We Who Have Fled For Refuge-#2 A Look at The Law of Blood Atonement in Hebrews (and other texts).
that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizede (Hebrews 6:18-20).
Be sure to read the first installment of this two part article. I closed the first article with these comments:
//Do you catch the power of The Law of Blood Atonement? Blood Atonement could not be made for the wilful murderer– except his own death. The Avenger of Blood had to kill the murderer. Without the shedding of his blood, the land itself was polluted and incurred the Wrath of the Lord. To put this succinctly, Atonement for the land could only come through the destruction and death of the murderer. That is how Atonement for the land was achieved. What this means is that if “the land” i.e. the corporate body of the people, was guilty of murder– in this case, the murder of Jesus – Atonement could only come through the destruction and death of the corporate body- the nation. To express this another way, the vindication of the martyrs demanded the death of the their murderers– the corporate destruction of their murderers (Cf. Matthew 21:33f / 22:1-12 / 23:29f).
This thought lies behind Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Thus, the doctrine of Blood Atonement serves as a critical, I would say fundamental, context for a great deal of Peter’s Pentecost presentation.//
Side Bar to those comments: Since the nation was guilty of shedding the innocent blood of Jesus, a singular Blood Avenger as a mere man could not exact justice. That corporate guilt would demand actions on the part of the Lord– the resurrected Lord. (See my comments immediately above). Thus, throughout the NT we find the emphasis on the coming of Christ as the judge to bring vengeance on the Jewish persecutors of the saints:
“when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
In Acts 3 we find another temple speech that brings to mind the Law of Blood Atonement. Peter and John were entering the temple, when they were confronted by a man who had been lame for almost his entire life. He asked them for alms, but they informed him that they had none. However, the apostles heal that man, giving him instantly the power to walk! As the crowd– in hostility and curiosity gathered, Peter spoke the following words:
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses (Acts 3:13-15 ).
Just as in Acts 2 Peter lays the blame for killing the innocent Son of God squarely at the feet of his audience. Their guilt was undeniable– thus – their fate was sealed…. except or UNLESS! Notice what Peter also said:
Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.
Do you see what Peter is doing? He is giving that guilty audience “a way of escape” by acknowledging that many of them did not commit willful murder! They participated in that horrible event “ignorantly. Many of them were simply “following the leaders” who had urged the audience to cry out “Crucify him!” Even when Pilate said, “I find no fault in this man” the leaders cried out, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:27).
Yet, God’s mercy was extended by Peter’s call: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (v.19). AS the Law of Blood Atonement provided sanctuary from the Blood Avenger by fleeing to a city of refuge, Peter urges his audience to flee to the very one they had crucified! He could / would / did offer them forgiveness and deliverance from the coming vengeance, if they would take it.
But Peter also had some very powerful, strong words for those who refused to repent in faith:
For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days (Acts 3:21-24).
Peter informs them that they– 2000 years ago– were living in the days foretold by the OT prophets. The promised Messiah had come. They had killed him, but God raised him from the dead. They must accept him now, as the promised Messiah, and find forgiveness of their sin. If they would not repent and accept forgiveness from him and through him: “it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” In other words, failure to repent of their guilt of killing Jesus, being participants in the shedding of innocent blood, would be tantamount to admitting that they were guilty of “first degree murder.” That would result in the Law of Blood Atonement bringing certain – and imminent – destruction.
The language is extremely powerful. Failure to repent in faith would result in being “utterly cut off out from among the people.” Nanos catches the flavor of this to a great extent:
Luke sketched the outline of Acts around the striking success (not the rejection) of the apostolic mission to Israel which represented the restoration of Israel as promised (Acts 15:13-18) appealing constantly to the multitudes of believing Jews to highlight this point (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4, 5:14; 6:1;, 7; 9:31, 42; 14:1; 17:10-12; 19:20; 21:20). … “Further, these are Jews for whom the restoration of Israel is of utmost importance (1:6; 2:46; 3:1, 21; 5:12; 109f; 11:2; 15:1-8; 21:20-22:3f; 23:6; 24:14-21; 26:4-7; 28:20). Moreover, the Jews who do not accept the gospel or even oppose it are not pictured as rejecting some new faith or institution; rather, they are rejecting Abraham and Moses and the prophets, they are rejecting the hope of resurrection and the Messiah – thereby cutting themselves off from the promises to Israel (Acts 3:19-26; 13:46; 14:1-4; 17:3; 23:6-10; 24:14-21; 26:22-23).” (David Nanos, The Mystery of Romans, (Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996), 268).
The corporate nature of Israel’s blood guilt is likewise expressed in Acts 4. Peter and John had been brought before the Sanhedrin. They were demanded to answer by what authority they had healed the lame man at the Temple, and accosted for preaching in Christ the resurrection. They were warned to “cease and desist” but they refused. Notice Peter’s response to the Sanhedrin:
Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:10-12).
Peter pointedly charged the Sanhedrin with the corporate guilt of killing Jesus, the fulfiller of God’s promises concerning the Messianic Kingdom Temple. His blood was now on them, and that could only mean that the Law of Blood Atonement was to be applied and enforced on them. The Sanhedrin clearly understood the power of what Peter and John were saying. When they brought them back before the Sanhedrin, due to their continued preaching, the Sanhedrin spokesman said:
Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us! (Acts 5:28).
The Sanhedrin fully realized that by laying the blame for the murder of Jesus at their feet meant that the Law of Blood Atonement would be applied to them. It meant- without repentance that Judgment was coming.
These passages express several things.
In Acts 3, Peter promised the “restoration of all things” which meant to that audience, “the restoration of the kingdom” (cf. Acts 1:6).
He says that their participation in the blessings of that restoration depended on their acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.
Refusal to accept and rejection would result in being “utterly cut off out from among the people.” This is an extremely powerful threat! It meant that the “true people” were now those who repented of the sin of killing Jesus, and that those who refused to accept him and repent were to be cut off “out from among the people.” (This language is taken directly from Leviticus 23:29 where the people were warned that to abuse Yom Kippur was to be “cut off out from among the people.” Peter’s citation of that text suggests that he was telling his audience that Jesus’ death was for the purpose of making the ultimate, eschatological atonement promised in Daniel 9:24).
The unrepentant, unbelievers would no longer be “the people.” A New People was being formed comprised of those who repented of their earlier rejection of him– and of course – Paul would later speak of the Gentiles being brought in with Israel to form “one new man” (Ephesians 2:12f).
In Acts 4-5, we find Peter and John once again laying the blame for the death of Jesus at the feet of Israel, and the Sanhedin with the Sanhedrin acknowledging that in that preaching, the Law of Blood Atonement was to be applied to them.
For brevity I will not discuss other NT passages that have behind them allusions and appeals to the Law of Blood Atonement. (I am personally convinced that Numbers 35 lies behind much of the Gospel of John, for instance, but again, for brevity I will discuss that. Needless to say, the book of Revelation is rife with echoes of the Law of Blood Atonement). But let’s go back now to Hebrews 6.
We took note at the beginning that the author told his audience, wavering in their faith, that to return to Judaism, was to cast their lot with those who had crucified the Lord initially. By going back into Torah observance and Temple worship, they were tacitly guilty: “they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
He speaks of what awaited them: “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:4-8).
Not only that, in chapter 10, the author expands his warnings about departing from their faith in Christ:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29).
I suggest that this, coupled with chapter 6 just cited, is an undeniable allusion to the impending, soon coming judgment on Israel at the hands of the ultimate Avenger of Blood, the Lord himself! That judgment – in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 32:35 – was coming “in a very, very little while” and without delay (10:37). But there was hope!
Remember what the author reminded them of:
Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:17-23).
Just as YHVH had provided six “cities of refuge” for those guilty of “ignorantly” shedding innocent blood, the Lord had now provided the ultimate “refuge” from the coming wrath, the ultimate application of the Law of Blood Atonement. That refuge is nothing other than the Great High Priest, who will never die (!), who, as the One slain, but now raised from the dead, HE now offers forgiveness! There was no other refuge from that coming Day of Blood Atonement for the nation that had killed the “Prince of Life” and begged that a murderer be released to them. (Peter’s reference to how Israel desired that a murderer be released to them (Acts 3:14) should not be overlooked. This was no “accidental” or “incidental” reference. They were asking that the blood guilt of a murderer– subject to the Law of Blood Atonement – be taken upon themselves!)
Just as the leaders of Israel urged the crowd to cry out, “Let his blood be on us and on our children” – that blood was demanded of that nation- in that generation (Compare Revelation 1:7). Jesus indeed said that, “all the righteous blood, of all the righteous, from righteous Abel to Zecharias, son of Bereschias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar” was to be judged and avenged in AD 70– “all of these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:36). This is the application of the Law of Blood Atonement. The Law of Blood Atonement was thus fulfilled in AD 70:
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”
This proves several things:
✔ First of all, if my assessment is correct, it powerfully illustrates the typological nature of the events, the people, the practices of Israel’s Old Covenant as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 10:6-10.
✔ The Old Law– “the law” was not nailed to the cross, since the Law of Blood Atonement was not fulfilled at that time.
✔ Atonement was not consummated at the cross, but in and through the making of Atonement for the land and the people– the application of the Law of Blood Atonement.
✔ The Law of Blood Atonement demanded the death and destruction of the murderers. Since it was the corporate guilt of Israel in shedding Christ’s blood, then that Covenantal application of the Law of Blood Atonement demanded corporate “death.” Since that corporate death did not take place at the cross, or Pentecost, but in AD 70, this means that the Old Covenant remained valid until AD 70. You patently cannot have the enforcement and application of an annulled covenant 40 years after that covenant / law has been abrogated! Thus, if and when commentators acknowledge that AD 70 was the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction of the coming vindication of the blood of the martyrs, they are tacitly admitting that Torah remained valid until AD 70. This is inescapable.
✔ Modern “Israel” is NOT the object of these prophecies; they all stand fulfilled. Modern Israel is therefore not under a covenantal curse. She stands in the same condition and status of any and all other nations. She is NOT God’s chosen, covenant people today.
Unless you can rip all of the texts that speak of the coming Atonement / Vindication of the blood of the martyrs / judgment / etc. out of their connection with Numbers 35 and the Law of Blood Atonement, then one cannot apply those NT texts to a yet future coming of the Lord at some imaginary “end of time.”
Being aware of, and honoring the OT source and application of such passages as Numbers 35 sheds a great deal of light on the NT and its predictions of the coming parousia of Christ:
It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10- Cf. Galatians 4:22f / Revelation 19:1-2– a direct appeal to Deuteronomy 32:43).
In this famous and oft abused passage, the apostle undeniably was anticipating the imminent vindication of the suffering saints at the hands of the Jews. This is nothing less than the coming application of the Law of Blood Atonement.
Interestingly, many commentators have recognized that 2 Thessalonians is an example of lex talionis (eye for eye– See Charles Wanamaker, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids, Paternoster, 1990), 221). But to this date I have not found a single commentator that linked 2 Thessalonians 1 with the Law of Blood Atonement (admittedly, I may have simply missed something!).
The reality is that the NT is full of allusions, of tacit appeals to, and constant anticipation of the coming Avenging of the Blood of the Martyrs. Virtually all commentators agree with this. Yet, while it is widely acknowledged that the NT (and a host of OT prophecies as well) spoke of the coming avenging of the martyrs, few of them place that avenging in the context of The Law of Blood Atonement, and how it was the ultimate fulfillment of Numbers 35. I suggest that this is an oversight that needs to be corrected.