Cleansing Blood?

As I was reading through 1 John, I was struck by this especially counter-intuitive fact, that Jesus’ blood doesn’t stain. It cleanses. Have you ever heard of such a thing? When was the last time you dipped a rag into a cup of blood and used it to wipe down your kitchen table? Or how about filling a spray bottle with the stuff and using it like Windex? It doesn’t make much sense to say that blood cleans things, at least, not in our common, everyday experience.

Surely John knew this. What could he be teaching us through the use of seemingly backwards imagery? Here’s what John wrote:

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:7 ESV

This is a figure of speech called synecdoche, where a part of something is used to stand in for the whole. The “blood” refers to the entirety of Jesus’ wrath-removing sacrifice for us on the cross. His sacrificial death and resurrection paid the price of our redemption so that we can walk in “newness of life.” When we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. To quote the old hymn, “Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul.”

Scripture is full of this kind of thing. Consider this passage from Revelation, also written by John:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

Revelation 5:1-7 ESV

Christ is described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. What do we expect to come bursting onto the scene at this statement? Well, a lion. A mighty, powerful creature who hunts and kills, the king of the beasts. But what comes out instead? A lamb. A young sheep, standing as though he had just been slain, made ready for a sacrifice.

Cleansing blood, a lion-ish lamb, a servant king, a priest who is also the sacrifice, a God-man. It seems like every description of Christ and his work is deliberately counter-intuitive. Jesus takes the world’s expectations and flips them upside down. Should we expect anything less?

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