Aspects of Calvary - The blood of Christ in Hebrews - Part 2
Stephen Fellowes, Skibbereen, Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
There are twenty references to blood in the Epistle to the Hebrews, most of which deal directly or indirectly with the great matter of sacrifice. It would be impossible to embrace all the references within this short article, so what we wish to do is to consider four occasions where blood is coupled with something else.
Blood and flesh, 2. 14
Hebrews chapter 1 emphasizes the deity of the Son of God, whereas chapter 2 lays stress upon His humanity, and sits nicely alongside other great second chapters in scripture where the holy humanity of Christ is to the fore, namely Leviticus, Luke and Philippians.
As the writer comes to the last section of the chapter he directs our thoughts to the two-fold purpose of the Lord’s humanity; note the two occurrences of the preposition ‘that’, in Greek hina, which could be translated ‘in order that’, vv. 14, 17.
First, Christ became man in order to die and deliver. Second, His humanity was essential so that He could suffer and succour. The first reason directs us to Bethlehem and Calvary, the second is seen in His holy pathway in this world and His place at God’s right hand as the great high priest of His people.
He had to become a real man if He was to do both, and so we are told, ‘Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same’. The children passively, without a choice, ‘partook’ of flesh and blood, but of our Saviour the scripture says with complete exactitude, ‘he . . . took part’. This He did voluntarily and as a deliberate action of His own will. He stepped into sinless humanity; John tells us beautifully that ‘the Word became flesh’, John 1. 14 JND.
His partaking was in the same way as the children partook, for the writer says He did it ‘likewise’, or ‘in like manner’ Newberry, that is to say He did it by birth, but we hasten to remind our hearts of the uniqueness of His virgin birth and the distinctiveness of His sinless, unimpeachable humanity.
Quite a number of manuscripts interestingly reverse the order that we have in our King James Version, instead reading ‘blood and flesh’. This may well be the more accurate reading of the text and it is translated this way by Darby. Within this great Epistle, which deals emphatically with the subject of sacrifice, with that of Christ as supreme, we can see the significance of blood being put to the fore. The hymn writer expresses the truth so well:
‘Verily God, yet become truly human –
Lower than angels – to die in our stead;
How hast Thou, long promised Seed of the woman
Trod on the serpent and bruised his head!’
H. D’arcy Champney.
Blood and purging, 9. 14
Of the previously mentioned twenty references to blood in the Hebrew Epistle, twelve of them are found in chapter 9, which makes it the greatest treatise on the blood in the New Testament. In chapters 9 and 10, the writer deals with the pre-eminence of the sacrificial work of Christ and how the glory of His ‘once for all’ sacrifice for sins has met all the demands of divine righteousness and holiness in relation to the sin question.
Our verse of interest falls just about halfway through chapter 9; in fact, along with the previous verse, it is part of one of the greatest single sentences in the whole of scripture on the death of Christ. It begins by directing us to the utter powerlessness of the ceremonial cleansing of the legal system; it reached no further than ‘the purifying of the flesh’. Whether it was the cleansing on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16, the ashes of the red heifer, Num. 19, or anything else, all could only provide an outward, temporal and imperfect cleansing.
But what they could not do, the blood of Christ did. In all the intrinsic value of His own blessed person, He has accomplished what the sacrifices of old failed miserably to do. At Calvary He offered Himself in sacrifice to God. Our verse looks at His offering from three aspects:
In person – He ‘offered himself’. No less would do for God, no more is needed for sin! We scan the multiplicity of offerings upon Israel’s altar; bullocks, rams, lambs, heifers, pigeons, etc. The priest handled all of these, but it was unthinkable that he himself would ever be placed on that altar. At the cross, our Saviour gloriously combined both the offerer and the offering. Calvary was a priestly work, and uniquely a place where the priest ‘offered himself’.
In power – The phrase ‘through the eternal Spirit’ has been understood in different ways, but we take it that it refers to the Lord Jesus offering Himself on the cross in the power of the Holy Spirit to God. His whole life was lived in the Spirit’s power, a life that never could for one moment grieve that same Spirit, and now in an act of climactic greatness He offers Himself in spiritual energy.
In perfection – It was also ‘without spot’; it had to be to satisfy a holy God. This is the basic requirement in every offering, and He alone fulfilled this caveat as ‘a lamb without blemish and without spot’, 1 Pet. 1. 19. Unlike the high priest of old, our Saviour never needed to offer any sacrifice for himself, Heb. 9. 7. In spite of the glory of his, the high priest’s fallen nature remained unchanged before God, but how precious to think of the holy and perfect Christ of God who presented Himself in all His intrinsic perfection.
This perfect sacrifice has purged the conscience, it has reached beyond the outward flesh and has cleansed inwardly and made men worshipping servants to ‘the living God’.
Blood and entering, 10. 19
It is essential to see the position that the Christian occupies in this unique Day of grace. If we were looking at the Roman Epistle, our standing is ‘in Christ Jesus’, 8. 1; in 2 Corinthians, we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, 5. 17; in Ephesians it is stated that we are ‘in heavenly places in Christ’, Eph. 1. 3; in Galatians we are to hold the ground of ‘the liberty’ which is in Christ Jesus, Gal. 5. 1, and others could be added.
When we come to Hebrews, we find that our position is ‘in the holiest’, and we are intended to be ‘without the camp’, 10. 19; 13. 13. This is the place where the teaching of the letter places us.
The first eighteen verses of chapter 10 speak of the pre-eminence of Christ’s sacrifice. At the commencement, we are reminded that the perpetual offering of sacrifices under the law could never leave a person with ‘no more conscience of sins’, v. 2, but at the close of the section, after having spoken of that glorious once for all sacrifice for sin, we are told that ‘there is no more offering for sin’ needed, v. 18!
And now, as a result of that perfect work, we have ‘boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus’; not into the outer court or the holy place or even the ‘holiest of all’ once per year as the high priest on the Day of Atonement, v. 19; Lev. 16. Instead, with complete and continual freedom, we enter into the innermost sanctuary on the grounds of the accepted sacrifice of Jesus, purged and cleansed, with hearts that should be bowed in worship to the one who has made it all blessedly possible. Blessed privilege!
Blood and sanctification, 13. 12
In this last chapter of Hebrews, the writer impresses upon his audience matters of a most practical nature as he wants them to be marked by consistent Christianity. He also desires that they be fully associated with the rejected Christ, which for the Hebrews would be the great evidence of reality; they could not retain Judaism and have Jesus.
As the rejected Saviour, He is spoken of as the one who is ‘outside.’ He is outside the gate of the commercial world; He also is outside the city of the world politically, and as far as religion is concerned, He is ‘outside the camp’ of Judaism as well, vv. 12-14. But when He was on that cross in the outside place, it was there that He would ‘sanctify the people with his own blood’; it was through the shedding of His own blood and by means of His deep sufferings for sin that He would set apart a people to God, all cleansed and consecrated, the defilement of sin having been forever removed.
It is important to remember that sanctification in the Hebrew Epistle is equivalent to justification in the Roman Epistle. In Romans, the setting is forensic; we are in the divine courtroom and it is the guilt of our sin that is being dealt with; in Hebrews, sanctification is set against the background of the sacrificial order and the tabernacle, and the writer deals with the great issue of the defilement of sin and how we can approach God.
Thank God we have a Saviour who in His work sets us before God as those who are reckoned righteous with every charge of guilt eternally removed, and who cleanses us and presents us as purged worshippers within the very presence of God. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
AUTHOR PROFILE: Stephen Fellowes, originally from Belfast, is in fellowship in the assembly in Skibbereen, West Cork, Ireland. Married to Rachel, they reside in Skibbereen with their three young children. Stephen is active in the little assembly and in gospel outreach work throughout this needy part of Ireland.