How was it a sacrifice, if He was immortal and subsequently resurrected?
Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah and that He came, not only to sojourn with us for a season, but ultimately to serve as the perfect sacrifice for our sins and thereby reconcile humanity to God the Father. That is, He was punished in our stead for our sins and provided absolution for all believers. We believe that Jesus was perfect and untouched by sin. Therefore, He alone could be the perfect sacrifice and that only He could be an offering worthy for sin’s remission.
“Jesus tilted His head back, pulled up one last time to draw breath and cried, “Tetelestai!” It was a Greek expression most everyone present would have understood. It was an accounting term. Archaeologists have found papyrus tax receipts with “Tetelestai” written across them, meaning “paid in full.” With Jesus’ last breath on the cross, He declared the debt of sin cancelled, completely satisfied. Nothing else required. Not good deeds. Not generous donations. Not penance or confession or baptism or…or…or…nothing. The penalty for sin is death, and we were all born hopelessly in debt. He paid our debt in full by giving His life so that we might live forever.” – Charles R. Swindoll
Many Atheists, who endeavor to challenge the value of Jesus’ crucifixion, ask this question: “How is it that Jesus ‘temporary’ death provides for the ‘permanent’ absolution of mankind’s sin?” This question, in the minds of Christianity’s detractors, appears to present us with a troublesome challenge to our most beloved doctrine, and even our entire faith. However, this simply isn’t true and the work of this essay is to demonstrate why.
This will be done by addressing the following topics:
I. What does the term ‘sacrifice’ mean to Father God as opposed to Man’s understanding of it?
II. What exactly took place on Calvary’s Cross?
III. It is a wrongheaded, ill intended and the product of Biblical ignorance to focus only upon on the temporal nature of the Christ’s physical death
I. Defining sacrifice and offering
First, the nature and meaning of the term ‘sacrifice’, as it pertains to God’s requirement to atone for sin, is bound to the parameters set by God, not manmade definitions. In this section, we’ll attempt to understand the term more fully.
1. Sacrifice as a verb
The term ‘sacrifice’ as a verb relates, of course, to the act of sacrifice itself. When a sacrifice is made, one gives up something they want to keep for themselves. A sacrifice of this nature is usually associated with the giving up of one thing to obtain something else.
2. Sacrifice as a noun
A good way of understanding ‘sacrifice’ as a noun is to view it in relation to the term ‘offering’. So, a sacrifice in this sense, would be an offering; something offered that bears great significance because a sacrifice was made to provide said ‘offering’. Christ’s crucifixion is referenced as both a sacrifice in (I Cor 5.7; Eph 5.2; Heb 9.28; 10.12) and also as an offering in (Eph 5.2; Heb 8.3; 10.14).
3. Sacrifices as referenced in the Old Testament
Sin quickly led to bloodshed and death upon the Earth. Even after the Original Sin, God immediately killed animals and made clothing for Adam and Eve, for example. Observe: Gen. 3:21 – “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” We mention this here because, we want it understood that we are building to an ‘ultimate point’ regarding blood atonement. Bloodshed and sacrifice of this type would never had been necessary if not for Sin.
When we think of ‘sacrifice’ in this sense, we picture ancient Hebrew people slaying animals from their flocks on an alter as an offering to God to atone for sin. And this is not an inaccurate perception, provided that we understand it’s not the ‘only’ type offering one could provide. Pertaining to Old Testament offerings, there were: 1. Burnt Offerings (Lev 1; 6:8-13; 8:18-21; 16:24) 2. Grain Offering (Lev 2; 6:14-23) 3. Peace Offering (Lev 3; 7:11-34) 4. Sin Offering (Lev 4; 5:1-13; 6:24-30; 8:14-17; 16:3-22) 5. Trespass Offering (Lev 5:14-19; 6:1-7; 7:1-6)
These offerings were made, not only for atonement, but for other purposes. Worship, cleansing from defilement, unintentional sin, paying restitution etc. were all purposes for these offerings. We would also like to point out that, in all instances, the common denominator is a ‘giving up’ of something of value, not a permanent destruction of the thing offered.
So, it is true that bloodshed was caused by sin and it is true that animal sacrifice was given to us a means to offer something of value up to God for our sins. We see this confirmed here: Leviticus 17:11 -For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
Again, the sacrifices made during this time were about the relinquishment of ownership unto God and not about the death or destruction of that which was sacrificed. And not only this, the OT animal sacrifices were a mere foreshadow of the ‘only’ sacrifice that would truly provide Salvation for mankind. In Hebrews 10:4 we read, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” For mankind’s full redemption, something of much greater value had to be offered. And Christ was that offering as well as the giver of it. (Matt. 20:28)
II. The Cross Experience and its meaning
In this section, we point to the error of assuming that Jesus’ crucifixion was not sufficient simply because, He did not remain dead. We also ask that the reader also consider the intense shame experienced by a perfect entity, who very much felt pain as we do, being hung naked upon a Cross to slowly die. Moreover, consider also the shame of repudiation in His being accused and then punished on false charges.
Jesus is placed under arrest!
We concern ourselves first with the arrest and pre-crucifixion maltreatment of Jesus because, it speaks to the fact that He offered Himself willingly. He knew of Judas’ treachery and was in no way caught off guard when they came to arrest Him. (John 13:27) The fact that He didn’t simply vanish away proves this. Jesus made Himself an offering. Be aware that this is part of why His sacrifice was sufficient.
The plan to accuse and arrest Jesus was patently illegal and nefarious. It was an indefensible and unjust action taken against the most innocent of all men. Subsequent to His arrest, He was treated abusively and withstood the rigors of six separate trials. He faced false accusations and was ultimately convicted and sentenced for the crime of sedition.
Again, Jesus knew what was to come and actually prayed that he could avoid this terrible fate, but submitted to it as He wanted the will of Father God to be done. (Matthew 26:39-44). Once the reality of His immediate future was confirmed, He resolved within himself to face it. Let’s not forget the humanity of Christ. He felt pain and shame just we do and obviously did not relish what was to come. Nevertheless, He became both the perfect Sacrifice and the Giver of it for our sakes.
Not only did Jesus not escape, but He actually came to meet them. Amazingly, He also heals a servant’s ear after Peter had cut it off during the short lived fray with a sword. (Luke 22:51) This demonstrates His immense capacity for compassion. Anyone else would have been concerned only with what was to soon become of them.
And now, Jesus suffered the pain of being abandoned and was all alone to face the worst (Mark 14:50). Just as a lamb upon the sacrificial altar faced its fate alone, Jesus had no companions in this ordeal. To summarize what is commonly known, Jesus was brutally treated even before the crucifixion. The following verses describe this and we ought to take time to imagine how we ourselves would feel during such treatment, knowing full well it was undeserved.
Matthew 25:67 – Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,
26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
30 And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
31 And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
And after all of this, Jesus was then crucified. Experts, in diverse fields have examined and pondered the execution that Jesus willingly face for our sakes. He suffered one of the most horrendous, painful deaths mankind has ever conceived.
Do not discount the shame and suffering of the Cross
“We would either have a silent, a soft, a perfumed cross, sugared and honeyed with the consolations of Christ, or we faint; and providence must either brew a cup of gall and wormwood, mastered in the mixing with joy and songs, else we cannot be disciples. But Christ’s cross did not smile on him, his cross was a cross, and his ship sailed in blood, and his blessed soul was sea-sick, and heavy even to death.” – Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself
“The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place.
The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet.
As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.
Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
It is now almost over—the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level—the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues—the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.”
Adapted from C. Truman Davis, M.D. in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8
In our final section, we state logical conclusions that must be drawn in light of what we have now learned about the nature of sacrifice. It is our position that, Jesus said, “It is finished” and Father God agreed. With this pronouncement, Jesus Himself declared the work of the Cross to be done and sufficient. It was good enough for Him and God the Father and, therefore, ought to be clear enough for us to believe in.
God was pleased to accept Christ’s crucifixion as a propitiation for our sin to for these reasons:
1. Jesus didn’t remain dead as did the slain animals of the Old Testament did because, God the Father didn’t require it. That means, God was now the recipient of He who was briefly with us. His birth and residence upon the Earth was an undeserved occurrence in the life of man. And the gift of Christ Jesus was now returned to God in a manner that purchased our forgiveness and reconciliation.
2. God is all powerful and sovereign. What He did with Jesus, once He had been given over to Him, was His concern alone. Who are we to question God? If a shepherd in the Old Testament era had sacrificed a lamb only to have God resurrect it and take to Heaven, would that negate the gift’s significance? The Resurrection of Christ was necessary in that He alone is the One who will show redeemed man the way from the grave. He is the first fruits of the Resurrection and His failure to rise again would have been a tragedy as well as a victory for Satan.
3. Christ’s death was very real and therefore, in all points, satisfied the requirements for a worthy sacrifice. Nowhere do we read that sacrifices must result in permanent death to be a sacrifice.
4. The very fact that God the Son condescended, from on high to earth in human form, to be troubled and tempted as we are, was in and of itself a sacrifice. A permanent death for Jesus was not only unnecessary, but would have negated the power and capacity of God the Father to reconcile and restore.
In conclusion, those who made sacrifices in Old Testament times didn’t really make permanent sacrifices. God first gave them that which was sacrificed just as He gave us Jesus. And not only this, He restored these things to them in good time and thereby required them to trust Him and strengthen their faith. Will not the record of Heaven forever recount this event? Did Jesus’ body need to remain forever entombed for the experience to have an eternal effect? The answer is no.
C. David Ragland, Jr.
Sunday, December 14, 2014