Sacrifice in the Plan of God

THE subject of sacrifice is a very prominent one in the Word of God. It is introduced early in the Book of Genesis, and continues to be mentioned throughout the Scriptures, including the Book of Revelation. In presenting the details pertaining to this subject in the plan of God, sometimes the word “offering” is used instead of sacrifice. This is the case in Genesis where the offerings of Cain and Abel are brought to our attention. (Gen. 4:3-5) Abel presented a flesh and blood offering to the Lord, while Cain, whose offering was not accepted, offered the fruit of the field. Commenting on this Paul said, ‘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.”—Heb. 11:4

Many sacrifices recorded in the Scriptures were presented on altars especially prepared for the purpose. The first mention of this is in Genesis 8, verses 20 and 21: “And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savor.”

Abraham’s Offering

We have another reference to an altar and to an offering recorded in Genesis, chapter 22. It is the account of Abraham offering up his son Isaac as a burnt offering to the Lord. We quote: “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”—vss. 9-12

The slaying of the Passover lamb was also in the nature of a sacrifice, although no altar is mentioned in connection with this offering. The lamb was slain, his blood sprinkled upon the lintels and door posts of the home, and its flesh was eaten. This sacrifice opened the way for the exodus of Israel from the land of Egypt.

The Lamb of God

In the 53rd chapter of Isaiah Jesus, the world’s Redeemer and Savior, is symbolically described as a lamb—a lamb which was led to the slaughter without protest. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus to his disciples he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29

The slain lamb symbolism of sacrifice on the part of Jesus is continued in the Book of Revelation. This Lamb is shown on Mount Sion and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. These are described as those who follow the Lamb [in sacrifice] “whithersoever he goeth.”—Rev. 14:1,4,5

Other Symbols

While the slain lamb symbolism, as it pertains to sacrifice in the plan of God, is thus seen to run throughout the Scriptures, other symbols are also used. This is particularly true in connection with the services of the tabernacle in the wilderness—services, the significance of which were so important that any disobedience to God’s commands concerning them was punishable by death. The Apostle Paul refers to the tabernacle and its services as being “shadows of good things to come.”

Various Sacrifices

One of the principal services of the tabernacle was conducted on Israel’s atonement day. It consisted basically of the offering of a bullock and a goat in sacrifice. These were called sin-offerings. In addition to the sin-offerings,—which were brought to the Lord under the arrangements of the tabernacle,—were burnt offerings, peace offerings, meat offerings, and trespass offerings.

The scriptural account of the atonement-day sacrifices carried out in the typical tabernacle is found in Leviticus, chapter 16. We wish to call special attention to the sacrifice of the bullock and the sacrifice of the goat. These are identified in the Book of Hebrews, and here the apostle shows that Christ fulfils the antitype of these typical sin-offerings. We read, “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?” (Heb. 9:11-14) And then again Paul said, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”—Heb. 10:4-10

There can be no doubt about the meaning of these scriptures, although we do need to read them with understanding. For example, the statement is made that the high priest entered into the holy of the tabernacle once with the blood of the sin-offering. The apparent reference is to the fact that this ceremony was carried out once each year. It was not something that was repeated every day or every month. Actually, however, on Israel’s day of atonement the high priest entered into the holy of the tabernacle twice—once with the blood of the bullock and once with the blood of the goat, and this blood he sprinkled upon the mercy seat as an atonement.

The blood of the bullock and that of the goat was the only blood in the typical tabernacle arrangements which was taken into the most holy and sprinkled on the mercy seat for sin. In Leviticus 6:30 we read, “No sin offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of the congregation to reconcile withal in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt in the fire.” The priests and the Levites who conducted Israel’s religious affairs were given no inheritance in the land. They depended upon the other tribes to supply them with the needs of life, including food, and one of the ways they obtained food was by eating the carcasses of animals which had been offered in sacrifice. But here we are informed that they were not permitted to do this in the case of the animals whose blood was taken into the Most Holy for sin.

This feature of God’s typical tabernacle arrangements is also mentioned by Paul in the Book of Hebrews. We quote: “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Heb. 13:10-13) Here again Jesus is identified as the antitype of the atonement-day sacrifice of Israel. Here we are given the additional information that we who are following in the footsteps of Jesus also share in the lesson of the type. Jesus suffered without the gate, and we are admonished to go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Sharing with Jesus

The general teachings of the New Testament with respect to the relationship of Jesus and his followers bear out this same thought. Jesus invited his followers to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow him. In Jesus’ day the Romans used crucifixion for inflicting the death sentence. Those condemned to death were often compelled to carry their own cross from the judgment hall to the place of crucifixion. This was true in the case of Jesus, although he was so weak that he needed help. To see anyone carrying a cross, followed by soldiers and others, meant that he was on the way to death.

Jesus carried his literal cross only a few moments, but actually he was on the way to death from the time of his baptism until he cried on the cross, “It is finished.” And it was this symbolic cross that he invited his disciples to carry. In other words, he invited them to die with him, to share with him in sacrifice and suffering. Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ.”—Gal. 2:20

Suffering and Glory

The Apostle Peter, referring to the prophetic testimony concerning the suffering of Christ, wrote that the Holy Spirit had “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” (I Pet. 1:11) In Colossians 1:24 the Apostle Paul explains that the followers of Jesus fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ. This indicates that the foretold sufferings of Christ referred to by Peter were not completed on Calvary; that is, followers share in this foretold suffering.

The Apostle Peter refers to this a number of times—sometimes by using the word suffering, sometimes by using the word sacrifice as in chapter 2, verse 5. In this verse the followers of Jesus are described as a priesthood, and the chief function of the typical priesthood was to offer sacrifices. In I Peter 2:9 Peter also refers to the church as a priesthood. I Peter 4:12,13 reads, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

A fuller explanation as to the quality of this offering and its purpose is also given by Peter. We quote: “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing, than for evil-doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” (I Pet. 3:17,18) This text is highly revealing. It states plainly that if we suffer for well-doing, it will be looked upon as the same type of suffering as that endured by Christ, and for the same purpose; that purpose being for sins—“For Christ ALSO hath once suffered for sins.”

Paul’s Further Testimony

The Apostle Paul had this thought clearly in mind, and spoke of it in his epistles a number of times. We read, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:16-18) Earlier in this same epistle Paul wrote, “know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Rom. 6:3-5) And again, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.”—Rom. 6:8-12

The fact that we are in the likeness of Jesus’ death is an important point which is made by Paul in the 6th chapter of Romans: In the 11th verse two key words are used which should not be overlooked. One is “likewise,” the other is “reckon.” The preceding verse tells us that Jesus died unto sin once—Rotherham says “once for all”—and then Paul says “likewise”; that is, our death is also unto sin even as Jesus’ death was. Jesus was never a sinner himself. He did not die unto sin in the sense that he overcame sin in his own body. He died unto sin because he died on account of the sins of the whole world. And Paul says, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.” There is no misunderstanding the meaning of this language! The word reckon should also be given its full weight of meaning in this connection. We are not dead unto sin sacrificially because we are entirely free from sin ourselves, but Paul authorizes us to reckon it this way because our imperfect sacrifice is made perfect through the shed blood of Jesus. That is why we can present our bodies, imperfect as they are, as living sacrifices, with the assurance that in God’s sight they are holy and acceptable.

Our Participation

Our participation in the sacrificial work of Christ, our being planted together in the likeness of his death, adds nothing to the ransom feature of Jesus’ work. The likeness is not in what is accomplished by Jesus’ sacrifice and what is accomplished by ours, but in the fact that his sacrifice was voluntary and sacrificial, and our sacrifice is voluntary and sacrificial and made acceptable to God by the merit of his blood.

A simple illustration might help at this point. We might think of a patient in a hospital, threatened with death by cancer. There is only one person who can prevent this, and that person is a qualified surgeon. The surgeon removes the cancer. No one else could do that. But from this point onward the interns and the nurses and the orderlies, and all who participate in any way in the work of the hospital, have a share in nursing that patient back to health. So Jesus made possible the removal of the cancer of sin through his ransom sacrifice; but his followers have the privilege also of laying down their lives, and in due time will share in the privilege of nursing the world of mankind back to health.

Returning to the 13th chapter of Hebrews, where Paul admonishes us to go to Jesus without the camp, bearing his reproach, we are not only reminded that we have the privilege of sharing in the sin-offering type, but as Paul continues in this chapter he reminds us of other features of the atonement-day sacrifices. Verse 15 reads, “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Paul’s reference here to the sacrifice of praise might well be based upon the offering of the incense on the golden altar within the tabernacle. He describes it as the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks in his name.

But what does this really mean in the practical sense of the word? It is interesting and encouraging to have the apostle interpret for us the meaning of the praise sacrifice on the day of atonement, but to bring this knowledge right down to a practical force in our own lives, what does it imply? Paul seems to answer this question in verse 16, where we read, “For to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased.” God was not always well-pleased with the tabernacle sacrifices of bulls and goats, but he is well-pleased if we understand the lesson which these sacrifices teach; namely, that we are to lay down our lives not on literal altars, but in doing good and communicating blessings to others. The truth is the greatest source of blessing we can communicate, but we are not to close our hearts to needs along other lines, especially among the brethren, for as Paul says, “With such sacrifices God is well-pleased.” A thought similar to this is presented to us in Galatians 6:7-10: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Thus seen, our sacrifice is indeed on behalf of others, and made acceptable through the blood of Christ. When Jesus instituted the memorial supper he explained that the cup represented his blood, and he invited his disciples to partake of this. Under the Jewish law the penalty of death was imposed upon those who drink blood, but here Jesus is inviting his disciples to drink of his blood with the thought that they will have his life. It is his life, inspiring them to sacrifice, which makes their sacrifice acceptable. How precious indeed is the blood of Christ, and all the divine arrangements for carrying out his plan, but thrice precious is his blood to us when we realize that through it we can participate in Jesus’ sacrifice; that the receiving of it leads unto sacrificial death, but if we are faithful, will be followed by glory, honor, and immortality.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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