One of the most vital and fundamental doctrines of Holy Scripture is that of blood sacrifice. It is the scarlet line that stretches not only across time but reaches from eternity past into eternity future. It is the eternal God’s remedy for man’s sin. It is the solemn yet joyous theme of antediluvians, patriarchs, psalmists, prophets, and New Testament apostles, as well as of the Saviour Himself. It will be the never-ending song of the redeemed in glory throughout eternity. We propose to trace its development as recorded in the divine revelation of God’s Word.
1. In the Purpose of God.Consider two statements in the N.T. that reach back into eternity past. First, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you”, 1 Pet. 1. 18-20.
The sacrificial Lamb and His atoning work in salvation was not an after-thought in God’s plan for the reconciliation of rebellious and fallen man. There are three things recorded that took place or existed before the foundation of the world: (i) the love that the Father had for the Son, John 17. 24; (ii) the believer chosen in Christ, Eph. 1. 4; and (iii) the sacrificial Lamb foreordained, 1 Pet. 1. 20. The great plan of salvation originated in the mind of God before the creation of the universe.
A second statement brings it down to time. Speaking of the followers of the first beast in Revelation 13, we read, “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”, v. 8 (A.V., but not R.V. marg. or J.N.D.). From the creation, and onward from the fall, in type, illustration, ritual and prophetic statement, the details of the sacrificial, atoning death of the Saviour are gradually unfolded until it was consummated at Calvary. Peter tells us that the angels were vitally interested in this gradual unfolding, as well as the prophets who did not fully understand what they were writing as they were borne along by the Spirit of God, 1 Pet. 1. 10-12.
2. In the Promise ofGod. In Genesis 2, there is a very beautiful prophetic preview of the sufferings and death of the Saviour and its glorious results. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”, v. 7; “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’, v. 18; “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, and were not ashamed”, vv. 21-25. Paul comments, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church, Eph. 5. 32. That deep sleep and wounded side produced a bride for the first Adam, and it points forward to the deep sleep of death and the wounded side from which the blood and water flowed of the last Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then comes the fall in Eden’s garden, and its tragic consequences for all mankind. The woman was deceived by Satan’s lie, 1 Tim. 2. 14, but Adam acted deliberately in disobeying God and, in accordance with the warning given by God, spiritual death and ultimately physical death was the result. In passing sentence on Satan and on the guilty pair, the Lord God made a glorious promise. It has been called the Protoevangelium. It is one of the great key-promises of the Scriptures. Speaking to the serpent, He said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”, Gen. 3.15. This tremendous prophecy and promise speaks of a mutual enmity, a twofold seed, and a twofold bruising. In a few words, it gives an epitome of the great work of salvation and redemption.
The twofold enmity would indicate the antagonism between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. The two seeds of the serpent and the woman indicate the children of unbelief heading up in the antichrist, and the children of God and of faith, consummated in the Messianic line and the incarnation of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. The twofold bruising points forward to the mighty contest at Calvary. In anticipation of it, our Lord said, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die”, John 12. 31-33. It was at the cross that the serpent’s head was crushed, a fatal blow. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself (that is, Christ) likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”, Heb. 2. 14-15. But in doing this, the Saviour Himself was bruised: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed”, Isa. 53. 4-5. In the death of Christ, the power of Satan was broken, and His triumphant resurrection and ascension ensure His final victory over all the powers of darkness. The immediate result of the fall was, “the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”, Gen. 3. 7, a very flimsy fading covering. But before the guilty couple were expelled from Eden’s paradise, the Lord God gave them an adequate covering. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them’, v. 21. The inference is that the sacrificial animal had to die and its blood had to be shed, in order to provide the covering. This should be compared with the doctrinal teaching in Romans 5. 12-21 concerning the spotless robe of imputed righteousness which has been graciously provided by a loving God for the guilty sinner who puts his faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Isaiah 64. 6 declares that in our sinful condition before conversion, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags”. The robing of our first parents in the garden of Eden anticipates that which God in His grace does for the sinner today who believes in His Son.
Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760) wrote the beautiful lines:
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, and glorious dress:
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
3. The Way of Approach to God.
Genesis 4 provides us with a graphic and tragic picture of the right and the wrong way of approach into the presence of God. Abel was a shepherd and Cain a tiller of the soil. There does not seem to be any doubt that Adam had taught his sons the details of what had happened in Eden. They must have known the facts and the meaning of their parents’ disobedience and its results. Adam and Eve had been driven out of paradise, and there was a barrier consisting of the cherubim and the flaming sword at its gate to prevent any access to the tree of life. Sin had entered, and communion with God had been broken. But there must be a way back to God. Cain, the older son, brings his offering, the fruit of the ground and the result of his own labour. It could have been very beautiful and attractive, with the sweet odour of a skilfully arranged bouquet. But it was the product of a cursed earth, and consequently it was refused. Then Abel, the younger son, brings his offering, the firstlings of his flock and the fat. The fact that fat is mentioned indicates that the animal or animals had been slaughtered and the blood shed. The record reads, “And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering”, Gen. 4. 4. The solemn lesson is that the only and correct way of approach to a holy God is by a blood sacrifice. The sad sequel is that Cain, the first man who had a brother, in an outburst of passion and rage murdered his brother. In dealing with the crime and sentencing Cain, the Lord said to him, “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground”, v. 10. Significantly, this is the first time that the word “blood” occurs in the Bible. It was innocent blood, the blood of the first martyr who died on account of his testimony.
Cain and Abel are typical characters. Jude 11 speaks of those who have gone in the way of Cain, those who have dehberately rejected the divine way of approach to God, ending in the ultimate crime of the murder of Messiah. Abel, on the other hand, is the first name in the noble line of the men of faith recorded in Hebrews 11. There are two references in Hebrews that add to our knowledge of the meaning of Abel’s sacrificial offering. One of these reads, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh”, 11.4. Here we learn three things: (i) the offering was by faith; (ii) the offerer was a righteous man, that is, a regenerated man in the Old Testament sense of the word; (iii) God sealed his offering with His acceptance and approval. The second reference is in 12. 24. Speaking of the contrast between mount Sinai with its fire, blackness and tempest, and mount Zion and the heavenly blessings of the new covenant, the writer climaxes with the words, “ye are come … to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel”. The blood of Abel called for retribution and judgment; cf. Rev. 6. 10-11. But the blood of Jesus brings peace and forgiveness.
Today we approach God by a blood sprinkled way, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness for entering into the (holy of) holies by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way which he has dedicated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and (having) a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, sprinkled as to our hearts from a wicked conscience, and washed as to our body with pure water”, Heb. 10. 19-22 J.N.D.