I was trying to get through this entire book without mentioning vampires, but apparently I’m not going to make it. (It’s important to realize that although zombies are cool, vampires are lame; there’s a big difference.) But vampires actually do a really good job of illustrating an important point: without blood, there’s no life.
The life of a vampire is really pretty simple: sleep all day, come out night to seduce innocent women, drink blood, avoid impaling yourself on sharp pieces of wood, go back to bed. That doesn’t sound terribly difficult—boring maybe, but not hard.
The key piece in the equation, of course, is the blood, the source of the vampire’s life. Without blood, the vampire has no power, no life, no existence. So, on a regular basis, the vampire must locate a victim – piercing the tender skin and drinking in the life-giving liquid.
Blood is life.
That’s true for the victim as well, though from a very different perspective. The same act that sustains the life of the vampire also brings death to the victim. As the vampire draws forth nourishment, its victim grows weak, pale, and listless—life itself seeping out through two small holes in the flesh.
Blood is death.
One substance, two very different results. Life and death. Twin moons circling the same planet.
That’s how the Bible views blood as well. On the one hand, blood is what keeps us alive and allows us to carry on our tasks in the world. God made blood to course through our veins and sustain life in every part of our being. In Eden, God created blood, and it was good. But, on the other hand, once shalom shattered and shoah entered the world, blood came to mean something else. Still the source of life, it also became the symbol of death. When blood is shed, the power of death lurks close by. So, in the Bible, blood represents both the power of life that God gave to all creatures at creation and the awesome destructiveness of death that descended on us east of Eden.
You can see this most clearly in the biblical sacrifices. If you stop and think about it for a moment, sacrifices are a very weird thing. Imagine that you’re an Israelite and you’ve just sinned against God. What should you do? Why, go lop the head off some poor, innocent ram, of course. That’s a great system. At least it is for the human; I’m sure the ram sees things very differently.
The point of the sacrifice, though, wasn’t to take out Israel’s problems on some innocent animal. That would be weird indeed. The sacrifices were given to show the devastating connection between sin and death, as the animal’s lifeblood was spilled in response to our failures. With clocklike regularity, the Israelites brought their animals to the priests and shed blood as a reminder of the fact that they lived east of Eden, in the brokenness of shoah, in bondage to death. As Paul says later, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23). And, every time the Israelites brought forward their sin sacrifices, they reminded themselves of this truth.
At the same time, though, the blood brought a promise of life. Israel always knew that somehow it was only through the shedding of blood that forgiveness and life would be restored to God’s people. Throughout the Law, God promised he would forgive his people when they brought their sacrifices to him (see esp. Lev. 4-5). And, the author of Hebrews makes the connection even clearer when he says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).
So, throughout the Old Testament, two truths stand out: (1) Sin brings death and the shedding of blood; (2) through the shedding of blood comes forgiveness and life.
But why? What is the connection between the death of animals and the promise of forgiveness and life? The Old Testament never says. The Israelites just take it on faith that God will be faithful and will do what he promises.
Then Jesus came.
And, we killed him, shedding his blood on the cross.
And the truth became clear.
We can still see the dark side of blood. Just read the story of Jesus’ death. How can you miss the horror of shoah? The betrayals, beatings, mockery, loneliness, pain, blood, and death. Could there be a clearer picture? “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn. 3:19). Blood shed, the Messiah died.
And, he died as one of us. The eternal Son of God became fully human, even to the extent of entering into our brokenness and subjecting himself to the terrifying reality of death: “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). The light of the world subjected to the brutality of death, all so that he could be one of us.
But the blood of Christ means so much more than just this. Jesus shared in our humanity so that he might break the power of death (Heb. 2:14). His death was not the pointless sacrifice of a tragic Shakespearean hero. No, it had purpose. Though we were enslaved to the power of sin and destruction, Jesus died so that we might be reborn as those who have the gift of life (Rom. 6:23; 8:2).
The blood of Christ signifies both the death that comes as the necessary consequence of living in a broken world, and the life that comes to those who belong to the Messiah (John 6:53-54).
We killed the king, but life flourished anyway.
[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel Book page.]