Scripture uses wonderfully tangible language to help explain abstract spiritual concepts with examples we know with our senses to demonstrate some very complex ideas. Blood is referenced quite often in the Bible because it is something with which we all have experience. We each live, breath, and have blood flowing through our veins, and so blood is something we recognize and understand. It is likewise with water. When someone describes something as fluid like water, we know what they mean because we visualize the properties of water. This type of scriptural imagery works to make the invisible become visible.
A problem arises when people take this imagery literally, when they believe the tangible element in the Bible is physically how a spiritual action occurs.
Baptism is an example, it stands for a repentance process that we go through. But because the ritual of baptism involves water, many believe it is actually the physical water that becomes holy and washes away their sins.
Then why have rituals or scriptural imagery at all? They are important in helping us understand how the Lord works in our lives. You can’t physically see your whole process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration; it’s interior and it stretches out over years and years. But we know about water. The ritual of baptism is a way for the Lord to communicate with us. He gives us something we can experience in a moment. We can say, “Oh, I get that, because I saw it with my physical eyes. I went there and they took water and there was a kind of washing motion.” It makes the invisible become visible. You can see there’s a washing. Does that mean that the ritual of baptism washes away sins? I submit that it doesn’t, for which there’s powerful scriptural evidence. It serves as a symbol, which we can see, of something otherwise invisible.
To demonstrate my point, let’s look at passages where blood is involved in the remission of sins. Remission is from the Greek word fidhmi meaning literally “to send away.” How do you send away sins? It both means the removal of them and also the forgiveness of them. How are sins remitted or forgiven? In Romans 3:25 we read about Jesus Christ “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.” Here the blood is involved in not having to pay a penalty for your sins. In Ephesians 1:7 we read again about the Lord, that “in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Alright, by now you would understandably think that His blood did something to redeem us and forgive our sins.
Colossians 1:14 also tells us that it is the Lord “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” We learn more in Hebrews 9:18-22: “Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’ Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” A lot of people on the basis of these four scriptures have believed that Jesus’ physical blood was involved in the remission of our sins. However, in Matthew 26: 27-28, which is during the last supper, it says “Then He took the cup,” speaking of Jesus, “and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” Here the blood is something for the remission of sins and yet what did he hand them? A cup of wine, not blood! He hands them a cup of wine and he says “this is the blood that forgives your sins.” He’s trying to communicate with us in a language we will understand but also trying to lift our minds. He drives in a bit of a wedge into the literalists' mindset by handing them a cup and saying, “This is my blood,” when it’s really wine.
In Acts we read that “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (5:30-31). That didn’t mention a cup, or wine, or blood! It said repentance! Is blood absolutely necessary if repentance will do it? Does it have to be blood? It said it had to be blood and yet there are these other passages that say it doesn’t have to be blood. So what’s going on?
The Lord has to use physical things that we understand. We don’t understand Divine Truth. We don’t even think it exists. If we think about it, it just seems like some abstraction when in fact it is the living force that fills the spiritual and physical worlds and creates everything. We don’t know anything about that, but we know about blood, so the Lord can describe his Divine Truth as blood.
If you understand blood as Divine Truth, and most specifically, that it’s the instructions for repentance on how to overcome things, that’s why blood has to do with remission of sins. It’s because the blood of the Word, the living blood is truth, but it is truth with a pump! It’s warm truth with a pump that’s serving some purpose. Love is driving this truth out. This is what blood really is—Divine Truth which is the Lord’s love saying, “Here’s the instructions on how to get out of hell; here’s how to overcome the problem that you have; here’s how to be transformed: by practicing repentance.” This is the blood that gives us forgiveness of sins. This is the blood that we have to drink. This is why blood is said to be involved in the remission of sins.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Rose is a pastor in Bryn Athyn, PA and works as a translator of Emanuel Swedenborg's works.