Hi, this is John MacArthur and recently we’ve had a lot of questions from listeners about what I believe on the blood of Christ, and I thought it might be helpful to just put together some excerpts from sermons preached through the years that’ll help you to understand where I stand. And to say in general very simply that I affirm everything the Scripture teaches about the blood of Christ seems very basic. You know me well enough to know that I believe the Bible from front to back, cover to cover. As one little boy said, “From Geniuses to Revolution.” There’s no point in the Bible that I don’t accept totally, and I believe it literally in every part.
For some strange reason people have accused me of denying the blood of Christ, which is not so. I affirm that a literal Jesus Christ who was man in every respect, one hundred percent man yet God incarnate, died on the cross, shed His literal blood as a sacrifice for sin. And I believe that, and I believe that it was that sacrificial death of Christ on the cross that atoned for the sins of man, and those who believe appropriate that atonement and receive eternal life through His death and resurrection, and that’s historic Christian theology.
But in recent months, I have noticed that there is an encroaching heresy on the blood, that there are people who say that the blood of Jesus was not human, it was divine. One pastor said to me, “He had the blood of God.” I said, “What is the blood of God?” He said, “Divine blood.” I said, “God is a spirit, that was the blood of Christ, that was the blood of a man, He was one hundred percent man.” It’s heretical to call the blood of Jesus Christ the blood of God, and it demonstrates a failure to understand what theologians have called the hypostatic union, that is the God-man union in Christ.
There are others who say that there’s something magical in the blood, there’s something in the blood itself that washes sin away, when the Scripture teaches it was the death of Christ that atoned for sin, and He shed His literal blood in sacrificial evidence of the pouring out of His life for sin. But there was nothing magic about that blood itself that could wash sin. And so, this heresy has begun to develop, strangely enough.
But just so you know where I stand, I thought we’d share some excerpts from sermons preached over a long period of time; in fact, such a long time that you may notice that my voice changes as the years roll by. First of all, let’s listen to a message I preached in August of 1969. It’s subtitled “Five Great Facts of Salvation,” and the context is 1 Peter chapter 1. On the third point in my outline I addressed the subject of Christ’s blood.
There’s a third part, and this is the beautiful part of it as it’s summed up at the end of verse 2: “And the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. The cap on this has to be the blood of Christ. God chooses, the Spirit sets apart by faith, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from what? From all sin. The blood of Christ is what does that final expiating work of cleansing us. Christ’s blood shed for us on Calvary divinely applied to our sin cleanses us and we are what God wanted us to be, immediately we’re strangers in this world.
Now I want you to look over at verse 17. “If you call on the Father who without respect of persons judges according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” In other words, remember who God is. Now look at the next few verses.
You want to know about your redemption, you want to know what the blood of Christ was like? “For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, nothing as cheap and chintzy as silver and gold, from your vain manner of life received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Now you weren’t redeemed with anything as worthless as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. And that’s the magnification of the simple statement of verse 2, the sprinkling of the blood of Christ.
You say, “Well, how can the blood of Christ who died nineteen hundred years ago have anything to do with me today?” I’ll be really honest with you, I don’t have the faintest idea. All I know is God says that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin; and all I know is that when a man comes to Christ and says, “Christ, come into my life and take away my sin,” and when a man is willing to repent of his sin, by some divine miracle right out of heaven God sprinkles him with the blood of Jesus Christ and he is clean. It’s a divine miracle that takes place within the life of a man.
Somehow the blood that was spilled on Calvary those many years ago atoned for sin that day, and keeps on throughout history atoning for sin to every man who was willing to kneel at the foot of His cross, at the foot of Christ’s cross, admit his sin, and allow the blood of Christ to cleanse him. And so, Peter says, “You’re elect.”
In April of 1972 while teaching from chapter 4 of the book of Hebrews, I dealt with the subject again of Christ’s blood. Our Lord’s work on the cross was the fulfillment of the type in the Old Testament when the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat.
The Old Testament priests on the Day of Atonement would take the blood and he would go through three areas. He would go through the door into the outer court, through the door into the Holy Place, through the veil into the Holy of Holies. He passed through into the third place, and he only did it once on the Day of Atonement, and he sprinkled blood on the mercy seat.
The record of that is indicated to us in Leviticus chapter 16, verses 2 to 19, and also later on in the chapter. It tells all about it, you can read it in detail. But let me tell you something interesting: before the high priest could ever go in there, before he could ever go in to sprinkle the blood of the people, he had to do the whole thing for himself first because he was a sinner too. He had to go through the whole rigmarole for himself, atone for his own sins by putting the blood there, then he could go back and take care of the people; and once he got in there, he had to do his job and get out of there. If he stayed there past the time of the Day of Atonement he would die, for he was a sinner and he had no right in the presence of God, except by the graciousness of God once a year could he enter the Holy of Holies where the shekinah glory of God dwelt.
But Jesus, our great High Priest, who passed not through the temple or through the tabernacle but through the heavens also went through three things. The Bible says that there is a third heaven, right? The first heaven is the atmospheric heaven – the Bible says the clouds of heaven, the birds of heaven. The second heaven is the stellar heaven – the Bible talks about the stars of heaven. And the third heaven is the abode of God, 1 Corinthians – pardon me, 2 Corinthians 12:2. Second Corinthians 12:2 speaks of the third heaven where God is.
And so, Jesus Christ passed through heaven number one, heaven number two, and entered into heaven number three, and God didn’t tell him, “Look, you’ve got twenty-four hours to get this over with and get out.” When He got there, what did He do? He sat down. It was done. It was accomplished. He made a perfect atonement for all sins for all time, and all other sacrifices before that were but pictures of that perfect sacrifice. The ascended, resurrected Christ carried Himself past the two outer heavens into the abode of God, and when He got there He sprinkled His blood on that divine, eternal, heavenly mercy seat. And you know what? God said, “I am satisfied forever.”
In Hebrews 12, I love this, verse 24, “and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Jesus Christ sprinkled blood in a far better way than any man, even the wonderful sacrifice of Abel, which pleased God. How much more was God pleased with what Jesus did, how much more was God satisfied.
And I love 1 Peter 1:2 which says, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit,” – listen – “unto obedience and sprinkling of blood of Jesus Christ.” Can’t you imagine what a reunion it was in heaven when Jesus Christ had accomplished perfect atonement, entered into God’s heaven, and God said, “I am satisfied; and never another sacrifice needs to be made, never.”
Remember the man a few weeks ago I told you about in the Philippines who crucifies himself every year to make atonement for his own sins? No, don’t need to do that; God is satisfied. Jesus sat down, the work was done. And so, Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest who accomplished a perfect priesthood.
In the book of Hebrews the perfections of our priest are exalted. Let me just show you what it says about Him, about His priesthood. In 7:25 – don’t try to follow me, I’ll just jump through some of these – 7:25 says, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest was fitting for us,” – listen to our High Priest – “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” That’s a great high priest.
And then in 8:1, “Now of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum:” – here is the key to the whole book – “We have such an high priest.” That’s even in the Jewish vernacular. “He’s seated on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.”
And then you go over to chapter 9, verse 12: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer, sprinkling the unclean sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Can’t you see how superior the sacrifice of Christ is? If the earthly sacrifices accomplished something, what must that one have done?
And then in chapter 9 verse 24, “Christ is not entered into the Holy Place made with hands,” – He’s not like those old priests going in the tent or the tabernacle – “but He’s entered into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God” – listen to these two words – “for us.” Do you like that?
You see, the pattern of the Scripture is simply this, that God has set in order blood to be that which atones for sin. The death of an individual, the wages of sin is death, therefore death and the sacrifice of life is the atonement for sin, the pattern of atonement. The Bible says that the remission of sin is based on the shedding of blood in Hebrews. And so, Jesus Christ shed His blood on our behalf that God might be satisfied as He paid the price for our sin; and we by faith in Him find that sacrifice covers our sin. And so, Jesus Christ entered into heaven, not any earthly tabernacle.
Then I love this in 10:12, it says, “But this man, but this man.” And the verse before he says, “Every priest standing there ministering and offering can never take away sin; but this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God.” Can you imagine that? I mean, priests were up and at it all day long; but his man once, and He sat down forever. God said, “I’m satisfied, that takes care of it.”
Chapter 12, verse 2, it says that, “After He endured the cross, despising the shame, He was set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Do you see, He accomplished perfect redemption, didn’t He? Perfect redemption. No wonder it says back in chapter 4, “Our Great High Priest who didn’t pass through the tabernacle, didn’t pass through the temple on a temporary basis and have to leave again, He passed through the heavens; and when He got there He sat down, and God said, ‘I’m satisfied.’” And Jesus Christ accomplished the atonement of all sins of all time for those who come by faith and accept what He did for them.
But that’s the point, you’ve got to believe it, you’ve got to come all the way to total faith in Jesus Christ so that it applies in your behalf. The millions of gallons of blood that ran all over the altars of Israel for hundreds and hundreds of years, the sprinkled blood that stained and crusted on the mercy seat year after year couldn’t do what the one Great High Priest did in one great act for all time, and then entered into heaven into the heavenly Holy of Holies, showed the sacrifice to the Father, and sat down on His right hand forever. And you know why He’s sitting there? Because He’s interceding for us, isn’t He.
It wasn’t like the old priests who had to come back out again and couldn’t go back into God’s presence for a year. Jesus stays there, and He just keeps interceding for our behalf. You know, that’s why there’s never the possibility…
Later on in the book of Hebrews, in September of 1972, I talked about the ratification of the old covenant through the blood of animals and the ratification of the new covenant through Christ’s death. Here’s an excerpt from that message.
And then he indicates too at the end of verse 19 that he sprinkled not only the book but all the people. And in Exodus 24 it says he sprinkled the altar and the people. So he sprinkled the altar, the book, and the people. There was a bloody thing going on. I don’t think we can really understand how bloody, how messy this whole economy really was. It was a messy, messy thing, and there was blood all over everywhere. And this was God by sign and symbol always showing the wages of sin is – what? – death constantly.
And there’s no sense in getting teary-eyed and mystical about blood. And we sing hymns, “There’s power in the blood,” et cetera, and we don’t want to get preoccupied with blood. The only importance the blood of Jesus has is that it showed He died. There is no saving in that blood itself. We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus, His physical blood, is what atones for sin; it is His death that atones for sin, His bloodshed was an act of death. And so, we do not want to become preoccupied with fantasizing about some mystical blood that’s floating around somewhere. It is by His sacrificial offering of Himself. It is by His death that we are redeemed. Bloodshed is only the picture of His death.
And so, always in the ratification of a covenant blood was shed, because in every covenant that God made with man, He knew there would be violation – right? – sin, and that sin could only be taken care of by death. Therefore, initially, God showed the importance of a sacrificial system by making that the initial ratification of a covenant. And so, when Jesus died and shed His blood, this is no big thing, this is nothing for Israel to get all bent out of shape about, this ought to be good proof that God was instituting a new covenant which had to be ratified by blood.
Now verse 20, “Moses said, ‘This is the blood of the testament” – or the covenant – “which God hath enjoined unto you.’” And when he said that, he reminded them that God had laid it at their feet.
Now notice the word “enjoined.” He doesn’t say, “This is the blood of the covenant which you and God made together.” “This is the blood of the covenant which God laid on you, and said, ‘You obey it.’” That’s enjoined; it calls for obedience. It implies precepts, not promises. And the blood was the confirming sign.
And do you remember the startling words of Jesus in Matthew 26:28, when He at the table with the disciples that last night before His death picked up the cup and said, “This is My blood of the” – what? – “new covenant, which is shed for you.” And there He was just doing a takeoff of Exodus chapter 24. He was to be the ratifier of the new covenant, and it would come through His blood.
The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, is the confirming sign of the new covenant. And so, the blood was a token of both covenants, and the point of the writer is so well made. Why did Jesus have to die? Number one: He had a will to give, and He had to die to free His will. Number two: Always, always, always forgiveness is based on blood. A covenant is ratified by blood, and Jesus brought a new covenant with forgiveness, therefore He had to die.
Verse 21 goes a step further: “Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry.” The tabernacle wasn’t even built till Exodus 40, but they were still sprinkling blood all over everywhere. From then on, every ceremony connected with a covenant was a bloody ceremony – blood, blood, blood, blood, and more blood. The tabernacle, the vessels of the tabernacle, every bit of divine service was sprinkled with blood. It was all sprinkled with blood because God wanted men to know that every covenant He ever made with man was a covenant that had to bypass sin; and the only sin bypass there is is death.
They even smeared blood all over the horns of the altar. Josephus tells us that Moses would spend seven days purifying the priests and their vestments. He would also purify the tabernacle and all its vessels both with oil and then Josephus says with the blood of rams and bulls – blood everywhere in the old covenant.
And then he wraps up this thought in verse 22. “And almost all things are by the law purged with” – what? – “blood;” – and then this great statement – “and without shedding of blood is” – what? – “no forgiveness.” That’s God’s basic economy. Somebody’s got to die. Wherever there is forgiveness there is bloodshed; that’s God’s way.
Now look at verse 22, it should read this way: “I may almost say all things are by the law purged with blood.” Now there were some exceptions. I’m glad the word “almost” is in there or we’d have a problem, because in the Old Testament for the super poor Israelites who really couldn’t get it together to purchase an animal and didn’t have one available, they were allowed to bring one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour – and I suppose that would be somewhere around four pints or so – and they were to bring that as a sin offering. If they were so poor that they couldn’t even afford a couple of turtle doves or pigeons, they could bring that. But that’s the only loophole in the whole bloody system; the exceptions were very rare. Without the shedding of blood there wasn’t any forgiveness.
Back in Leviticus 17, listen to this, this far back, verse 11: “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.” There is nothing else that could atone for sin but bloodshed, but the death of somebody. You can’t enter into God’s presence by being good. You can’t enter into God’s presence by being a fine citizen. You can’t enter into God’s presence by going through religious mogus. You can’t enter into God’s presence by reading the Bible, by going to church, by being a member, by thinking sweet thoughts about God. The only way you’ll ever enter into God’s presence and into participation in the new covenant is by the death of Jesus Christ, and your faith and belief in His shed blood on the cross on your behalf. That’s the only way. That’s the only access. God sets the rules: “The soul that sins, it shall die.”
Two months later in November of 1972, I talked more about the sealing of the new covenant in Christ’s blood. The context of that message was Hebrews 10, verses 32 to 39.
John 17:19 says this: Jesus is praying in the garden, He says, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified.” Christ said, “I set apart Myself, that they may be set apart.” And how was it and with what that He set Himself apart? With His blood. And read it now and you understand it. A man who is an apostate counts the blood of the covenant with which Christ set Himself apart an unholy thing.
The blood of the covenant was sacred. It was the blood shed on the cross by Jesus Christ. By that shed blood Christ was set apart to God as the perfect sacrifice. You remember, He entered into the Holy of Holies, and there having borne the perfect sacrifice, shedding His blood, He then entered into the Holy of Holies, even as the priests did, and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat – Christ bearing His blood, as it were, and finalizing that great sacrifice, and establishing the new covenant. So it was the covenant sealed in blood; and these are men who count that blood set apart to seal the covenant as an unholy thing.
What are they saying then? They’re rejecting the covenant. And you know what? The first statement was a rejection of God who exalted the Son; this is a rejection of Christ, who set Himself apart as the perfect sacrifice. So the apostate rejects God and he rejects Christ. Third thing that an apostate does, he does despite…
Keep in mind that when I talk about Christ sprinkling His blood on the mercy seat, I’m not saying He literally sprinkled His physical blood on some physical object in the heavenlies. I believe the writer is speaking in a symbolic sense. It is an illustration which pictures the atoning effect of Christ’s death on the cross. His death was foreshadowed in the action of the high priest sprinkling blood on the mercy seat in the Old Testament era. Christ offered Himself to the Father as a sacrifice for sin. In that sense, He fulfilled the picture of the sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat.
In February 1975 in a sermon entitled “If We Confess Our Sins,” I said this about the blood of Christ: The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from some sin. Is that what it says? All sin.
Now listen, the blood is the symbol of the death of Christ, and a beautiful symbol it is. Peter uses it when he talks about being redeemed, “not with corruptible things such as silver and gold from your former manner of life, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
The blood is the symbol of His death and that death was completely efficacious for us, that is it was on our behalf; and His bloodshed at one time is a constant provision for our cleansing. Revelation 1:5, I think, gives us a beautiful thought. It says, “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead, the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” When Jesus paid the price for sin by shedding His blood, that blood became like a cleansing agent and washed our sins away. It isn’t that the blood itself had some quality, it is that the giving of His life paid the penalty for sin; and the giving of His life was symbolized in the shedding of His blood.
Now watch this. The blood of Christ cleanses us from how much sin? All sin. Do you see any condition there at all? He has only one condition. You can be cleansed if you walk – where? – in the light. Now walking in the light, beloved, is simply being a Christian. If you are a Christian, then you have absolute and total, complete, continuous cleansing of all sin. Did you get that? That’s what it’s saying.
Here’s a brief clip from a message I preached in June of 1975. The context is a study on 1 John 5:6 through 12.
Listen, people, any heresy that denies or deprives the death and the blood of Jesus of all of its efficacy for the sins of the world is satanic. Anything that makes the death of Christ a death of a man is heresy. And John says, “The one who came, Jesus Christ, was simultaneously from His birth to His death and for evermore the man Jesus and the Christ of God.” You think about it, some day you’re going to get to heaven and you’re going to see Jesus.
Now notice, I talked about the death and the blood of Christ as being synonymous. That brings us to the heart of this issue. The blood that was shed is so closely associated with the sacrifice of His life on the cross that blood is often used in Scripture to refer to His death. Thus it is true that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, as Hebrews 9:22 says.
But shedding of blood means much more than simply bleeding. Bleeding and dying are two different things. But bleeding and dying are not two separate elements of Christ’s sacrifice, both of which accomplish salvation. His sacrifice for sin was one act that involved both His dying and His pouring out of His blood. Sacrificial death was the essential element, and references to blood are symbolic references to the death He died.
The next excerpt is from April 1976 and is from a message entitled “The Outrage of Idolatry.” Here’s what I said about the blood of Christ.
Now I want you to notice that we are communing with the blood of Christ. Now I want to make a point here that we could spend a lot of time on, but we’re not going to just to make a couple of statements. There is an English word that you ought to have in your vocabulary because you may find need to use it, or at least to understand it. It is the word “metonym.”
You know what a synonym is? You know what an antonym is? You know what a homonym is? You say, “No.” Well, those are all terms to describe various kinds of words, and so is the word “metonym.” A metonym is a different word that is used for something because it has an actual relationship. It is a different word used for something because it has an actual relationship. Let me see if I can give you an illustration.
You say, “The other day I was reading MacArthur.” Now you mean something by that, and we understand you probably were reading one of my books. There is no writing on me. You didn’t come up and say, “May I please read your right arm.” There is no writing on me. Or you might say, “I was reading Shakespeare.” You were not reading Shakespeare, you would find that a literal impossibility; Shakespeare is not available to be read. You meant you were reading his writings. That’s a metonym, a word substituting for another word because of an actual relationship.
Now, watch. The term “the blood of Christ” is a metonym that is substitute for another term: “death.” It is the blood of Christ that simply is a metonym for the death of Christ, but it is used because the Hebrews used such a metonym to speak of violent death. Whenever you talk about the blood of somebody being poured out, to the Hebrew that meant violent death. And when you commune with the blood of Christ, it doesn’t mean the literal blood of Christ, that is a metonym for His death; you commune with His death.
Now let me say something that might shake some of you up, but I’ll try to qualify it. There is nothing in the actual blood that is efficacious for sin. Did you get that? The Bible does not teach that the blood of Christ itself has any efficacy for taking away sin, not at all. The actual blood of Christ isn’t the issue. The issue is that His poured out blood was symbolic of His violent death. The death was the thing that paid the price, right? “The wages of sin is” – what? – “death.”
He died for us. It is His death that is the issue. The Hebrews spoke of it as His outpoured blood because that was something that expressed violent death. And they believed, for example, in the Old Testament it said, “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” And so, the pouring out of blood was the significance of death.
And so, when it says here we are communing with the blood of Christ, it does not mean the literal blood of Christ is efficacious, it does not mean the literal blood of Christ is involved; it means we enter into a genuine, vital participation in His death. But it is not the blood; the blood is only the symbol of the poured out life. So, taking the cup which Jesus blessed, and in turn blessing…
The next excerpt is also from April 1976, and in a message entitled “Reconciled to God,” I said this about the blood of Christ: Four reasons you can’t save yourself: lack of strength, lack of merit, lack of righteousness, lack of friendship with God. You can’t even enter His presence. Now if you’re going to be reconciled, you have to go to verse 10: “When we were enemies we were reconciled to God.” It was by the death of His Son.
Now, folks, that leads us to point two in the outline: the means of reconciliation. This is really rich: the means. Verse 20 again, Colossians 1. Here’s the means – hang on, here we comes: “And having made peace” – listen now – “through the blood of His cross.” How did Christ take God and man who were enemies and make peace? He made peace between God and man through the blood of His cross. Now go down to verse 22. It says it another way: “In the body of His flesh through death.” Stop there.
Two phrases, two phrases. Number one, the blood of His cross; number two, the blood of His flesh through death. These two phrases show how God dealt with sin. First of all, through the blood of His cross.
Blood is the metaphor for sacrifice. It is His death for sin that saves us. And Peter even says we were redeemed with precious blood. But what he is saying there is in a metaphorical sense, the blood is the symbol of the sacrifice of Christ. The reason the Bible talks about the blood of Christ is because that connects Christ’s death with the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament, and says He is the final sacrifice, you see.
He died a violent death; and blood speaks of violent death as a Hebrew metaphor. But even more than that, it speaks of the death of a sacrifice. The blood was put on the doorpost in the lintel, the blood was sprinkled, but it was the death that was the atonement; the blood was a symbol of the violence of it. And all of those sacrifices were saying, “When the final sacrifice comes, He will die a violent death.” And it wasn’t the violent death like an animal where He bled to death – an animal just bled to death. Jesus did not bleed to death. But it was the violent death of sin-bearing. That’s important.
In Hebrews 13:11, “The bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin are burned outside the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” And here it shows the violence of His death and the sacrificial comparison. As the sacrifices were shedding blood, so shall Christ come and shed blood – not that the shed blood is the literal saving thing, but that it connects His death with the Old Testament sacrifices.
Now all Old Testament sin offerings were bloodshed. That’s how the killing was done, violently. And the animals were pictures of the coming final sacrifice of Christ who would die a violent death for sin. That was God’s plan. Sin was to be paid for by death. The price of ransom was to be blood, sacrificial death.
And the reason – and I just want to make it clear – the reason it speaks so often in the New Testament of Christ’s blood being shed is not telling us that Jesus bled to death. He did not bleed to death. Do you know how He died? He willed Himself dead. Don’t ever forget that. He said, “No man takes My life from Me, I” – what? – “I lay it down by Myself.”
And listen to me; when that soldier came over and pierced the side of Jesus, what came out? Blood and water. The blood was still in His body long after He was dead; He did not bleed to death. And the point that I think the Bible is making there is, Jesus was never bled to death as a victim, He died because He willed Himself dead. “Father,” – what? – “into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.” He died as the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifice, and that’s why it talks about His blood.
And please, I’m not on the first leg of liberalism, I’m not denying the precious blood of Christ. And I mean, I mean that seriously. I know that whenever you talk about something, you should talk about something that’s very sentimental to us. I just want you to understand what it means. His blood saves us only in the sense that His death was the sacrificial death of the final lamb.
And you want to know something? He never lost His blood, the majority of it. Apparently only some of it came out of those wounds, and those would have sealed up pretty fast with nails there. The majority of His blood remained in His body at least a half an hour and maybe longer after His death, and it was His death that was the issue. As I say, the blood only connecting it with Old Testament sacrifice.
And so, when we come down to verse 22 we read this: “In the body of His flesh through death.” And this is an exact statement. His death as a man, His death incarnate in human flesh is the thing that reconciled us to God. “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son…”
In January 1978 I talked about the price Christ paid to redeem us in a message titled “Redemption Through His blood.”
So we see the Redeemer and the redeemed. And, thirdly, the redemptive price – that’s in verse 7 – the redemptive price. It says, “In whom we have redemption through” – what? – “His blood.” That was the price. How did it happen? What was the price to buy us out of the slave market of sin? What was the price to take us back and set us free? How is that bondage broken? How is that price paid?
Well, it’s very clear: “The wages of sin is death.” The price was death. Somebody had to die; and Jesus did. “In whom we have redemption through His blood,” Christ’s blood, Jesus’ blood.”
Let me say this to you again. This is simply a metonym for His death. Jesus couldn’t just cut Himself and bleed on somebody and redeem them, this is simply a way of saying He poured out His life, you see – speaking of a sacrificial, substitutionary, violent death for sin. It’s just a way of saying it. The point is, a life poured out. It implies substitution.
The New Testament says, for example, “He gave His blood.” The New Testament also says, “He gave His soul.” The New Testament says, “He gave His life,” and the New Testament says, “He gave Himself.” It all means the very same thing.
He died for us. He was a substitute on the cross for us. We should be there; we should have been there. We should die; we should pay the price; we should be able to do that on our own. That’s what it would be, that’s what would be pure justice.
But God’s justice is mingled with His mercy. So God provided a substitute, and the substitute was Jesus, and His blood and His death actually – now get it – actually made redemption. The blood of bulls and goats through all the sacrificial system were simply symbolic and typical. His death was actual, it did it. “For by one offering He perfected forever them that are sanctified.” Oh, by His blood poured out He paid the price, and He offers us the purchase price to buy us back from the slave market of sin, and turn us loose and set us free.
Boy, I tell you, when I think about that, it’s no wonder that Peter said what he said in 1 Peter 1:18, “For as much as you know that you are not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold from your vain manner of life received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.” No wonder he thought it was precious, huh?
And I understand why all that singing’s going on in Revelation chapter 5. It says in Revelation chapter 5, verse 9, “They sang a new song.” And what did the song say? It said, “Thou art worthy to take the scroll and open its seals; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God by Thy blood those out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation; and has made us unto our God a kingdom of priests; and we shall reign on the earth.” And, man, when that song is sung in Revelation 5, the angelic chorus gets up off their angelic seats and begins to sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”
No wonder they sing. No wonder Peter said it’s precious blood; it paid the price. The blood of Jesus Christ paid the price for the sin and the sins of the slaves, bought them out of the captive hold of sin and set them free as the liberated sons of God. And in their freedom they are in union with Jesus Christ, so that they become one in Christ, and so that every good thing which the Father gives the Son becomes theirs in the Son. The blood of Jesus, indication of His sacrificial, substitutionary death frees us from the guilt of sin, the condemnation of sin, the power of sin, the penalty of sin, and some day even the presence of sin. So the Redeemer, the redeemed at a redemptive price.
On November 25, 1984 I discussed the issue of the blood of Christ with reference to the new covenant. Here’s what I said: “This is My blood of the covenant.” It is the new covenant, the new covenant written in His blood. If you go back to Exodus 24 and verse 8, you will find that that’s basically a quote of Exodus 24:8. And what Jesus is saying is that God when He made a covenant with man required what? Blood.
When God made a covenant with Abraham, there was blood shed by animals. When God made a covenant with Moses, there was blood shed. When God made a covenant with Noah, there was a sacrifice laid on an altar. God required bloodshed in making covenants with men. When God brought reconciliation with Himself, the price was blood, that men might know that a relationship to God was going to cost the blood of a sacrifice, and all of that pointed to Christ who would be that sacrifice. And when the priests stood knee-deep in the blood of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lambs, it was a way of reminding them all of the cost of God’s reconciliation to man, that it cost bloodshed, sacrifice. That’s why Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.”
A covenant with God always demanded not just death, not just death, not just hitting an animal on the head so that it died, but blood-shedding, because the life of the flesh is in the blood, it says in Leviticus. And the pouring out of the blood was a very graphic, a very painful, a very vivid demonstration of the loss of life. And so Jesus died to save us from our sin; but it wouldn’t be just enough for Him to die, He had to die and in His death pour out blood through the wounds in His hands, the wounds in His feet, the wound in His side, the thorn marks in His head, blood running everywhere, to demonstrate that the life was flowing out of Him graphically and visibly, that He was offering Himself as a blood-shedding sacrifice for sin.
And so, Jesus says, “When you take this cup, it is not anymore to remind you of the blood of the lamb in Egypt, blood put on the doorpost and the lintel, it is not anymore to remind you of that, it is to remind you from now on of My blood which is shed.” That word “shed” is the key to the whole understanding of the verse. It is shed blood. “This is My blood of the covenant, the blood being shed,” the Greek says. It had to be shed blood, the graphic, demonstrable way of seeing the life poured out.
Now obviously we were saved through His death. There was nothing in the chemistry of His blood to save us. We were saved in His dying, but He had to pour out that blood, because God had required a blood-letting, a blood-shedding sacrifice, so that there would be vividness, and so that it could be seen that the life was poured out. And so, Jesus says, “This cup will remind you of My bloodshed” – notice – “for many.” Literally for the benefit of many.
In 1987 at a Good Friday Communion service, I discussed the blood of Christ at length, and here’s an excerpt from that sermon.
As I was thinking about what I might share with you in preparation for the Lord’s Table, I was reminded of a statement of our Lord Jesus: “This cup is the New Testament in My blood.” And whenever I come to the Lord’s Table – and I have come many, many times through the years – as I hold that cup in my hand, it seems to me to be such a vivid reminder of the blood of Christ. The cup is the representation of the blood of Christ; and the blood of Christ, of course, is representative of His death.
I discovered in the New Testament that references made to the blood of Christ nearly three times as often as references made to the cross of Christ, and five times more often than reference to the death of Christ. The term “blood” is the chief method of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament to refer to Christ’s death. And whenever the Scripture speaks about His blood, it is Scripture’s way of referring to His death. To the Jewish mind, blood was symbolic of life poured out, life violently poured out, and life even sacrificially poured out. Even the writer of Hebrews talks about the blood of bulls and goats, and has in mind in the term “blood,” their violent and sacrificial death.
The blood of Christ, I believe, is used most commonly because it was a Jewish expression for violent death, and because it is a much more vivid expression for death than just the word “death,” because it speaks of violence. A person could die with bloodshed, but when blood is shed it speaks of violence; and more than that, it speaks of sacrifice. And so when the New Testament speaks of the death of Christ, or the cross of Christ, it most commonly wants to use the term “the blood of Christ,” because that embodies not just a death, but a violent death, and not just a violent death, but a sacrificial death. And if you examine the Old Testament, you find that the uses of blood as a symbol of death fill the literature of the Old Testament.
For example, when Joseph’s brother sold him into slavery, you remember that they took his coat and they dipped it in the blood of a dead animal and then took it back to Jacob his father, and their design was to make Joseph appear to have been killed violently. And here was his bloody garment. The sight of the blood made Jacob say, and I quote, “An evil beast has devoured him.” And so, very early in the book of Genesis blood suggested violent death, and it became in the Jewish culture a symbol of violent death.
The psalmist, for example, says in Psalm 30, verse 9, “What profit is there in my blood?” And what he means by that is, “What profit would there be in my death?” A murderer was said to have the blood of the person he killed on him. It didn’t mean the literal blood, but the responsibility for the violent death. And since murder demanded punishment or provoked revenge, the man who retaliated or inflicted the penalty was said to be avenging the murdered man’s blood – again referring to death by violence, that in Numbers chapter 35. If a person deserved to be executed, capital punishment for murder, his blood was said to be upon his own head, Joshua 2:19. In other words, the responsibility for violent death was his, and he would have to pay with his life.
Judah, you remember, in Genesis 37 said to his brothers about Joseph, quote: “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?” Well, they didn’t mean collect his blood and hide it in the ground, they meant conceal his death, conceal the violent, murderous death.
And even such a thing as drinking someone’s blood meant to take his life and gain an advantage from it. The idea of drinking blood comes, first of all, in the Old Testament, in 1 Chronicles chapter 11. David, you remember, was very thirsty and wanted some water out of the well at Bethlehem, and so he had three of his mighty men who actually were ready to put their lives on the line just to get David a drink of water, and David said, “Shall I drink the blood of those men?” In other words, “Shall I be responsible for their violent death which accrues with some advantage to me?” That’s what he was saying. “Shall I gain advantage by their violent death?” Many other Old Testament passages speak of this concept of blood being a way to describe a violent death, but it is apparently and obviously to any reader a vivid word symbol referring to violent death, and drinking it has the idea of the connecting benefit to the person who was involved in that death.
Now you come in to the New Testament and take the thought a bit further. In the New Testament, violent death, sacrificial death again is connected to the concept of blood. For example, in Hebrews chapter 12 where it’s talking about being willing to take your stand and live the life of faith against persecution, the writer says, “You have not yet suffered unto blood.” What does he mean by that? He means you haven’t yet been violently killed, you haven’t died for your testimony to Christ.
You remember the words of Jesus – pardon me, the words of Judas about Jesus? He said, “I have betrayed innocent” – what? – “blood.” And what he meant by that is, “I have brought Jesus without cause near violent death.” And the Jews said let His what be on our heads? His blood, the responsibility for His violent death.
Colossians 1:20 speaks of the blood of His cross. Revelation speaks of guilt for the blood of the martyrs and the blood of the prophets and the blood of the saints, and what it always means is their violent death. And so, when the New Testament refers to the blood of Christ, it is referring to the fact that He died a violent death, He died a sacrificial death, and when Jesus said in John’s gospel, “You must drink My blood,” He meant, “You must take the benefit to be drawn from My death,” which is an act of faith in which you believe in the sacrifice Christ has provided.
Christ did not and does not do things with His blood after His death. There’s nothing in Scripture to say that Christ entered into heaven with His blood. The Scripture says He entered into heaven through His blood. And what it means is, He went there through His death, having pleased God; and by means of and because of His death as man, He was accepted by God as the perfect sacrifice. He does not, nor ever has He sprinkled blood on some heavenly mercy seat, He is the hilastērion, He is the mercy seat Himself, blood-stained by reason of His sacrificial death on the cross.
Now the sum of what I’ve said to you is to say this, that the blood of Christ is a symbolic way of referring to His violent sacrificial death. The benefits of that death are conveyed in the Scripture in the words “drinking His blood,” or “having His blood sprinkled on you,” and both of those are metaphors to speak of appropriation.
As you hold in your hand that cup, it is a symbol. It is the fruit of the vine, grape juice, it symbolizes blood. The blood that it symbolizes is also a symbol, it’s a symbol of violent sacrificial death in your behalf. It is not just blood that is symbolized, it is shed blood, it is the blood that poured out of Jesus Christ as He was being murdered without just cause.
The greatest offering one can give, according to Scripture, is his blood, that is to give his life. The greatest crime to be committed is to shed blood, or take a life. The greatest penalty is to have one’s blood shed, or to die for that crime. And the only satisfaction, the only atonement must be made with blood, that is a life must be given if lives are to be saved.
All of those things are true of Christ. He gave the greatest offering one could ever give, He gave His blood in death. Against Him was committed the greatest crime that could ever be committed, He was murdered. And the greatest penalty stands against all those who position themselves with those who killed Christ, for their life too will be taken. But for those who believe the shed blood of Jesus Christ is a perfect and complete atonement for sin.
And so, as we partake of the Lord’s Table tonight, be reminded again of the magnificent significance of the cup as you hold it in your hand, and think of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Let’s bow and prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Table.
The following is an excerpt from a question and answer time we had at Grace Church on October 11, 1987.
AUDIENCE: If you don’t mind, John, could you clarify this issue with the blood?
JOHN: Sure. I believe that Jesus was one hundred percent man, and as man He had human blood, and I believe that when He died on the cross He shed that blood. I believe it came out in His forehead, it came out in His side, it came out in the open wounds in His hands and His feet, and I believe He shed His literal blood on the cross. And I believe that the blood that came out of His heart and the pericardium around the heart when it says blood and water came out in the piercing and so forth was indicative of the fact that He was shedding His blood. And I believe it was essential that He die a death that included bloodshed, because He was the perfect anti-type of all the Old Testament pictures of the sacrificial animal in which blood was poured out.
If you understand the Old Testament it says, “The life of the flesh is in the blood,” then the pouring out of the life is indicative of the – that the life of the pouring out of the blood is indicative that the life is flowing out. The shedding of blood is a very graphic way to see the life flowing out.
I recently went hunting and I shot – the only thing I’ve ever shot was a big elk, and I went over and watched the elk die. And you have this – at least I did – this tremendous sense that life is going out as you watch that blood come out of that animal. That was the picture in the sacrificial system. And that was the picture on the cross that Christ was giving His life being poured out symbolically, in a sense. As His blood came out, His life came out. Not just symbolically, but really His life came out when His blood came out, since the life of the flesh is in the blood. So I believe in the literal death of Christ, the literal shed blood of Christ, that He was fulfilling the pictures and symbols of the Old Testament in dying a sacrificial death.
Now what I said some years ago was that I do not believe that there was something in that blood itself that saves people. In other words, in the chemicals of it, that’s what I said. I don’t believe, for example, the Roman Catholic transubstantiation where, for example, the cup is turned into blood, you drink the blood, and it ministers grace to you. I don’t accept that. I don’t accept something magic, and nobody has in the history of Christianity that’s been in the mainstream of the doctrine of soteriology.
We see that the death of Christ was an atonement for sin. He died a sacrificial blood-shed death but there’s nothing in the blood to save, or Jesus could have bled on people and not died. He could have cut His finger and that would have been enough if it’s just the bleeding. So I said that some years ago; and then it was taken out of context and it was put in a magazine that I didn’t believe in the blood of Christ; and that was just enough for people who wanted to attack me to have some ammunition.
Now you have to know the bottom line. I was told some months ago that there was a prayer meeting held by the faculty of a certain institution, and in that prayer meeting the main prayer request is, “Lord, help us find some way to discredit the ministry of John MacArthur.” That was the prayer meeting. And they set about to find a way to discredit the ministry. And so they came up with that, and they have spun that thing all across the country now, all around the world.
And I believe exactly what the Bible teaches about the shed blood of Jesus Christ, no more and no less. But I believe we are saved through the sacrificial death of Christ for our sins as our substitute, a death in which He shed His blood. And every time I celebrate the Lord’s Table and take the cup of Communion I praise God for the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t waver on that one bit.
But again, you have to understand this is a conspiracy, folks. From beginning to end this is a conspiracy of people who want to discredit this ministry for whatever reasons, I’m not sure. But that’s what’s behind it.
AUDIENCE: All right, thank you.
JOHN: Okay, thank you for asking.
AUDIENCE: Hi, John, my name is Elaine…
Well, I hope all those excerpts from my past sermons have provided clarification where I stand on this issue is where the Bible stands. In summary, I believe that to speak of Christ’s blood as it was shed on the cross is the same as referring to His death. They aren’t two separate elements, as some people are trying to teach; the Bible just doesn’t teach that. If they were, we’d be saying, “Christ’s physical blood had some mystical saving quality to it that had to be added to His death,” thus saying His death was insufficient and His blood was insufficient. The sacrificial death of Christ was and always will be that which atones for sin.
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