To those who reside as exiles, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of His blood (1 Peter 1:1-2).
That phrase, “the sprinkling of His blood,” needs very careful attention. What does Peter mean by saying that sprinkling blood on people is somehow connected to obedience?
You might say, “Well, he means salvation.” But he doesn’t. The chronology of the verse puts this as consequent to salvation. At what phrase did salvation occur in verse 2? It was at “sanctifying work of the Spirit.” And then salvation led to obedience and being sprinkled with Jesus’s blood.
But what does it mean, then? What consequent to salvation involves a sprinkling of blood? Well, there are only a few occasions in Scripture when people were actually sprinkled with blood. It didn’t happen on the day of atonement. It didn’t happen during sin offerings. (The altar was sprinkled with the animals’ blood, but the person was not.)
Blood was sprinkled on people in two cases in Levitical law. One of them was the symbolic cleansing of a leper (Leviticus 14). And the other was the consecration to priesthood of Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 8). Neither of those fit this. Peter’s not talking about a leper and he’s not talking about priests.
What other occasion occurs in the Old Testament that has to do with sprinkling blood on people? There’s only one more, and it only happened one time. And it is very clear that this is exactly what Peter has in his mind. This one other time occurred before the Levitical legislation, and it is so significant that it is mentioned twice in Hebrews (9:19, 12:24). Look at Exodus 24:3-8:
Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of Yahweh and all the judgments; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which Yahweh has spoken we will do!”
And Moses wrote down all the words of Yahweh. Then he arose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to Yahweh. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which Yahweh has cut with you in accordance with all these words.”
This is the only other occasion where blood was sprinkled on people in the Old Testament. And it was called “the blood of the covenant.”
In ancient times, when two people made a covenant, that covenant was usually cut in blood, and that blood would be placed on both parties. That was a blood covenant of commitment to keep a pact. It was common in ancient cultures, and it happened that day. And the covenant was this: “We promise, O God, that we will obey your Word.” It was a covenant of obedience sealed in blood.
There was a bond being made between God and the people. The people are promising to keep His Word. And the blood on them indicates their part of the covenant. The blood on the altar indicates God’s part of the covenant. Sprinkling the blood on the people symbolized their commitment to obedience. Sprinkling the blood on the altar symbolized God’s commitment to faithfulness.
And I believe that is exactly what Peter had in mind. Peter, being a Jewish man and knowing this passage well, finds in it a tremendous parallel for the Christian and the matter of election.
When these believers, to whom Peter wrote, were saved by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, making their past election a present reality, they were brought into a covenant with God that was sealed by blood. It was a covenant of obedience.
In the death of Jesus Christ, there was not only salvation provided, but also a covenant of obedience. When we come and accept the sacrifice of Christ for us, we are not just accepting the benefit of His death on our behalf. We are covenanting with Him in obedience. And that is consecrated by blood by the death of Christ.
What Peter is concluding is that when you were set apart by the Holy Spirit, you were set apart to God for a life of obedience sealed in the blood of Christ. Obedience is inseparable from the sprinkling of blood. It is inherent in the covenant:
And we are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God gave to those who obey Him. (Acts 5:32)
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were given over, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)
You can’t talk of salvation without talking of obedience. And the blood was sprinkled symbolically on us as our part of obedience and on God as His part of faithfulness. We have been elected to obey.
I have one more thought about this, and this one thrills me. You might say, “Well, why the blood sprinkled on the altar? What is God’s part?”
Listen to this. The blood sprinkled on us symbolizes our commitment to obedience. The blood sprinkled on the altar, on God, symbolizes His commitment to forgiveness.
That’s marvelous. The covenant is that we promise to obey, and God promises to forgive when we don’t. Those are the two sides, and that is the security of our election. Because of this covenant, we are secure.
If you say to someone, “Become a Christian and don’t worry about obedience,” you’re not giving them the true message. When you call someone to salvation, you are calling them into a covenant. Our part is obeying and God’s part is forgiving when we fail.
When you come to God through Christ, you say, “O God, I give my life to You. I want to obey You. I promise to live for You, to love You, to serve You as best I can.” And you’re sprinkled with the blood of Christ symbolically, and your sins are washed. You become His child. The blood sprinkled on the altar, on His part, is His promise to you that when you fail to keep that covenant, He is eager and gracious to forgive your sin. That’s a tremendous thought.
The security of our election comes in the fact that not only were we sprinkled in the covenant, but God in the altar was sprinkled, and He’ll keep His side when we fail to keep our side. The same blood that sealed the covenant covers the sin of the disobedient Christian.
That’s the security of our election. That’s why He keeps on cleansing us from all sin. What a truth!
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1988, titled “Chosen by God, Part 3.”
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