It’s one of those phrases many people cringe to hear, for it sounds almost like it belongs in some scary movie or vampire book: “washed in the blood.” Yet it’s a saying many Christians utter, even claiming as their own. For the blood referred to is the sacrificial blood of Christ, the salvation of the cross, and the sacrifice Jesus made when He gave His life over so that we who believe may live. But what does it mean to be “washed in the blood”? And what does being washed in the blood have to do with Christianity?
Blood has always been significant to people because it is significant to God. In the Bible, we’re told blood symbolically represents life. In Genesis, God refers to it as “lifeblood” (Genesis 9:4), telling Noah he and his descendants must never eat meat with its lifeblood still in it, noting that He will demand an accounting for all lifeblood, that of humans and of animals. As God says in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (NIV). In Leviticus, God elaborates on this to Moses, stating, “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” (Leviticus 17:11). Blood is special, precious, denoting life. In Deuteronomy, God reminds the people of this again, noting they may eat all the meat they wish, “But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat” (Deuteronomy 12:23).
Given God’s view of the value of blood, this makes the concept of sacrifice and ritual, of covenants bound in blood, even more meaningful. Blood, and all life, is a gift from the living God. In Exodus, when God’s people were about to flee Egypt, God instructed them to slaughter firstborn flawless lambs, take the blood of these lambs, and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses. Later that night, when the Lord would bring judgment against Egypt by killing all firstborn males there, He would see as a sign those houses splattered in the sacrificial, covenantal blood and pass over those houses, sparing those insides (Exodus 12:7-13).
And later in the desert, when the people stood at the foot of Mount Sinai receiving the Lord’s commandments from Moses, blood again played a significant role. Moses and his men sacrificed young bulls for God and splashed some against the Lord’s altar, then sprinkled the rest upon the people, stating, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:8). Blood played an important role in covenants and rituals honoring the Lord. For centuries, it was used in sacrifice as an atonement offering for sin, paying the price of humanity’s failures. But the importance of blood did not end with Jesus.
In fact, it was the shedding of Jesus’ blood, his “blood sacrifice,” that paid the price of our own sin-debt forever in the eyes of God. The Bible tells us the blood spilled as a sacrifice by Jesus ensures we are forgiven and redeemed from our sins (Ephesians 1:7). That blood reconciles us to God (Colossians 1:20) and gives us direct access to God, the “Most Holy Place” (Hebrews 10:19) without the need for an intermediary priest. As the apostle, Peter wrote to the early church, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus’s blood was the sacrifice that established a new covenant between God and the people, all who believe. He told the disciples as much at the Last Supper, when He took bread and wine, blessed it, and told them it was His body and blood. Giving a cup to the disciples to drink, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:23), and we still do this ritual of Holy Communion today in remembrance of this divine arrangement.
Where Does the Bible Talk about Being Washed or Cleansed by the Blood?
Being “washed in the blood” or “cleansed by the blood” describes the act of one accepting the free gift of salvation offered in Jesus. In Revelation 1:5, we’re reminded we are freed from our sins by the blood of Christ. Later in Revelation, the writer sees a great multitude standing before the Lord’s throne wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. He is told, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). In 1 John 1:7, we’re told the blood of Jesus “purifies” us from all sin. Other translations use the word “cleanses” or “washes.”
The Book of Hebrews describes this in full, summarizing, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23). The holiness of Christ’s blood, then, washes us clean.
What Does it Mean from a Christian Perspective to Be Washed in the Blood of Jesus?
From a Christian perspective, when we are washed in the blood, it means we accept the terms of the legal, binding, covenantal agreement God established through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:25 states, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”
We’re a “new creation” through this washing, this cleansing, 2 Corinthians 5:17tells us. Through the blood of Christ and our acceptance of Jesus as our savior, God reconciled the world to Himself. Jesus, “Word become flesh” (John 1:14) was perfect—entirely without sin. His bloodshed on the cross became the full and complete payment, once and for all time, for the sins of all humanity. Just like in the Old Testament days, God required the regular sacrifice of a perfect, flawless animal to pay the price of the people’s sins, God recognizes the sacrifice of Jesus. Only this time, as we are reminded in Hebrews 10:10, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
So while it sounds a bit gory and messy to be washed in the blood, in the eyes of the Lord, it is perfect. The lifeblood of Christ is beautiful, perfect, and holy. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, and His great and willing love for us all, we now have the opportunity for eternal life in heaven. When we believe, our sins are forgiven. We are clean, fresh, new, and righteous in Him and Him alone. May we all be “washed in the blood” of Jesus.
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.