The Blood of Christ

The question is sometimes asked: "Is atonement by the death of Christ or by his blood ?" The answer is sometimes given that it is by his death and bloodshedding, that is, it is by both. This is not really correct. The truth is that atonement was made by Christ's death, but the blood was the witness that death had taken place. To be an atoning death it had to be death at the hands of man and not one from natural causes. He was put to death (1 Peter 3:18 ).

It is probable that at the beginning of the Assembly's history some had objected that Christ's death could not have been an atoning one because his blood was not shed, at least, not to any great extent by his crucifixion. It is no doubt because of such an objection that John in his Gospel makes a particular point of the fact that his blood was actually shed. Thus we have: "One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he who saw it bears witness, and his witness is true, and he knows that he says true that ye also may believe." (John 19:34/35) Of course, an infidel could well jump in here with both feet and say that John's statements are just something made up to get rid of a difficulty. However, just because the other Gospel writers do not mention the matter this is no reason for rejecting John's testimony. He was standing by the cross of Jesus as stated in verse 26 whereas the other Gospel writers were not and they would not therefore have been witnesses of what happened. However, we can learn from Christ's own statement in Luke's Gospel that his blood had been shed out because He said:" Handle me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as ye see me having" (Luke 24:39). He did not say flesh and blood.

It is clear that death and blood are not the same thing. Death is an event - something that happens whereas blood is a substance. We can speak of being washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 1:5; 7:14) and of sprinkling blood (Hebrews 12:24) but we cannot in the same way speak of being washed in the death of Christ or sprinkling death. However, Scripture does speak of blood shedding, that is, the act of taking life. Cain was the first one to take human life when he slew his brother Abel, so that God said: "The voice of thy brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Genesis 4:10). Abel's blood, we may say, cried for vengeance, whereas the blood of sprinkling which spoke better than Abel (Hebrews 12:24) was a means of blessing. Genesis 9:3-6 speaks specifically of blood shedding and its consequence.

Scripture speaks of the precious blood of Christ: "Ye have been redeemed... by precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, [the blood] of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18/19). It is not that there was anything special about the chemical content of Christ's blood which made it precious, but it was precious because it was the blood of one who was without blemish and without spot, that is, the blood of the Lamb of God; it was not anybody's blood. Note: Peter goes further than the Old Testament in speaking of Christ the Lamb being without blemish and without spot. Under the levitical law animals sacrificed had to be without blemish (Leviticus 1:3; 22:17-25), but there is no mention of spots.

In the Old Testament much is made of physical blood. The life (soul) of the flesh is said to be in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). It is physical life rather than spiritual life. In the New Testament spiritual life is far more emphasised. Christ's physical blood was poured out (John 19:34). This probably corresponds to the pouring out of all the blood at the bottom of the altar (Exodus 29:12), rather than the act of killing by blood shedding, because Christ was already dead when the soldier pierced his side. The point is that Christ's life in flesh and blood had been terminated. No one now knows Christ after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). He now has an indissoluble life (Hebrews 7:16). The fact that in the Lord's supper the bread (speaking of Christ's body) and the wine (speaking of his blood) are taken separately points to the fact that Christ has died. A person cannot live naturally without blood in his body. In resurrection Christ did not have blood in his body as we have seen. He had been the victim and being such He was not resuscitated (brought back to a natural life), though personally he was resurrected and now has, as we shall also, a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:35-50). Our bodies will be like his (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2) .