It isn’t uncommon for folks to look to the sacrificial system under the Law of Moses as what God needed to forgive sins in the Old Testament. This immediately paints a picture that unless blood is shed, God has no power to forgive sins – which ultimately puts the power in the sacrifice, not God. But, doesn’t Hebrews plainly tell us that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins? How is it that Christ can tell folks in Matthew 6 to forgive men their trespasses or how can Paul tell the Ephesians to forgive one another when none of these are predicated upon performing sacrifices under the Law? Can God forgive sins without the shedding of blood? Is the sacrificial system under the Law necessary to accomplish this? I want to highlight a few verses from Hebrews that we might breeze by and not really stop to consider their ramifications.
In Hebrews 9, the author is discussing the redemption we have through the blood of Christ.
Hebrews 9:11 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; 9:12 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. 9:13 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: 9:14 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?
Note the contrast – if the sacrifices of animals purified THE FLESH, how much more shall the blood of Christ, purge our CONSCIENCES from DEAD WORKS to SERVE the LIVING GOD? The old sacrifices gave the impression of purging through the flesh, but ultimately didn’t accomplish anything of the sort where one’s conscience is concerned. As we’ll see in chapter 10, the sacrifices of the Law of Moses had a fairly one-dimensional purpose and it had nothing to do with taking away the sins of the people. In verse 22 of chapter 9, he mentions that almost all things are by the law purged with blood because (BY THE LAW is the implication) without the shedding of blood there is no remission. Remission means to “send away” – it is the same concept as forgiveness. Hebrews doesn’t record that without the shedding of blood God cannot forgive sins. Hebrews notes that THE LAW requires the shedding of blood in order to have remission BY THE LAW. The Law cannot provide total remission, for ALMOST all things are purged by blood. (This would be reference to sins committed willfully vs sins committed ignorantly – Leviticus 15. Sins committed in ignorance had a sacrifice, whereas willful sins had no sacrifice under the Law). This might come as surprise but the author of Hebrews reminds us that the Law had requirement, yet, these requirements weren’t given to satisfy God, but to satisfy the Law. In Chapter 10, we’ll see more about what these sacrifices did, as it relates to the memory of sin for MAN.
Hebrews 10:1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 10:2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
The author of Hebrews has been discussing the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice as it relates to the sacrifices required under the Law of Moses. The Law simply shadowed the good things to come, but could NOT perfect those who continually made the sacrifices. In other words, every year when they would offer the sacrifice for atonement (Leviticus 16), if those sacrifices could have accomplished perfection simply by their pointing toward or foreshadowing the superior sacrifice (Christ), then they would have simply stopped sacrificing and have rested in the finished work of the superior sacrifice. (This is one reason why I don’t favor the idea of people “looking forward to the cross for their salvation” in the Old Testament – if they did, as Hebrews 10:1-2 suggests, they would have stopped making the sacrifices as not necessary in light of the cross they were looking forward on.) If the inferior sacrifices were offered could purge them of their conscious of sin, then no need for the Superior sacrifice to happen later.
Hebrews 10:3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Notice that these yearly atonement sacrifices resulted in a REMEMBRANCE of sins – not a removal of sins. Why? Because it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. The sacrifices under the Law of Moses were not there to take away sins – they didn’t picture Christ’s death in taking away sins (Hebrews 9:26), but they simply pointed to the reality of their futility and the need of a Superior sacrifice. No one in the Old Testament could look to the sacrifices of atonement and claim that their sins were removed – but, that was the point! The sacrifices weren’t there to take away sins but were there to serve as a REMEMBRANCE of sins FOR THE PEOPLE. God certainly doesn’t need reminders, but the people were to perform these sacrifices to REMIND THEM of THEIR SIN. Some might say that it was to remind them of their sin and also what God requires because of it, but this is contrary to what Hebrews is getting at. We’ve created this idea that God requires bloodshed to forgive sins because somehow He has no power to forgive without them. But, the author of Hebrews is putting forward the notion that sacrifices for sin were not for God, but were for MAN – it was to constantly remind MAN of MAN’s shortcomings before God. As Paul writes in Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and are coming short of the glory of God. Regardless of the measuring stick of our own consciences, we all are continually reminded of our coming short of God’s glory.
Hebrews 10:5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 10:6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
Notice verse 6 – God had no pleasure in the offerings and sacrifices for sins. God’s desire for Christ was not sacrifice and offering, but a body of wholeness was prepared for Him. I’m not suggesting Christ didn’t have to die – not at all. However, from God’s perspective, the sacrifice of Christ was necessary even though that wasn’t God’s ultimate desire for His Son. God had no pleasure in the old sacrifices because they weren’t ordained for His benefit. Again, they were ordained for man’s.
Hebrews 10:7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. 10:8 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; 10:9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10:10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The author quotes from Psalms 40:7-9 that despite God’s desire to not have sacrifice, yet, because man needed it, the Son was subjected to the Father’s will. Yet in His Sacrifice, Christ builds upon the old covenant in order to establish a second covenant, which sanctifies us through the offering of Christ’s body. When you see the idea of the first covenant being “taken away”, we shouldn’t be quick to conclude that the author is making a statement of cessation of the Law of Moses–this isn’t the idea at all. The Law of Moses was simply the ground work upon which the second covenant (made through Christ’s death) was made. Think of this as when a computer operating system receives a service pack upgrade. The original operating system doesn’t cease to exist, but was the very foundation upon which the upgrade was made possible. Just as the sacrifices under the Law of Moses served as a continual reminder of Man’s sin, Christ’s sacrifice proves better because it is a continual reminder of our sanctification. The reminder of sin was due to sacrifices made continually and they are therefore inferior to Christ’s sacrifice, which the author of Hebrews doesn’t see as continual reminder of sin, but of our sanctification. (might be something to consider – how often do we think of Christ’s death as a reminder of sin? I’m not suggesting He didn’t die for sin nor that He didn’t become sin for us – that’s not the point. What I’m suggesting, based on what the author of Hebrews is tracking on, is should Christ’s sacrifice not be a continual reminder of that which is done away (sin), but of us being sanctified through His sacrifice? The old sacrifices were inferior because they could only remind of their sin. What does Christ’s death remind us of most?)
Hebrews 10:11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 10:12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 10:13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 10:14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. 10:15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, 10:16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 10:17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 10:18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
The inferior sacrifice had the priest who couldn’t rest. They were continually ministering atonement and helping the people navigate their atonement. They were constantly tending the alter – constantly handling the sacrifices for sin. Yet, as verse 11 states, these sacrifices could never take away sins. Yet, “this man”, Jesus Christ, after He offered Himself, SAT DOWN at the right hand of God. The inferior sacrifice gave no rest to the priests, but Jesus Christ, as High Priest for humanity, by the sacrifice of Himself, demonstrated the superiority of His sacrifice as not only giving rest to the people from their sin, but allowed Christ as Priest to rest – He sat down at the right hand of God. Where the old sacrifices couldn’t bring perfection (remember verse 1), Christ’s sacrifice perfected forever those that are sanctified. It is based on Christ’s sacrifice that God’s memory is not of sins. We even see God’s purpose for what would be in our minds. Is it a remembrance of sins? No, not at all – but it is the law of God written upon our hearts.
God wasn’t almost satisfied by the old sacrifices and it just needed Christ to finally tip the satisfaction scale. God wasn’t interested in those things. God gave the sacrifices through the Law to continually serve humanity with a summons where their conscience would continually be proven guilty. These sacrifices weren’t for God. The sacrifice of Christ isn’t what God needed, but is what MAN needed. God doesn’t send Christ because He is on the verge of destroying mankind unless Christ steps in His way (which makes the trinity get out of alignment, by the way). God sent Christ because of what MAN needed and because Christ’s sacrifice was superior, it doesn’t serve as a yearly reminder of sin, but of a once-and-for-all remove and putting away of sins! Let’s not lose sight of the real implications of the sacrifice of Christ. It shouldn’t be a continual reminder of our sin as His sacrifice is superior to the old sacrifices. Christ’s sacrifice should be a continual reminder of His achievement, His rest, our remission of sins and His sanctification through the perfecting of the saints, resulting in our rest. Our minds should remember the Law of God that is written thereupon, not the sin that was purged.
Are we seeking the dead among the living?? Some things to consider…