If you were raised Christian or attended a Christian church, it’s likely at some point you’ve heard the song, sang along to it and even passionately proclaimed it. “Nothing but the blood”! Amen and Hallelujah! I wonder though, do we even realize what we are saying? Have we even thought this through?
So the theory goes, we were forgiven when Jesus became the perfect sacrifice to appease a God who was so angry at humankind and their sin that He (because God is a male of course) needed blood to satisfy his justice and the only way to do that was the blood of His only Son. Because he is holy and only the blood of a sinless sacrifice would do. In theology this is called the Penal Substution atonement theory (PSA).
Except this is crazy. Seriously. It’s ancient, tribal thinking. Sure it’s in the Bible, but so is the advocacy of slavery, God sanctioned genocide of entire nations, God approved legal rape of woman, the prohibition of woman preaching, and of course the thought the God needed blood to forgive sins. Because that makes sense. I know I need blood to forgive my children’s sins.
OR…. This was just the standard thought at the time to the religious tribal people in the ancient near east. We know and all agree that human sacrifice is wrong. But with the popular theory above many find it acceptable when God does it.
It begs the question, “have we not grown as a human race since then?” and “Do we really think so anti-intellectual and tribalistic this day and age?” Sadly, many Christians do.
When we see the scriptures as a trajectory that is actually going somewhere, it’s a journey, as opposed to a static legalistic flat text text from beginning to end; we see that Jesus WAS a sacrifice BUT not to appease an angry/holy/blood thirsty God. We see that the people’s view of God changes throughout the text and by the time we get to Jesus, we see God FULLY revealed as love itself. Jesus alone defines God! The scriptures reveal that the sacrifice of Jesus was a sacrifice to show us what God is really like, even unto death and His unjust murder on the cross. His blood saves humanity but not in the ancient tribal way that is often espoused and taught.
We really should be past this ancient way of thinking by now but due to the western beliefs in biblical inerrancy and Penal Substution atonement theory it’s easy to fall into. So how, then, does the blood save us?
The blood of Jesus was not to appease the wrath of God. In the book of Hebrews (Chapter 12) it talks about the blood of Jesus being better than the blood of Abel. Note that Both are unjustly murdered, not sacrificed to appease God for forgiveness. Abel cried out for vengeance, Jesus cried out for forgiveness.
So the blood of Jesus actually exposed the love and justice of God. It exposed love by showing that even through deicide, forgiveness and mercy was the Divine’s response. Not retaliation or retribution. It exposed REAL justice, which is always restorative, by the reconciliation of the entire created cosmos that was going on in and through Him during His murder. All this was vindicated through His resurrection. Meaning the nonviolent, always forgiving, always merciful, peaceful way of Jesus is the way of resurrection.
The blood of Jesus saves us from believing God needs blood to forgive. The blood of Jesus exposes that we are the ones that demand sacrifice. The blood of Jesus is God’s grace on full display by showing forgiveness and mercy when humans murdered him and humans made him bleed. God didn’t do the violence. Humans did. God didn’t need to be placated. Humans did. The blood of Jesus is the self emptying love of God. Self emptying by allowing the idolatrous human systems of religion and empire to put him to death and loving by displaying forgiveness throughout it all.
The blood of Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with making you acceptable to God because God needed the blood of an innocent victim. The blood of Jesus allows us to see that through our human violence and loyalty to our idols, God still forgives us and loves us. That’s how the blood of Jesus saves us.
My hope is that we see that “Nothing but the blood” is true but not in the ancient, tribalistic way that we should have grown past and seen through by now.