It has often been said that Christians have a vocabulary all their own that is rather baffling to non-Christians. In particular, phrases involving “the blood” must be particularly disturbing to non-initiates. While the idea of being “washed in the blood”, “cleansed by the blood” or even “sprinkled by the blood” might be common currency to those of us who have been in and around churches for decades, it’s not hard to see how they might at the very least raise an eyebrow or two among thoughtful outsiders.
Yet there’s no denying that the blood of Jesus is central to Christian belief. Both the Old and the New Testament are replete with references to blood. And Jesus’ death, however you understand it, was undeniably a bloody event.
The question remains: how should we understand the blood of Jesus and its import for our salvation? Allow me to offer a brief perspective.
Being a Pentecostal of thirty years’ standing, I’ve heard and read more than my fair share of references to Jesus’ blood. I’ve sat under speakers who’ve railed that I need to be washed in the blood lest I perish; I’ve been assured – and have myself assured others – that “Jesus’ blood never fails me”; and I’ve lustily sung good old Pentecostal hymns proclaiming that “There’s power in the blood”.
My experience leads me to conclude that for many Christians, Jesus’ blood (like his cross) is little more than a talisman, a magical potion that bestows forgiveness, healing, power… in fact, any number of supernatural benefits. And all these benefits come irrespective of whether or not we actually allow ourselves to be changed as a result of understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In short, all we have to do is recognise the magical power of Jesus’ blood and we will be eligible for its benefits. (In fact, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard prayers that “claim the blood of Jesus” over a given person or situation, almost as though it were a magic spell which, provided it is correctly incanted, bestows supernatural benefits upon its target.)
Allow me to say that I now think all of this is bunkum. If Jesus’ blood is no more than an enchanted formula to be recited, then we Christians are no better than druids, spiritualists or any other weird group that finds salvation in externally invoked mechanisms.
What, then, does the blood of Jesus really mean?
The easiest way I can explain this is to quote two passages from scripture:
Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! (Genesis 4: 8-10)
You have come […] to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
What was it that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground? The answer, I feel, is obvious: Abel was unjustly murdered by his brother, and his blood cried out for vengeance. Indeed, even today, whenever we hear stories of unjust suffering, something in us cries out for the persecutor to be justly punished, for the blood of the persecuted to be avenged. It’s only fair!
So then, what is the better word spoken by the blood of Jesus?
If Jesus’ blood speaks a word that is better than Abel’s cry for vengeance, then surely the word it speaks is the word of forgiveness and peace. Where Abel, and Lamech after him, demanded blood for blood, Jesus showed that God is not interested in any such retributive calculus. Jesus was a victim just as innocent as Abel, but rather than appealing for vengeance, he returned from the grave announcing peace. Indeed, even as his blood was being spilled, he announced forgiveness.
The blood of Jesus, then, is not some potent elixir that magically effaces sin and evil. Indeed, I dare to say that, if we could somehow obtain a vial of Jesus’ actual blood, collected from Golgotha two thousand Easters ago, sprinkling it on even the most repentant sinner would have no effect.
Rather, the power and potency of Jesus’ blood lies in its crystal-clear highlighting of our endless cycle of retributive killing and the resulting, never-ending calls for vengeance. And, in particular, of God’s answer to all this: Enough!
If we really want to be “washed in the blood”, we should concern ourselves not with being mysteriously doused with ancient, divine bodily fluids, but rather with recognising our implication in the retributive cycle initiated by Cain, and seeking God’s help to respond to injustice not with cries for vengeance but with proclamations of forgiveness and peace.
[ Image: Doug1021 ]