How many times has a parent seen it? A little boy falls and runs to Mummy, not really hurt, but upset. And then, suddenly, he notices — his elbow is bleeding! The tears, that had almost stopped, now come in a flood, and his decibel level skyrockets until the whole neighbourhood hears of the disaster! His injury isn’t any worse than it was, but now that he’s seen the BLOOD, he REALLY needs to cry.
This post has been percolating since a mid-week Bible Study on Hebrews 9, but I decided to post it today because it seems apt to close a week when many are thinking about Christ’s incarnation, the Word becoming flesh. (For those unfamiliar with the term, “incarnation” means becoming human, flesh and blood.)
Part of Human Nature
We seem to be born with a dislike for the sight of blood — children have this dislike at a very early age, without needing anyone to teach it, and it is present in multiple cultures.
Violent crime or accident scenes are very distressing, and even after the victims are taken away, seeing blood on a pavement can still trigger dismay or grief. The sight of blood means injury or death, pain and suffering. Blood belongs inside the body, not running out of it.
People who have to deal with injuries all the time, such as policemen or medical workers, may become somewhat hardened to it, but even they can be upset by particularly violent scenes. In general, if someone is never troubled by the sight of blood, something is wrong.
Blood in the Old Testament
After the flood, God established a covenant with Noah (and surviving mankind) in which He emphasised the importance of blood:
3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.
6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
Later, He would say that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). God made our bodies to need blood, and He taught us to see it as important. The Old Testament sacrifices were blood-sacrifices, as we see in Hebrews:
And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission (forgiveness).
The Plan of Redemption
Christians should not be surprised that the sight of blood has such an impact. Our Creator had full knowledge of the sin which would bring death into the world. He made us with His perfect plan of redemption in view.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
God’s plan for redemption was in place before the foundation of the world, before He ever made us, and that plan was redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is no surprise He would create in us a response to the sight of blood — He made us dependent upon blood for life, and His planned provision for our salvation depended on blood.
The centrality of Christ’s humanity (flesh and blood) for our redemption is vital. One of the most important “Christmas” Scriptures is in the second chapter of Hebrews:
14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
If Christ did not become flesh and blood, and shed His blood for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, we would have no salvation.
The Old Testament Sin Sacrifice
Biblical Judaism (as opposed to modern traditional Judaism) has often been called a bloody religion, and Christianity, with its emphasis on the shed blood of Christ, sometimes receives the same label. The label fits, for an Old Testament believer was directly confronted with blood when he sinned. Let’s take a look at some passages from Leviticus 4.
3 If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering.
4 And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock’s head, and kill the bullock before the LORD.
If a priest sinned, he had to take one of his own animals, and kill it himself. Well, that was the priest’s job, to do sacrifices, right? Yes, but down further we read this.
22 When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty;
23 Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish:
24 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD: it is a sin offering.
If a ruler sinned, he had to bring one of his own animals, and kill it by his own hand, so that its blood ran out.
27 And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty;
28 Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned.
29 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slay the sin offering in the place of the burnt offering.
Maybe you weren’t a priest or a ruler, but it applied to you, too. You had to kill the animal yourself. You had to take a knife and kill it, shedding its blood, perhaps even have the blood splash on you. You couldn’t expect the priest to do it — you had sinned, it was your responsibility, it was your fault that the animal had to die, and you had to do it yourself.
God wanted His people to see sin as serious. He wanted them to look at that animal, rest a hand on its head, and kill it so the blood ran out. The priest would take the blood to the altar. They would have to see the blood they themselves had shed, and know it was the price of their sin. He wanted them to own that sin, to take it (and the price for it) as fully theirs. If you committed sin and had to go to the tabernacle (or temple, in later years) and kill a bloody sacrifice, if you had to own it, you would not lightly commit that sin again.
Sin costs a life. It costs blood. Perhaps that is part of the reason God made us to be so affected by the sight of blood — to teach, and reinforce in our hearts, the great cost of sin.
The Sight of Christ’s Blood
33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
36 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
37 And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
The writer of this account, John, was a Jew, and a sinner, just like all of us. He would have been to the temple, laid his hand on the head of a goat, and shed its blood. For him, a blood sacrifice for sin was personal — he had committed the sin, he had shed the blood.
John saw the blood of the Saviour, and tied it to the prophecy, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” But interposed between the piercing and his mention of the prophecy, he emphasises for his readers who is looking — John himself. He inserts a unique personal note, something that would grab the attention of his readers to something unusual. C.H. Lenski wrote:
So weighty is what John reports that he, too, now does something entirely exceptional. No evangelist, and not even John in the rest of his Gospel, breaks the narrative to address his readers personally and to assure them in regard to his testimony.
John grabs our attention to say, “I saw it myself” — and then cites the prophecy that the ones who pierced Him are the ones who will see. John himself tells us later, in Revelation, that this prophecy has a future fulfillment in the return of Christ — but here, he tells us it had a present fulfillment as well, and identified himself as one who sees, as one who pierced.
In John 19:35, John owns Christ’s death and the sight of His blood as his own sacrifice for sin, just as he had owned temple sin offerings by taking a knife, shedding an animal’s blood, and looking on it. He is saying, “I looked — I pierced.” And in saying so, he is telling us the nature of that sacrifice on the cross — a payment for sin.
Of all he recorded of his days with Christ, the thing he emphasised with this unique personal note, the thing in which he personally affirmed the absolute truth of his testimony, the thing that brought a direct call to believe, was this: I saw His blood, I am one who pierced Him. In John’s Jewish mind, there was no doubt — this was a sacrifice for sin, a shedding of blood as the price that must be paid, and he, the sinner, was guilty of and partaker in the Saviour’s death.
“That Ye Might Believe”
The Holy Spirit, speaking through John, calls us to believe, and He is calling us to believe more than the mere fact that Jesus died and His blood ran down. By John’s record of that sight, He calls us to believe just how desperately evil and wicked every sin is. To believe that MY sin put Him there, and I am guilty of His death. To believe that MY sin put Him there, and He paid for it, and it is forgiven!
Is the sight of blood distressing? God made us that way. He didn’t want blood to be insignificant. He wanted it to be vital. Thus, our “natural” response to blood serves His purpose — “that ye might believe.“