Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

220. Innocent Blood (Matt. 27:4)

"I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood", was the horror-stricken cry of poor remorseful Judas. Innocent blood! In the Old Testament the phrase has unusually thought-provoking associations.

Here is a key to unlock hitherto unsuspected prophecies of the Messiah.

Jeremiah 19

The prophet is commanded (v.l) to "get (RV: buy) a potter's earthen bottle", and with this in hand to denounce the wickedness and idolatry of his comtemporaries. "Then shalt thou break it in the sight of the men that go with thee, and shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts: Even so will I break this people and this city . .. and they shall bury them in Tophet till there be no place to bury . . . Behold, I will bring upon this city, and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks that they might not hear my words" (v.10,11,15).

One of the grounds of denunciation was that "they have filled this place with the blood of innocents". Even without the hint provided by Matthew's significant record of the words of Judas, it would be tempting to read this chapter again as a prophecy of doom against Jerusalem because of its rejection of the Son of God, and also because of the "innocent blood" of men like James and Stephen who testified in Jerusalem concerning the resurrection of Christ.

An earthen vessel used for temple purposes, once it became defiled (Lev. 15: 12), was to be smashed. Even so Israel in the time of the apostles. The message of the coming retribution was to be such as would cause ears to tingle (v.3). This sinister phrase occurs in one other place, as prelude to the revelation given through the boy Samuel of the imminent rejection of Eli's family from the office of High-priest. So also in Jeremiah's day ("remove the mitre, and take off the crown"), and so also after the crucifixion of the Lord's Anointed. The prophet Caiaphas little realised how direct was the divine guidance which bade him rend his high-priestly robes at the trial of Jesus! "Being high priest that year, he prophesied", says the apostle John.

Tophet and Hinnom were to become the valley of Slaughter (v.6). That appointed destination of criminals and murderers was to witness the wholesale destruction of those who had blasphemed the Son of God and murdered him.

"And I will empty out the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies . . . And I will make this city to be an astonishment and an hissing: every one that passeth by shall be astonished and hiss, because or all the plagues thereof. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters" (v.7-9).

It needs but small acquaintance with the curses of Deuteronomy 28 to recognize here Jeremiah's quotation from it. And it needs equally small acquaintance with the heartrending story of the sufferings of Jerusalem's people in A.D.70 to recognize that, however applicable these words may have been to the siege of Nebuchadnezzar's army, they are a distinct prophecy also of the havoc and rapine wrought by the army of Roman Titus.

And all this because "they have filled this place with the blood of the innocents."

Deuteronomy 21

Verse 1-9 give the details of procedure in a case of undetected murder in Israel.

If the body were found "lying in the field", then elders and judges were to ascertain carefully the nearest city. The elders of this place were to comeintoa nearby wadi, and there slay a heifer. In presence of the priests they were to wash their hands over the heifer, at the same time making solemn declaration: "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge."

Thus the issue was submitted to the priests: "By their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried." This remarkable law applied, or rather, failed to be applied to the murder of Jesus.

The nearest city was, of course, Jerusalem. Its elders, specially mentioned in the gospel narratives (e.g. Mt. 27: 1), did not wash their hands (but Pilate did, thus overtly removing guilt from himself to them). And though they did not wash, the day will come when their descendants will; for many a passage in the prophets speaks of the repentance of Israel in the last days. "In that day shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness" (Zech. 13: 1).

Nor could these elders declare: "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it", for they themselves buffeted him spitefully at his trial, and when he was brought to Calvary, "sitting down, they watched him there."

And it was futile for them to pray: "Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel", for the innocent blood could be in no wise forgiven them. Three times Messianic prophecy declared: "Pray not for this people" (Jer. 7: 16; 11: 14; 14: 11).

The word of the priests was to be decisive in judgement, as the voice of God. And their word—cynical, yet prophetic—had been: "His blood be upon us, and upon our children." And it was, and still is.

The last two curses of Deuteronomy 27 fall respectively upon Judas and upon the priests who perverted justice and the law of God in every possible way in order to gain their fell purpose: "Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen" (Dt. 27:25,26).

Isaiah 59

This prophecy reads aptly enough as a denunciation of the demoralised nation in the prophet's own time, but once again the key phrase "innocent blood" (v.7) gives this inspired utterance a later and more important application. Some of these details have been considered in Study 186.

1 Samuel 19

In one of the most dramatic expressions of the jealousy and hatred of Saul for David, there is enacted an impressive, and much neglected, type of the plotting of the rulers against Jesus.

Even though David had Jonathan on his side, there was no restraining Saul's animosity: "Wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?" (19: 5). Similarly, although there were men like John the Baptist (the name is the same as Jonathan) and wise councillors like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to plead the cause of Jesus before the nation, it was in vain. The rulers were determined to slay "David" without a cause, for was it not written of him: "They hated me without a cause"? They went back on their resolve not to arrest Jesus at the feast, as Saul did on his promise to spare David. Instead, it was then that they crucified him.

David's further victories over the Philistines (v.8) were but the signal for more determined outbursts of fury and jealousy against him. For what was now the third time (v.10; 18:10,11) Saul sought to pin David to the wall with his javelin, but he evaded the blow and got away. In just the same way Jesus somehow avoided being taken by his enemies (Jn. 8 :59; 10:39).

The climax of opposition to David came with a deliberately planned attempt on his life. It was a night of intense prayer by David, as Psalm 59 bears witness. With the aid of Michael he escaped to the sanctuary at Ramah, and in the morning there was found only an empty bed, o goat's hair pillow and the teraphim.

All of these details are significant. The mention of goats' hair is a reminder of the scapegoat on the Day of Antonement for sin. The Greek version translates "teraphim" by a word which normally means 'tomb' (our word cenotaph). Thus David's escape pictures the resurrection of Christ when the angel of the Lord rolled away the stone so that the sinless Sin-Bearer might rise to new life and go to the presence of his Father. And all that remained to further confound the adversaries were an empty tomb and the symbols of mortality now left behind for ever.

The entire prayer of David in Psalm 59 (written about this bitter experience) could be cited here with reference to Jesus with an appropriateness which would be astonishing if it were not to be expected. Here are some of the verses:

"Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: set me on high (his ascension?) from them that rise up against me . . . the mighty are gathered against me, not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord ... awake to visit all the Gentiles (the chief priests used Pilate and Herod the Edomite just as Saul used Doeg the Edomite . . . Slay them not, lest my people forget: make them wander to and fro by thy power ... let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth ... I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble."

The conclusion of this exciting experience of David's is equally significant. Saul sought to continue the persecution. He sent messengers to apprehend David, but these who came to curse stayed to bless. Eventually Saul came in person and became himself a changed man: "He stripped off his clothes also and prophesied and lay down naked all that day and all that night."

Similarly, 'Why persecutes! thou me?' was the remonstrance addressed to the emissary of wickedness from Jerusalem, with the result that "he which persecuted in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed."

Further, the day is soon to come when the nation itself is to come into the presence of the brd's Anointed when the tabernacle of God is with men, and then conversion will be complete, as, divested of all self-righteousness and self-reliance, the people of the King humbly prostrate themselves before him whom once they refused. Repenting of the innocent blood which they shed, they will glorify God in confession and praise.

Psalm 94,

The phrase "innocent blood" occurs in v.21. It is the second part of this psalm, where the pronouns change from plural to singular, which is palpably a prophecy of Christ.

First, however, it is to be noted, as a matter not without interest or relevance, that Psalm 93, which has verbal connections with this one, was appointed by the Jews for use in the Temple on Passover Day, whereas, according to the Jewish Calendar, Psalm 94 was sung two days previously.

Hence it follows from Mark 14 :1 that on the very day that Judas and the chief priests were concluding their evil contract, these words were being sung before the Lord in the temple, Jesus himself probably being present at the service, the only one in all that throng who realised precisely what it portended: "They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous one, and condemn the innocen* blood."

The psalm speaks eloquently of Christ in Gethsemane: "Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. When I said my foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held meup"(v.l7,18).

It is to be noted that these words make divine help in the crisis of the Lord's conflict absolutely essential. The textual critics, slaves to a theory, who would discard the passage about Jesus being strengthened by an angel (Lk.22: 43), are proved wrong by the prophecy here which demonstrates in graphic fashion how intense was the Lord's struggle against the power of sin. But (the psalm continues) "in the multitude of my doubts (RV) within me thy comforts delight my soul!"

There are several references here to the trial of Jesus. There is the description of certain who "stood up and bare false witness against him" (Mk. 14:57 RV), and the pathetic cry of the one who was left to face his accusers alone: "Who will rise up for me against evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?"(v.16).

"Shall the throne of iniquity which frameth mischief by law have fellowship with thee?" (v.20). This "throne of iniquity" is surely the high-priesthood; for who more than the high-priest, with his annual access to the Holy of Holies, had better opportunity of fellowship with God? But instead he and others of his kind "framed mischief by statute" (RV); they plotted against their Messiah, and sought to cover the infamy with a show of legality.

But though they might hide their iniquity from man, it could not be hidden from God. "They gather themselves together against the soul of the Righteous One, and condemn the innocent blood;" but (the Lord) shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off" (v.21,23). Here is a kind of anticipatory "echo" of the priests' own derisive words: His blood be upon us and upon our children", in marked contrast to the declaration, stamped with all sincerity, which should have been theirs: "Be merciful, O Lord, and lay not innocent blood to thy people of Israel's charge" (Dt.21:8).

For all their guilt, the psalm asserts the ultimate restoration of this rebel nation: "The Lord will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance" (v.14). Paul uses these very words in a burning importunity for his rejected brethen: "God hath not cast off his people which he foreknew" (Rom.11 :2). The day will yet dawn when "judgment shall return to the Righteous One" (v.15).


"As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mt. 12:40).

The type is reinforced in the story of Jonah by the use in the sailors' prayer of the now familiar phrase "innocent blood": "We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood."

Thus Jonah was cast forth into the sea, that the lives of those with him in the ship might be spared. Remembering that the sea is used in, Scripture as a figure of the grave (e.g. Rom. 10:7), the parallel with the sacrifice of Christ can be readily perceived. In a different sense, his innocent blood is laid upon men, for it is the "sprinkling of the blood of Christ" which brings safety and salvation, as to those men of prayer in Jonah's ship. Further, when Jonah came forth from the fish's belly, he pursued his divine mission, proclaiming: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." But Nineveh repented, and it wasn't

After Jesus came out of the tomb the message went forth through his apostles, saying (in effect): "Yet forty years, and Jerusalem shall be overthrown." But this time there was no repentance, so it was.

Thus in half a dozen places—and there are certainly more—it has been possible to use Judas the betrayer as an unwitting (?) interpreter of Messianic prophecy.

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