Why is this sacrifice different from all other sacrifices?
The bloodshed and gore depicted in The Passion Of The Christ may be criticized for being superfluous violence but the wickedness surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus that day was in fact a necessary evil.
Indeed it was a conspiracy by wicked men driven by ambitious and selfish reasons to hold control.
But really, did they have control? They did what they did only because God allowed it. There was a reason and a plan behind it all. It was a plan written by an omniscient God and executed by his obedient son.
In order to understand this, we must examine this drama in its proper perspective. Seeing this in its larger scheme of historical and cultural events reveals how and why this was part of a divine set-up which fell perfectly in place for godly purposes.
All that happened had to happen on and during Passover. It had to happen then, within those 24 hours, not any sooner or later. About six months earlier during the Feast of Booths, Jesus already knew that the religious leaders were out to kill him. But he maintained a low profile, not wanting to be so public about his appearance because as he said twice: “My hour has not yet come” (John 7: 6, 7.) The temple officials conspired to arrest him then, but somehow they never managed it because “his hour had not yet come” (John: 30, 8:20.)
But when Passover drew near “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father “ (John 13:1.) It was for this very purpose that he came to this world, he said in (John 10:10-18) John the Baptist saw this prophetically three years earlier, even before Jesus started his ministry. Twice when he saw Jesus, he exclaimed: “Look, the Lamb of God,” (John 1:36) who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29.)
Jesus was to be the Lamb. Why? God explained the need for sacrifice in Leviticus 17:11 when Israel became his chosen people. The life of the flesh is in the blood and it was given to us for making atonement for our lives. It is the blood that makes atonement. The consequence of sin is death (Genesis 2:16-17.) Death here is not only physical death but spiritual death and separation from God. The killing of the animal takes the place of the death of the sinner. Jesus was to be the Passover lamb, THE lamb to be sacrificed during this specific Passover. His capture, binding and killing was destined to take place within that day of the festival.
Passover - one of the three most auspicious great feasts that God commanded the Jews to observe - required days of preparation. Significant is the requirement to cleanse the home of yeast, symbolizing sin, and not have the leaven in the home during the whole festival. Jews today still observe Passover and the Seder meal (as it is called) follows much of the same order today as it did in when it began.
At the Passover meal – which is what the Last Supper was – it is customary in every home for a child to ask this one important question at the start of the meal: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This question allowed the head of household to tell of God’s deliverance of the Israelites in the Exodus. Every thing on the dinner table would be symbolic reminders of their trials in Egypt and God’s provision and power to deliver them.
From the time Passover was inaugurated just prior to the Exodus up to and during the time of Jesus, lamb sacrifices were central to the festival. There were these sacrifices:
Now, set in this light, Jesus, on the night of the Passover meal, broke bread and poured out the wine and offered himself up symbolically as the Passover lamb in the presence of his disciples. Within the next 24 hours, He was now going to be the sacrificial lamb for the atonement of sin. He was about to be seized, bound, and slaughtered. Everything prior to this had been already prepared for this moment.
- The Passover lamb – an unblemished year-old lamb had to be slaughtered at the start of Passover held on the fourteenth day of the Jewish first month. At the time of Jesus, the lamb was roasted and eaten during the Passover meal with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It was the lamb’s blood placed on the lintel and door post in Exodus 12:23 that distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians. In obedience to this, they did not have their firstborn struck down. After they were “passed over,” God brought them out of slavery to freedom.
- There were other offerings made during Passover week. The Israelites were commanded in Numbers 28:16-23 to sacrifice three different offerings by the high priest as an act of thanksgiving and atonement of sin. (Passover week comprises Passover celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month plus the Feast of Unleavened Bread starting the next day, the fifteenth day, and celebrated for seven days.) On the fifteenth day - first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread - there were to be a burnt offering of animals, a grain offering and most pertinent to Jesus’ sacrifice one male goat or lamb as a sin offering to make atonement.
In Jesus’ day, each family would have brought a lamb to the temple court and have it slaughtered by the priests. In fact they had to select the lamb several days before Passover, not only to be sure that the lamb was unblemished and without defect, but also that they would be attached to the lamb so that it became “their family lamb”. This is crucial because after all, this innocent lamb was to represent them and to die in place of them for their sin. God required that the person identified with the sacrifice in the atonement of sin. It was not enough just to buy a lamb and hand it to the priest to do away with his sin. The sacrifice involved a committed response of the heart. Today there are no sacrifices because they were stopped after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.
During that time because of the large number of pilgrims coming for the feast, these sacrifices continued in to the second day of Passover (as revealed in 2Chronicles 29.)
The historic background: During this time, under the rule of the Romans, the festival of Passover brought with it what we would today call a “Code Red heightened security alert.” Thousands of Jewish pilgrims in the neighboring areas flocked to Jerusalem and to the temple area bringing their sacrificial animals. Logistically, it must have been a time of high tension for the Romans to keep control of the crowds. It was a time when the Israelites looked forward to yet another deliverance, this time from their Roman oppressors. Any disturbance to the peace also threatened the position and political stability of the temple high priests who wielded strong power. (See Who Killed Jesus? for more on the role of the chief priests.)
The people identified with him: The crowds of pilgrims who welcomed Jesus, hailing him as king (Matthew 21:1-11) and Jesus driving out the vendors at the temple (Matthew 21:12-13) heightened the already existing tension. Matthew reports this of Jesus: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10.) The Pharisees noted: “The whole world has gone after him” (John 12:19.) This was the period when there were claims by other people as Messiah; Jesus’ ministry and movement therefore was seen as potentially subversive and seditious. The authorities feared the threat of potential rebellion and insurgence.
Consider the language used when Jesus rode into Jerusalem with the welcoming shouts of: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" The people were crying out the words of Psalms 118 which is a psalm of deliverance sung during the Passover meal. The term “Hosanna” comes from “annah YHWH hoshi’ah nna” which translates to “avenge or deliver us now, we beseech you Jesus, son of David!” (It was for this reason that Pilate said to the Jews "Here is your king." John 19:14.) Without realizing it, this crowd was picking him to be their Lamb that would save them, right at the time that there were people selecting their lambs for sacrifice.
The sprinkling of blood: The form of brutality exercised on Jesus – scourging and crucifixion – was not uncommon. The Romans would publicly beat and crucify insurgents (in today’s terms “terrorists” ) to crush any attempts at revolt. The scourging, perfected to bring the most excruciating pain, and public crucifixion were used to deter rebels. Barabbas who was released instead of Jesus was such a terrorist. Many people died by crucifixion so in that sense, Jesus was treated no differently. What makes him stand out in history is summed up in one verse in Luke 24:7: “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and the third day rise again.”
But the blood and gore may have been a necessity. Note that in Leviticus 1 and 3 the Lord commanded five times in different sacrifices to “sprinkle the blood around on the altar.” Sin offering sacrifices were bloody and this was mentioned many times in Leviticus 4, 8 and 9. God commanded that the priest dipped his finger in the blood. Not only was the blood to be sprinkled on, around and at the sides of the altar, sometimes it was also to be poured out at the base of the altar and even placed on the right ear, right thumb and right toe of the person for which the sacrifice was made (Leviticus 14.) There are also details on what to do with the entrails. Blood has a great significance to the act of sacrifice because of it distinctive attributes. Leviticus 17:11 says “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
The crucifixion: Jesus was arrested and brought before the high priest and the governor, tried, bound, flogged and crucified. He hung on the cross from 9 am to 3 pm at the very hours the burnt offering and sin-offering sacrifices were going on at the temple. And, at the precise hour when the sacrifice for the atonement of sin was carried out, Jesus said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34 and moments later, He said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” according to Luke 23:46, and “It is finished” according to John 19:30. His work on earth was completed perfectly. The timing had to be perfect.
The agony that Christ endured is not only a series of gory torture after another. It may have been carried out by groups of people motivated by personal interest and political ambition but there were cosmic purposes in play that required that the timing of his death was to be that very hour, that very day. Indeed, the extreme violence and wickedness displayed by the temple officials and Roman authorities symbolized and emphasized the darkness of evil and depth of the sin that was upon Jesus. The chief priests had to be the ones responsible for the killing because only temple priests could offer sacrifices. Jesus had to die there in Jerusalem because only there were the temple sacrifices being offered. The pieces of the drama – which are of such intricate details – are only part of the bigger cosmic picture. It could only have fit so exactly because it was orchestrated by God. No one else could have directed the players and synchronized the timing so precisely.
This sacrifice was perfect. Sacrifices had to be without blemish: this was so important it was said 29 times in Leviticus and Numbers! Jesus was without sin. Even the so-called trials could not bring up any charges. The chief priests found not find any and the Pontius Pilate could not find him guilty. (See article on Who Killed Jesus?) When he hung dead on the cross, none of his bones were broken. The nails were pierced in such a way that kept his bones intact. He did not have his legs broken to speed up death. He surrendered himself in the sacrifice.
He was also the perfect sacrifice because we can identify with him being human, far more than a lamb. He represented man much more perfectly. Acts 4:12 said : "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Faith lessons: Jesus’ work on the cross teaches us
Jesus has shown us what it means to be obedient to the Father. He has given us the example of what must be endured and suffered in order to carry out the Father’s will. We need to live our lives seeing God’s bigger picture even despite great tribulations and trials. How he died teaches us the way we should live.
- Submission He knew exactly what the will of God was and he submitted to it by allowing himself to be bound and sacrificed in the same way that Isaac allowed himself to be bound for sacrifice by his father Abraham. He was not a victim. He was willing to follow the will of the Father, completely trusting him in carrying out the plan.
- Servanthood He came for his people - for all of us - and he did it selflessly and in love. Even during his agony, he considered and served others. He promised the thief that he will be in heaven with him (Luke 23:43,) he made provisions for his mother (John 19:26-27,) and he forgave all those who caused the agony (Luke 23:34.)
- Staying the course He knew exactly what God’s vision was and he did everything in order to have that vision fulfilled. When it was not time for him, he went about secretly to avoid arrest. When it was time, he allowed the move to be made. He pressed on despite the extreme physical pain to stay with the plan.
- Suffering The road to salvation is not a smooth and easy one, just as in the Exodus that the way to the Promised Land was via the desert. He paid a very high price enduring the punishment that he did not deserve so that we can have that freedom from the bondage of sin.
It also shows us God’s faithfulness. The political powers meant it for evil but God used it for good. “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28.) Do not forget that Jesus died and on the third day, he rose from the dead. Because of Jesus’ obedience,
“God also highly exalted him and gave him
the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus,
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
Our faith challenge:
Without the sacrifice to atone sin, we are all doomed to death. It is clear that Jesus bore the sin of the world. We must recognize that the sacrifice was for your sin and my sin. We must see that all the suffering and blood and gore was for your freedom. We must understand that it was all in God’s plan to bring you to him through his son Jesus. This tells of so much about our God. The challenge is this: Do you, will you, identify with this Passover Lamb? There needs to be a commitment of the heart. Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. What is your response?
Jesus’ death is not the end of the drama. God’s script has not been completely played out yet. There is a happy ending.