The Consequent Absolute Necessity of Jesus’ Sacrifice

The Consequent Absolute Necessity of Jesus’ Sacrifice

By Donna Fishter

July 2010

Did Jesus have to die for our salvation? It seems pretty horrific to be crucified.  If God is sovereign couldn’t he have chosen another way? There are many more questions about the work of Christ that we ask over and over.  I submit the following proposition in response to these and similar questions.  It was of consequent absolute necessity that Jesus, the Son of God, be the substitutionary sacrifice for his people being both priest and sacrifice and the archetype for the Mosaic sacrificial system.

Prior to digging into the proposition we will unpack what God’s meta-narrative is for creation for this is where all interpretation needs to begin.  Matthew writes, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  Throughout the New Testament it is the Kingdom of God that is mentioned over and over again (i.e. Matthew 3:2, 6:33; John 18:36).  Most Christians believe that salvation is of ultimate importance to God. Fasten your seatbelts. I propose that the Kingdom of God is the Father’s highest priority and salvation is one function in this grand plan.  God’s end result is a Kingdom. He created the Garden of Eden (a piece of land of creaturely perfection) so that he could dwell with Adam and Eve there.  Life was promised if Adam and Eve kept his commands and disobedience would bring death.  This brings understanding to the atonement.  God has decreed if there is not perfect obedience the consequence is death (remember consequent absolute necessity).  There is one thing God can’t do and that is go against his decretive will. So when Adam sinned the consequence of death was imminent.  The kingdom was till to come so there had to be a human that could perfectly obey the law so the blessing of life could be poured out.  God’s demand of holiness and justice had to take place (Isaiah 53).[1] John Murray writes, “The law of God has both penal sanctions and positive demands.”[2] The passive obedience of Jesus’ crucifixion fulfilled the penal sanctions of the Father and Jesus’ active obedience fulfilled the positive demands of following the Father’s law perfectly. Paul writes in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”  The sacrifice of Jesus goes all the way back to the beginning of creation. Once we understand God’s ultimate goal of dwelling with his people in his kingdom and the requirements for this, it is then that the absolute necessity of the atonement becomes clear.  Jesus was the only person who could fulfill the holiness and justice required by the Father.  It was of consequent absolute necessity that the Son of God be the subsitutionary sacrifice for all humanity.

Was Jesus actually a sacrifice as part of the Levitical economy? The sacrificial system in ancient Israel was a foreshadowing of the final sacrifice of Jesus.  The definition of foreshadowing is to show before or prefigure.  But in a literal sense we must keep in mind that Jesus’ sacrifice actually came before the sacrificial system. Jesus is the archetypal sacrifice and the sacrifices in ancient Israel were ectypal or copies.  An archetype is the “original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based.”[3] Jesus’ sacrifice was the model or pattern for the ectypes or copies in the Levitical economy of ancient Israel.  We normally think of the sacrificial system as chronologically coming first because it happened first in history.  Actually Jesus’ sacrifice happened first in heaven.  God is outside of time. He is eternal.  Everything for God is instantaneous.  All things happened in heaven first in the decrees of God before happening here on earth (I Peter 1:20).  We must always keep in mind the heavenly realm is eternal, final and complete and the earthly realm is temporary, provisional and partial. [4]

Even though Jesus’ sacrifice did not follow the Levitical economy exactly, it does align with the functions of the four different types of Mosaic offerings.  The sin (guilt) offering functioned as punishment for sin and in I Peter 2:24 and Isaiah 53:5 we read that Jesus bore the punishment for our sins.  The burnt offering required total destruction of the sacrifice functioning as total destruction of sin and consecrating the worshiper to God.  Jesus suffered total destruction for sin and “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).  The grain (cereal) offering functioned as payment for what was due. Jesus paid the Father what was due…perfect obedience to the law.  Finally, the fellowship (peace, thanksgiving, vowed, freewill) offering functioned as enjoyment of God’s blessings and fellowship.  The worshiper consumed the animal in order to share in God’s holiness. Through the offering of Jesus we have communion with God by partaking of his flesh and blood. “And when he had given thanks he broke it and said, ‘this is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:24). [5] Some might argue that Jesus broke the law because human sacrifice was detestable to God. In reality the sacrifice of innocent children is detestable to God (Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5, 2 King 23:10, Jeremiah 32:35, Deuteronomy 12:31).  Jesus was not a child on the cross and neither was he innocent because he took on the sins of us all.  Self-sacrifice in a substitionary role is affirmed by Jesus, “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “The Jesus who affirmed the law saw no contradiction in voluntarily dying for his friends.” [6]

Besides aligning with the functions of the four different types of Mosaic offerings, Jesus’ sacrifice also aligns with the Mosaic rituals taking place during the process of offering a sacrifice.  Remember that the sacrificial system is all based on allowing God’s people access to him. There had to be a means for maintaining holiness in order to be in his presence.  In ancient Israel God’s dwelling was the tabernacle and later on the temple.  The place his presence occupies is of extreme importance.  When we look at the meta-narrative of Scripture we can trace God’s presence from the garden, the tabernacle, the temple and finally to the kingdom.  All of these places involve his presence, his land, and his people…. three of the most important aspects of an empire.

Understanding that sacrifice can never be separated from the idea of the tabernacle and God’s people, now we can unpack how the sacrifice of Jesus aligns with the Mosaic rituals in the sin/guilt offering of the sacrificial system.  The sequence of an offering begins with the worshiper bringing an animal without blemish to the courtyard of the tabernacle.  The animal had to be without blemish to maintain holiness in the camp.  Further, the worshiper had to have either purchased this animal or raised it in order that the offering has cost him something.  (It was the Jews, the people of God, who brought Jesus to be crucified. He was the perfect sacrifice without blemish so that we could enter into communion with him). The worshiper then would lay his hands on the animal to identify with it, thus signifying the transfer of sins from the worshiper to the animal. The worshiper would then kill the animal in the courtyard of the tabernacle.  (Jesus took on the sins of the Jews who brought him to be sacrificed). The high priest then takes over the process because he is the only person who can enter the holy place with the animal’s blood.  According to Scripture blood equals life, so the blood of the animal pays the penalty for disobedience (Leviticus 17:11, 14). (Jesus is the only holy person that can present his offering to God). Blood is sprinkled on the horns and sides of the altar so it is prepared to receive the animal and the remaining blood is poured around the base of the altar signifying a re-cleansing of the altar and land (earth).  (Jesus’ blood fell from the cross to the earth). The body of the animal is then burned outside of the camp. “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:11-12).  The sacrificial system in ancient Israel cannot provide final cleansing because it is an earthly copy of the heavenly reality.  Jesus fulfilled the final sacrifice both as our substitute and as our high priest (Hebrews 7:26-28; 9:6-15) but not from Levitical line of Aaron. A new priest was needed from the order of Melchizedek who was a priest and a king (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6-7).  “When there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law…”(Hebrews 7:12, 23ff). [7]

This change in the law brings us to the fulfillment of the sacrificial system in Christ giving us access to God and life in the kingdom.  A lot of times there are discussions about law vs. grace or old covenant vs. new covenant.  This can become a bit confusing as the word “law” is used in several different contexts and narrowing the covenants of God down to two is detrimental to the hermeneutics of Scripture. Therefore, I choose to explain this change under the headings of expiation vs. propitiation.  The only thing accomplished in ancient Israel through the sacrificial system was that of expiation which is the removal of grounds of estrangement.  For example, if I hit your car in the parking lot and there is about $700 worth of damage and I go to the ATM and bring back $700 for you to get it fixed I have taken care of the problem.  But, if I took your keys and traded vehicles with you and got yours fixed and then took you to lunch and began building a deep friendship with you that would be considered propitiation.  It is the difference between being engaged vs. being married or being a citizen of the kingdom vs. a son of the king.  Propitiation allows us to be in covenant relationship with our King!

Romans 3:25

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;

 

Hebrews 2:17

Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

 

I John 2:2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

 

I John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.


[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied(Grand Rapids:  Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1955), 32.

[2] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids:  Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1955), 21.

[3] Dictionary.com

[4] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids:  Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1955), 16.

[5] Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991), 49ff.

[6] Glenn Miller, “Was Jesus’ death a violation of the commandment against human sacrifice?,” 5/31/96, http://www.christian-thinktank.com/sacra.html (11 July 2010).

[7] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids:  Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1955), 24ff.

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