by Al Maxey

Issue #618 ------- May 22, 2014
This is faith: a renouncing of everything we are
apt to call our own and relying wholly upon the
blood, righteousness and intercession of Jesus.

John Newton (1725-1807)

Set Free By His Blood
Reflecting on Revelation 1:5

J. Elder Cumming (1830-1909), a Presbyterian minister, theologian and author who served at the same parish church in which John Knox (1514-1572) had previously sparked the Scottish Reformation, once wrote, "No doubt many an anxious and weak-hearted Israelite feared and trembled lest the blood on the lintel should not be seen, nor be efficacious; but this did not alter his fate. When God saw the blood, it was sufficient -- the destroyer passed over that house." I love the concept conveyed by Cumming in his comment on the command of God to the people of Israel in Exodus 12. "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (vs. 13). This was to be the blood of the Passover lamb (vs. 21), which shed blood would cause God to pass over that dwelling, sparing those within from death. The apostle Paul, with this ancient event clearly in mind, informed the Corinthian brethren: "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7). Thus, like those spared death during the exodus from their captivity in Egypt, so too are we redeemed "with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Pet. 1:19). Yes, our gracious God has gifted us with life, covering over (forgiving/forgetting) our sin with the blood of His Lamb! "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us" (Eph. 1:7-8). As Cumming noted, some have difficulty perceiving the power to save that is in the blood of the Lamb, but such doubt in no way diminishes that power. The Gospel -- i.e., the grand, glorious good news that our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for the sins of the people -- "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). Thus, we are truly saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) in the gift of His Son (John 3:16), "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Our faith is certainly paltry, puny and pitiful in comparison to the power found in the blood of the Passover Lamb, but even a flickering faith finds perfect propitiation, and thus plentiful pardon, within that red redeeming flow! Praise God for His love, mercy and grace!

There are many "redeeming blood" passages in Scripture, and I have examined some of those in previous articles, as well as the question pertaining to how one "contacts the blood" of Jesus. I would refer the reader to Reflections #608: "Contacting the Blood of Christ," in which I examine the doctrine espoused by some that one "contacts the blood" of the Lamb of God in the act of baptism in water. It is my studied conviction that this view is false, and that we appropriate the blessings of our Lord's loving sacrifice by faith, a faith we thereafter, to be sure, evidence daily in a number of ways (baptism in water being one). In this present study we will not revisit that dogma, but rather will examine a powerful passage from the pen of the exiled apostle John on the island of Patmos: Revelation 1:5. In the latter part of that verse, John informs the reader that Jesus Christ "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" [King James Version]. Those who promote the view that our sins are "washed away" in the act of baptism (and thus at that precise point we avail ourselves of the cleansing power of His shed blood) love this passage (as worded in the KJV). They focus in on the word "wash," which they immediately connect with water, which then leads them at once to the idea of immersion within that water to effect the desired "washing away" of sin. To help bolster their view, they turn to Acts 22:16 as an additional proof-text: "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" [KJV]. This is clearly a significant text, and one deserving of an in-depth examination, which I have provided in Reflections #507: "Wash Away Your Sins." I believe a careful, prayerful exegesis of this text will demonstrate that the position of those who take the view that the act of baptism itself is what washes away sin is simply incorrect. Again, that theological territory will not be revisited in this present study, but I would encourage the reader to review it in the above two articles before continuing.

As we turn to an examination of Rev. 1:5b, as it is worded in the KJV (in which John informs the reader that Jesus Christ "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood"), we find several textual difficulties. First, the word "own" (His own blood) is not in the text; it has been added. Perhaps the translators felt this was needed to make a distinction between the blood of Jesus and the blood of bulls and goats: "saving blood" being His own blood, not theirs. Whatever the rationale may have been, the word is not part of the original text. "We should certainly omit 'own' before 'blood'" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22]. Second, the KJV reads "loved" (signifying a past tense action), whereas there is significant manuscript evidence that the participle should be in the present tense rather than the aorist tense. Thus, many biblical and textual scholars take issue with the rendering of the KJV translators. "The true reading is 'loveth us' unceasingly, for the supreme act of dying for us did not exhaust His love" [ibid]. "The revised text reads 'loveth,' present tense, instead of 'loved,' past tense, in the King James. This is doubtless correct, as the love of Jesus did not end with His death" [Dr. John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, p. 21]. Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown concur: "The oldest manuscripts read the present, '...loveth us.' It is His ever-continuing character: He loveth us, and ever shall love us. His love rests evermore on His people" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1527]. "Textual problems exist as to whether ... agaponti (present tense: 'loves') or agapesanti (aorist tense: 'loved') is the correct reading. The evidence is divided, but more diverse witnesses favor the adoption of the reading 'loves'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 423].

Although the above two textual difficulties with the KJV might appear somewhat trivial, they are still important for those seeking an accurate text of the NT documents. Third, and perhaps more significant theologically, is the use of the word "washed" by the KJV translators in this passage. Although one will find a few other versions that employ this term (such as the 1599 Geneva Bible, the New King James Version, the Wycliffe Bible, and, oddly enough, The Message), the vast majority of versions and translations read: "loosed" or "freed" or "released." The problem lies in the fact that the Greek words for "washed" (lousanti) and "freed, loosed, released" (lusanti) are very similar (the addition of a single letter separates the former from the latter). "The two Greek words are so nearly alike that only a slight change would turn either one into the other. This could easily have happened in making copies by hand" [Dr. John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, p. 21-22]. The noted NT Greek scholar Dr. Bruce M. Metzger strongly suggests the Textus Receptus, following inferior manuscript evidence, opted for the Greek word signifying "washed," whereas the other reading "is to be preferred because it has superior manuscript support, is in accord with OT imagery, and because it suits better the idea expressed" in the context [A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 729]. The Expositor's Bible Commentary agrees, stating the evidence "favors the adoption of the reading 'freed'" [vol. 12, p. 423]. Alexandrian, Syriac and Arabic manuscripts also concur, as does Homer Hailey: "The KJV reads, 'and washed us from our sins,' but 'loosed,' of the ASV, is preferable" [Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 100].

Dr. Metzger stated "loosed" is in accord with OT imagery. In part, he had in mind the wording of the LXX (the Septuagint) in Isaiah 40:2. As the Lord, the true King of His people, looks to the release of His people from captivity, He declares: "her sin has been paid for" (i.e., "loosed, released;" He frees them from their sin). This is the right of the King, and He exercises that right with His people. Which is Dr. Metzger's next point above: the idea of the King freeing His subjects from their sin is, in fact, the very context in which we find the phrase being examined in this study. Jesus, who is "the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5a), and who "has made us to be a kingdom" (vs. 6a), releases His subjects from their sins by His self-sacrificial act. It is His right, and He exercises it. "This King loves us with His love of comprehension and corresponding purpose, and in this love, King that He is, loosed us from our sins. The KJV follows the inferior reading 'washed us,' which does not harmonize with Christ as King or with us as a kingdom. A King frees by a royal verdict" [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 45]. Thus, this passage is not talking about being washed IN the blood, but rather being set free BY the very King who shed His blood (and the efficacy of that sacrificed life-blood). By HIS act of love we are released from our captivity; we are free! It is no small thing that the text informs us that we are LOVED before it informs us we are LOOSED. It is the former that accomplished the latter. We are redeemed because He loves us! He doesn't love us because we first loved Him; He doesn't provide that shed blood because we deserved it; we are not set free because of anything we have done, or ever could do; we are set free from sin because He loved us enough, in spite of ourselves, to die for us. In that act of love He provided the release (the redemption) for the sin of mankind (once for all), and we avail ourselves of that GIFT of His matchless GRACE by faith: a faith we spend the remainder of our days demonstrating in countless ways (not in order to be saved, but because we are saved)!

Jesus declared to His disciples that He came "to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28), and, as the OT clearly reveals, 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" (Lev. 17:11). "The life of every creature is its blood" (vs. 14). Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His LIFE -- His BLOOD -- to make atonement for mankind on the altar (the cross) upon which He was offered. When that blood was shed, God dealt once for all with the sin problem. As King, our Lord transfers the benefit of that sacrifice to those who BY FAITH are willing to receive this FREE GIFT. Homer Hailey observes, "His love, demonstrated in His sacrificial death, procured our redemption. Being loosed from sins which alienated and separated them from God, the redeemed are now delivered from sin's condemnation and power, ... Being loosed from sins and brought into fellowship with the Father, the redeemed now become the kingdom of God, the new spiritual Israel" [Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 100]. "With Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom..." (Rev. 5:9-10). So sing the twenty-four elders as they fall before the Lamb. By edict of the King of kings we are released from our captivity to sin and death. He paid the price IN FULL. Our Lord has "offered for all time one sacrifice for sins" (Heb. 10:12), and by God's grace and the Son's sacrifice, both motivated by divine love for fallen man, we stand redeemed by faith.

"The Greek word for 'loosed' is in the aorist tense, and expresses a completed past action. Christ had already died, the price had been paid, and the means for securing individual pardon had been provided. That was all past when John wrote this text" [Dr. John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, p. 22]. Thus, Jesus spoke volumes when He uttered those last words on the cross: "It is finished" (John 19:30). "There is no other being in the universe that can break this chain (of captivity) save Christ. He came into the world to open the prison doors and to set the captives free" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22]. "Christ's love was unmistakably revealed in His atoning death, by which He purchased our release from the captivity of sin" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 422]. Perhaps the following statement sums it up best: "The burden of sin and guilt once rested heavily. The guilt is cancelled by a forgiving word; the sin cleansed by purifying grace. And this has been done at no less a cost than the sacrifice of Himself 'by His blood.' He came and stood in our place, and, by bearing our burdens and atoning for our guilt, acquired a perfect right to loose the penitent forever from his load" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22]. Hugo McCord, in his translation of this passage, says that Jesus, because of His great love for us, "released us from our sins by His blood" (Rev. 1:5b). AMEN. Dear seeking soul, embrace this gift of grace by faith, and then live your life thereafter as a beloved subject in His kingdom, serving Him with joy and in acts of loving gratitude.

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Readers' Reflections

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God bless you so much, Brother Maxey. Your Reflections messages are always a true blessing to my wife and me. We are uplifted every time we read them together. Thank you!

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Dear Brother Al, Thank you so much for your ministry! As you know, it blesses so many people! I am enclosing a check for a signed copy of each of your three books: Down, But Not Out ... One Bread, One Body ... Immersed By One Spirit. Thank you very much in advance for sending these!

From a Professor at Texas A&M University:

Thank you for your work, and for your great web site (which is outstanding in layout and information). For several years I have been going to your web site to read your Reflections, but I suppose it is now time to actually get on your mailing list! Thank you.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

I could not help but notice the letter to you from the Virginia preacher (which was in your last readers' comments section of Reflections). It is interesting to observe the tactics used by some to try and browbeat an opponent into a debate, and some are certainly tempted to try and prove themselves and their views in such an arena. It is sad that brethren are so brain-washed concerning a works-based salvation, when a serious reflection upon their life would clearly show just how futile that course is! Can one buy his salvation with obedience?! Can one buy his salvation if he crosses every "t" and dots every "i"? If he overlooks just one "t," wouldn't that wipe out everything he had done up to that time?! After all, isn't the rule: if you break one, you are just as guilty as though you had broken them all? No blessed assurance there! No peace! Just fear that you will come up one short and spend all eternity in hell. Such is the "reward" of a works-based salvation system. All it "buys" is heartache!

From a Minister in Texas:

Once again, Al, great study this week in your article "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality." I am concerned, however, about the "feedback" from that minister in Virginia. This is exactly the type of criticism from "Christians" that I do NOT understand. The name-calling alone suggests that this person is not fit to be called a "Christian," much less serve as a minister. I suppose it goes back to dogmas that they cannot tolerate being questioned or threatened. So, they feel they must attack anyone who disagrees with them. Honest study, and the ability to grow and mature in whatever way or direction that study takes you, is just not an option for them. Bless you for dealing with such people, brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Amen!! to your latest article: "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality." I've been trying to convince people for years that this passage (Romans 6:4) is entirely symbolic, and that it was written to answer the question Paul poses at the beginning of the chapter. Baptism is fabulous symbolism, connecting us to the sacrifice in a very unique way, but it is NOT, in and of itself, it's own sacrifice to offer up for sin. I am constantly amazed at the degree to which people will go in order to cement baptism as a sacrament. We just can't let God save us -- we want to save ourselves: lifting ourselves up by our own bootstraps all the way to heaven. Love ya, brother!

From a Minister in California:

Just read "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality." Great insights again, Al. Does anyone seriously believe that in the wedding ceremony, for example, it is the exchanging of the rings that actually seals the marriage covenant? We go to great lengths to explain the symbolism of the rings. Would not baptism be like the ring in the marriage ceremony? Both are pledges, oaths, "notary seals;" symbols.

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