In Matthew 27, Matthew accounts the harrowing story of the Jews’ rejection and handing-over of Jesus to the Roman authorities. Pilate, convinced of Jesus’ innocence, said to the Jewish people: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves” (v. 24). In a rather brash response, “all the people answered”, saying, “His blood be on us and upon our children” (v. 25).
His blood be on us and our children? This verse is shocking to say the least. What does it mean? Unfortunately, many have used it as an opportunity for anti-Semitism and persecution of the Jewish people. Not least because “all the people”, literlly “all of Israel” and her proceeding generations, called Jesus’ blood on herself. What could Matthew mean to communicate by this verse?
It is first good to consider what Joseph Ratzinger said of this verse in his Jesus of Nazareth: namely, that the blood of Christ “speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation” (p 187). What Ratzinger means to say is that the blood of Jesus “cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:7); it washes, it makes new. It doesn’t condemn or call for vengeance. From this point of view, rather than condemning themselves, the Jews rather ironically and unknowingly invited the cleansing blood of Christ upon themselves. In this way then, Israel was unwittingly offering an atoning sacrifice — the true atoning sacrifice — to God on their own behalf! They were offering the Lamb of God!
Taken a level deeper, this account of the Jews “swearing blood upon themselves” brings to mind something significant from the Exodus account. In Exodus 24, after Israel’s redemption from Egypt, Moses was commanded by God to make several sacrifices; and after making the sacrifices, Moses was then told to throw half the blood “against the altar” and half “on the people” (v. 7-8). What this did was signify a “blood bond” between God and the people. The sacrifice atoned for sin, and the blood thrown on the people signified that Israel had become God’s “kin”; God’s own son.
What it seems Matthew is doing in chapter 27 is rather ironically recreating this Exodus blood-bond: the people, in calling Christ’s blood upon themselves, unknowingly signified Christ as the sacrifice which would in turn create a new covenant-bond between God and Israel.
In this way then, Matthew is communicating in his own creative way, that Christ was redeeming and reconstituting a new Israel in himself, by his sacrifice. The old covenant Israel apostatized; but Christ as the true Lamb, redeemed and returned Israel to God as his own “kin” in and through himself!