But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. ~ Hebrews 12:22-24
What is the significance of the speaking of the blood of Jesus in contrast to that of Abel’s?
When Abel was murdered by his brother Cain, God vindicated Abel by judging Cain. God confronted Cain saying: “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” ~ Genesis 4:10
Is the author of Hebrews emphasizing that Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus cries out for mercy?
I think it’s more than that – much more.
First, consider that the Biblical account of the murder of Abel by Cain does not make the claim that Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance. We are only told that God said “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”
Though a couple of modern translations of Hebrews 12:24 give a commentary that Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance, there is nothing concrete in the Biblical narrative to conclude this definitively.
We know from the New Testament that Stephen, as he was being murdered, prayed for God’s mercy and not judgment for his executors.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. ~ Acts 7:59-60
As he was dying, Stephen prayed for God’s forgiveness for those who were putting him to death. Therefore, if Abel’s blood did indeed cry out for vengeance, we could conclude that Stephen’s blood (or death) speaks better things than Abel’s as well, for Stephen prayed for mercy for his murderers.
I think we miss something very valuable when we come to the conclusion that the contrast being made by the author of Hebrews is one of mercy and vengeance when he says Jesus’ blood speaks better things than Abel’s.
What is it that we are missing? What possibly could the writer of Hebrews be telling us?
Consider Hebrews 11:4:
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. ~ Hebrews 11:4
When we consider the context of Genesis 4, we find that Cain killed Abel over an offering, because God accepted Abel’s gift and rejected Cain’s
The writer of Hebrews tells us that, by Abel’s gift to God, he obtained witness that he was righteous, and by it – by virtue of his gift to God – he being dead, yet speaks.
God’s judgment on Cain was more than vengeance for a wrongdoing. God was vindicating Abel’s righteousness and the gift he had offered to God, which was a type of the sacrifice of Jesus. Consider how much more God vindicates the righteousness of his Son Jesus, and the gift he gave to God when he died for our sins.
In contrast to Abel, the writer of Hebrews tells us it is the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than Abel’s.
The words the blood of sprinkling is a reference to the application of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Christ’s shed blood has power in heaven where it was sprinkled in the presence of God for us, and it has power in our heart, cleansing our conscience from all sin.
Hebrews draws heavily on the priesthood and the sacrificial system of the old testament to explain the work of Christ. Under the Old Testament, God spoke directly to Moses (the mediator between God and Israel) from above the blood sprinkled mercy seat. ~ Exodus 25: 22; Numbers 7:89
The mercy seat was the covering of the ark of the covenant, and the place where the shed blood of the sin offerings for atonement was sprinkled annually to make atonement for Israel. Once a year, the high priest would enter into the most holy place and sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat in the presence of God.
This was a type of the work of Christ, who consecrated for us the new and living way to God, when through the blood he shed at the cross, he entered into the presence of God having obtained our eternal redemption for us.
From there, Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us, and from there he cleanses our hearts through the sprinkling of his blood by the power of Holy Spirit.
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? ~ Hebrews 9:6-14
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
The one whose heart has been sprinkled (or cleansed) with of the blood of Jesus Christ will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit bearing witness from God and from Christ.
The Holy Spirit bears witness to our cleansed conscience as he gives testimony to Christ and his finished work. This brings about a nearness to God from the heart and causes us to have the full assurance of faith.
The power of Christ’s blood so completely purges the conscience through it’s sprinkling that the sense of guilt and demerit are completely removed. And through the Holy Spirit the justifying voice of mercy and grace speaks within the depths of our hearts.
Through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit testifies to our conscience of Jesus’ complete victory over sin and imparts to us the victory of Christ.
Christ’s blood speaks better things than that of Abel’s, whose more excellent sacrifice than Cain’s, was only a foreshadowing of HIM who was to come.
In righteousness, Jesus gave the ultimate gift to God for us all, and through the offering of himself he brings us near to God. That is why his shed blood, sprinkled, (i.e., applied), in the presence of God and in our hearts, speaks better things than that of Abel’s!