The Scarlet Thread – Blood Curse or Blood Blessing?

The Scarlet Thread – Blood Curse or Blood Blessing?

The Scarlet Thread – A Blood Curse or Blood Blessing?

Glory be to Jesus, Who in bitter pains, poured for me the life-blood, from His sacred veins.

Grace and life eternal, in that blood I find, blest be His compassion, infinitely kind.

Blest through endless ages, be the precious steam, which from endless torments, did the world redeem.

Lift ye then your voices, swell the mighty flood; louder still and louder, praise the precious blood.” (Friedrich Filitz).

Glory Be to Jesus – Christian Song with Lyrics (

The scarlet thread that is sewn into Holy Scripture from beginning to end is unmistakable. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Bible is blood-centric, that there is an overriding theme of blood wherever we look. We don’t need to be super-detectives to discover blood patterns in the Word. The Scripture seems practically preoccupied with blood, and one could be excused for observing that God seems to be out for blood. We find out why this is the case in Leviticus 17:11 and 13… “The life of all flesh is in its blood. The life is in the blood.” The Word of God seems preoccupied with blood only because God is preoccupied with life. God is out for blood only in the sense that He is out for Life. The Bible is blood-centric only because God is life-centric. In fact, the term “scarlet thread” is not strong enough. Instead, the Bible has a powerful crimson tsunami flowing through its pages from Genesis through Revelation, from before creation to the New Creation.

In this Bible study we will take a good look at the blood-stories in Scripture, from the divine sacrifice before the foundation of the world, to the animal sacrifice in the Garden of Eden; from the bloodshed in the first family, to the blood-themed covenant between God and Noah; from the Nile River, to the Passover in Egypt; from the bloody mess in the Tabernacle, to the Scarlet Worm that hinted at Jesus, and yes, even to the bloody betrayal of Judas. Yes, there seem to be blood-splatters all over the floors and walls of Scripture. Through it all, the precious blood of Jesus is the centerpiece.

“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all with this crowd, and that a tumultuous uprising was in the making, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person! You can see to this yourselves!’ And all the people in the crowd answered, crying out, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:24-25).

Here we are in the middle of the Passion of Christ, an unruly crowd being whipped into a frenzy by the religious authorities. The rabble-rousers are demanding that Jesus be executed, and that an infamous terrorist named Barabbas be released instead of Jesus. The fearful, cowardly politician Pilate was trying to figure out what to do. The scene was chaotic and could get out of hand at any time. Were any members of this mob by any chance present a week earlier when Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the crowd at that time yelling out quite the opposite… “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”(Mark 11:9). The fickleness of human beings, including me, never cease to amaze.

Since the Sanhedrin and other Temple leaders were whipping the crowd into a frenzy, the mob mentality became a distinct threat and making Pilate very nervous. People who were perhaps normally thoughtful and careful were starting to say rather terrifying things. The emotions of the moment being magnified in an unruly group led to what appeared to be a horrifying curse put upon themselves and even their children! A few observations about this bewildering and terrifying scene:

  1. Tragically, this particular scene in Matthew has been weaponized by the Christian Church down through history, and used as an excuse for violent and unChristian antisemitism. This one line in the gospels has led to Christian believers calling Jews Christ-killers” and unimaginable suffering for the Jewish people. One reading of the life of Jesus in the Gospels and there is no question that Jesus would condemn such actions on His Chosen People. It is nonsensical that Christians would hate and terrorize and kill those who make up the family and faith of Jesus Himself.
  2. God has promised His faithfulness to His Chosen People from the beginning through His sacred covenants with them. It is unthinkable to suggest that His people would be cursed, or that God would abandon or reject the very people to whom He is spiritually married. God’s faithfulness to His covenants with the Jewish people is unconditional and eternal. The Jewish people are a central part of God’s plan of salvation and will remain so. “All Israel will be saved… For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:26, 29).
  3. Most Biblical scholars say that the mob’s terrifying words that seem to suggest a curse they put on themselves, actually reflect a traditional statement in the Hebrew Bible that essentially mean, “We will take the responsibility for the death of this man Jesus! We will accept the blame if it turns out that He is innocent! It’s on us!”
  4. In His grace, God turned what looked like a curse into a blessing. In this vivid picture of redemption, God mercifully took what was offensive and turned it into a blessing… His blood indeed covered over the crowd later and opened the door to their forgiveness! God redirected the mob’s cries that were intended for Pilate to embraced them Himself so He could make of words of rejection into a means for His grace.
  5. Don’t we all have our weak moments, when we say things we were sorry for later? Haven’t we said often enough something without even being aware of its full meaning or importance? What do wise and gracious parents say after hearing their child say something foolish in the heat of the moment? “Well, my child, I know that you didn’t really mean what you just said. Don’t worry, I won’t let these words come back later to haunt you. In fact, I’ll make sure something good can come out this whole episode.”

Forgiveness. Perhaps the most astounding thing Jesus ever said was while being tortured to death on the Cross… “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Barbara Brown Taylor, in her sermon “In the Name of Law and Order,” posed an intriguing question: Who was Jesus thinking of when He asked the Father to forgive “them?” Who is “them?” I decided to take her question and run with it. We do know that by praying that prayer on the cross, Jesus was echoing Isaiah 53:12, which declares that the Suffering Servant was “interceding for the rebellious.” But for whom was Jesus interceding as He suffered His torturous death, as He fulfilled His eternal role as the Great Intercessor? Jesus seems to be asking the Father not to charge certain people with the depravity involved with killing the very Son of God. Jesus is pleading with the Father to overlook the wrongs of these perpetrators, since they do  not understand the profound role they play in this cosmic drama. These abusers and traitors simply can’t grasp this deep mystery, and how they are part of God’s grand scheme of prophecy fulfillment and eternal salvation. His prayer was profoundly merciful, mouthing those words as he gasped for air. His Spirit of grace simply overflowed as He convulsed in pain. Who did He want forgiven… all those who did Him harm, or only those who repented? Because of Jesus’ unlimited loving-kindness, it could be a mistake to draw too small a circle of those being forgiven.

Some Biblical scholars claim that the Greek text implies a repetitive action, that His prayer on the cross was not a one-time prayer. Jesus evidently continued praying this prayer of forgiveness. He kept asking the Father to forgive all those who had done Him wrong during His Passion. Astoundingly, there is Jesus, in his depleted, exhausted mind, hanging on the cross, mentally going through an inventory of who needs to be forgiven. In his continuing prayer, Jesus considered everyone who had a hand in the sacrifice of the Innocent One. Certainly included in Christ’s intercessory prayers on the Cross was the unruly, bloodthirsty mob who shouted out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The crowd who hatefully yelled to Pilate, “The blood of this man is on us!” Jesus has a bottomless reservoir of grace and forgiveness, and He knew that His blood would indeed be on them for their own good. Who else was on the prayer list of Jesus on the Cross?

Father, forgive the disciples. Hand-picked personal friends of Jesus, they had seen many ups and downs together during the years of ministry. They performed miracles, they heard His teachings and parables. They traveled extensively around the countryside and towns, communicating the wisdom of God. They saw Jesus walk on water and calm the storm. They saw Him feed the thousands and restore sanity to the man at the tombs. And yet, they abandoned Jesus when He needed them most. Even after they all said they would rather die than desert Jesus, they fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, “Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Some of them fell asleep during His agony in the Garden, while the others were nowhere to be found. Of the Twelve, only John had the courage to approach Jesus while on the cross. The disciples left Him in His time of need. Their short memories and cowardice were plain to see. Father, forgive the disciples, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Judas. Here we have the main culprit in the Passion of Christ. Here is the betrayer who was once personally chosen  by Jesus in prayer to the Father. Here is the longtime disciple who accompanied Jesus and the other disciples during His ministry, who heard every word, who saw every miracle. Somehow, though, Jesus knew early on that He couldn’t trust Judas, who was skimming off some of the money entrusted to him. Jesus even called Judas a “devil” early on in the ministry (John 6:70). Nonetheless, just before the betrayal, Jesus had the grace to wash Judas’ feet. What was Jesus feeling as He so tenderly cared for Judas the betrayer? What was Judas thinking while his feet were being washed by the Man he would soon betray? Why did Judas do this? Was he merely a pawn in Satan’s game, vulnerable to Satan’s manipulation? We do know Judas fulfilled many prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, including Psalm 41:9 and Psalm 55:12-14. Was Judas disappointed in Jesus because he wanted political change, and Jesus was only offering spiritual change? Was he merely greedy for money, or for status if Jesus succeeded in overthrowing Roman occupation? We’ll never know, exactly. We do know he repented of his betrayal, he threw the silver pieces back in the faces of the priests, and that he was so filled with guilt and shame that he killed himself. Judas ended up being a traitor and a tragic failure, the one that got away. Is he indeed “headed for destruction” forever? Father, forgive Judas, for he didn’t know what he was doing.

Father, forgive Annas. He was a retired high priest, still a powerful elder in the Temple, and he retained much authority in the eyes of many Jews. He was the father-in-law of the current high priest Caiaphus. The religious authorities and Temple guards brought Jesus to Annas first for a pretrial hearing. Because of the need to compromise with Rome, Annas was more political than religious. He was a weak beaurocrat without much of a spine. During this hearing, Annas asked Jesus many questions, especially about the content of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus brushed him off and merely told Annas to ask His followers. Annas shrugged his shoulders, bound Jesus, and sent Him to Caiaphus. Annas was the first domino to fall in the rush to condemn Jesus. Father, forgive Annas, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the religious authorities. There were many leading priests, scribes and elders who jumped on the bandwagon early to kill Jesus. They were plotting to murder Him while he was engaged in His public ministry. They were seemingly always out to get Him, to prove Him wrong, to harass and trap Him. They were the ones who paid Judas the 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. They were the ones who suggested that Barabbas be released instead of Jesus. And they were the ones who mocked, scorned and jeered at Jesus as He was being tortured to death. During their gloating, they even quoted Scripture back in Jesus’ face on the cross, “Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him! If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!” (Ps. 22:8 and Matthew 27:41-43). In their apparent victory over Jesus, they relished the idea of adding insult to injury. Father, forgive the religious authorities, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Caiaphus. He was the ruling high priest, and his job seemed to be much more political than spiritual or religious. It was important that he kept the Jews subservient to Rome, and Israel a peaceful occupied country. There was to be no religious revolts that would cause political unrest. All Temple operations needed to remain status quo. The worst offense a Jew could commit, though, would be blasphemy against the Name of Yahweh. The Romans did not give permission for the Jews to sentence anyone to death, which is just what Caiaphus had in mind for Jesus. During his trial questioning before Caiaphus, Jesus made it clear that He considered Himself co-equal to the Lord Yahweh, akin to the Great I AM (Ex. 3:14). As soon as Jesus claimed to be the I AM in Caiaphus’ presence, the high priest flew into a rage, tore his robe, and called for the Jewish high council to condemn Jesus to death. Caiaphus’ mind was already made up before the hearing… Jesus was a blasphemer and should die. The trial continued, Jesus staggering to His destiny, and Caiaphus was a major instigator to that end. Father, forgive Caiaphus, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the Sanhedrin, or the Council. This was a group of 70 elders that comprised the Jewish supreme court. They were the most powerful body of leaders, and they decided all the important cases, both religious and even some lower-level political. They judged most of the disputes in the Jews’ daily life, whether it was a Temple matter or a civil case. When Jesus was being tried in front of them, the high council made a mockery of the justice system, seeking false witnesses to condemn Jesus. After they declared His guilt and sentenced Him to death, they gathered around Him and spit in Jesus’ face, beat Him with their fists, slapped Him and mocked Him. The Sanhedrin, the highly revered high council, seemed to lose all objectivity and all sense of propriety, moral reasoning, and sound judgment. They were blinded by their hatred of Jesus. After physically attacking Jesus, they bound Him and took Him to Pilate. There are some scholars who say that the “Council” was not in fact the Sanhedrin, but were a group of Sadducee leaders who were violently opposed to Jesus. Father, forgive the Sanhedrin (the Council), for they don’t know what they  are doing.

Father, forgive Peter. Peter was the leader of the Twelve, and probably the closest friend to Jesus during their years together. He was brash, impulsive, impetuous, and yet was faithful to Jesus throughout their ministry. He was the first disciple to declare that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, the disciples’ first confession of faith in Jesus. Peter was given the amazing privilege of being present at the Transfiguration. He once declared that he would never desert Jesus, and would rather die than abandon Him. And yet, there he was sleeping while Jesus suffered in the Garden. He couldn’t seem to do anything right that fateful night. With good intentions he took up a sword at Jesus’ arrest, and was quickly rebuked by Him. He promised to never deny Jesus, and he soon broke that promise by denying Him three times. He first denied knowing Jesus; then he denied being one of His followers; then he denied even knowing what those accusers were even talking about. After these denials, Peter went off by himself and wept bitterly in shame, humiliation and guilt. At this point, Peter was a big disappointment, to himself and to Jesus. Father, forgive Peter, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive Pilate. He was the insecure, belligerent Roman governor of Judea, where Jerusalem was located. In history Pilate is known as a cruel tyrant who was known for executing people without a trial. He evidently loved to badger the occupied Jews to keep them under his thumb. On the other hand, his job was to stifle any possible revolt against the Roman occupation, including any messianic movements. Pilate was directly accountable to Caesar, so he had to watch his step. Any Jewish unrest had to be handled or he was out of a job, which he held for ten years before he was removed to Rome. Since the Jewish authorities didn’t have the power to condemn someone to capital punishment, Pilate was soon confronted with Jesus, the Temple leaders, especially the Sadducees, and a small crowd of rowdy bystanders. Pilate questioned Jesus and declared Him innocent three separate times, but each time the Jewish leaders found that decision unacceptable. They wanted Jesus to die, and they finally got their wish, after threatening to tell Caesar about Jesus claiming to be a king. Pilate became desperate to appease the Jews, since the bystanders were turning into a mob. Even after his wife warned him, Pilate soon relented, releasing a murderer instead of Jesus. Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers for a near fatal flogging and to crucifixion. He gave the bloodthirsty crowd what they wanted, despite his inner conflicts. In the end, he may have tried washing his hands of the whole mess, but his partial responsibility for the suffering and death of Jesus stuck to him like glue. Remember, Pilate is the one who gave the death sentence to Jesus. Father, forgive Pilate, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive Herod. It is Herod’s turn to question Jesus after Pilate had his first time with Him. Pilate decided to send Jesus to Herod, since Herod was the governor of Galilee, Jesus’ home territory. Herod just happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, so Pilate thought, why not give Herod a crack at this guy? Standing before Herod, Jesus knew very well that this was the man who beheaded his close cousin and prophet John the Baptist. Even with that history, Jesus stood silent. Herod asked Jesus questions, but He didn’t want to dignify them with a response. Jesus refused to answer because He knew that Herod just wanted to  make sport of Him. Herod wanted Jesus to whip up a few miracles, like a religious circus performer. Herod proceeded to mock Him, jeer at Him, ridicule Him, then he shrugged and sent Him back to his new pal Pilate. Herod treated the whole hearing as if it was a reality show, just for him. Jesus was not a Person that Herod took seriously. He ended up ignoring Jesus and getting on with business. Father, forgive Herod, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the Roman soldiers. They were a brutal killing machine. They flogged Jesus to within an inch of his life, with lead-tipped whips. They mocked and jeered, they scorned and ridiculed. They beat Jesus with their fists, they taunted Him, they spit in His face. They took His clothes off and put on a red robe to humiliate Him. They gave Him a reed to hold as a royal scepter, then they took the reed back and beat Him with it. They clipped branches off the nearby Jerusalem thorn bush with two-inch thorns, wove a crown, and jammed it into His scalp. They nailed his hands and feet to the wooden cross and left Him there to die in agony. To add disdain to the abuse, they sat at the foot of the cross and rolled some dice for Jesus’ seamless garment, as His blood dripped down on them. The soldiers showed no mercy, they were grossly inhumane, and Jesus submitted to all of it. Father, forgive the Roman soldiers, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive them! Really, Jesus, do you mean to forgive them all? They deserve judgment, not forgiveness! To His dying breath, Jesus had forgiveness on His mind. It all seems preposterous and counter-intuitive. But Jesus’ earlier words to His disciples seem to anticipate what Jesus did on the cross. He was magnanimous to the end, incarnating His message of grace and forgiveness:

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also… Love your enemies! Do good to them.” (Luke 6:27-29, 35; NLT).

Oh The Cross (Live) – UPPERROOM (