I had been a believer in Jesus for just a few weeks when a church member asked me, Since the Temple has been destroyed and the priesthood has been dispersed, what do Jews do for a blood sacrifice?”
I didn’t know how to answer that question. I thought it was motivated by a rather morbid kind of curiosity, and I didn’t like the term “blood sacrifice.” I had only recently become acquainted with it, and I shrank from the imagery. Besides, I was astounded that anyone would expect modem Jews to have any form of sacrifice, and I wondered if someone had lied to that Christian about the Jewish religion.
I was confused about blood sacrifices and God’s requirements because as a Jewish youth, I had never read the Bible with any sense of continuity. We were told religious stories and events. As a new believer, I was surprised to discover that many of those stories were not from the Bible at all, but were legends and traditions from other sources. In my early days of faith in Yeshua, I had concentrated on the New Testament in my study of God’s Word. Now, perplexed by that question about blood sacrifice, I felt I must study the Old Testament as well.
I went all the way back to Genesis. As I studied the Bible from the very beginning, I came to understand a number of things. I saw that the Scriptures contain a whole theme of blood and underlying blood consciousness. I saw also that once the pattern had been established, it had never been rescinded. From this new perspective, I saw the dilemma modern Judaism prefers to overlook, and I could understand more clearly why my Christian had asked the question.
The first mention of blood and its symbolism is found in Genesis 4:10, which records the voice of God accusing Cain, “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” In that passage, the shedding of blood communicated an event or a fact or a relationship—or the disruption of a relationship. Undoubtedly the language of the Genesis 4 passage involves a poetic element, but since God himself chose those terms to describe bloodshed, we dare not ignore them, nor pass them off as merely poetry. That symbolism contains a mysterious depth of reality.
We see this again in Psalm 72:14: “He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight.” Another Scripture declares, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Once again, we have this metaphor of the blood, or the shedding of blood unto death, speaking to God—making a statement—and it is to be regarded with sanctity.
Blood is unique and merits respect. Even in the earliest times, as far back as Noah, the consumption of blood was absolutely forbidden (Genesis 9:4). Then in Leviticus 17:11, more enlightenment was given: “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.”
We see then that blood represents life itself. Blood is a living fluid. It brings nourishment to the body and cleanses wastes. In Leviticus 17:11 God was not saying that he had created blood for the purpose of making an atonement, but that because of its unique, vital biological function he had set it apart and reserved it solely and expressly for that purpose. The Israelites were not to touch it, nor use it for ordinary purposes. In a sense, it was to be regarded as holy.
Much misunderstanding surrounds the term “sanctity” or “holiness.” It simply means the setting apart of a person or object for a sacred purpose. For example, all of the vessels in the Tabernacle and the Temple were holy. Some were used to hold what we would regard as garbage. Yet because they were part of the sacrificial system, they were “sanctified” vessels, set apart from ordinary use.
There is something very special about blood because it has been designated by God as the instrument of his sacrificial system. How much more holy, then, is the blood of the Messiah, given as the ultimate sacrifice for sin!
When the mob wanted to show their righteousness and guiltlessness in condemning Christ, they proclaimed, “His blood be upon us and our children.” In other words, the blood was a reliable and holy witness because of the value God had placed upon it. Therefore, if the people were guilty in condemning Jesus, let Jesus’ blood speak out to God for vengeance.
The blood of Christ is one of the most important elements of Christian doctrine. Yet it is one that is most odious to unbelievers. By nature, no one wants to contemplate anything as ghastly as blood. No one wants to dwell on morbid thoughts like wounds. No wonder, then, if you ask most modern Jews, “What about blood sacrifices in Judaism?” they will respond, “This is the 20th century. We don’t need a ‘slaughterhouse’ religion. We fulfill our responsibilities to God in more ‘civilized’ ways.” Thoughts of blood and sacrifices are not well received in today’s society, be it Jewish or Gentile. Such thinking is contrary to all of human nature, as is the fact of Calvary and Christ’s vicarious atonement.
Concerning Calvary, I bow in awe at the thought, but 1 cringe sometimes at the flowery rhetoric we hear in sermons about the cross. I could never understand how anyone could describe a cross as beautiful. To me the symbol is as beautiful as a gas chamber or a hangman’s noose. The cross was horrible, built to display the dying nakedness of a criminal, and intended to frighten and awe passersby with the grim reality of wrath, judgment and punishment. There is nothing beautiful about the cross or the blood that was shed on it, unless one has a perverted mind.
Yet God, who produced Creation from nothing, can produce beauty from ugliness. From the decaying carcass of a lion, God produced honey (Judges 14:8). From a marriage founded on duplicity and adultery, God raised up King Solomon (II Samuel 12:24). From the horror of Calvary, God brings forth joy. With Yeshua’s stripes he heals. Through the cross, that ugly instrument of judgment and death, he transforms believers. Through the shed blood of Christ, he covers our sin-stained lives with his righteousness—and adorns us with the beauty of his holiness.