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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Blood of Christ

There was an article going around social media about six years ago that detailed the seven places Christ bled, and just recently this was used as the basis for an excellent message in my church. It got me thinking about the sacrifice that Christ made, certainly. It also got me thinking about how many unbelievers refuse to accept the account; some going so far as to dispute the very existence of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, it also inspired thoughts of how many Christians simply do not take the time to consider the magnitude of His suffering and death, choosing instead to focus solely upon His resurrection. I understand that some may find the suffering of our Savior to be an unpleasant topic to discuss, much less meditate upon; a great many of us would prefer to forget our own suffering, let alone dwell upon that of another! However, it is vital for believers today to not only recognize how and where Christ bled, suffered and died; but also to understand the full scope and magnitude of why.

Start with the basics of His suffering and the tools of His execution, but do so with the understanding that the Jewish people are as guilty of killing Him as you and I; more importantly, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that it was certain Jewish leaders who sought His death, and not the nation as a whole. Finally, His execution was carried out by the Romans, thus certain tall tales about His suffering and crucifixion must be necessarily laid aside.

A Quick Note: There are those who claim that Christ was only given 39 lashes; indeed, the article referenced in the beginning of this article utilizes this thought. However, this is more a traditional teaching beginning within the Roman Catholic Church, and is not supported by history, nor by Scripture. It should be noted that the Jewish leaders handed Christ over to the Romans for the singular reason that they could not execute Him themselves, and as such abandoned Him to Roman executory custom.

The Suffering of Christ

Jesus' suffering initially began within the Garden of Gethsemane, where He was under such immense emotional and mental strain that the capillaries beneath His skin ruptured into His pores, causing His blood to mix with His sweat. This extreme response to intense stress is still seen today, and is known as Hematidrosis. There are variations of the name for this phenomena, but they are documented and very real.

His indirect suffering, defined as suffering incurred at the hands of others without violent contact, began after His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Throughout the course of the night, Jesus was forcefully marched more than two and a half miles from trial location to trial location. This was done without sleep and very little nourishment, so far as we are aware.

The direct suffering He endured at the hands of others via violent means began after His first hearing. This took place before the political Sanhedrin, where He was found guilty of blasphemy. After the finding, He was blindfolded and punched about the face by the temple guard. His second trial was before the religious Sanhedrin, and though He was not subjected to violence, He was forced to march.

After His trial before Pilate, Jesus was subjected to scourging. This was usually carried out by two soldiers, called lictors, using short whips of braided leather, with bone fragments and small iron balls incorporated into the weapon. The area that was flogged was the back, buttocks and legs of the condemned; the recipient of the punishment was usually chained to a post by his wrists, causing him to hang painfully when the strength was beaten from him. The purpose of this flogging was to bring the subject to the point of collapse or death, without causing either. The end result of this beating were multiple, quivering ribbons of flesh and torn muscular tissue bleeding profusely. This was no less true in the case of Christ, and we do know from studying the Greek that this particular scourging was harsh even by Roman standards. Some have suggested that the whips were slightly longer, allowing the lashes to reach around to the front of Christ, possibly even causing damage to the face, torso and genitals.

A Quick Note: There are those who claim that Christ was only given 39 lashes; indeed, the article referenced in the beginning of this article utilizes this thought. However, this is more a traditional teaching beginning within the Roman Catholic Church, and is not supported by history, nor by Scripture. It should be noted that the Jewish leaders handed Christ over to the Romans for the singular reason that they could not execute Him themselves, and as such abandoned Him to Roman executory custom.


After the scourging, the soldiers mocked Jesus. Perhaps they were acting out of nationalistic pride, given that the charges against Him were that He claimed to be king. Perhaps they were simply amused by having a Jew handed over to be executed by them, and chose to make an example. Or perhaps they were simply barbarous brutes intent on inflicting as much pain and agony as they possibly could. Regardless of their intent, we do know that after inflicting a particularly harsh flogging, they chose to beat Him further.

A crown of thorns was woven for Him to wear. It is not known for certain which plant supplied the materials for the crown of thorns, though tradition suggests it was a plant known as Euphorbia milii. While this is contested, the plant is decorative, pliable, and the thorns are quite sharp and fairly long. These facts suggest a plausibility to the tale, given the Roman's fondness for decorative plants. What we do know is that this crown of thorns was woven and placed upon Christ's head and a robe was draped across His back. After mocking Him, the soldiers proceeded to beat Him with the "scepter" they had given Him and then ripped the robe from Him. Apart from the beating He took from the stick, violently removing the robe would have reopened the wounds He received during His flogging, resulting in further blood loss.

A Quick Note: This is not the first recorded Roman execution that utilized methods not generally prescribed by their usual execution practice. For instance, one historian recorded the crucifixion of a criminal coated in honey to attract insects; another recorded a condemned man made to walk to the place of execution in sandals made of rope and bone fragments.

It is recorded in the Gospels that Christ was made to walk up the hill to Golgotha while carrying His cross. This has translated to a tradition wherein Christ carries a full cross; though Jesus was certainly strong enough to have done this in peak condition, it is not supported by historical fact. The cross that Christ and every other condemned man carried was actually the cross beam itself, as the vertical beams were semi-permanent fixtures on the hills and roads around the Roman Empire. This exertion alone would have certainly caused Him to collapse along the way.

Once atop Golgotha, The beam was laid on the ground and Christ stretched across it. The first arm would have been stretched without much effort to a specific point, and a spike measuring five to seven inches was driven through His wrist. The point of insertion was very specific, and every Roman soldier was taught this: The point on the wrist was chosen because of its strength, and also because of the pain that it caused due to the severing of a specific nerve. This pain would have been immediate, causing Christ to impulsively recoil towards the wound. At this time, a leather thong would have been tied around His other wrist, and the soldiers would have forcibly wrenched that wrist to the point of the beam where it too was impaled.

A Quick Note: Here again we see tradition doing a great disservice. Traditionally Christ was pierced through the hands, and most Christians can name at least one song that speaks about His pierced hands. The disservice is in relating something that is not possible when telling the Gospel story. It is physically impossible for a human to support his weight on a pierced hand; the hand would very literally tear apart. Remember that for Christ's sacrifice to mean anything, He had to give His life as fully man- Thus, something physically impossible in the course of that sacrifice would invalidate the sacrifice. He was pierced through the wrists- Not through the palm of His hand, as tradition so poorly recounts.

Once fastened to the cross beam, Christ would then be hoisted to the notch in the vertical pole. In many such crucifixions, the arms of the condemned were tied to the vertical beam to allow for easier hoisting without risking the condemned dying on the way up of asphyxiation. That may or may not have happened in the case of Christ, though it is likely as we are told that not a single bone was broken: Often during this hoisting process with an untied victim, bones in the arms would break under the stress. However what is certain is that on the way up the vertical beam, the wounds incurred during the scourging were violently and painfully reopened. It is also very likely that due to the weathering of the vertical post, Christ would have also suffered multiple splinters of wood. Small splinters in such damaged skin would certainly be painful, but these were more likely to be long, wide and jagged depending upon the age of the post.

After being suspended, His arms would have been untied, allowing Him to sink fully onto the spikes in His wrists. The soldiers would have immediately taken His feet and raised them slightly, keeping Him from suffocating, while preparing them for the next and final stage of the process. His feet were placed either on a block of wood, or on the post itself, and a spike about seven inches long was driven through the center of his feet; fastening them one atop the other, and both to the cross.

After this final torment at the hands of the soldiers, the death process began in earnest. In order to breath, Christ had to place all of His weight onto the spikes in His wrists and the one in His feet to draw Himself up to inhale. He would have had to do the same thing to exhale. In this way, blood loss and exhaustion gradually stole life from the condemned man. Christ also spoke, adding further stress and strain to His body. It was during this process that Christ would have, as the Gospels tell us, "Breathed His last."
Peter counsels us to be prepared to give a reason or defense for the hope that we have, and this applies not just to those who are openly hostile to the Gospel, but those who have questions about what they believe. More importantly, answering the questions of fellow believers; regardless of their maturity in the faith; is a vital and integral part of discipleship, which is one of the basic points of the Great Commission.


Why Was A Sacrifice Necessary?

The need for a sacrifice has long been questioned, not only by skeptical unbelievers, but also by Christians. While many followers of Christ will time and again proclaim their faith, it is natural for questions to arise; especially for those new to the faith. Sadly, much of the Christian Church responds to this sort of question with answers falling into one of two categories: The "Just Have Faith" category, or the "Never Question God" category.

These two categories of questions do more to weaken the foundation of faith than strengthen it, and I believe that it is well past time to straighten this out. Peter counsels us to be prepared to give a reason or defense for the hope that we have, and this applies not just to those who are openly hostile to the Gospel, but those who have questions about what they believe. More importantly, answering the questions of fellow believers; regardless of their maturity in the faith; is a vital and integral part of discipleship, which is one of the basic points of the Great Commission. Thus, my challenge to the Christian Church as a whole is this: Whenever our response to a question falls in one of the two categories mentioned above, let us interrupt ourselves and find the actual answer to the question; very often this sort of response-by-rote is an indication of a deficiency in our own study, and we owe it to ourselves and to the one who asked the question to faithfully search out the correct answer.

To answer why a sacrifice was necessary, we must first understand something of the nature of God Himself. To start, He is completely righteous, holy and good. To illustrate the magnitude of this point, the statement that "God is Love" is not stating that God embodies love as we know it, but rather that He is the definition of love; our understanding is flawed unless we know love as defined by God. Likewise, righteousness, holiness and goodness are defined by God; our understanding of these attributes are inherently flawed unless He is our standard.

Now we must understand sin's nature. Sin is literally rebellion against God; not so much His laws, but rather His nature. To illustrate this point, think of a genuinely good police officer. His purpose is to protect and to serve, and if we politely comply with his request ("stop and identify yourself, please") we are very likely to be treated fairly, respectfully, and mercifully. However, if we choose to run off, we are likely to be on the wrong end of a baton, taser or worse; the degree of our immediate pain is commensurate with how much rebellion we exhibit.

Now, using our two illustrations, God is very much like that genuinely good police officer. The difference is found in the fact that though even the most good cop is still a flawed human being; and thus able to look past some minor infraction they themselves may have committed; God is the absolute standard of holiness, and thus unable to overlook any act of rebellion without a commensurate punishment being levied. As a result, sin acts as a barrier between mankind and God. Since God is life itself, sin is death. Because sin is death, it requires death; in many ways, blood is the currency of sin.

sin acts as a barrier between mankind and God. Since God is life itself, sin is death. Because sin is death, it requires death; in many ways, blood is the currency of sin.

However, God is also the absolute standard of mercy. In keeping with His nature, He provided laws by which mankind could measure its sin. God is also the absolute standard of grace, and in keeping with this, provided a means of atonement: Literally, of paying for one's sin without the need to shed one's own blood.

Throughout the Old Testament, this was accomplished through the sacrifice of animals. Animals are not guilty of rebellion against God, and thus they have no sin. However, they are still under the effects of the curse brought into the world by sin, and as such are imperfect sacrifices; imperfect in part because they are under the curse of sin, and also because sin did not enter in through the animal kingdom, but through mankind. Because of this, a sacrifice did not cover all sin; it only covered the sin for which it was offered. The only sacrifice that would cover all sin had to come from a perfect human being- But as we've already stated, all of mankind is tainted by sin; by rebellion against the very nature of God.

Once again, it is the absolute grace and mercy of God that come into play. Obviously, no human born of a human union could make the necessary atonement, so God orchestrated one of the greatest miracles since the creation of the World: Christ was born, fully God, yet fully man. The perfect human to make the ultimate sacrifice for all sin.

This is why a sacrifice was necessary.

The Magnitude Of Christ's Sacrifice


You will remember that we mentioned that the method of covering sin through sacrifice is called atonement. This was such an integral part of the plan for the removal of sin from this world that it played a major role in the life of the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament; indeed, sacrifices were made prior to Israel's existence as a nation.

It was with the nation of Israel, however, that the atonement practice was codified. While sacrifices were offered for individual sin whenever necessary, there was a single day set aside every year for a sacrifice on behalf of the nation as a whole; a sacrifice covering all twelve tribes of Israel. This day is known today as Yom Kippur, but in the Old Testament it was known as the Day of Atonement.

Allow me to walk you through this for the sake of illustrating just how truly amazing, awe-inspiring and incredible is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Atonement, one bull, two rams and two goats were sacrificed. The amount of blood spilled for this specific sacrifice averages to about twelve gallons; that's approximately one gallon for each of the twelve tribes. Please note that that is twelve gallons for the sins of one nation over the course of a single year.

Now, this sacrifice was presented from the time it was commanded to what is known as the "Silent Period" (about 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ), which was a span of approximately 898 years. This means that for a single nation's yearly sins, roughly 10,776 gallons of blood was spilled. For one nation, and for a temporary covering.

Now jump with me to the present.

It has been estimated that from the time of Creation, approximately 108 billion people have lived on the planet Earth. That is from the time of Creation to the present, and growing; but for our purposes, we'll stick with the estimated figure.

In Luke 17:3-4, Christ tells His disciples that if a brother wrongs them seven times in a single day, and seven times asks forgiveness, they are to forgive that brother seven times. So as an unbelievably conservative estimate, we'll say that the average person commits seven sins a day. Only seven sins. With me so far?

So if the average person commits a mere seven sins a day, that means (not including leap years) that a person commits 2,555 sins in a year; and over an average lifespan of seventy-five years, commits 191,625 sins in a lifetime. Bear in mind as you look at these numbers that we are using conservative estimates for the number of sins committed in a single day, and a shorter lifespan than are being offered for the modern man- And these numbers are for one, single person.

When Christ was crucified, He was bled of nearly all of His blood. This statement is based upon forensic examinations of the historical accounts of Roman crucifixion practices and the accounts from the Gospels. (One such examination can be found here.) Should this hold true, this means that approximately one and a half gallons of blood was shed by Christ.

This means that one and a half gallons of blood shed by Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, covered an estimated 78 quintillion sins and growing. For illustration purposes, that is 78,000,000,000,000,000,000 plus sins since the beginning of time- And growing.

That should boggle the mind.

It gets even more amazing, however. We are told in the Gospels; by the lives and deaths of Christ's disciples; and by the testimony of countless others; that Christ rose from the dead. If even one sin could not be covered by His sacrifice; if even one sin was the one too many; Christ would never have risen, because the sacrifice would not have been perfect.

Yet Christ rose.

What Does All Of This Mean? (Or: TL;DR)

What this means, friends, is that not one single reader of this blog is without hope. It means that not a single non-reader of this blog is hopelessly lost. It means that the blood of Christ is pure enough to cover all sins.

It means that though our daily sins might hit double or triple digits, Christ can and will save us from sin's requirement of death. It means that the mercy and grace of God extends to all people, at any time, everywhere, until the end of time.

It means that our God is not only the absolute standard of holy, righteous, and good; but He is also the absolute standard of love, mercy and grace.

This means that one and a half gallons of blood shed by Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, covered an estimated 78 quintillion sins and growing. For illustration purposes, that is 78,000,000,000,000,000,000 plus sins since the beginning of time- And growing.

It means that God's love, mercy and grace extends so far as to envelop all of Creation; that through Christ's sacrifice even nature itself will be redeemed.

It means that because God is the absolute standard of all that is good, we have no reason to fear anything that is wrong, evil or just bad.

It means, my friends, that God loved and cared for you enough to "make a way where there was no way," and provide a bridge for you to cross over the divide into His loving arms.

The easy part is accepting the sacrifice that Christ made for us; as simple as praying "God, I recognize that I am a sinner, and that I fall short of perfection. I repent of my sins, and ask you to forgive me of my sins through the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. I ask You to be the Lord of my life, and help me to live a life that reaches for You. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen."

The hard part, my friends, is living that life- But once again the grace and mercy of God is there, because just as He made a way to cross the divide, He is the absolute standard of faithfulness: He will strengthen us to live that life.

One of  the most beautiful representations I have come across. All credit to the original artist.


Note: This article has been edited for spelling and grammatical errors; however, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for some errors to have been overlooked. Please feel free to let me know if you find any. Thanks, and God bless!