Thousands of years before scientists understood the complex and extraordinary life-sustaining properties of blood, the Bible informed that “the life of every creature is in its blood” (Leviticus 17:14, NLT). In ancient Israel, blood was not only a metaphor or symbol for life; it was equivalent to life itself. In most occurrences where blood was shed in Scripture, it meant that life had ended. To remove the blood is to terminate life.
In Leviticus chapter 17, God gives instructions regarding sacrifices and offerings, particularly on the proper slaughtering of animals. The people of Israel were to bring each animal to the tabernacle entrance for the priest to offer. The blood of the animal was never to be treated as common food; it belonged to God, who is the giver of life (Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4; Psalm 139:13). Thus, the blood of animals had to be drained and offered to God on the altar.
Blood was God’s ordained means of effecting atonement: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11). Atonement for sin was achieved by sacrificing an animal’s life in substitution for one’s own life. The shedding of blood was the most critical element—it was the blood of the guiltless substitute offered on the altar that served as payment for the people’s sins (Leviticus 16:15).
Through God’s ordained system of sacrifice in the Old Testament, the Lord laid the groundwork for a message that would not be fully grasped until later: “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1, NLT).
The full meaning of “the life is in the blood” would only be revealed in Jesus Christ: “That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, ‘You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer’” (Hebrews 10:5, NLT). It has always been God’s will for humans to be made right with God by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time (Hebrews 10:10). In the Old Testament, the priests offered animals’ blood over and over again, but this repeated shedding of blood never permanently removed the curse of sin (Hebrews 10:11).
When Jesus came and offered up His life—pouring out His blood on the cross—the perfect sacrifice had finally been made: “Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14, NLT).
All those from times past, present, and future who put their faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, are made right with God: “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:25–26, NLT). The apostle John saw a future multitude of believers in heaven who “have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” They have been purified from sin and “clothed in white” (Revelation 7:13–14).
Because of the Old Testament system, Christ’s followers could comprehend what He was doing when He shed His blood on the cross. And today we can better see what His sacrifice means. Just as physical life is in the blood of animals, eternal life is in the blood of Jesus Christ. Physically, our existence depends on blood to sustain life, and, spiritually, our lives depend on the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10; 1 John 1:7; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:22). Through those ancient sacrifices repeatedly offered in the Old Testament, we are led to appreciate that death—the shedding of blood—has always been the cost of securing eternal life for sinful humans.
Believers are cleansed, forgiven, and made right with God by the blood of the Lamb, God’s guiltless substitute. The life that Christ emptied of its blood now pumps everlasting life into our veins. Oh, how astounding it is that God would shed His own blood to pay the penalty for our sins!