The Redeemer of Blood
In Numbers 35 a lengthier explanation is given of the cities of refuge. We read in verses 26-28,
26 But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the border of his city of refuge to which he may flee, 27 and the blood avenger finds him outside the border of his city of refuge, and the blood avenger kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood 28 because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the manslayer shall return to the land of his possession.
The term “blood avenger” needs clarification. The word for “avenger” is ga’al, which means a redeemer. The word is used to describe one who “redeems” justice and restores to the owner what is rightfully his. In this case it is the state of peace or justice between disputing parties. The word “avenger” does not do justice to the term. It is simply the title of the parent or guardian or next of kin who is primarily responsible to represent the interests of an injured party and to see to it that justice or peace is established.
It is the kinsman-redeemer.
The kinsman redeemer might desire personal vengeance, but only if the person is of that mindset. Others may be loving and gracious, if they are led by the Spirit. It was Moses’ hope that the blood avenger, or kinsman redeemer, would have the mind of Christ, but he knew that many would not utilize their right to forgive. Hence, cities of refuge were established, and the rule was that the manslayer must remain in his city until the death of the high priest. If he strayed from there, he might be killed, if the blood avenger chose to execute him.
Once the high priest had died, however, the right of the blood avenger ended, and the manslayer was restored to his inheritance. Our high priest is now Jesus Christ. He is also our Kinsman-Redeemer. When He died on the cross, all who had fled for refuge were released into their inheritance. This is another example of how the law prophesies of Christ, for His blood satisfied the law’s requirement and ended the manslayer’s imprisonment. We have all been temporarily disenfranchised from our inheritance due to sin, but the death of the high priest releases all to return to their inheritance.
Overall, we see that accidental homicide carried a limited liability, due to the lack of hatred, but even that liability ended with the death of Jesus Christ, our high priest.
No Restitution for Accidental Killing
When a man is killed accidentally, the redeemer of blood is unable to obtain restitution on behalf of his kinsman, unless the dead can be raised. This awareness gives him the option of demanding his incarceration within the city of refuge or of forgiving the offender. Properly, however, forgiveness ought to be based on repentance, even as repentance is required of all of us to appropriate the provision made to us by the blood of Jesus Christ. The redeemer of blood is called to be a redeemer, not an “avenger,” per se, but when someone has been killed, he cannot obtain restitution by any judgment of the law. In the end all he can do is forgive or defer the case to the Great White Throne.
The provision of the cities of refuge is a diminished form of the death penalty. The penalty is lessened on account of the unintentional nature of the homicide. Nonetheless, once the victim is dead, his condition is usually irreversible until the resurrection.
Repentance and Mercy
The city of refuge serves the same basic function as the death penalty itself. The death penalty imprisons the manslayer until time of the Great White Throne, where our great High Priest judges all mankind in the context of His death on the cross which paid the penalty for the sin of the world. On the lesser scale, the manslayer is sent to a city of refuge, where he is held prisoner until the death of the high priest.
The calling of the redeemer of blood has been greatly misunderstood over the years, because men did not understand the heart of God or the mind of Christ. When Christ came to show the heart of God by His example, He revealed His role as the ultimate redeemer of blood by His own death on the cross, not coming in the form of a prosecutor, but on behalf of the defendants. Hence, the first great example that we see is that a redeemer of blood primarily seeks to redeem and forgive, rather than to exact punishment.
We also see the importance of repentance in this, because to repent is to change one’s mind or way of thinking. It is to put on the mind of Christ. This has always been the goal of history and the underlying purpose of the law. The law’s judgments are corrective in nature and were never designed merely to inflict punishment, for the prophet says, “when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).
Christ, our Redeemer, did not automatically forgive the lawless in His death on the cross, as some have taught, even though He certainly had that option, as did any redeemer of blood. Instead, in His wisdom, He works to bring about repentance, so that forgiveness may benefit the sinner, rather than using grace as an excuse to sin further. When one sees what Christ has done out of a heart of love, one cannot help but repent and change one’s thinking about Christ and the manner of life that one ought to live.
However, many do not have that revelation yet, or even during their life time. Offenses thus remain unresolved, and injustice prevails on the earth continually. For this reason the Great White Throne judgment is necessary to bring all sin into accountability. The first thing that is done is to reveal the truth of Christ to humanity, the awfulness of sin, and the grace that exceeds it. When men see this at the Great White Throne, where all secrets are uncovered, “every knee will bow,” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10, 11).
This universal repentance is the start of their path to know God, for Paul says that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Therefore, at the Great White Throne, all men will express their faith in Him and will be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the first portion of the “lake of fire” that will baptize them, a fire that is designed to purify them from sin by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
The fire is also the “fiery law” itself (Deut. 33:2) which proceeds from the throne of God, seen in Daniel 7:9 and 10. The fire of God was thus seen at Mount Horeb on the day that later was celebrated as the Feast of Weeks, i.e., Pentecost. It was seen again on the heads of the 120 disciples in the upper room when the Lord instituted the Church of Pentecost in Acts 2.
And so, at the Great White Throne, all of mankind will begin to be subject to the law of God. The believers, of course, will enjoy immortality and incorruption, and the law will already be written on their hearts. The rest of creation will begin the process of correction, whereby the law may be written on their hearts as well. That time will be long, but it will end with Creation’s Jubilee, probably 49,000 years after Adam.
Such judgment is necessary to satisfy God’s sense of justice. Justice is not done until all the victims of injustice have been repaid for their losses. In most cases, restitution is sufficient, but to pay restitution takes time and opportunity to work off the debt. That final age of judgment gives sinners time to work as bondservants of the righteous ones, as the law instructs in Exodus 22:3.
Herein also is the reason why the idea of a burning hell is unlawful, for mere torture does not bring about justice. The justice of God does not demand torture but restitution to recompense the victims of injustice. The only type of justice where torture or pain is involved comes when a man may have tortured another man in this life time. Where church leaders have burned people at the stake—a punishment foreign to God’s law—it may be that they too will suffer the same fate, according to the law in Exodus 21:25, “burn for burn.”
But even such terrible judgment is temporary, for no judgment is “everlasting,” as some translations would have it. Judgment is olam (Hebrew) and aionian (Greek), and both terms indicate an indefinite period of time, allowing the law to define the length of judgment according to the severity of the crime.
Our Redeemer of blood is not only loving and just but is also wise enough to devise a plan for creation whereby nothing will be lost in the end. That plan is revealed in the law, and the redeemer of blood plays his role in this plan.
Jesus is the Great Kinsman-Redeemer
The Hebrew word for redeemer is ga’al and is spelled ??? (gimel-aleph-lamed). Gimel means a camel and signifies being lifted up, on account of a camel lifting up a load on its back. The last part of the word is aleph-lamed, which spells El, or God. Thus, a redeemer is “to lift up God.” This was behind Jesus statement in John 3:14,
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Again, we read in John 12:32,
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
When Jesus died on the cross, He was lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness to bring healing to all who would look upon Him. He was acting out the role of a redeemer: “to lift up God.” Not only does this portray Him as the serpent in the wilderness, but it also shows the deity of Christ, for it was the Son of God Himself who was being lifted up on the cross. Likewise, it reveals that “all men” will indeed look upon Him and find healing. A few look upon Him in their life time, but the vast majority will not do so until the Great White Throne.
This word picture that underlies the meaning of ga’al shows the mind of Christ behind a redeemer of blood. A guardian was the kinsman redeemer in a court of law, empowered to be the advocate for anyone in his family who had been victimized by crime. It was his duty to bring redemption, not revenge. Jesus’ example shows us that He brought redemption by His willingness to give His own life, not only for the victims of crime but also for the criminals. As a result, “all men” will be drawn to Him.
This is the example of love that reveals the heart of God and the mind of Christ in regard to the redeemer of blood. To refer to guardians as avengers or revengers might portray the carnal mind of avengers, but these do not reflect the heart of God as seen by Christ’s example.
So we see that while it was the duty of the judge and the court to determine guilt or innocence and to sentence the murderer to death, it was the right of the victim’s guardian to act in love. If the murderer was unrepentant, the death penalty might be the best option in order to protect future victims. But if the murderer was truly repentant, the redeemer had the option to forgive.
Jesus has the capability and the wisdom to go beyond other redeemers of blood, because He does not function under time constraints. He also has the power to open men’s eyes to see the truth and to cause men to repent by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, He has devised a plan for creation that includes the Great White Throne, where law enforcement reaches its pinnacle of success in bringing all men to repentance by the power of the Spirit.