Jesus’ death at the cross coincided with the annual Passover celebration. He had made all the arrangements for this meal (Mark 14:12-17) and as the meal proceeded he frames the coming events of his crucifixion in terms of Israel’s rescue from Egypt, particularly with reference to the preservation of Israel’s firstborn through the sacrificial death of the Passover lamb. However, there is a second sacrificial act referred to with the words “This is my blood of the covenant that is spilt for many” (14:24), one that occurs as Moses leads Israel in accepting the terms of God’s covenant arrangement (Exodus 24).1
The context whose wording most closely matches Jesus’ statement is found in Exodus 24:8 where the phrase “the blood of the covenant” defines the blood from the sacrificed animals sprinkled or scattered over the people as they pledge their loyalty to God’s terms. The word used here to describe the scattering or sprinkling of the people (kateskedasen, Exodus 24:8) is quite different from the one Jesus chooses to use in Mark 12:24. The verb Jesus uses is the participle to ekchunnomenon. It occurs at Exodus 29:12 where God gives Moses instructions for the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. This includes sacrificing a bull and “pouring out” the blood beside the base of the altar.
What is significant, however, is that this verb is also used to describe the spilling of a person’s blood through a violent death. Usually the victim is innocent. For example in Psalm 105(106):38 we read “they spilt (shed) innocent blood”, where it describes Israel’s apostasy in offering their children as sacrifices to Canaanite gods. When Jeremiah delivers his speech at the door of the temple prophesying its destruction, he promises that God will restrain his hand if the people amend their ways. They must stop “shedding innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 7:6).2
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus warns the Jewish religious leaders lest they repeat the mistakes of their ancestors who killed innocent people, indeed some of the prophets whom God sent. The expression Jesus uses is “pan haima dikaion ekchunnomenon” (all the innocent blood spilled, Matthew 23:35). It seems that the language Jesus chooses to define his death during the Passover meal in Mark 14:24 carries both sacrificial overtones, but also simultaneously reflects that his death will be violent and criminal, just as the death of other prophets in Israel’s history. There is also the implication that Jesus is innocent and not deserving of the treatment he is about to experience in death.
The nuances of the verb Jesus chooses to define “my blood of the covenant” then are both sacrificial and violent. As he anticipates his death, he tells his disciples what it means (the sacrificial establishment of a new covenant by God), as well as how it will occur (through a criminal, violent attack upon an innocent person). Perhaps in this concise, nuanced way, Jesus brings together both the design of God in his death, as well as the unprincipled involvement of human agents as well. The passive form of the participle to ekchunnomenon leaves unstated whom the agent responsible for this act might be.
The tapestry of Mark’s narrative leads the reader to think carefully about who is responsible for Jesus’ death. In Mark 14:27 Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7, accepting that God Himself is very directly involved in “smiting the shepherd”. However, chapter 14 begins with the Jewish religious leaders continuing their conspiracy to kill Jesus, but uncertain how to accomplish this. Judas becomes their solution (14:10) and Jesus knows this and states it clearly in 14:21. He warns Judas in the context of the Passover meal about the consequences of his intended action. And then we have the scene in Gethsemane where Jesus acknowledges that his death is a fulfillment of God’s will, even as Judas betrays him with a kiss.
Our lives seem at times to be as mysterious in their design as that of Jesus. We confess God’s ultimate direction and sovereignty but are nonplussed at times by the twists and turns that our faith journey takes. We discover ourselves to be innocent victims of evil as other people vent their opposition to Jesus upon us. Yet in it all we seek trace God’s purpose and accept that God’s will is being accomplished even when our blood is spilt. This is our sacrifice of service to God.
Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today
- consider the mystery of God’s purpose as it is being fleshed out in your life;
- compare Jesus’ response to the ways of God with your own response to God’s purpose;/li>
- when were you last the victim of innocent suffering for the name of Jesus? How did you respond? Can you see your circumstances as a vehicle by which God is advancing His kingdom work?