature was the same as it is today. People made a pretense at approaching God for many different reasons. They could come to present an offering to the Lord because it made them look respectable in the community, or because the family expected it. They could do it to stay in the good graces of the religious establishment.
A wealthy Jew could leave the valuable bull in his herd and approach God with a less expensive goat. Another man could show his insincerity by refusing to take of his flock and simply buy an inexpensive pigeon to present to the Lord. The sincerity of your heart and your willingness to submit to Him always has been and always will be what determines whether or not the Lord will respond to your approach. Man looks on the outward appearance and trusts in it, but God always looks on the heart and responds only to that. Then, as now, sincerity could be feigned. But God is never fooled (Galatians 6:7).
It was understood in the OT that the blood was merely a teaching tool, not a means of ridding man of his sin (Hebrews 10:1-4). In the New Covenant, the phrase "blood of Christ" is a symbolic one used to identify the spiritual death of Christ on the cross as the fulfillment of the dramatic and familiar rituals through which the principle of salvation had been communicated throughout the centuries in the Old Covenant.
The Burnt Offering
As is usually the case, it is not my purpose to produce an exhaustive presentation on any subject. I just want to give you enough information to make the point. So, we need not look at all the offerings. The effectiveness of the OT rituals can be clearly understood through even a surface examination, and since the burnt offering required the shedding of blood, it’s a good representative example.
The burnt offering illustrated the work of Christ in salvation, and the animal to be offered could come from any of three sources. It could come from the herd (Leviticus 1:2-9), the flock (Leviticus 1:10-13) or of the fowls (Leviticus 1:14-17). This allowed anyone, regardless of economic status, to participate. The grace of God extends to all.
Each type of animal emphasized some aspect of the principle of propitiation. The bull pictured Jesus Christ as a willing servant. The sheep or goat pictured Him as the qualified sin-bearer. The fowl pictured Him as the glorious, resurrected God-man. The bull to be offered had to be a male without blemish (Leviticus 1:3) illustrating the perfection of the incarnate Christ.
Because it was impossible for God to die on the cross, He had to become a member of the human race. But He could not have the blemish of a sin nature, the imputation of Adam’s sin or the guilt of personal sins. It was His virgin birth and perfect life that qualified Him for the cross. The dynamics of this will be explained later in the paper "Grace, Faith and the Plan of God".
The burnt offering illustrated what Jesus fulfilled and, in time, what was written about Him in the NT. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7) to satisfy the righteousness of the Father. Then He voluntarily offered Himself on the cross (John 10:17, 18) to satisfy the will of the Father (Matthew 26:39, Hebrews 9:14).
To demonstrate the principle of substitutionary death in the ritual of the burnt offering, the sins of the offerer were transferred to the sinless animal when the offerer’s hand was placed on the animal’s head (Leviticus 1:4). This illustrated the future reality of Christ taking our place and becoming sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21).
After the bull had been identified with the sins of the offerer, the priest then severed the carotid arteries in its neck with a sharp knife. This caused the strong, frightened animal to pump the blood out of its own body. The spurting blood soon covered the offerer, the priest, the altar and the ground, providing a graphic and spectacular illustration of the spiritual death of Christ.
This ritual culminated with the burning of the carcass of the animal to represent the future divine judgment on the Son of God. The smoke rising out of the fire of judgment was a sweet smell to God (Leviticus 1:9) indicating His satisfaction with the work of the Son (Hebrews 1:3).
God’s terrible wrath against the sins of the entire human race, including the sins of every Jew that ever approached Him with an offering, was focused on the Lord Jesus Christ during His last three hours on the cross. His excruciating pain, more intense than anything we could ever imagine, was dramatized over and over again by the grisly, violent death struggles of these healthy, flawless and innocent animals. This shedding of blood, both in the detail of the ceremony and shock of the execution, was designed to permanently imprint upon the souls of the offerer and observer alike, the intensity of the indescribable pain of the spiritual death of our precious Lord.
The Day of Atonement and the Blood of Christ
In addition to the Levitical offerings, the daily offerings and the sacrifices offered at the time of each new moon, the Jews were taught to bring offerings on specially designated Holy Days. Each of these Holy Days had great significance. They were Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles (Leviticus 23). But of all the Holy Days, the Day of Atonement was the most solemn (Leviticus 16, 23:26-32).
Yom Kippur is the English transliteration of the Hebrew Jom Kaphur, and literally means "the day of covering." This was the only day of the year that anyone was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle or the Temple after it was constructed. And even then, only the High Priest was allowed to enter after he had brought an offering on behalf of his own sins (Leviticus 16:13).
Two sacrifices were required on this Holy Day, a young bull and one of two goats (Leviticus 16:6-16). The High Priest sacrificed the bull on the brass altar as a sin offering for his own sin. The blood, representing the spiritual death of Christ, was collected in a basin and carried past the huge curtain into the Holy of Holies and was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. The meaning of the Mercy Seat is clearly illustrated by the verse quoted earlier, Romans 3:25.
"(Jesus Christ) whom the Father determined beforehand to be the propitiation (mercy seat) by means of faith in His blood (spiritual death)…"
Here, the Greek word hilasterion translated "propitiation", literally means "mercy seat". It refers to the wooden box called the Ark of the Covenant, which stood in the Holy of Holies. The acacia wood that the box was made of represented Christ’s humanity. The gold that overlaid it illustrated His deity. Together they reminded everyone of the uniqueness of the God-man.
The Ark contained three items, a pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded and the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been given. The pot of manna stood for man’s rejection of God’s provision. The rod stood for man’s rejection of God’s authority. And the tablets stood for man’s transgressions against God’s holy standards.
The Mercy Seat itself was the lid that covered the top of the Ark. On each end stood a golden cherub. One represented God’s righteousness, the other, His justice. Symbolically, each year as the blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, God’s righteousness and justice looked down and saw the completed work of Christ covering the priest’s sin.
The High Priest then went out and sacrificed one of the goats as an offering for the people. Bringing the goats blood in the basin, he entered again into the Holy of Holies and again sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat. This time the blood dramatized the work of Christ on the cross in covering the sins of the people. God’s holy character was temporarily satisfied and His judgment rolled back and delayed.
And if you’re wondering what happened to the other goat, it was turned loose into the wilderness. The freedom of this second goat symbolized Christ’s future resurrection and His freedom from death. It required two goats, one living and one dead, to represent what Christ was going to do on the cross. One represented His spiritual death, the other His physical death and subsequent resurrection. As we will see later, Christ died two separate deaths on the cross.
Only by way of the symbolic blood of animals could the High Priest approach the presence of God, represented by the Holy of Holies. But when Jesus Christ was judged on the cross, the huge curtain that blocked entry into the Holy of Holies was ripped from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Christ’s work on the cross removed the barrier keeping men from the presence of God, giving us free access to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16, 10:19, 20).
By the way, if you just read those verses you should have noticed that verse 20 tells us that the veil or curtain that separated the outer court from the Holy of Holies represented Jesus’ body. The word that is translated "body" is sarx and illustrates Jesus total humanity, body, soul and spirit. The symbolism is this: access to the Father would become a reality when the humanity of the Son of God was ripped apart in judgment on the cross.
Jesus while on this earth never entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple. But, after the cross, when He ascended, He entered the real Holy of Holies in Heaven (Hebrews 9:24). Unlike the High Priest, who had to go into the Holy of Holies twice, the sinless Lord Jesus Christ required no special offering on His own behalf. Instead, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of mankind. Then He entered Heaven one time and sat down at the Father’s right hand. That was all that was required (Hebrews 10:12).
In His work on the cross, Jesus Christ conquered sin, spiritual death and physical death (I Corinthians 15:55-57). He redeemed man from the bondage of sin, reconciled God to man, and satisfied God on behalf of man. Animal sacrifices and blood are no longer acceptable means of worship (Hebrews 10:1-14) and will not be authorized again until the Millennium. Then, with Jesus Christ present on the earth, they will serve only as memorials to the cross and to honor the reigning King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The re-establishment of sacrificial offerings is part of Ezekiel’s vision of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ found in Ezekiel 40-48, the specific references to the offerings are found in Ezekiel 45:13 through 46:15.
The Effectiveness of the Ritual System
Moses is a good example of someone in the Old Testament who learned from the system of ritual animal sacrifices and experienced intimacy with God. In Exodus 2we see that from the time he was weaned Moses lived as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He was, no doubt, raised, educated and trained as an Egyptian. He knew little or nothing of the Hebrew culture or the Hebrew God. Follow with me as I show you the sequence of events that allowed Moses to respond to this ritual system so he could learn to know God.
In Genesis 25:1-6 we see the record of Abraham’s second family. After Sarah had died, Abraham took Keturah as his wife and she bore him six sons. One of them was named Midian. Before he died, Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to his other sons, he gave gifts and sent them away into the country to the east.
When we look at Exodus 2:15, 16 we pick up the story of Moses. When he was about 40 years old, Moses went out to see how his people were being treated, got involved in a situation and killed an Egyptian. Verse 15 tells us that Pharaoh wanted to kill him and Moses fled to Midian, where he meets Jethro, the priest of Midian.
Now, the area that was then known as Midian was the place that Abraham’s son, Midian had settled. It was the Arabian Peninsula. And Jethro is a direct descendant of Abraham through Midian (Moses is also a direct descendant of Abraham through Isaac). And further, Jethro is the priest of Midian. He’s the one responsible for carrying on the traditions of the ritual system handed down to him from Abraham, Midian and others. For the next 40 years of his life, Moses will live with Jethro, experience the ritual system, and learn how to have a relationship with the God of Israel (Acts 7:29, 30).
We know that Jethro understood this ritual system, because later in Exodus 18:9-12he meets up with Moses and Israel in the wilderness 3 months after they had left Egypt. The account tells us that he is given the honor of presenting a burnt offering and sacrifices to the Lord in thanksgiving and celebration of the Lord’s greatness and Israel’s freedom.
And make no mistake about this; Moses did learn how to have a relationship with God that was real. He learned to submit himself to God. He learned to hear the still, small voice of God. He learned to seek God for direction and purpose. And he learned how to follow that purpose regardless of personal cost to himself. And at this point I have to remind you of the fact that he did all this without a Bible, without a church and Sunday School, without the interference of a pastor and pastoral staff and without a Christian bookstore where he could run to buy the latest how-to, self-help books that don’t actually tell you how to and don’t really help.
The conclusion of this matter is found in Hebrews 11:24-27. Here we see that Moses came to a point in his life where he preferred to be identified with the people of God. And that through faith, he willingly endured the hardships and bore the abuse of the world for the sake of the Christ that he looked forward to. He ignored the opposition of Pharaoh and by faith he held steadfastly to the purpose of God as one who lived continually in the presence of the invisible God.
And again, the faith that Moses had was not a result of what he read in a book. It wasn’t a system of doctrine that someone had taught him. His faith was real. It was founded in what God said to him personally. Moses didn’t follow a denomination, a church or a man. He followed God. His faith rested in the same things our faith must rest in, personal revelation, submission and obedience to a living God.
Salvation Only Through Christ
Now that we have examined the way in which the sacrificial offerings of the Old Covenant portrayed the future work of Christ on the cross, let’s examine the mechanics by which Christ provided our salvation and thus established the New Covenant. When you consider everything that the Bible says about salvation in both the OT and the NT an analogy is formed. In other words, you see the distinct similarities between what is presented in the OT as compared to what is found in the NT. But let us be perfectly clear on this point, the animal sacrifices represent the shadow side of the analogy, while the events on the cross are the reality of those shadows.
What payment did God’s justice demand for the sins of the world? To understand what the payment must be, you must first understand the penalty for sin that God had established. And that penalty was given even before the first sin had ever been committed. It’s found in Genesis 2:17.
"But of the tree that holds the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat of it, because the day that you eat of it you will surely die."
The Hebrew verb muth, means, "to die" and is doubled in this verse. It should be literally translated "dying, you will die". This is an idiom or word picture for spiritual death. When Adam disobeyed God and ate the fruit from this tree, he did not immediately die a physical death. In fact, he probably lived over 900 years after committing this original sin (Genesis 5:5). But he lost his relationship with God and that is spiritual death. Physical death was never the penalty for sin.
In order to purchase our salvation through a substitutionary death, Christ had to die spiritually. The price had to be the same as the penalty. Most professing Christians today wrongly conclude that Christ bought their salvation with His physical death on the cross. They fail to make the distinction and therefore fail to recognize with any degree of appreciation what Christ actually had to do.
Most people need to change their frame of reference with regards to any mention of death in the Scriptures. Because they tend to think only in terms of physical death, many times they miss the true meaning of a verse that’s clearly speaking of spiritual death. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, read the following verses that mention death and think about their meaning: Proverbs 14:12, Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 5:10, 12; 6:23, I Corinthians 15:22, Ephesians 2:5, Philippians 2:8, Colossians 1:22 and Hebrews 2:9. These are all references to spiritual death, separation from God in time.
And just so there’s no confusion; spiritual death is not eternal separation from God. The eternal state of separation from God is called the second death, described in Matthew 25:41, and in even greater detail in Revelation 20:12-15. Spiritual death carries over from time into eternity, just like life in Christ carries over from time into eternity. In John 10:10 the word perissos is used to describe Jesus’ promise of abundant life. What Jesus is actually describing here is a life that comes from Him that literally overflows from time into eternity. It is an overflowing life!
The fact is and the Scripture record clearly shows that Christ died twice on the cross. In Colossians 2:12, the Greek noun nekros is plural and is used as the object of the preposition ek. The last phrase of that verse should be translated "God raised Him out from the deaths." In Isaiah 53:9, it’s the same thing. The Hebrew meweth is plural and should be translated "deaths". Christ experienced spiritual death as the payment for our sins, and then He experienced physical death to demonstrate His power over physical death through His resurrection.
Now let’s look at the Gospel record. The Lord was on the cross for approximately 6 hours, from about 9 o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon. However, at 12 noon, the earth came under total darkness and remained in darkness for the next 3 hours (Matthew 27:45). During this time, we know that Jesus Christ was being judged for our sin because He kept screaming this same thing over and over again, "My God (the Father), My God (the Holy Spirit), why have you abandoned Me?" (Matthew 27:46) In this verse the verb is in the imperfect tense indicating that the action described by the verb was continuous and repeated through the time described.
At this point the other two members of the Godhead, with whom Christ had previously enjoyed unbroken fellowship, had both broken that relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit had withdrawn His sustaining ministry while the Father judged our sins in Him. It was our sins that separated Christ from the other two members of the Trinity, even as we are separated from them unless we access by faith the work of Jesus.
This is what Peter describes in I Peter 2:24 when he says, "He bore our sins in His own body on the tree." This was the unspeakable agony of the cross, when everything that is vile and evil in the world, every sin that had been or ever would be committed, came into direct contact with the innocent and holy Son of God. This was the indescribable pain, so intense and fierce that three hours must have seemed like an eternity. This is the real suffering of the cross that most of the self-centered, emotional and spiritual cripples in the traditional church today know nothing about.
Another way to illustrate the spiritual death of Christ is to look at the statements He made while on the cross as they’re recorded in Scripture. There were 7 and I’ll list them in the order they probably occurred.
"Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing." Luke 23:34
"I’m telling you the truth, today you’ll be with Me in paradise."Luke 23:43
"Woman, look, this is your son. Look, this is your mother." John 19:25,26
"My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me!" Matthew 27:46
"I’m thirsty." John 19:28
"It is finished now, with results that will go on forever." John 19:30
"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!" Luke 23:46
When you read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s crucifixion, you should be struck by His composure. He calmly prays for those who seek His death. He speaks confidently to the thief who defends Him and calls Him Lord. And He tenderly looks out for the welfare of His mother. He says that He’s thirsty. He firmly states that His judgment has ended. He shouts with a strong, clear voice that He’s ready to leave this earth.
But the statements that tell us when He’s under the judgment of the Father are the first, fourth and seventh. In the first, He addresses God as His Father. He is still in fellowship with the Father and in the sustaining ministry of the Holy Spirit. In the fourth, He literally screams out of fear and pain, My God, My God! While under judgment, Jesus could not address God as Father, their fellowship had been broken and the ministry of the Spirit withdrawn as He was being judged for our sins. Then later, in the seventh, He again addresses God as Father. Judgment is finished (as He said it was), and fellowship is restored. Do you see the difference?
When His spiritual death was completed, Jesus shouted "tetelestai" (John 19:30). This verb is in the perfect tense and should be translated something like "it is finished now, with results that will go on for all eternity." Notice that the Lord said that it was finished, but He was still physically alive. So what was finished? The payment for sin was finished. Jesus was still alive on the cross when the payment for our salvation was completed. His physical death, which would follow, would have nothing to do with the payment for sin.
The Physical Death of Christ
The OT rituals that portrayed the saving work of Christ on the cross all pictured His spiritual death – the means of our salvation. In every case, the physical death of the sacrificial animal represented the spiritual death of Christ. To properly understand the phrase "the blood of Christ" we must understand that the animal’s physical death did not represent the physical death of the Lord.
If that were true and the principle of substitutionary death is applied, then it would be reasonable to say that anyone who accepted God’s plan of grace and faith for salvation would not experience physical death. But we know that’s not the case. Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus "…should experience death for every man." When you read that verse it’s obvious that he experienced spiritual death for us, not physical death.
Jesus Christ died physically as an act of His own will and choosing. No one took His life from Him. It’s ridiculous to think that anyone could kill God. When His work on earth was finished, the Father’s plan called for Him to depart. And so when that time came, Jesus dismissed His own soul and spirit. In Luke 23:46 Jesus quotes a portion of Psalms 31:5.
"And then Jesus cried out with a strong voice, Father, into your hands I entrust My spirit. And when He had said this, He let out His breath."
Jesus is, in fact, the unique God-man of the universe. His birth was unique, His life was unique, His spiritual death was unique and even His physical death was unique in that He was the only person ever authorized by God to dismiss His own life when His assignment on earth was completed (John 10:17, 18). Jesus sent His spirit to the presence of the Father in heaven and his soul to paradise, where He delivered the good news to all the OT saints who had trusted in his future sacrifice on the cross (Luke 23:46 with I Peter 3:19). For the three days between His deaths on the cross and His resurrection Jesus’ spirit was with the Father, His soul was in paradise and His body was in the grave (Luke 23:43, 46 and 52-53).
Jesus’ physical death is an essential part of the Gospel when the resurrection is emphasized (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Through His physical death and subsequent resurrection, He became the first fruits of those raised from the dead, the guarantee of a future resurrection for all believers (I Corinthians 15:20-22). In addition, Christ’s resurrection is the foundation for the believer’s "newness of life" in (Romans 6:4-13).
Religious Superstition and the Blood of Christ
The scripture record indicates Christ anticipated the fact that religion would distort the true meaning of the events of the cross and the importance of His spiritual death by concocting a superstitious belief system around His literal blood. So, while still on the cross, the Lord provided proof that He did not bleed to death and that unlike the sacrificial animals of the Old Covenant, His literal blood had no spiritual significance whatsoever.
Instead of slumping sideways when He dismissed His soul and spirit, Jesus thrust His head and therefore, his body, forward. In John 19:30 it says, "He bowed His head". The verb klino indicates that He deliberately placed His head in a forward position. This is what caused His body to be leaning in the specific forward position that it was when the soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’ chest, setting up a clear demonstration for all to see and for John to record in John 19:34.
"But one of the soldiers pierced His chest with a spear and there was an immediate rush of blood clots and serum from the wound."
The Greek noun pleura in this verse should not be translated "side". It specifically refers to the chest cavity. The soldier’s spear penetrated upward through Christ’s rib cage without breaking any bones (none were to be broken, Psalms 34:20) and lacerated His heart. And it is John’s description of what came from the wound that is significant. He doesn’t describe two separate elements (as blood and water in the KJV), but instead, he describes the condition of one element – the blood in Jesus’ dead body.
What John describes is the natural form that whole blood takes when it coagulates, separating into red clots and a clear, yellowish liquid. The soldiers were trained to recognize death and when death was suspected to carry out the necessary examination to confirm it. This is why the soldier did what is recorded in the verse above. To anyone viewing from a distance (as John was) or to anyone examining closely (as the soldiers were doing), to see blood separated into clots and serum is absolute proof of physical death.
Now, for the blood inside anyone’s body to have precipitated into this form, he must have died suddenly and he could not have bled to death. If someone bleeds to death, clots and serum do not form inside the body. The blood simply exits the body from the wound or wounds in the same whole, red form you would see if you cut your finger. In spite of the physical torture Christ received during His trials and then on the cross, His physical death came suddenly when, with complete self-control and clarity of mind, He sent away His soul and spirit. Certainly, He did bleed from the wounds He received, but those wounds did not kill Him.
Blood clots do not form from either external bleeding or internal hemorrhaging. The sight of blood clots and serum coming from the wound inflicted by the soldier not only confirmed that Jesus was, in fact, dead; they also confirm that He could not have bled to death. In order for a large quantity of separated blood to flow from a wound, a large vessel had to be severed. Furthermore, there had to be a large quantity of blood still present in the upper chest cavity.
Only with His body thrust forward could Christ give clear definition of His rib cage, giving the soldier a perfect target – His heart. The exact, deliberate way in which Christ positioned His body gave us this vivid, eyewitness proof of His physical death and how He died, forever recorded by John in the Word of God, who attests to the accuracy of his account (John 19:35).
But in spite of this record, Roman Catholic doctrine insists that Christ carried His blood with Him to heaven in a bowl. Of course, by saying this, they absolutely refute the spiritual death of Christ on the cross and go out of their way to place significance on the physical blood, and therefore the physical death of Christ – a significance that does not exist in truth. Probably without even realizing its source, many fundamentalist and evangelical groups cling to this doctrine born of ignorance and superstition in the Dark Ages by perpetuating various forms of religious mysticism around the physical blood of the Lord.
As has already been noted, when Jesus’ work was finished, He presented Himself to the Father and was welcomed. His acceptance by the Father had nothing to do with His blood, nor did He take any of that blood with Him. His acceptance by the Father was based on the fact that Jesus Christ had met the demands of a holy, righteous and just God and had paid the full penalty for the sins of mankind in the only way that was possible – through His spiritual death.
When Jesus Christ entered heaven He carried not blood, but the fact that He had fully satisfied the Father’s plan. His salvation work was completed. The enmity that had existed between God and man had been removed. Reconciliation had been accomplished (Ephesians 2:13-16) through the "blood of Christ" (verse 13). But it wasn’t the red liquid that flowed through Jesus’ body that satisfied the Father. It was His spiritual death.
The Blood of Christ and Communion
Animal sacrifices were designed to communicate truth and provide the OT Jewish believers with a means of worship by which they could express their occupation with Christ and demonstrate their faith in Him. But once these rituals were fulfilled by Christ on the cross, and with the completion of the Scriptures in 96 AD, there was no longer any need for a detailed system of training rituals. Therefore, in the NT church there is only one form of ritual that is authorized – Communion.
To avoid the tenth plague in Egypt, the Jews were ordered to sacrifice a male, yearling lamb, without blemish (Exodus 12:5). The lamb represented Jesus Christ, who would be qualified to bear the sins of mankind. The lamb’s flesh was to be eaten – a picture of faith in Christ and His work on the cross. Just as any person can eat, anyone can follow Christ by faith. Eating is a perfect picture of a person’s voluntary approach and submission to the Savior.
The blood of the Passover lamb represented the spiritual death of Christ, and the offerers painted it on the sides and tops of their doors (Exodus 12:7). For those behind the blood, symbolically trusting in the future spiritual death of Christ, the judgment of the plague would be averted.
Like the Passover lamb that had represented Him for nearly two thousand years, the Lord Jesus Christ died on the Passover, fulfilling in reality the symbolism of this feast day in every detail. However, the night before His death (Passover had begun at sundown that evening), Jesus converted the old Passover feast into Communion. This is the account found in Luke 22. This is verse 19.
"And He took bread and after giving thanks, He broke it into pieces and gave it to them saying, This represents My body given for you, eat this in remembrance of Me."
Instead of the lamb, Jesus used bread to represent His unique person. Actually, a more correct translation of this verse would read something like "this keeps on being My body". Here, Jesus was actually promising His resurrection. He was saying that it might look bad, you might see Me die, you might not think so when you consider the circumstances, but the fact remains, I’ll always have a body. I’ll always be the unique God-man, throughout all eternity.
Eating the bread is, as it was with the Passover lamb, a picture of faith. When we eat the bread, we’re saying that we trust in Jesus’ resurrection. And that we’re going to follow Him, listen to Him, submit to Him and obey Him, because we know that if we’ll do that He’ll keep His promise to raise up as well (John 6:39, 40). The bread of the Communion table is a reminder to all of Jesus’ resurrection and also of His promise to resurrect those who had true faith in Him.
Then we go on to verse 20.
"Then after the supper was ended, He took the cup and in the same manner said, This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is given for you."
The Old Covenant had been ratified over and over by the shed blood of sacrificial animals, but now these observances would be set aside. In less than twenty-four hours, the shadows would be fulfilled and the reality would come. The New Testament would be put in full and binding force by the spiritual death of Christ on the cross. The cup of the Communion table, therefore, is symbolic of the spiritual death of Christ. And, as before, drinking the cup is our way of saying that we trust in that spiritual death and that the demonstration of our faith in Christ is a result of that trust.
This brings Jesus’ message to those unbelieving Jews in John 6 into full focus. Here, Jesus revealed Himself as the Bread that came down from heaven. But His message was even more specific than that in verses 52-57. If you really understand the principle of faith, then you can understand Jesus’ promise in verse 54. This is what it says.
"The one who continually feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
Those who truly trust in the physical death and resurrection and the spiritual death of Christ are those who demonstrate that trust by walking with God by faith. It’s that walk of faith that guarantees Jesus’ promise to raise them up on the last day.
The command to "do this in remembrance of Me" makes Communion a time when believers should focus on their Savior, what He did and what He promised. Communion becomes a time of worship, a time to check one’s knowledge of truth and also a time to gauge one’s commitment to spiritual growth. As with any ritual, it becomes worthless and meaningless when there is no understanding of the reality it represents and where there is no reaffirming of a commitment to that reality.
No true believer is ever excluded from Communion. Membership to any particular organization, denomination or any specific church affiliation is not a factor. No special qualification is required other than a sincere desire to draw near to the Savior and memorialize what He did on the cross.
There is, however, a warning regarding Communion that should be taken seriously. There are many today that have made Communion a mindless ritual with no thought of its meaning or importance. The warning Paul makes in I Corinthians 11:27-32 is that we should not participate in the Communion table without thoroughly examining ourselves to make sure that we’re prepared to express the proper appreciation to our Lord for what He has done for us.
The result of participating in the Communion table in the unworthy manner that Paul describes is (not was, but is) that many are sick and some are dead. Those in the traditional church today that are spiritually short sighted enough to think this couldn’t be true today are wrong. It is as true today as it was when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church. The difference is, of course, that the churches today don’t have anyone with the spiritual discernment necessary to recognize this.
One last thing and then I’ll be finished. There is a bottom-line here, a fundamental, foundational truth that must be explained. The Communion table is absolutely essential in every believer’s day to day walk of faith with Jesus Christ. He said following Him wouldn’t be easy and every one of us gets discouraged from time to time. So, why is Communion so important? Because, every time we participate in Communion, the realization of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross should break our hearts and give us a renewed determination to follow Him. Every time we draw back because we have to suffer or sacrifice or do something we don’t want to do, we need to be reminded of what He did for us. Then we can feel ashamed for our selfishness and weakness, repent and recommit ourselves to the matchless Savior, the King of Kings, the unique God-man of the universe, and the Lord of our salvation.
And for all those off again, on again, "I don’t want to submit, suffer or sacrifice" types out there who think they can disregard truth and what God requires and have a relationship with Him on their terms instead of His, this is for you. Read it carefully, it’s Hebrews 10:19-39.
And so, my friends, since we now have this freedom to enter into the real Holy of Holies, that is to say, the presence of the Father, by means of the blood of Christ (His spiritual death),
By a new and living way (instead of the old, ritual sacrifices), which Christ opened for us through the veil, which was His perfect humanity,
And since we now have a great High Priest Who rules the household of God,
Let us all draw close to the Father with sincere hearts and with the absolute confidence that comes when we walk with Him by faith, a life that frees our hearts from guilt and cleanses us through the continual revelation of His will and purpose.
And let us hold on to the hope of our final deliverance without wavering, because we know that God can be trusted to keep His promises.
Then let us be considerate of one another, ready to encourage each other towards love and the willingness to help each other along,
Not neglecting to meet together regularly for this purpose, as some do, but being ready always to urge each other on, ever constant as we know the day of His return is approaching.
Because if we sin by disregarding the will of God once we’ve received a full knowledge and understanding of it, there will be no future offering to which we can look forward that will atone for our disobedience.
There is, in fact, nothing for us but the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and burning indignation, which will consume all those who stand in opposition to His plan.
Those who refused to obey and thus rejected the Law of Moses were put to death without mercy when only two or three witnesses testified against them.
How much more terrible then, should the punishment be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have considered His Blood (His spiritual death) of the New Covenant to be unimportant, or worse yet, unholy? And because of this outrageous behavior, these same ones have both insulted and angered the Holy Spirit, who came to administer this undeserved favor of God to us!
For we are fully aware that God has said, Vengeance is Mine and I will judge those who have rejected My generous offer. I will repay them for their insults and their rebellion and give them all what they fully deserve. And, we know that He has also said, I will settle this dispute with them Myself.
It is a terrifying thought that you could bring this judgment on yourself and find yourself in the unyielding grasp of the living God!
And because of all this, never forget the time when you first learned about Christ and about God’s plan for you, and how you were determined to be faithful, even though it was a struggle to do so.
Remember that you were sometimes publicly taunted, and beaten, and how you gained the strength to go on by helping others who were enduring the same things.
You sympathized with those who were persecuted, and when the enemies of God plundered your property, you relinquished it gladly, knowing that God had better things in store for you.
Therefore, guard yourselves and do not throw away this fearless confidence you have in the Lord. It will carry you to a great reward.
What you need now is steady endurance, so you can fully accomplish the will of God for your life. Only then will you enjoy all that He has promised.
And as the prophet has said, In just a little while the One Who is to Come will indeed come, and He will not delay.
And My righteous servants shall live by faith (by hearing the voice of God, submitting to Him and obeying what He says). But if he turns away and does not follow Me, I will not be pleased.
But we are not like those who turn their backs on God and refuse His plan and purpose; they will all be utterly destroyed. No, our final deliverance is assured, because we walk by faith.