During the Lord’s Supper, we drink grape juice because it represents Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. If we go back further to when the Passover sacrifice was established, the lamb’s blood spread on the Israelite doorposts was the sign sparing them from death.
Why this emphasis on blood in the first place? Why blood at all? In a basic sense, blood makes all humans equal. Regardless of position or possession, blood is the one supply-and-demand we all share that means everything. But how or why did blood sacrifice become the system of exchange that balanced man’s relationship to God? To answer we must look even further back to when sacrifice was unnecessary.
All creation is God’s masterpiece; but human beings, affectionately created in God’s image, are creation’s centerpiece. God made humans just a little lower than the angels so they could fruitfully embody God’s goodness. This unique role required a unique substance.
In the creation story, Genesis 2:7 says “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
We know from anatomy that the oxygen which flows into our lungs also seeps into our blood stream, which carries that oxygen all throughout our bodies, animating us with life. Blood, therefore, is the conductor of God’s most precious valuable—Life.
This life enabled human beings to abide in a shared goodness with God, each other, and all creation. When human beings disobeyed and sinned against God, however, it corrupted the goodness of the life being conducted in the blood flow within their veins. This corrupting act thus established enmity or hostility between humanity and God, removing them from the intimate fellowship they once freely enjoyed with God and each other. Enmity estranges family, turning communities into customers and competitors. It is enmity that essentially creates the need for an exchange system. Goodness must now be crudely bartered. But what price could restore the value of the now diminished life flowing through human veins?
At this point, sadly, restoration is impossible. Concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God had already told the humans that “in the day that you eat of it you shall die”. Destruction is their destiny now.
It is at this point of no return, however, that God, for the first time, introduces something that limits sin’s fallout—grace. God gracefully grants humans a lease on life. As for the debt of the goodness they squandered, God balances the books through the flowing stream of God-blessed blood. Not theirs, but that of animals.
According to Genesis 1:22 and 1:30, animals were God-blessed and had in them the “breath of life”. Though not as ceremonially elaborate as the eventual sacrificial systems that gave dimension and definition to covenants, sin, and law, Genesis 3:21 displays what could likely be the original sacrifice as “the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them”. As the God-given conductor of life, blood has thus become a kind of currency.
However, animals were not created in God’s image as humans were. Therefore their sacrifice would not be enough to restore humanity to right relationship with God. Though God-blessed creatures who have life within their blood, their sacrifice would merely be sufficient to “break even”. It simply reinforces the system of exchange which only anticipates the next transaction. With such a system in place to negotiate man’s relationship to God, humans would only ever remain in want of God’s intimacy. A sacrifice would be needed that would not only ultimately satisfy the balance the system required, but one that would decommission the system entirely. Such a sacrifice would require the blood of one created in the image of God, whose goodness was uncorrupted, and who possessed a transcendence allowing their sacrifice to be eternally applicable.
Jesus more than meets these criteria. His holy and God-man blood shed on the cross overwhelmingly satisfies the balance this system has always demanded, finally quenching its thirst for goodness. This debt finally settled, the Spirit of God again breathes anew the breath of life permeated with God’s intimate presence, raising Jesus from the dead.
Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s restoration of all that has been estranged. The sacrifice of blood no longer need be made to get in on God’s restoration because that system of exchange has been completed. We no longer need to owe God or live with a debtor’s burden shouldered upon our soul. The only sacrifice left for us to make is a living one animated by the lifeblood Jesus gave. To do this we abide in Christ by belief and obedience, through which, like blood to the body, flow the Spirit’s Life unto fruitfulness.