Leviticus laid out specific directions regarding the offering that would make atonement for sin. The sacrifice must be perfect in every way and brought to the priest, who would then follow a very specific routine. After the lamb is slain, Leviticus gives further instructions, “Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons, the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.”

In the Old Testament, blood was the liquid that carried life.  But it also carried the genetic material transferring guilt from one generation to the next. In the sacrificial passages in Leviticus, the priest should throw the tainted blood against the altar’s sides. I suspect that the bloodletting of animals for the cleansing of one’s sins is something many cultures have picked up. This began with the first sin in the Garden of Eden, where God killed the lamb to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Abel brought an acceptable blood sacrifice. Noah offered blood sacrifices. Abraham offered blood sacrifices. Other religions picked up this practice also. One commentator explains in great detail, “Mithraism had its devotees all over the world; it was the favorite religion of the Roman army, and even in Britain, there are relics of the chapels of Mithra where the Roman soldiers met for worship.” The commentator then quotes the Christian poet, Prudentius. He writes, “A trench was dug, over which was erected a platform of planks, which were perforated with holes. Upon this platform, a sacrificial bull was slaughtered. Below the platform knelt the worshipper who was to be initiated. The blood of the slaughtered bull dripped through on the worshipper below. He exposed his head and all his garments to be saturated with blood, and then he turned around and held up his neck that the blood might trickle upon his lips, ears, eyes, and nostrils; he moistened his tongue with the blood which he then drank as a sacramental act.” Jesus points to the blood cleansings that both Jews and Gentiles were familiar with when he uses this image to illustrate that “In the last analysis, it is not the picture which matters but the truth behind the picture. And the great and unchanging truth is that through the life and the death of Jesus Christ, there has come to the Christian that purity and victory which he could never achieve for himself.”[1]

For us to understand that this symbolic cleansing with blood is something that one could not do for himself. It required the blood of a sacrifice. Leviticus 17:11 is a crucial verse for understanding the Christian application of the blood sacrifice and the covering of the altar with blood by sprinkling or “throwing.” It says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” God tells us that He has “given” the blood to cleanse our souls of sin. The writer of Hebrews, therefore, can tell us there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.” Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

[1] Barclay, William, ed. 1976. The Revelation of John. Vol. 2. The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: The Westminster John Knox Press.