One night lying awake, my thoughts turned to a bible question. It was about the blood. We know how strict was the Jewish prohibition regarding blood, and how careful they were to avoid drinking or eating blood. It was part of the Law given by God in fact, and of such vital importance that it was almost the only requirement handed down to the Gentile converts. (Acts 15:29).
Nonetheless, Jesus commanded his disciples to drink His blood and eat His flesh!
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood , you have no life in you.Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven — not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
One can only imagine how horrifying it must have sounded to observant Jews when He said that. Many left him at that time. He said a similar thing at the Last Supper when he called the wine his blood and the bread his body and commanded that his followers eat and drink them with that meaning.
We know that Jesus, being God, could not break the Law of God, including the prohibition on blood. Yet he commanded it (spiritually, not in reality of course)!
To some this might seem like a contradiction, and I recently posted the question on my Facebook to see if others had given the idea any thought. Thanks for your input!
The night in question as I lay awake pondering, some answers occurred to me and I’ve decided to put them down on paper. I hope it might be useful.
There are five interlocking answers summarised by these words –
The Life of the Soul is in the Blood
The life (soul) of humanity and living things is in the blood. This only applies to life on earth. Jesus had flesh and bones when he was raised, but not blood (presumably therefore we ourselves will be the same after our resurrection.) [Luke 24:39]
Since the Fall all life is tainted and therefore imperfect and unacceptable to a holy and perfect God. Mankind openly rebelled but animals are innocent of willing sin; even so they are fallen because all nature fell and came under satan’s curse. Thus all life/blood is unsatisfactory to God and cannot atone for the sin of Man. [Only the blood of Someone begotten by God, and fully Godly, is perfect, untainted by human nature and acceptable as an Atonement.]
God had decreed in Eden that the penalty for sin was death, that is, to be eternally separated from the Godhead and His perfect eternal spiritual life. Later it was also codified into God’s Law “a life for a life, blood for blood”. Because the LIFE is in the blood, therefore God required the blood/life to be returned to Him or to the earth from whence it came.
And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood , I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. … Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’
Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it on the earth like water. …  and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God.
There is throughout scripture a concept of substitution, where God accepts one thing for another.
When Adam and Eve fell they should have died – according to God’s command – but God spared them by killing two animals instead and covering (atoning) for their sin by the blood of the animal sacrifices. When God dressed Adam and Eve in the bloody skins they were covered in blood and so God could continue to deal with them. (But it did not solve the problem of their fallen nature and spiritual separation from God.)
God substituted the death of animals for the physical death of Adam and Eve.
Since Eden therefore, God’s people knew that they needed to offer sacrifices of blood. Abel’s blood sacrifice was accepted but Cain’s bloodless offering of grain was not. It was not the offering that counted, but the blood! [Gen 4:2-7]
Since animals were offered as a substitute for sinful humans, their blood was seen by God and man as a covering (Hebrew kaphar, a covering over, translated in English bibles as ‘atonement’).
In Egypt, those who were hidden under the mark of blood did not suffer the penalty of death. God passed over them.
For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
However, importantly, the blood sacrifices did not bring them back into spiritual communion with God. The blood merely covered the sin in God’s eyes.
God’s covenants with man were made by the shedding of blood (which is why pagans still recognise the value of a blood oath). The covenant was sealed to Abram when he divided the bodies of the animals and God passed between the pieces. [Gen 15:7-21]
Later on, circumcision was the sign of the covenant which involved the shedding of each man’s blood. Likewise Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on behalf of Israel.
And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”
Notice how similar is the wording when at the Last Supper Jesus inaugurated the NEW Covenant in his own blood. “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” [Luke 22:20] Moses could only offer a temporary and unsatisfactory blood sacrifice of an earthly animal that could never permanently cleanse mankind, but Jesus offered Himself, a single. universal and sufficient sacrifice for all.
So now, instead of sprinkling the disciples, Jesus asked them to symbolically drink of the blood. It was no longer an OUTWARD cleansing but an INWARD cleansing taking place. The Holy Spirit was no longer to be an OUTWARD covering for sin but an INWARD renewal of human nature itself.
When we recognise that, we understand the need to participate in the blood of the covenant, by eating and drinking the sacrifice Jesus provided. We are, in effect, drinking HIM, the Sacrificial Lamb. Before that day, no animal was pure but Jesus Christ was found flawless and pure before God, worthy of acceptance.
Much of the Jewish Law involved blood sacrifices of various animals and birds, to cleanse, atone and cover sins. Even the Temple and its altars had to be cleansed by blood. Blood meant that something had died and God could legally show mercy – at least temporarily – to those who identified themselves with that death.
In order to identify with the death that was taking place, the Priests laid their hands on the sacrificed animal. In that way they were saying “this animal is me, as a representative of the people, and thereby we die as a just punishment for our sins”.
The Two Parts – Body and Blood
It was a two-part sacrifice, lifeblood and death. The blood had to be offered to God by being drained from the animal and poured out, but the body – flesh and bones – had to be burned. So both the penalty for wrongdoing was covered by the blood AND the penalty for fallen human nature was eradicated by death.
The animal suffered the penalty for sin instead of the people, as its soul was returned to the earth from whence it came, and its body burned in the fire.
This is why Jesus gave his disciples not just the Blood in the wine cup but the Bread that was broken – a two-part complete sacrifice of Himself. The pouring out of His blood was the propitiation for our SINS and the death of His body was the removal of the SIN of the fallen nature, both together being One Perfect Sacrifice.
You can see how this two-part sacrifice is exactly that of its forerunners in the Temple!
That being the case, we all as ‘priests to our God’ [Rev 1:6] are able to lay our hands on the Sacrifice to identify with it and call it our own. How to we do that? Jesus explained that we become one with Him by “drinking His blood and eating His flesh” and thus receiving Him spiritually and partaking in the benefits of His death.
Another aspect of drinking the blood was the unity that was attained with the one who provided the blood. Since the life of a person or animal was in the blood, partaking of that blood was imbibing the life of another, and was prohibited.
Pagans knew two ways to attain spirit-unity with their demonic gods, blood and sex. When they sacrificed a human or an animal as a representation of their god (often dressed up as their god) and drank the blood it was a way of achieving unity or oneness with that god. Similarly, uniting sexually with a prophetess or person representing and possessed by the spirit of that god, it was attaining spiritual union with the god. This is why immorality and eating blood was strictly forbidden to all Christians, and why Paul warned that unity with a cult prostitute was joining the Spirit of God to a harlot.
1 Cor 6:16-17
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
The reality of this – perverted by pagans – is the fellowship and unity we have with God, becoming one spirit with him, and becoming a “partaker of the divine nature”. That is attained, amongst other things, by receiving Jesus as the living bread and wine that gives eternal life. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him”.
Paul saw the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood as a “communion” – that is, a unity, a kinship and fellowship – literally a common union with God in spirit.
1 Cor 10:15-22
I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?
Although what we now know as Holy Communion is a figure or symbol of that act, the reality is a spiritual receiving of the Spirit of Christ and coming into communion with Him. We do the one to commemorate the other.
So real and vital is this fact that the early disciples were warned not to take it lightly, or they may suffer the consequences of insulting God. Partly this entailed “not discerning the Lord’s Body” in the bread and wine and treating them merely as food for the hungry. They went to take the bread and wine in a party atmosphere and defiled that sacred offering that Jesus provided.
1 Cor 11:27-34
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.
FEED ON ME
And so we come in conclusion to the answers to this seeming contradiction. How could Jesus command that people drink his blood – even though he meant it spiritually, not in reality – when all of God’s Law commanded the opposite?
John Chapter Six
They said to Him,”What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The Jews believed more in temporal earthly sacrifices and rituals than their true meaning. Thus when they asked Jesus for bread as a sign, he told them that HE himself was the Bread of Life. He was the “true bread that came down from heaven” that would bring life to mankind. Those who ate earth’s bread would die, but those who ate (received) HIM would experience eternal life.
John 6: 52
The Jews therefore quarrelled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven — not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
The rest of the chapter makes it plain that Jesus intended to convey a spiritual truth, that was lost on the hearers. All they heard was the offensive idea that Jesus offered his flesh and blood for human consumption. Yet although this IS a spiritual reality (for only the Spirit can give life) it is also consummated in ways that are earthly and as real as wine and bread.
How could Jesus offer himself, in defiance of Jewish Law? It was because He alone as the Sacrificial Lamb was acceptable to God. His blood was pure! None other had come before him and there will be none after.
No human or animal blood could be consumed without incurring God’s wrath, because all that blood carried the taint of sin. All souls and all lifeblood therefore was corrupt. Eating such blood would only transfer the flaw, not eradicate it!
If we were to consume this earth’s blood instead of giving it back to God, we would not only be defying the Law that demanded recompense, but coming into union with another being unnaturally and wrongfully. We would be doubly corrupted.
However, the blood of Jesus is not of this earth or of humanity. His nature is entirely pure. Not only that, but the sacrifice of Jesus settles once and for all the question of our acceptability and union with God. It is the perfect nature of God that we “eat and drink” and so become one with God. Therein lies our salvation!