The World’s Greatest Substance
By James Bramlett
In all the world, there is only one substance that truly represents life. Ironically, this same substance is also thought of as representing death.
Actually, the substance itself contains and sustains life, and the absence or loss of it is usually associated with death. It is a miraculous substance.
Strangely, however, in spite of is marvelous and miraculous nature and unlike any other substance, just the sight of it often makes people sick! Some even faint. Just seeing it traumatizes some people. And even though the substance gives life, when life ends this same substance can create a frightful and messy scene. It can cause a sickening sight.
Also, strangely, scientific statements were made about this substance in the writings of the Bible thousands of years before science as we know it really existed. From Genesis, the first book, to Revelation, the last, the wonderful substance is mentioned in what some call a "scarlet thread" that runs throughout the entire Bible.
The substance is liquid. The substance is red. The substance is…
B L O O D !
Some say that Christianity is a "bloody" religion because of its emphasis on Jesus' blood, a mystery which will be explained in this chapter. Actually Judaism, which gave birth to Christianity, is even bloodier. Today blood sacrifices are no longer offered, but for centuries animal sacrifice was a common practice in Judaism. The Jewish-Roman historian, Josephus, records that there were 255,600 animals slaughtered in Jerusalem at one Jewish Passover observance in the first century.1 Blood from the altar actually ran in the streets. But there is a critically important reason why blood is foundational to both Judaism and Christianity—the symbolism seen in the former foreshadowed the reality to come in the latter! The latter finally gave needed meaning to the former; without the meaning, the rituals would have been nonsensical and are probably considered such by those who do not understand.
The Passover was an annual event. If approximately that many lambs were slain each year, think how many died over the centuries from this practice. Yet, each little lamb was symbolic and prophetic of a human Lamb, the coming Messiah, about whom the prophet Isaiah had said, "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter."
Just think, for centuries the Israelites were obedient to God in their blood sacrifice rituals, not having any idea of their symbolism or their real and ultimate purpose (a lesson for us to be obedient even though we may not understand everything). But blood sacrifice didn't start with the Israelites; it is traced to the beginning of human history.
The reverence for blood seems universal throughout all cultures. Anthropologists find widespread practices of blood sacrifice to idols from earliest human history and even through today, and also the use of blood as a means of ratifying an agreement, or "covenant," between people.2 There is an innate human awareness, put there by God Himself, of the solemn importance and spiritual ramifications of blood. But only hints of truth, combined with superstition and paganism, produce perversions of belief and practice as exist in some of the world today. Without full revelation, the peoples of the world have seen only shadows of spiritual truth. And with the spiritual significance of blood, as with other spiritual truths, God used the Hebrew people to most clearly communicate and implement His plan and purpose.
"The Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God."3
Life is in the Blood
Medical science now knows that it is blood which transports oxygen and other nutrients throughout the entire body via an ingenious 60,000 mile circulatory network. Vessels ranging from major arteries down to capillaries measuring one-tenth the diameter of a human hair carry life to each of the approximately one hundred trillion cells in our bodies. The food is carried along in this stream of liquid by blood cells, like containers sloshing through a gigantic pipeline. There may be five million or more red blood cells in just one drop of blood. Upon this continuous, moment by moment, supply of food, our entire body depends for life itself. For example, our brain will remain alive only for about five minutes without it. The blood carries life to our whole body. What is equally amazing, however, is that some 3,500 years ago and before modern medical knowledge, the Lord said to Moses:
"The life of the flesh is in the blood."4
The scientific accuracy of the statement at that time in history confirms its divine origin. Moses had no way of knowing of its truth.
But blood sustains life in another way besides transporting food and oxygen. After the blood delivers its cargo, it picks up waste material to transport on the return trip! It not only nourishes but cleanses every cell in the human body, removing toxic material that, if not removed, would otherwise quickly accumulate and kill us. The blood literally washes each cell, then carries the waste material away for filtering and disposal. Again, it is equally amazing that almost 2,000 years ago the apostle John wrote that the Messiah
"washed us from our sins in his own blood."5
In those days blood was logically looked upon as something that soiled and stained. Other than from divine inspiration, there was no rational basis for attributing such a "cleansing" function to blood. John also wrote:
"The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."6
This gives a totally new perspective to sin and its consequence. Bodily poisons and waste can bring physical death unless continually "washed" away by the blood. Similarly, sin can bring spiritual death unless continually "washed" away by the blood. And like human blood in our human bodies, in a mystical sense the blood of Messiah is continually washing and cleansing His spiritual body.
In another fascinating anatomical comparison, believers in Christ are referred to in the Bible as the "body" of Christ, with Christ the head and everyone else as members. The blood of Christ is continually supplying life to His body, and simultaneously cleansing from impurities—the very functions of actual blood. And all this was written almost 2,000 years ago before science really knew anything of bodily functions!
World-renowned surgeon, Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey skillfully describe the medical marvels of the human body and its metaphorical counterpart, the spiritual body, in their book, In His Image.7 I highly recommend this fascinating volume.
The Eternal Blood Covenant
The basic functions of Messiah's blood are not an isolated concept in the Old and New Testaments but are a constant theme, a theme which, in fact, is too little known, understood, or appreciated. This chapter and its One Minute Summary will describe this deeply mystical yet practical truth—the eternal blood covenant. It is probably the most profound truth in the universe and in all of the history of the human race.
A "covenant" is a binding pledge, promise, or agreement between two parties (the words "covenant" and "testament" are synonyms; the two parts of the Bible are sometimes called the Old Covenant and the New Covenant).
"Cutting a covenant" was an ancient practice, not just with the Hebrews but also in other nations and cultures. It involved the cutting of flesh (animal or human) and the shedding of blood to seal this binding agreement. A blood covenant was the most sacred and solemn of contracts, even bringing an inter-union of the two parties (see Chapter 8 for elaboration of the inter-union concept). It was a completely unbreakable pledge, not revocable for any reason (this in itself has profound theological implications).
Foreshadowing the eternal blood covenant to come, God made a covenant with Abraham:
"I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."8
Abraham's part of the covenant was to institute the rite of circumcision, as "a sign of the covenant."9 Circumcision, of course, "cuts" flesh and sheds blood, a bloodletting/covenant act which foreshadowed the time when God would also shed His own blood in a covenant act. (But why on such an odd and humbling part of the male anatomy? A mystery. But God is never arbitrary. Perhaps it is because in God's perspective it represents the human instrument for the inter-union of beings, from which comes new life, all symbolic.)
The story of Abraham contains further symbolism that relates to the New Testament, such as belief in a miraculous birth (Isaac), offering his only son (by Sarah) as a sacrifice, and belief that his son would be resurrected— all pointing to the miraculous birth, death, and resurrection of the Son.
Through the Hebrew prophets God spoke of a "new covenant" to come in the future. It would be for all the people of the world, not just the Hebrew people. The Messiah would be the mediator of this new covenant, and it would be ratified in His own blood.10
The Last Passover Lamb
At the "last supper" before His crucifixion, Jesus was at the table with His disciples. It is deeply significant that they were eating the traditional Passover meal. Because of the rapid Hellenization of Christianity in the first century as it spread throughout the Gentile world, many forget its totally Jewish origin. Jesus was a strict Hebrew, always observant of the law. The Passover meal itself is rich in tradition and symbolism, its origin tracing to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt some 1,500 years earlier. God had told those early Israelites to take the blood of an unblemished male lamb and put it on their doorposts, then eat the lamb. The blood, He said, would protect them from death. God said He would "pass over" them when He saw the blood, thus the term Passover. And as we shall see, "eating" the lamb had great prophetic significance.
It is ironic but providential that the true Passover Lamb was Himself eating the traditional Passover meal just hours before His own blood would be shed, finally fulfilling centuries of prophecy and symbolism. In fact, the miraculous chronology of events during this time is fascinating. The slaying of Jesus, the true Lamb, coincided with the sacrifice of the other symbolic lambs during this Passover! This in itself is absolutely amazing timing and evidence of the divine plan and prophetic fulfillment.
There is also scientific reality in the Passover. Blood from an "unblemished" male lamb was necessary, symbolic of the Lamb of God who was without sin (unblemished), unlike any other human who ever lived. The blood had to be perfect. Normal human blood can be quite imperfect and can carry impurities, even death-causing viruses so prevalent in the world today. Only the Lamb's blood was pure, perfect, and undefiled. Only perfect blood can perfectly cleanse.
During this Passover meal before His death, Jesus took some bread, blessed and broke it, then gave it to His friends, saying:
"Take, eat; this is my body."11
Jesus' words and actions here shocked the disciples, according to Jewish authors Ceil and Moishe Rosen, because the meal, including the lamb, had already been consumed.12 According to tradition, nothing else was to be eaten.
Jesus instituted a new memorial, an after dish, later called "aphikomen." He demonstrated that the Paschal (Passover) lamb no longer had significance because the true Lamb had come. Also, Jesus apparently saw into the future when there would be no more altar (destroyed shortly thereafter by the Romans in A. D. 70) or sacrifice. He used the aphikomen for the first time to represent the Paschal lamb and His own body, formerly represented by the body of the animal.
The Jews have always used unleavened (matzo) bread for the Passover ceremony. Leaven is symbolic of sin. They use three matzo wafers. The middle one, the "aphikomen," is broken during the meal, hidden, and later returned. This is an early but mysterious tradition. No one really knows its meaning. The three wafers represent unity, but Jewish scholars do not agree on what the unity represents. Some Jews believe the three wafers represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Isaac's body (the middle wafer) was never actually broken! Could it be that the unity of the three wafers represents the unity of the one but triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the unleavened, of course, His purity. Is the middle wafer the Son (aphikomen) whose body was indeed broken, who is mysteriously hidden from the Jewish people, and who will return as their Messiah as He promised? I believe it is. Such an interpretation clearly makes sense, especially in view of Jesus' own introduction of the after dish to represent His own body, plus all other Passover symbolism.
Interestingly, aphikomen comes from a Greek word that is translated "the coming one," or "that which comes last."
In every Passover meal, then, the Jews albeit unknowingly celebrate the sinless Messiah whose body was broken, who temporarily is hidden, and who will return. They finish eating the broken aphikomen in the Sephardic or Eastern tradition with the words, "In memory of the Passover sacrifice." This has to be one of the most profound ceremonies in human history where, ironically, the participants do not understand the full meaning of their actions!
After Jesus broke the bread and told them to eat it, He then took a cup of wine (fruit of the vine), gave thanks, and passed it to his friends, saying:
"Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."13
"Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."14
They were actually invited to "consume" Jesus' body and blood. This is not surprising, for as we pointed out above, the Passover lamb had been "eaten" from the beginning (later, with no lamb, the aphikomen was eaten instead).
Previously Jesus said something puzzling to the people:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day."15
He was obviously not talking about cannibalism, but about a spiritual phenomenon. But what does it mean, and how does it work? Well, the early church replaced the prophetic Passover meal of Judaism, which was fulfilled in the Messiah, with a sacrament called "Communion," or "the Lord's Supper." Believers gathered and partook of bread (His body) and wine or grape juice (His blood) "in remembrance" of Him. The church continues that tradition today. Beliefs vary on the extent of symbolism involved in this sacrament. However one believes, it is important to participate and to remember the cleansing and life-giving effects of the Lamb's body and blood.
The reality of the new covenant, the eternal blood covenant, is that in the Messiah God chose to inhabit a human body, and let that body become as a sacrificial lamb, taking upon Himself the sins of the entire human population of the planet from the beginning to the end of human history. All of history and every human who ever lived or ever will live was represented on the cross with Jesus: the most profound event—ever.
Dr. Roy Blizzard, a recognized American expert in Hebrew studies and archaeology, once voiced a simple summary of this historical event for which no adjectives are adequate to describe: "In the veins of Jesus flowed God's own blood." It is a mind-boggling thought that the Creator God would choose to experience this human condition. But He purposed to do so as an ultimate act of love. (Note: the divine blood in Jesus' body was a result of the virgin birth, essential for the fertilized egg and resulting chromosome/gene combinations to have a divine component. Rather than myth, the virgin birth was biologically mandatory for the entire purpose of the incarnation and later crucifixion. It was a product of God's wisdom and power, and an integral and indispensable part of His plan.)
The Amazing Blood Covering
All of previous Hebrew history was but a preparation and a portrait of this divine love-plan. It didn't just start with Abraham, but can be traced all the way to the garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned, they used fig leaves to "cover" themselves. But God determined the mere vegetable product to be unsuitable and replaced the leaves with the skin of an animal, the first symbolic act of "blood-covering."
In this initial instance of sin, blood had to be shed to "cover" it. Surely God loved the little animal and was saddened to see its death. But He chose flesh as an atonement to demonstrate the seriousness of human sin. Sin brings human death (physical) and spiritual death (separation from God). Bloodshed typifies the seriousness of sin, because a loss of life is necessary.
But on the positive side, there is a more important reason for the blood covering. It is a medical fact that blood's most important function is to bring life. It is a life-giving substance rather than a symbol of death. Therefore, in addition to demonstrating the seriousness of sin, a blood sacrifice restores life to the guilty one. It covers us. It clothes us. The Bible says:
"And the LORD God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins, and clothed them."16
An often overlooked truth in man's fall is that Adam and Eve by their own efforts had attempted to "cover" (or justify) themselves by using fig leaves. This was human reasoning causing human effort to cover human failings, a condition so prevalent in the world ever since, and especially today. But it is not God's way.
In a message also applicable to us, God said to Adam and Eve, in effect, "Your failings may be overlooked, but only My way. None of your self-effort can accomplish anything. You can't do anything, but I can. I will cover your sins Myself, and with blood. It is something I will do Myself. In fact, I will ultimately shed My own blood for your covering. I will do that for you, because I love you." He did. That is the blood of the eternal covenant.17
The “Lost” Ark of the Covenant
The subject of the popular movie, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," was the famous ark of the covenant that the Israelites used according to God's instructions. The ark provided further prophetic symbolism of the eternal blood covenant to come. It was a box that contained the original tablets of the Ten Commandments. It was kept in the Holy of Holies behind a curtain in the Holy Place both of the tabernacle and the later temple. This is the place where God manifested a special presence—the most holy of places, ever (until God later chose a different type of temple in which to reveal Himself as described in Chapter 8).
The top of the box was called the Mercy Seat (Hebrew word for "cover"). The sins of the people were covered, or forgiven, once a year when the high priest would sprinkle the blood of sacrificed animals on the Mercy Seat.18 In effect, the Commandments within the ark were declaring the guilt of the people before the presence of God. But the blood on the Mercy Seat "covered" the accusations before they could even reach God!
The New Testament fulfillment of this symbolism was the Messiah, called the great high priest, whose own sacrifice is the "covering" for sins. The Commandments still declare our guilt, as no one can keep them perfectly by letter or spirit. But the blood of the eternal covenant "covers" the accusations. Such covering renders a "not guilty" verdict before God for those who have entered into the covenant, just like in the Old Testament practice.
(What really happened to the "lost" ark, the subject of the aforementioned movie? It actually disappeared in history and hasn't been seen since. I believe I have discovered the ark's location and why it hasn't been found! See Appendix II for this fascinating information).
How to Enter Into the Covenant
How does one enter into the covenant? By faith— "consuming" this truth within ourselves. As we do so, we "eat" His flesh and "drink" His blood, consuming the Passover Lamb, just like the early Israelites consumed the slain lamb. The Lamb and His blood give us life and cleanse us from all of sin's impurities. We enter into an irrevocable covenant with God Almighty who has promised eternal life: "I will raise him up at the last day."
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.19
God demonstrated this love by shedding His own blood, through which He made a covenant. We enter into this covenant by "believing" in Him and what He did.
The words faith and believing mean more than just intellectual agreement; rather they carry the idea of "relying on," and "trusting in." Basically, it means to entrust ourselves to God, an act of commitment. We "covenant" with Him. He gave His life to us; we give our life to Him. And in a mystery to be discussed in Chapter 8, the blood covenant brings an inter-union of the two covenant makers.
It took God centuries of human history to orchestrate the events leading to the enactment of the blood covenant. But a person can enter into it in a moment, whether 10 years old or 110. In only One Minute or less. Sudden insight into Truth—a spark of faith—an inner acceptance and commitment—and shazam! That's just the way it works. (Follow-through? See Chapters 8-12.)
When we do, we are no longer captive to an existence constantly stalked by death. Everything in this world dies. All flesh decomposes, as does all vegetation. Even the sun has a limited life and is gradually dying. But we have found real and permanent life through that life-giving substance, blood—a special and very unusual blood:
You were ransomed (Webster: freed from captivity or punishment by paying a price)… with the precious blood of Christ (Messiah), like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.20
Interestingly, it was through Judaism and the Old Covenant that God instituted blood sacrifice as a means of removing sin and guilt. But when Messiah, the Lamb of God, finally came, He became a final and lasting sacrifice for all time. Coincidentally, in the first century, animal sacrifice ceased in Judaism. Although ostensibly for naturally explainable reasons, God obviously had a profound spiritual reason—its prophetic purpose had been fulfilled.
This leaves a troubling problem for those who would reject Yeshua (Jesus) as the sacrificial Lamb. The first-century writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminded them that:
"without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."21
Nowhere in the Jewish Scriptures did God change His mind and decide that blood was no longer required as a sin sacrifice. It always was, and still is, required. But the old symbolic way ceased. Now, for Jews and Gentiles, there is still a blood covering through the "blood of the new covenant." God appeared in human form to sacrifice His own flesh one time, only one time, and for all time. He did it not just for the Jews who were the "chosen people" to communicate and implement His plan, but for all people, Jews and Gentiles of every nation, everywhere.
Even God's real name describes this incredible love-mission. It is really "the world's greatest name." This fascinating and mysterious subject is discussed in the next chapter.
Taken from the book,
“The World’s Greatest Truths,”
By James Bramlett