In this post I will be examining the concept of sacrifice as related to sin and salvation. At first I intended to list the various “atonement theories” and chart or graph their compatibility with the whole of scripture and each other, but I think all the labels and boxes would only get in the way. Instead, I will first of all list scriptures that have bearing on the topic, and then try and paint the whole picture from that pallet of colors. As you read, pay special attention to words such as justice, ransom, redemption, sacrifice, wrath/rage, penalty, reconciliation, and honor.
Isaiah 53:4-12 “Surely it was our weakness he bore and our sorrows he carried… but he was pierced for our rebellion and crushed for our sins. He was beaten and whipped for our healing… yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all… He was struck down for the rebellion of my people… But it was the Lord’s plan to crush him and cause him grief… He bore the sins of many…”
Mark 10:45 “For even the Human did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
John 1:29b “The Lamb of God, the one taking away the sin of the world.”
Rom. 3:20-26 “After all, no one will be justified in His sight by keeping the law, since its purpose is to expose sins. Instead, a justice outside of law has appeared, to which the Law and the Prophets attest. This justice from God comes through faith in Jesus the Anointed and is for all believers without distinction. For all sinned and don’t measure up to God’s honor, and all are justified by his generous gift, being ransomed by Anointed Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice to remove our sins by means of faith in his blood. This demonstrated his justice, because he had written off the penalty for sins committed beforehand. This happened in order to demonstrate his justice at the right time, the current age, showing him to be fair and making things right with those who put their trust in Jesus.”
Rom. 5:6-10 “While we were still weak, the Anointed died at just the right time for the sake of the ungodly… So God extends his love for us, seeing that the Anointed died for our sakes while we were still sinners. And how much more, now that his blood has cleared us of all charges, will we be saved from God’s rage through him! After all, if we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, how much more will we now be saved through his life!”
Rom. 5:12 “Sin entered into the world by means of one person, and death by means of sin; consequently, death passed on to all people, seeing that all sinned.”
1 Cor. 15:53-57 “This mortal, the dying, must be clothed with immortality. And when this happens then the written word will be fulfilled: “Death was swallowed by conquest!” “Death, where is your conquest? Death, where is your stinger?” Death’s stinger is sin, and sin’s power is the Law. But thank God, who gives us the conquest by means of our Master Jesus the Anointed!”
2 Cor. 5:18-21 “Yet it all comes from God, the One who reconciled us to himself by means of the Anointed and assigned us to this service of reconciliation. Through the Anointed, God reconciled the world to himself, not holding their faults against them… For this One who knew no sin was made sin for our sakes, so that because of Him we can become right with God.”
Gal. 3:10-14 “Those who rely on their legalistic performance are cursed, for it is written: ‘Cursed is anyone who does not perfectly observe everything written in the scroll of the Law.’ Now it is obvious that no one is justified before God solely on the basis of the Law, because ‘the just will live by faith.’ The Law is not about faith but instead, ‘the one who does them will live in them.’ So the Anointed ransomed us from the curse of the Law by becoming that curse for our sakes, because it has been written, ‘Cursed is anyone who is hung on wood.’ That is how the blessing of Abraham could come to the nations in Anointed Jesus, so that we may obtain the promise of the Spirit by means of faith.”
Col. 1:12-14 “We thank the Father… who rescued us out of the jurisdiction of darkness and moved us into the kingdom of the Son he loves— the Son who got us released and our sins pardoned.”
Col. 2:13b-15 “But he made you alive with him and dealt kindly to us in all our sins, erasing the list of charges that were written up against us, and wiping it away by nailing it to the cross. After getting rid of the rulers and authorities too, he triumphed over them and boldly made a public spectacle of them.”
Heb. 2:14-17 “So just as the little ones are of flesh and blood, so also he came very close to sharing in the same, so that by means of death he would throw down the one who holds the power of death (that is, the Accuser). And he freed those who all their lives were enslaved to the fear of death… This is why he had to be like his sisters and brothers in every way, so he could be a merciful and faithful ruling priest concerning things of God, being the sacrifice that takes away the people’s sins.”
Heb. 10:1-7 “The Law was a shadow of better things to come, an imperfect image of them. So it is never able to perfect those who bring the same sacrifices year after year… for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to eliminate them. That is why the One who came into the world said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you prepared a body for me. You have no pleasure in burnt offerings for sins. Then I said, “Look! Here I am to do your will, God, as it is written about me in the heading of the book.”‘”
1 Peter 2:24 “He carried our sins in his body up on the wood, so that we should live away from those and toward justice, and so that we may be healed by his wound.”
1 Peter 3:18 “The Anointed suffered for sins, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous…”
1 John 3:8 “The one who sins comes from the Slanderer, for the Slanderer has been sinning from the beginning. This is why the Son of God appeared: to nullify the Slanderer’s works.”
From reading those passages we can see that Jesus’ sacrifice:
- took on the sins of all other people / became sin itself
- gave his life as a ransom for them
- took those sins away
- resulted in justice being satisfied and ransom paid
- paid the penalty for our sins
- was for the sake of the ungodly, proving his love
- was to offer reconciliation
- cleared us of all charges and faults
- undid what Adam had done (sin caused death, death undid sin)
- moved the citizenship of all who trust in him from the realm/kingdom of darkness into that of himself
- got us released and our sins pardoned
- took the list of charges drawn up against us and nailed them to the cross
- threw down “the one who holds the power of death” and freed us from the fear of death
- healed us vicariously (“by his wound”)
- suffered for us vicariously (“the righteous for the unrighteous”)
- nullified the Slanderer’s works
- conquered the “last enemy”, Death
We can also see that:
- the law could not undo sin but only expose it
- the law cursed anyone who didn’t keep it perfectly
- Jesus became that curse in our place
- animal sacrifices were ineffective and thus temporary
- God never wanted those sacrifices
So now we can raise some important points and questions that arise in response to common objections to these facts:
- Jesus, being God (Col. 2:9a), sacrificed himself, rather than being sacrificed against his will or merely throwing his life away unnecessarily (as is the case if he was only doing it to give an example).
- Being sent is not necessarily being coerced, and scripture clearly states that Jesus volunteered.
- Many people have been examples of self-sacrifice, meekness, non-violence, etc., so why Jesus? Reconciliation between God and people required the One who is both, who alone could represent both estranged parties.
- Why did blood ever have to be shed for sin? Many of the sacrifices under the old Law were “sin offerings”; how did the blood of innocent animals even symbolize the removal of sin? They pointed to the eventual blood of Jesus, and his blood was required to destroy the power of Satan over death.
- Redemption must be from a sentient being, not merely a concept, because a concept cannot be paid a ransom.
- If damage is done, even by accident, restitution must be paid, or the innocent victim is left to pay for what someone else did. How else is the victim loved or shown mercy? And what lesson does lack of consequence teach the one who did the damage? This is why sin requires payment, not just because of Satan but also because of offense against God. And like an adult whose window was broken by a child who cannot pay for a new one, he paid the price himself. Yet this leaves the child responsible for a change of attitude, or repentance.
- If wrath/sin/judgment was not involved in Jesus’ sacrifice, this apt quote shows the logical conclusion: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.” (H. Richard Neibuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (1937), New York: Harper and Row, 1959, p. 193) That is, it was all for nothing if there had been no penalty or ransom to be paid, or any justice to be satisfied.
I’ve highlighted a few things in the Facts that make an extremely critical point: that sacrifice was never God’s intention, but that it was the way to break Satan’s power over death. So rather than God being the “bloodthirsty” one, as even some professing believers have taught, it is Satan, the Accuser. The wrath of God is thus against Satan and his kingdom of rebellion and death, which includes those who are citizens of that kingdom. Since people were born into it by no fault of their own, God had pity on us all and paid for our release from that kingdom. Yet at the same time, no one was forced to leave. Their “passport” to get into heaven was bought and paid in full, but if they choose to remain in Satan’s kingdom they will have to take responsibility for their own actions, such that no one is to be punished for things they could not control.
Through these facts we can see that sin was what handed the human race to Satan and his “rulers and authorities”, who has been what we could call The Death Star ever since. But by paying the price Satan demands of all his subjects— death— Jesus took away Satan’s power. Though this change of citizenship is only legally completed, we who trust in Jesus have been given a Promise/Deposit until it is literally completed: the Holy Spirit. Our citizenship in heaven is guaranteed, but our actual arrival is not until whatever time God decrees. So for now, we remain in Satan’s realm and are subject to his cruelty and jurisdiction, but every wrong we suffer and every false charge brought against us is tallied up and will be used in the heavenly court against our Prosecutor, with Jesus as our Defense Attorney. Judgment for individual actions will be according to the laws of the kingdom we chose.
This is by no means an exhaustive dissertation on the topic, but I hope to have at least presented enough material to show that any theory or conclusion about why sacrifice was ever necessary has to deal with a great number of scriptural statements, as well as the implications that arise from them. Satan is limited in what he can do, but God will not violate free will or his own holiness or mercy to do so. In the end we must trust God to be doing exactly the right thing at the right time. But while we are here, we must also be careful not to present a distorted or incomplete picture of who God is or what justice and mercy mean in practical terms. This is not an easy task in a world of text-speak and sound bites, but well worth the effort. Each of us needs to thoroughly study such things if we are going to claim that our view is superior to others.