“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)
The shedding of blood has long been seen as an appropriate payment for appeasing deities, or for providing justice or revenge for a wronged party. God is no different: His covenant was ratified in blood, and the shedding of blood is required to atone for our sins against Him. While this can be a slightly gruesome thought, bloodshed is nonetheless a critical element of the salvation we can freely receive from Him.
#1 Downfall and Desecration
When God cast Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, He made clothes for them from the skin of an animal (Genesis 3:21). Implicit in this provision was a blood sacrifice: never before had one of God’s creatures experienced bodily death. That death was necessary to provide a covering for Adam and Eve’s sin, a poignant picture of the reality that we cannot stand before God on our own merits.
The blood became an even more important symbol as mankind drew further away from God. When He chastised Cian for killing Abel, God said that Abel’s innocent blood called out to Him from the ground (Genesis 4:10). And when God allowed us to eat meat for food after the Flood, He explicitly forbade us from consuming blood, because it was the source of life; this was also the institution of capital punishment in cases of murder (Genesis 9:4-5).
#2 Covenant and Consecration
When God rescued the children of Israel from Egypt and set them apart as His chosen people (Deuteronomy 14:2), He ratified His covenant and consecrated the articles of worship for the priesthood by the shedding of blood. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy cover the wide range of animal sacrifices instituted by God to serve several purposes related to the cleansing of sin.
First, the blood was used to ceremonially “purify” the articles that would be used for later sacrifices; this included the altar, its utensils, the Ark of the Covenant, other items for the tabernacle, the priestly garments, and even the high priest himself (Hebrews 9:21). Next, and most importantly, the daily, monthly, and yearly sacrifices detailed in those books were ordained to atone for the people’s sin. They were to be offered in cases of deliberate sinful actions against God, and even for unintentional sins; they covered the community at large, and each individual person.
#3 Substitution and Sanctification
However, the slaughter of sheep, rams, and bulls was not sufficient to completely blot out the people’s sins from before God. Not only were such sacrifices only temporary solutions, but the people returned to their sins time and time again. A perfect, complete sacrifice was needed to atone for the root causes of our sinful nature.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent to earth to be that sacrifice for us. He took on our sinful human nature in order to be the one human being that could live a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21). He told His disciples that His blood would be shed for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:27-28). The consistent teaching of the Gospel is that His death on the cross was a substitutionary payment for our sins, and that that sacrifice is sufficient to cover all of our sins (Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:7).
#4 Relationship and Restoration
This is the missing piece that we could never provide to save ourselves. At the core of the Gospel is a broken relationship with God. We cannot stand before Him in our sin, and despite His love He cannot forgive without some kind of atonement being made on our behalf. The blood of Jesus covers our sins and allows us to return to that perfect, restored relationship with God (Ephesians 2:13). This new covenant made through Jesus Christ is what the writer of Hebrews refers to (Hebrews 9:15). Just as the first covenant with Israel was made with blood (Hebrews 9:19-20), so too must this new covenant be ratified in blood.
And the beauty of the Gospel is that His sacrifice is lasting and sufficient forever. The priests offered their sacrifices annually to continually consecrate the altar and purify their surroundings, but it was never a perfect and lasting sacrifice (Hebrews 9:25). They could cover sins, but only Jesus could cover sin itself (Hebrews 9:26).
Jesus Himself is our Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2), with His sacrifice speaking on our behalf when we do sin. Whenever we do stand before the Father, Jesus points to the cross and proclaims that our debt for sin against Him has been paid (Colossians 2:14, 1 Peter 1:18-19).
That is what Hebrews means by “the remission of sin.” The demands of holy justice have been met, our sins can be forgiven, and we can return to that perfect relationship with the Father through the shed blood of the Son.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.