Like water, blood is a fluid that is essential for life. When we donate blood, we help save lives. Those who lose too much blood risk death. For biblical authors, blood was a powerful symbol for humanity itself. God’s blessing of Noah and his sons included the following warning: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed,
because in the image of God, God made humans” (Gen 9:6). Blood also stands for the impermanence of our human bodies. The “flesh and blood” of our earthly bodies is contrasted with our future heavenly bodies, which will not decay (Gen 6:3; 1 Cor 15:50).
BLOOD AS AN OMEN
Because blood indicates some type of injury, it was thought of as a bad omen. The Nile River turned to blood-an unnatural and fearsome omen of things to come (Exod 4:9; 7:17). The water in Moab looked like blood and helped bring about Israelite victory (2 Kings 3:22). Apocalyptic imagery refers to blood in the sky and water (Rev 16:4; Joel 2:30-31). Peter concurs that is a sign of the day of the Lord (Acts 2:19).
BLOOD AND GUILT
We often describe a murderer as someone who has “blood on their hands,” and some passages in Scripture attribute blood with personal guilt. Taking a life is, of course, the ultimate act of violence and is sin, but the symbol repeatedly used to point out the guilt incurred by such actions is blood. After being murdered by his brother Cain, Abel’s blood “cried out” to God from the ground (Gen 4:10). Israel, guilty of much violence, had “bloody footprints” (Hosea 6:8) and “hands. . . .covered with blood” (Isa 1:15). Violent people are called “bloodthirsty” (Ps 139:19). And the land where violence occurred was considered “polluted with blood” (Ps 106:38). Hands stained with blood are also “stained with sin” (Isa 59:3). Even here there is hope of redemption, for in Hebrews 10:22, the symbolic act of being sprinkled with Christ’s blood frees us from a guilty conscience.
BLOOD AND IMPURITY
The presence of blood signifies some type of rupture in creation-either injury or illness. Thus it is symbolic of uncleanness or defilement (Lam 4:14). An issue of blood (“chronic bleeding”) made a person unclean and unable to participate in the Jewish community (Lev 12; Luke 8:43). In comparison to God’s holiness, man’s attempt at righteousness is compared to menstrual rags (Isa 64:6). The Old Testament law is filled with specific instructions on the handling of blood, and the commandment “never eat any fat or blood” (Lev 3:17) informs today’s Jewish dietary (kosher) laws.
BLOOD AND SALVATION
Foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ, blood in the Old Testament was a key component in the system of atonement instituted by God. The lifeblood of a sacrificial animal symbolically represented the life of the individual. Leviticus explains that the life is in the blood: “Blood contains life. I have given this blood to you to make peace with me on the altar. Blood is needed to make peace with me” (Lev 17:11; v 14). The Old Testament standard of life for life was satisfied through the sacrifice of animals-human guilt was assuaged by the taking of animal life. In the New Testament we discovered that the ultimate once-for-all shedding of blood was the willingly shed blood of Christ, the perfect sacrifice: “God was also pleased to bring everything on earth and in heaven back to himself through Christ. He did this by making peace through Christ’s blood sacrificed on the cross” (Col 1:20). Old Testament sacrifices were a sign of the final sacrifice of the spotless Lamb. The price for all sin had been paid, and shedding of blood was no longer necessary. Just as the sacrificial blood of animals was used to seal the covenant between God and Abram (Gen 15), the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross instituted a new covenant between God and humanity.
Blood features prominently in the celebration of Passover. Exodus 12 explains how the Israelites were spared the judgment of God by sprinkling lamb’s blood on their doorposts. The blood stood as a sign that they were the chosen people, and the angel of the Lord “passed over” the homes of the Israelites during their captivity in Egypt. Christ dramatically reinterpreted the blood symbolism of Passover during the las meal he celebrated with his disciples. Taking the cup of wine, Jesus said, “This is my blood, the blood of the promise. It is poured out for many people so that sins are forgiven” (Matt 26:28). As one of the elements of communion, blood is often associated with Christ’s suffering. Yet, the blood in the Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ’s life itself, rather than merely his experience of physical pain. The wine of communion is a sign that represents the lifeblood of Christ, poured out on our behalf and of which we become partakers.
He said, “Here is the blood that seals the promise God has made to you.” In the same way, Moses sprinkled blood on the tent and on everything used in worship. As Moses’s Teachings tell us, blood was used to cleanse almost everything, because if no blood is shed, no sins can be forgiven, (Heb 9:20-22)
NOTE: The blood of Christ stand not simply for the sting of sin on God but the scourge of God on sin, not simply for God’s sorrow over sin, but for God’s wrath on sin.