In our nearly year-long study of John’s Gospel, the final roughly one-third of the book focuses on the final week leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross. The timing is prophetic as it is during the Jewish Passover. All of Passover was prophetic and preparing people for the coming of Jesus starting with the blood sacrifice of the lamb.
Blood is an unpleasant subject to many because it brings to mind suffering and death. Curiously, the Bible is a book literally filled with blood. On 362 occasions, the Old Testament speaks of blood, most often referring to sacrifices and death by violence. The New Testament also speaks of blood 92 times, most commonly in reference to violent death. Much of the Bible’s teaching about blood is in relation to the hundreds of appearances of related issues such as the Temple, priesthood, fire, and smoke.
The shedding of blood and animal sacrifice likely began with God, after the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, as God covered their nakedness and shame with the skin of an animal (Genesis 3:21). Other sacrifices were offered by Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job (Genesis 4:1-5; 8:20; 22:3, 13; 26:25; 33:20; 35:7; Job 1:5). Perhaps the most insightful sacrifice was done by Abraham in place of Isaac, where it was promised that one day, through Jesus, God would provide the ultimate sacrifice (Genesis 22:14).
Blood was again shed in Exodus at the Passover (Exodus 12:1-30), which was commemorated each year with the Feast of Passover. Later, sacrifices were only conducted by priests at the temple (Deuteronomy 12:5-14) according to strict protocol (Leviticus 1-7).
The process of animal sacrifice was an incredibly personal confession of sin. First, an unblemished animal was chosen, symbolizing perfection. Second, the worshipper would draw near the animal that was to be substituted in place of the worshipper. Third, the worshipper would lay hands on the animal to identify with it, confessing their sins in repentance over the animal. Fourth, the animal was then killed and its blood shed as the penalty for sin.
Nonetheless, the Old Testament practice of sacrificial atonement was declared by God to be insufficient for the remission of sin (Psalm 40:6; 51:16; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Hebrews 10:4). This is because those sacrifices were only preparatory in anticipation of the death of Jesus (Jeremiah 31:34b; Hebrews 8:3-13). Additionally, the Old Covenant practice of sacrifice was often undertaken by people who did not truly love God in their hearts and instead had only an outward faith (Proverbs 7 especially verse 14; Proverbs 15:8; Psalm 51:17; Hosea 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:21-22).
Because the bloodshed of animals in the Old Covenant was insufficient, Jesus was sent to shed His blood as our God-man who atones for our sin and bring us into the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 7:22). Therefore, Jesus is our Great High Priest who is, in every way, superior to all the priests of the Old Covenant (Hebrews 2:17; 4:14-15). He laid down his life as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins (John 1:29). He is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) who has saved us from sin and death by His blood (1 Peter 1:18-19) that was shed once to forgive all sin (Hebrews 9:26; 10:10).
Today, there is no longer a Temple, priesthood, or sacrificial system since the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. But, in the New Covenant, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and Christians are a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9). As Christians, we do not offer animal sacrifices but do celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus in communion (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). And we do offer our lives (Romans 12:1-2), good deeds (Hebrews 13:16), money (Philippians 4:18), and worshipful singing (Hebrews 13:15) as living sacrifices to Jesus.
What difference has Jesus’ sacrifice made in your life?