A reader asks:
“I have a question on Christ’s suffering and death for our sins. Our sins require satisfaction, so that God’s wrath against our sins can be satisfied. Only Christ as God’s Son can do this. Therefore He must assume our human nature, to suffer and die on the cross, and bear away God’s wrath and curse against us.
“Jesus bore God’s wrath against sin in perfect, willing obedience and love to God. In this way He satisfied Gods justice and atonement was made. When He died and voluntarily gave His life, His blood was shed. Was the atonement only in the fact that he willingly and obediently bore God’s wrath for our sins, or was there also satisfaction and atonement in the shedding of His blood? Was Jesus’ blood special and precious, and did it have saving power? In other words, did He have to shed His blood to pay for our sins, or was that thegiving up of His life?”
It is refreshing to receive correspondence from someone who so thoroughly understands the doctrine of atonement, especially in our day when this doctrine is misrepresented and openly denied.
If I understand correctly, the question is this: What is the particular significance of the fact that Christ shed His blood as an atonement for our sins?
Throughout the Scriptures there is a strong emphasis on the shedding of Christ’s blood as an essential part of the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
We find this repeated reference already in the Old Testament. The fig leaves with which our first parents covered themselves were altogether useless in covering their sin before the face of God. God supplied the skins of animals, thereby teaching them that only by the shedding of blood—what a fearful sight that must have been for our first parents—could satisfaction be made for our sins. In faith Abel brought a lamb for a sacrifice. Throughout the entire old dispensation sacrifices were brought, blood was shed, either on a lone altar, or in the tabernacle, or later in the temple. What a stream of blood flowed throughout that dispensation of shadows! What a countless number of animals were sacrificed before the Lord! Yet Hebrews teaches us that all the blood of steers and bullocks could not atone for a single sin, but was a type and shadow of the substitutionary suffering of Christ on the cross. Hebrews 9:12 tells us, “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.” In the old dispensation the shedding of blood spoke of the necessity of the substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord on the cross and was a promise of God’s great gift of grace for our salvation.
The shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross certainly speaks to us of His willing and obedient surrender to God for those given to Him of the Father (John 10:11, 15, 18). He laid down His life for His sheep, thereby carrying out His Father’s will (John 4:34, 6:38, 17:4, 19:30). It can be said that there was no other way whereby we could be reconciled to God and made worthy of eternal life. Already in Gethsemane Jesus sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He was beaten until the blood flowed from His many wounds. On the cross, nails were driven through His hands and feet. He suffered a slow, painful death in complete self-surrender to the Father, giving, as it were, His precious blood drop by drop for our sins. When His side was pierced, blood and water flowed forth as a testimony of His completed sacrifice by the shameful, accursed death of the cross. Jesus gave His all, His very life, to save us from our sins. Greater sacrifice can no man make than that!
This blood also speaks of our intimate union with Christ. Already during His public ministry we read, “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” And again inJohn 6:55, 56, “For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.”
It is only through that intimate union with Christ that we become partakers of, Him and of all His benefits. The Spirit of Christ lays a bond of faith between us and our risen, exalted Lord. By faith we appropriate Christ’s flesh and Christ’s blood. Therefore our Lord teaches us that we eat and drink His flesh and blood, both through the preaching of the Word and through the administration of the Lord’s Supper. (See the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 29, question 79, and the Netherlands Confession, article 35.) In this last mentioned article reference is made to eating and drinking “the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ.” From time to time this has raised a few eyebrows. But when we continue reading we realize that also here a spiritual eating and drinking by faith is meant. “This feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates Himself with all His benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both Himself, and the merits of His sufferings and death, nourishing, strengthening, and comforting our poor comfortless souls by eating His flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of His blood.”
Among the benefits of salvation that we receive through Christ’s death Scripture specifically mentions our redemption. God has purchased His church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). “We are redeemed, not with corruptible things, as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without spot” (I Peter 1:19). Paul also assures us, in Ephesians 1:7, that we have redemption through the blood of God’s beloved Son, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (See also Col. 1:14; Rom. 3:25). We are saved from eternal wrath, for we are justified through Christ’s blood (Rom. 5:9).
Another benefit that Scripture often mentions is oursanctification through the blood. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7; Rev. 1:5). Peter addresses the believing strangers and pilgrims scattered throughout the world as “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedienceand sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” This blood of our Savior purges our conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:14). It gives us boldness to enter into the holiest, that is, into intimate fellowship with our God (Heb. 10:19). Therefore this blood is also referred to as “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20; Eph. 2:13).
The final outstanding blessing that Scripture mentions is our glorification. The saints in heaven have overcome the power of Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:10, 11). In Revelation 7:13, 14, John sees a great multitude that no man can number arrayed in white robes before the throne. The angel informs John that “these are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Christ’s blood has its peculiar significance, first of all, in the fact that it speaks of His willing and obedient sacrifice unto death, the giving of His very life to atone for our sins. And secondly, it speaks of the fact that He became like unto us as partaker of our flesh and blood that we may be partakers of Him and of His benefits in intimate communion of covenant fellowship with our God forever.