Holy Week: Blood Covenant
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 26:28a (Holman) “For this is My blood that establishes the covenant;”
In Bible times, a covenant was a relationship, an agreement, between two parties. It entailed stipulations, usually including promises of blessing, and threats of curses. Covenants could be called testaments, compacts, contracts, treaties, etc.
Why God would ever humble Himself to enter into a binding agreement with humans, to show us special acts of friendship, is unfathomable. Nevertheless, our God, in infinite condescension, has on several occasions bound Himself to act toward us in certain ways according to distinct courses of action He defined.
YHWH made a covenant with Noah, setting a rainbow in the sky to say He would never destroy the Earth with a flood again (Gen. 9:13). The Lord made a covenant with Abraham, promising him his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the sea shore (Gen. 22:17). At Sinai, God made a covenant with Israel; after Moses read the book of the covenant, and the people vowed to obey its commands, YHWH promised to be the nation’s God (Ex. 24:8).
In our current text, Jesus announced at the Last Supper that His shed blood would establish a new covenant, the ultimate covenant overshadowing all others. He instituted on our behalf new levels of possibilities in our relating to God.
Old Testament covenants were made legally binding by shedding the blood of animals. This gore was a symbol; each party was in essence calling down a curse on themselves, saying, “May my blood be shed if I break this covenant.”
This bloodshed was also only a symbol in Israel’s worship. The blood of animals brought at most ritual and ceremonial purification. The sacrifices pointed to the cross, the true ritual and ceremonial purification, and to Jesus’ indispensable blood. Jesus shed His blood to ratify the ultimate covenant between God and us.
In Bible covenant negotiations, a mediator often handled details and debates about ratification. This go-between sealed the deal by securing acceptance of the terms agreed on by both parties. In the ultimate covenant between God and us, Jesus was the Mediator, representing both parties that negotiated this contract. By His own blood, Jesus signed the covenant on behalf of God and behalf of people.
God the Son represented God the Father, satisfying the divine wrath against us. We owed a debt we could not pay; Jesus paid a debt He did not owe. He made it okay for the Father to deal with us graciously, and to give us His very presence.
God the Son represented God the Son. He who died for us lives in us. His own life is imparted to us. He communes with our spirits. “We live, not by our own power, . . .but by Him and in Him, and with Him and for Him” (Maclaren).
God the Son represented God the Holy Spirit, giving us the Holy Spirit and His indwelling power. Christ gave up God-life for us. The Old Testament taught, “The life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11a). The blood was considered the same as the life. Shedding one’s own blood was thus seen as giving one’s own life.
This takes on huge significance in the case of Jesus. Jesus’ life contained the Holy Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Thus, when Christ’s life was poured out, the Holy Spirit was released in fullness. This is why after the resurrection He “breathed on” the 12 and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). He was saying the Spirit had been given to Him in fullness, and now He was bestowing the Holy Spirit on His followers in fullness. In His death, Jesus “establishes the covenant” from God’s side. God the Son represented each Person of the Trinity.
Matt. 26:28b “It is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
God the Son represented us. For us, He negotiated “the forgiveness of sins.” Since the debt to God is paid, Jesus stands before the Father and says all who receive the Son’s blood payment should be forgiven. That’s the deal. We do not deserve it, but His covenant is faithful. We “come to Him with His own promise” (Maclaren). “Lord, I don’t deserve it, but You said it, and I accept it.” Jesus’ dealt with my sin, our sin—me, us. Our sins–you there, you there–were put in His body.
“He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). What sins? All sins. None too vile to be forgiven—murder, adultery, lying, pride, envy, greed, unkindness.
Nothing nullifies His power to forgive and clean. If appealed to, His blood removes guilt, cleanses stains, satisfies God, and is adequate for the whole world.
Don’t miss the vital question in these covenant negotiations. What blood could ever be valuable enough to cover the sins of all humanity, and at the same time satisfy the demands of the Father against the guilty? Only the blood of God could be this valuable. Therefore, God had to take on Himself flesh that coursed with blood, so He could have blood to shed in order to ratify a covenant.
The Scriptures are careful to let us know Jesus not only had to die; He had to shed His precious blood (1 Peter 1:19). His death entailed a crown of thorns, scourging, crucifixion-nails in His hands and feet, and a spear thrust in His side.
Why was all this required? Ultimately for reasons we cannot fathom. Dare we say we have penetrated His mind, His deepest secrets? For some reason, God chose shed blood as the best way to show His extreme extravagance of love for us.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always radically loved us. In the Perichoresis, there has never been a moment that we were not on the mind of God. They did not think this up; this is them. There was no surprise in the Three when One mentioned it. This is what God had always wanted to do.
Jesus said in our text, “It is shed”—present tense, as if already done. This reminds us Jesus was the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). From before time, the God-ordained method of forgiving sins was directly connected to the blood Jesus would shed. It is freely given, goes to work immediately, and is forever effective in eternity and in this lifetime.
The cross gives us Judicial forgiveness, a reprieve lasting forever. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). His death drank our cup of damnation dry. “He endured so much suffering. . .that God was pleased to accept it in the place of the eternal torments of all the redeemed” (Barnes).
God foreknew, predestined, called, and justified; “and those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30b)—one of the most significant past tense verbs ever. He judicially forgave us at conversion, and thinks of us as being already in Heaven.
In addition to Judicial forgiveness, He also gives Relational forgiveness. When we sin, we can repent and be fully restored in our relationship with Him. “He forgives our sin with the design of curing our sinfulness. We are pardoned that we may become holy. God forgives the sin that He may purify the sinner” (Spurgeon). He aims to kill sinfulness that we may love Him and serve Him.