By Roger Marshall*
One may wonder why I should question the practice of “pleading the blood of Jesus” which has been so entrenched in several Evangelical and Charismatic churches for many years. I question the practice for two basic reasons. First as a seeker after truth, the Bible commands us to prove or test all things and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21). The only way we can prove or test our beliefs and experiences is by scrutinizing them in light of the God’s word the Bible. Isaiah 8:20 says: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
This brings me to the second reason why I question this practice. I question it because nowhere in the gospels did Jesus ever teach his disciples to carry out such a ritual. Nowhere in the Acts of the Apostles do we find the apostles or members of the early church carrying out such a practice. Nowhere in the Epistles do we find the apostles and their associates teaching such a doctrine. As far as I know there is no record that the practice was carried out by the early church fathers or the protestant reformers. So why should we today think or be lead to think that we must carry out the ritual of “pleading the blood of Jesus” in order to gain divine protection?
Nevertheless, I want to make it abundantly clear that whether a person believes that he or she must actually say the words “I plead the blood of Jesus” for divine protection or simply pray to God and ask Him for His protection, it is ultimately not an issue that is essential for salvation. Christians are free to disagree on secondary issues in good conscience all the while searching the scriptures for a better understanding. As one of the reputed church fathers Augustine once said: “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.”
However, when one’s perspective on any controversial issue leads one to embrace and espouse to others such a perspective as absolutely necessary for the enablements of divine grace, I believe it is at that point we must most certainly take a closer look at our perspective in clear light of scripture. If our perspective does not line up to the teaching of scripture, then we should be willing to cast aside our view-point in favour of God’s word which is forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89).
Definition of Terms
Before we go any further in our investigation it is important that we define our terms.
Q. What do many Christians today seem to mean when they say the words “I plead the blood of Jesus”?
A. They seem to mean that they are applying the red fluid that flowed from Jesus’ veins to problems, objects and situations as a means of protection.
Thus they plead or apply it to their cars, houses, church buildings, windows, doors, floors, pews, musical instruments, pets, drinking water, neighbourhoods, unsaved relatives, sick bodies etc. They even draw bloodlines around these said objects for protections from evil forces, just like some occultists speak of drawing a magic circle around people and objects for the same protection purposes.
Is this practice biblical?
The Bible and The Blood
Throughout the New Testament scriptures the term “the blood of Jesus” refers to the substitutionary death of Christ for our sins and not the red fluid in and of itself (Heb 9: 11-29; Cf Matt 26: 28; Mark 10:45; Rom. 3:24-25; 5: 9-11; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:14).
Special attention needs to be given to the Hebrews 9 passage. A proper understanding of this text of scripture is key to understanding why there was a practice of besmearing the tabernacle and its instruments with blood (a practice which seems to have given the rationale for the modern practice of pleading the blood of Jesus) and why the practice is no longer necessary. The reason for its cessation was because of Jesus’ perfect and supreme ONCE FOR ALL sacrifice for sins. It also shows that the Old Testament practice was carried out for an entirely different purpose than what practitioners of the modern version are doing today.
The literal sprinkling and applying of the sacrificial blood of goats and bulls in Old Testament times on the tabernacle and it various instruments or vessels, was to make atonement for those said things because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel. In other words because the Israelites were sinful they polluted the whole tabernacle whenever they went up to it. The blood of the animal, which indicated or symbolized the death of the sacrifice, was to atone for their sinfulness which affected every thing they touched. It was a temporary means of appeasing the wrath of God against them (Lev. 16:3, 6-19, 32-34; cf. Ex 12:1-13, 21-27). This ordinance had to be carried out once every year because the way to the true mercy seat of God was not yet made manifest (Heb. 9:6-10, 16-22).
The tabernacle and its various instruments or vessels were symbolic of and prefigured the true tabernacle in heaven (i.e. God’s immediate eternal abode; Heb. 8:1-5). These earthly copies of heavenly realities had to be yearly purified which was to impress upon the minds of the children of Israel that there was no way for a sinful, filthy and polluted people to even enter into the prefigured presence of God, much less His real presence, without blood atonement, (i.e. the sacrificial death of a substitute). Yet, for all they were worth, these sacrifices were never able to take away their sins (i.e. they were never able to perfectly appease the wrath of God because Jesus the perfect sacrifice had not yet died), hence the perpetual yearly practice of applying the blood of the sacrifices to the tabernacle (Heb. 10: 1-4).
But now in the end of the world the good news or the gospel is that Christ has offered Himself once for all time as the perfect sacrifice for sins. This act has satisfied the demands of divine judgement and thus has completely appeased the wrath of God from heaven (i.e the true tabernacle not made with hands; Heb 9:11). Therefore there is no need for any kind of perpetual applying of Jesus’ blood, symbolic of His death, to earthly tabernacles and vessels because His blood or sacrificial death, was NOT intended for the earthly tabernacle, but rather it was for ministry in the heavenly tabernacle, which opened up the way for us to boldly come to the throne of grace or the heavenly mercy seat (Heb. 9:23-28; 10:11-22). Jesus’ blood or death permanently appeased the wrath of God against our sins (Heb 8:7-12). It was a one-time act, never to be repeated. When a sinner puts his faith in that once for all act in the past time, he or she is perpetually justified (Rom. 5:1). As far as God is concerned he or she bears no more condemnation before Him. (Rom. 8:1-4).
To make a long story short, Jesus died or shed His blood for our SINS not for our THINGS such as cars, houses, lands, church buildings, windows, doors etc. Furthermore because Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect, we can no longer be guilty of polluting everything we touch in the service of God, in the Old Testament sense. Further still, nothing in our church buildings etc. prefigures the heavenly sanctuary anyway, which would merit them being atoned for in the Old Testament sense. Even if they did, any constant applying or pleading the blood of Jesus on these objects would indicate that His sacrifice was not a perfect atoning sacrifice. But thank God His sacrifice was perfect. Hence, there is no need to be constantly saying “I plead or apply the blood of Jesus” to this or that in the Old Testament atoning sense, much less in an unbiblical sense like many Christians do today, to secure protection form evil forces (see Rom 5:10-11).
Sound Scholarship and the Blood
This understanding of how the term “blood of Jesus” is used in scripture is unanimously attested to by several sources of sound Biblical scholarship.
Millard Erickson in the book Introducing Christian Doctrine says: “references to Christ’s blood are not to His actual physical blood per se but to His death as a sacrificial provision for our sins” (p. 250).
The World’s Bible Dictionary says: “In the New Testament the expressions ‘blood of the cross’, ‘blood of Christ’ and ‘death of Christ’ are often used interchangeably. To have life through Christ’s blood means to have life through His death … those who share in Christ’s blood share in the benefits of His death.” (p. 53).
In Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon Of The New Testament p. 15, we find the following definitions of the word blood as used in scripture: “blood simply and generally” or it can denote “generation and origin”. It also can mean “blood shed”, “bloody death” and the “pledge of redemption”.
R.K Harrison writing in the Zondervan Pictoral Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol 1, says: “Because of the fundamental importance for individual existence, blood was frequently used for life itself…The Old Testament indicates that the atonement for human sin was obtained by the death of an acceptable substitute, rather than by its life, and this emphasis, which is basic to the Old Covenant, is carried over into the New Testament with specific reference to the work of Jesus Christ in the New Covenant … The sacrificial blood is associated with the death of the Saviour (Heb. 9:14), and the author of Hebrews makes it plain that the blood is associated with death rather than life. (Heb.12: 24). It seems evident, therefore, that sacrifices were efficacious through the death of the victim and the blood indicates life given up in death”.
J.C Macaulay writing in the book Expository Commentary on Hebrews, p. 129 say: “This has been a great offence to many, aggravated no doubt by the materialistic emphasis of some earnest but mistaken Christians … Is there any claim or virtue in that red fluid, which we call blood, that it can put away sin? No, the material substance itself is nothing, it is what the blood represents and symbolizes, death and life … Blood shed means life poured out. Sacrificial blood is life poured out, yielded up, for redemptive purposes” (Emphasis added).
Leon Morris in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, p. 100 says: “Blood points not to life set free, but to life given up in death.”
James Atkinson affirms the same truth. Writing in the Westminister Dictionary of Christians Theology, p. 76, says: “The word blood in the Old Testament apart from the every day physiological meaning, is generally associated with the idea of death, violent death in particular … the phrase ‘the blood of Christ’, like the words ‘the cross’, is nothing but a pregnant phrase for the death of Christ in its salvation meaning.” (Emphasis added).
The New Bible Dictionary says: “The sacrifices are still understood to be efficacious by virtue of the death of the victim. The blood of Christ accordingly is to be understood as the Atoning death of the Saviour.” (p. 145).
The Holman Bible Dictionary agrees: “The term the blood of Christ designates in the New Testament, the Atoning death of Christ.” (p. 201)
Bible expositor, John MacArthur, in commenting on Romans 5:9 says that the verse refers to Jesus’ “violent, substitutionary death.” He goes on to say: “References to the blood of the Saviour include the reality that He bled in His death (a necessity to fulfil the OT imagery of sacrifice), but are not limited to the fluid itself. NT writers use the term “blood” as a graphic way to describe violent death (see Matt. 23: 30, 35,; 27:4-8, 24, 25; John 6: 53-56; Acts 5:28; 20:26). References to the Saviour’s blood are not simply pointing to the fluid, but at His death and entire atoning work (cf. Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col 1: 14,20; Heb. 9:12; 10:19; 13:12; 1 Peter 1:2,19; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5).” (See The MacArthur Study Bible).
In commenting on Col. 1: 14 MacArthur points out that reference to the blood of Christ in this verse is “not limited to the fluid as if the blood had saving properties in its chemistry, but an expression pointing to the totality of Christ’s atoning work as a sacrifice for sin. This is a frequently used metonym [“a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attributer or with which it is associated” – Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary] in the NT (see Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Heb.9: 14; 1Pet. 1:19). The word ‘cross’ (as in vs 20) is used similarly to refer to the whole atoning work (see 1Cor. 1: 18; Gal. 6: 12, 14; Eph. 2: 16).”
The editors of The NIV Study Bible, © 1995 by The Zondervan Corporation, make the following comments on the passages of Scripture cited dealing with Jesus’ blood.
- Rom. 3: 25 – the phrase “faith in His blood” means faith “in His sacrificial death for us.”
- Rom. 5: 9 – the phrase “justified by His blood” refers to Jesus “… laying down His life as a sacrifice – a reference to Christ’s death for our sins.”
- Eph. 1:7 – the statement: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” speaks of “… the ransom necessary to free sinners from bondage of sin and the resulting curse imposed by the law (see Gal. 3:13), was the death of Christ (called here ‘His blood’).”
- Eph 2:13 – the phrase “ ‘blood of Christ’ expresses the violent death of Christ as He poured out His lifeblood as a sacrifice for us (ct Eph 1:7)”.
- Heb. 9: 18 – the phrase “not put into effect without blood” means that the covenant was not put into effect without death.
On a point of interest, if it was the red fluid in and of itself that actually atones for or “washes away” our sins, then the atonement could have been accomplished in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus literally sweated blood. It could have been accomplished when He was brutally flogged and His blood gushed out. However, the atonement was only accomplished when Jesus died (John 19:30; Hub. 9: 15-17).
Things To Ponder
Since the phrase “blood of Jesus” really refers to the sacrificial death of Jesus would it be equally all right to say I plead the death of Jesus on my car, house, children, church pews etc?
I’m sure we can see that such an invocation would make no sense. This goes to show that those who plead the blood are really referring to the red fluid in and of itself which is an unscriptural emphasis. This practice really has more I common with fetishism. The Meriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a fetish as “A: an object believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadly: a material object regarded with superstitions or extravagant trust or reverence. B an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion.”
Pleading the blood of Jesus (i.e. the red fluid which flowed from His veins) as a means of protection from evil is very much akin to the fetishist practice of using crosses as a means of protection. Those who do so may want to claim that Paul said in Gal. 6:14 that he would glory in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the phrase “Cross of Jesus”, used in this verse, just as in many other verses, refers to the sacrificial, substitutional, atoning death of Christ and not to the physical cross in and of itself. In similar fashion the phrase “blood of Jesus” as used in scripture refers to the sacrificial, substitutional, atoning death of Christ and not the red fluid in and of itself as many have been taught.
On another point of interest: if to cover one’s self or one’s family members (e.g. children) with the blood of Jesus is a means of divine protection, does this mean that the Jews were invoking God’s protection in Matt. 27:25 when they said “His blood be on us and our children”? Of course not. In that statement they were just taking the responsibility for His death upon themselves (cf. Acts 5:28).
The point is we must not view the term “blood of Jesus” as a reference to the red fluid in and of itself which flowed from His veins but we must understand it as referring to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross for the atonement of our sins and not for the atonement of our things (i.e. our personal possessions). The apostle Paul puts it very aptly in Rom. 5: 9-11, when he wrote: “Much more then, being now justified by His BLOOD, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the DEATH of His Son; much more, being reconciled we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the ATONEMENT.” (Emphasis added; see Lev. 17:11, 14 which speaks of the fact that life given up in death atones for sin).
Some may say that they do not use any kind of tangible or physical blood when they plead the blood of Jesus therefore it can’t be a fetish like using a cross. However, such an admission would only raise more problems. When Jesus was crucified the blood that flowed from His veins was tangible blood that existed in real space and time. Even the OT practice of besmearing the various objects in the tabernacle (from which the ritual of pleading the blood of Jesus gets its impetus) involved tangible blood. Yet when Christians plead the blood on objects in and outside of churches no tangible or physical blood is employed. Any appeal to it being a spiritual act wouldn’t help either simply because there is no such thing as spiritual or immaterial blood! However, on the other hand a fetish does not have to be a physical object but it can also be an object of fantasized presence (i.e. existing only in the mind but not in real space and time).
But It Works
Someone may say; “well I’ve been pleading the blood of Jesus for some time now and it works for me.”
While this may apparently be true we must be cognizant of the fact that appealing to experience is not a valid test of Biblical truth. Many people can also testify that they have used crosses/crucifixes for protection and it worked for them too but that does not mean it is scriptural.
The Bible says that although a sign or wonder may work if it is leading people to embrace false teaching it is to be rejected (Deut. 13: 1 – 5).
While they are those who say that a man with an experience is not at the mercy of a man with an argument, the Bible say that experience is not the test of truth rather it’s God’s word which is the test of truth (Isa. 8: 20). This is so because the capacity of the human heart for self-deception knows no bounds. As the prophet Jeremiah, writing under divine inspiration, said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jer. 17: 9).
Thankfully God knows our hearts with its thoughts and intentions (Jer. 17: 10) and I believe sometimes He graciously grants us our hearts’ requests in prayer not because of the words a believer may use such as “I plead the blood of Jesus” on this, or that situation but rather in spite of those words simply because He knows what we really mean to ask even though we get the words wrong. As the apostle said: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8: 26, NIV).
However, I believe that just as God wanted Apollos to know the way of God more perfectly (see Acts 18; 24 – 26), so I believe He wants all those who practice pleading the blood of Jesus to know the way of God more perfectly as it relates to what the Bible really teaches about the blood of Jesus.
Pleading the Blood of Jesus Legitimately
There is only one way in which Christians should understand “pleading the blood of Jesus” and that is in the judicial sense. The word “plea” from which we get the word “plead” means: “An accused person’s answer to a charge or indictment in criminal practice…an earnest entreaty or appeal.” Similarly, the word “plead” means “to make a plea of a specified nature (eg. to plead not guilty).” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)
Rev. 12:10 paints a picture of a complainant (the devil) who is constantly brining charges to God against the saints. It says: “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ, for the ACCUSER of our brethren is cast down, which ACCUSED them before our God day and night.”
The very next verse (Rev. 12: 11) gives the saints defence against the devil’s accusations. It says: “And they overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death.” The blood/death of the Lamb (Jesus) was the only recourse the saints had against the devil’s accusations. In actuality they pleaded not guilty in light of the fact that Jesus died for their sins/crimes against God.
This is exactly how the hymn writers of two great hymns of the Church understood the blood of Jesus as a plea. The hymn Nothing But The Blood says:
“What can was away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
For my pardon this I see
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
For my cleansing this my PLEA
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Nothing can for sin atone
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Now by this I’ll OVERCOME
Nothing but the blood of Jesus”
(Nothing But The Blood verses 1,2,5, Emphasis added).
In the hymn Arise, My Soul, Arise the author Charles Wesley says:
“Arise my soul, arise; Shake off they guilty fears
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears
Before the throne my surety stands
Before the throne my surety stands
My name is written on His hands.
He ever lives above, for me to intercede
His all redeeming love, His precious blood to PLEAD
His blood ATONED for all our race
His blood ATONED for all our race
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears, Received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers, They strongly speak for me
‘Forgive Him, O forgive’ they cry
‘Forgive Him, O forgive’ they cry
‘Nor let that ransomed sinner die!’”
(Arise, My Soul, Arise verses 1,2,3).
Thank God that Jesus died for our sins and not for our personal possessions. Because He did, our sins are forgiven and we thereby overcome the accuser of our souls.
There is a saying: “Bad theology leads to bad practice.” The modern bad theology of what is called “pleading the blood of Jesus” has surely led to bad and bizarre practices among Christian believers. To avoid such, let us always endeavour to promote good or accurate theology that is squarely based on God’s word of truth: the Bible.
*Roger Marshall is founder and executive director of Project PROBE Ministries, a Barbadian Christian apologetics organisation.