The Blood Flows Both Ways

By Royce Frederick

All people are sinful, both Jews and non-Jews (Rom. 3:9, 23). And all need forgiveness of sins to live with God in heaven (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:27).

Israel (Jews) lived under the Law of Moses. Many of them were godly people of great faith. But as a nation, they often turned away from God and broke His covenant. In the Old Testament itself, God foretold: “...I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt [the law given by Moses at Mt. Sinai], My covenant which they broke...” (Jer. 31:31-32).

God ended the Law of Moses at the cross. Jesus “...wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14; see Eph. 2:11-18; Gal. 3:24-25).

The Law of Moses told Israel to sacrifice animals as sin offerings. However, those sacrifices did not have the power to take away sins: “ is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). None of those animals ever chose to live a righteous life and give its life as a sacrifice for sin. Animals are not able to make those choices. The sacrificed animals were not tested or tempted to sin, and they were not willing sacrifices for sin.

However, the Old Testament often speaks of God forgiving sins during the Law of Moses. “And he shall do with the bull as he did with the bull as a sin offering...So the priest shall make atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them” (Lev. 4:20). Many other verses likewise tell us that God forgave sins during the old law (Lev. 4-5; Num. 14:19; Ps. 85:2; etc.).

On what basis did God forgive sins before the cross? The book of Hebrews tells us the answer: “...He [Christ] is the Mediator of the new Covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant…” (Heb. 9:15). Sacrificing animals during the Old Testament was symbolic of the true, effective sacrifice which would come later — the death of Jesus on the cross.

Unlike the animals, Jesus was able to choose between good and evil. He “...was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). And He freely gave His life for our sins. “...I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself….” (Jn. 10:17-18; see 1 Jn. 3:16).

So, it has been rightly said that “The blood of Christ flows both ways from the cross.” It flows forward to all who obey the gospel today, and it flows backward to the godly people who died before the cross.

We are able to view the cross as an event of history, because it occurred in the past. But before Jesus died, God was able to view the cross as an event of “future history.” God looked forward at the cross just as we look backward at it. He is able to speak of “things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17), because He knows them as absolute facts before they occur. So, during Old Testament times, God was able to forgive sins on the basis of the blood which Jesus would shed later on the cross.

Today, a sinner must believe, repent, confess his faith, and be baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38). At baptism, a sinner is saved by faith through the sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 6:3-5, 17-18; 5:1-2; Heb. 7:25-27). Paul reminded Christians in Rome that they were baptized into the death of Christ: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:3). A sinner receives the benefit of the blood of Christ at baptism.

The blood of Christ, through God’s grace, is — and always has been — the only means by which any sins can be forgiven. As Jesus said, “...I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6).