One of the amazing things about reading the Old Testament is that it gives me fresh eyes to see how the disciples would have understood Jesus and what he was about. It’s also fascinating to see the little hints and allusions to Jesus that must have been hidden from the Hebrews but are so clear to us now.
Leviticus 17 says, ” ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.”
13 ” ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, 14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”
As Jesus prepared to leave his disciples, as he established the Lord’s Supper, it must have been more freaky to them than it was to us. We don’t have any specific cultural instructions about not drinking blood. It simply just seems gross.
The people Jesus was speaking to were told repeatedly that they should not drink blood nor should they handle dead flesh. Yet here Jesus was, telling them to drink of his blood and eat of his flesh.
I wonder if Jesus wanted them to think about Leviticus 17 though. The passage above states not once but twice: the life of the creature is in the blood. The idea of drinking someones blood is therefore to drink their very life. This imagery has two very powerful implications.
The first is that Jesus had to give up his own life in order for us to share in it. It was impossible for us and him to live. Either humanity or Jesus had to die.
The second is that by following Jesus we are participating in a new life, in his new life.
Pretty cool, huh?