An ear-piercing scream from the living room brought my wife and me running to our almost three-year-old daughter’s rescue. I braced myself for the worst … only to discover that she was just terrified of an elephant character in one of her favorite TV shows. I breathed a sigh of relief and held back a sympathetic chuckle, because we’d been down this road before. She’d seen the episode many times, how the merry band of furry friends are afraid of this mysterious elephant who lives in the (gasp!) haunted mansion at the end of the street. Then they finally meet her and discover she is a sweet, neighborly soul. She even gives them cookies!
Needless to say, my daughter had forgotten all about the cookies.
Even when you’ve read the Bible for a long time, there are parts of it that can make you really uncomfortable. Like my daughter, you’ve seen every episode, but you forget the “gospel cookies,” so to speak. Maybe you know the gospel, you’ve met Jesus, and the pages of this book have ministered to your heart for years. But then you come across a passage that reminds you this is a really bloody book. You recoil in horror, even though you’ve been over these pages many times before. What’s with all the blood in the Bible?
All the bloodshed in the Bible teaches us about the bad news for sinners and how it’s answered by the good news of Jesus.
The Bad News: All the bloodshed in the Bible is the grim result of sin.
The Bible paints a bleak picture from the very beginning. Just pages from God’s good creation in Genesis 1, sin enters the world in Genesis 3. The first man and women rebel against God. They become sinners. And there’s bad news for sinners–pain entered the human experience. Misery would mark the moment life came from the womb. The good ground that once freely provided its produce to nourish would push up thorns and thistles to draw blood and wound. Eventually, mankind would return to the ground from which it was taken (Gen 3:17—19).
Not long after Adam and Eve were sent away from paradise, one of their sons murders his brother. God tells murderous Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen 4:10). Later in the same chapter, a man named Lamech morbidly boasts of murdering a man for merely wounding him (Gen 4:23—24).
So even in the very first chapters of the Bible, we might be tempted to forget the beauty of the gospel in the face of so much bloodshed. And there are disturbing episodes throughout the rest of Scripture that bring us face to face with the deadly paycheck for sin–sin’s due reward is death (Rom 6:23). But the bloodshed in the Bible isn’t just about bad news.
The Good News: All the bloodshed of the Bible flows toward God’s remedy for sin.
God provides a picture even in these early pages that points to the final answer for sin. God covers the nakedness of Adam and Eve, a picture of solving the shame problem of sin, and he does this with the fur of animals. Bloodshed covering shame. This hints at God’s solution for sin and his final answer for all the bloodshed in Scripture. The sacrificial system given to the nation of Israel brings this picture into even tighter focus, as more clarity is given about the relationship between bloodshed and the problem of sin. In the blood-stained pages of Leviticus, the Lord prohibits the eating of blood because “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev. 17:10—12).
This passage vitally links the place of bloodshed in relation to redemption; blood matters for stopping the bloodshed of sin because it represents a sacrifice of life in the place of sinners.
In the sacrificial system, the blood shed year after year reminded Israel of sin, but it could not finally make sinners right with God. Hebrews 10:4 says that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Only the blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, can do that! (Heb. 10:5—18)
The blood of Jesus shed for you, his life poured out for you, is the good news that brings freedom from the ominous drumbeat of bloodshed and death in Scripture. It’s such good news that it made the apostle John pen a soaring doxology or a word of glory to Christ in Revelation 1:5—6. He writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood … to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Did you catch those main notes in this glorious doxology to Jesus? He loves us. He freed us. And that love and freedom are underscored at the end: It’s “by his blood.”
Never forget that all the bloodshed flowing through the Bible points toward Calvary, where there is hope for sinners in need of the life-giving substitute, our Savior Jesus!