When Jesus met with his disciples to keep his final Passover, he changed the significance of this feast forever. By declaring that the cup of wine was “my blood of the covenant”( it could be translated as “the blood of my covenant” if the possessive pronoun modifies the following noun, rather than the preceding noun), Jesus prophesied the significance of his imminent death. He required his followers to consider his death a deliberate sacrifice. As well, he named his personal sacrifice at Calvary as the means for Israel’s new deliverance from the guilt of their sin and entrance into God’s new Kingdom purpose. And then he sets it within the frame of covenant – the only time this term is used in Mark’s Gospel. God’s relations with Israel historically occurred through covenant and Jesus states that once more God is establishing His people, but this time it is based on the death and resurrection of the Son of God.
The word in Mark’s Gospel1 that describes the ‘pouring out’ (ekchunnomenon) of Jesus’ blood carries the connotations of sacrifice. For example, the blood of the bull sacrificed as the sin offering was to “be poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering” (Lev. 4:7; cf. 4:18, 25, 30, 34). The prophet Samuel “pours water before the Lord” at Mizpah as Israel fasts and confesses their sin (1 Samuel 7:6). The writer of Hebrews, building on this usage, coins a new term meaning “shedding of blood” when he declares that “without shedding of blood (haimatekchusia) there is no forgiveness” (9:22).
The spilling of blood becomes, as well, a way to describe the violent death of a person, i.e. murder. God’s command to Noah after the flood requires that “whoever sheds (ekcheon) the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed (ekchuthesetai)” (Genesis 9:6). God commands Israel to establish cities of refuge so that “innocent blood” will not be spilled (Deuteronomy 19:10). The Psalmist condemns the Israelites because they “shed innocent blood” when they became established in Canaan. They sacrifice their sons and daughters to the idols of Canaan (Psalm 106:38). Here the cultic and criminal connotations of the term are combined.
In his condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders Jesus warns them that “upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed (ekchunnomenon) on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:35). It this same verb that Jesus chooses to use to describe his own sacrificial death in Matthew 26:28 as “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out (ekchunnomenon) for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It seems clear that Jesus expresses both the sacrificial and violent nature of his imminent death through his choice of this verb. Just as Israel had killed other representatives from God, i.e. prophets, so now they would also kill God’s Messiah. But this time it was different, because this death would serve to provide forgiveness of sins for all who accept this as God’s provision for our sinful guilt. Note that the verb is in the passive voice, and this means there is an agent involved, someone who is causing this blood to be poured out. In the context of the Gospel, while the immediate agents would be the Jewish religious leaders, the ultimate agent is God Himself. He “smites the shepherd” (Mark 14:27; cf. Acts 2:23-24).
There is a second but equally important usage for this verb. It describes the way God interacts with humanity. He “pours out” wrath (most frequently), but also His Spirit and blessing. Joel 3:1ff is the primary place in the Old Testament where the promise of God’s Spirit is described as a ‘pouring out’. This prophecy finds fulfillment in the Pentecost experience of the early church (Acts 2:16ff). God is the One Who has “poured out (execheen) what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). By this means God empowers His people for their mission. Paul describes the conversion experience in Titus 3:5 as the rebirth and renewal by “the Holy Spirit whom he poured out (execheen) on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” This gives hope of eternal life and empowerment for a believer’s devotion to goodness.
However, perhaps the most remarkable usage by Paul of this verb is found in Romans 5:5 where he states that “God has poured out (ekkechutai)2 his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.” This in turn is immediately linked with the demonstration of God’s love in that “Christ died for us” (5:8). The love for us God showed at the cross now continues to be available to us through His Spirit Who indwells the believer.
The action of ‘pouring out’ indicated by this verb frequently connotes a lavish expression. ‘To shed blood’ implies murder. Stephen’s martyrdom is described as “the shedding of his blood”, i.e. his death (Acts 22:20). In his parable about the wineskins Jesus acknowledges that new wine placed in old wineskins results in destroyed wineskins and “the wine poured out”, i.e. completely wasted. When God pours out His Spirit, or His wrath, humans experience the power of God in unusual degrees.
Jesus’ use of this term in Mark 14:24 to describe his imminent death and Paul’s usage in Romans 5:5 to explain what God has done for us at cross show us how significant this term is in the New Testament. God not only is active in the pouring out of Jesus’ blood in sacrifice, but also in pouring out His love for us in and through His Holy Spirit.
- 1. Similarly this verb occurs in the parallels in Matthew 26:28 and Luke 22:20.
- 2. Paul uses the perfect form of the verb here, signifying probably that he considers God’s pouring out of His love as a permanent condition that arises because of a past action.