For ancient Israel, it was understood that all blessings came from God. As an Israelite, you would select your finest animal to bring before the priest for inspection to ensure its perfection as a sacrifice (Leviticus 22). The priest would ensure the animal, not you, was pure. If you were perfect, you wouldn’t need a sacrifice in the first place, as no person is innocent or blameless due to sin. No imperfections were allowed, and the inspection took three days (Exodus 12:3-6).
If we see sacrificing as symbolically giving God a gift, then we would want to give God the finest gift possible, and since we are not perfect, the lamb could, in a sense, represent us. We bring the best gifts to those we love the most, and if God were to give us a lamb as a gift, it would be the Lamb of lambs. This is perhaps why John the Baptist was so excited when he saw Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). Just as the purity of the sacrifices was inspected, so was the perfection of Christ (1st Peter 2:22; Luke 23:4). Once found blameless, he could represent you and me:
Such a high priest truly meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)
In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system served as a channel through which we connected to God. In the New Testament, Jesus is both a sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18) and a “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14-16). He is the priest who gave himself as a sacrifice, once and for all:
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:12)
The book of Hebrews convinces us that the New Covenant in Christ is superior to the Old Covenant given by Moses. With a few points, we can see how and why Jesus’ sacrifice is superior to the Levitical sacrifices.
- The Levitical priests were elected due to their lineage, having nothing to do with their character. They were simply born into the priestly line. Jesus, however, was tested and proven worthy to be our representative priest (Hebrews 7:11–22).
- The priests would not live forever and therefore had to be replaced. Jesus, however, serves as a priest forever, never to be replaced (Hebrews 7:23–25).
- The priests had to first offer sacrifices for themselves because they were not perfect. However, Jesus was perfect and needed no sacrifice for Himself (Hebrews 7:26–27).
- The priests served in an earthly setting, a temporary shadow of that which Jesus ministered in — a heavenly setting (Hebrews 8:1–5).
- The fact that Jesus is the priest of a New Covenant proves it is superior to the Old Covenant, as a new one would not be needed if the old one was sufficient. (Hebrews 8:6–13).
- The high priest was able to enter the holy of holies once a year thanks to the blood of an animal sacrificed. Jesus entered the Heavenly sanctuary thanks to his blood and is now sitting at the right of the Father, ministering on our behalf (Hebrews 9:11–24).
- The quality of the sacrifices in the Old Testament was deficient, as animals had to be sacrificed repeatedly. This demonstrates their inferior value. The quality of Jesus’s sacrifice is superior and perfect like no other because Jesus is not another animal, nor was he created. His sacrifice is eternal because he is eternal. (Hebrews 9:25-10:4).
- Access to the Holy of Holies was barred. Besides the high priest, who was allowed to enter once a year, no one else was permitted. However, in Christ, we may “Enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.” (Hebrews 10:19–20, Matthew 27:51).
Picture this biblical setting: (1) God who’s in the heavens; (2) The mediating priest; (3) The sacrifice; (4) The one who brings the sacrifice. Jesus took the place of both the priest and the sacrifice that humanity offered on the cross to God in heaven. Everything has been done on our behalf; “It is finished” (John 19:30). All that the sinner may (and should) do is accept, in faith, the gift of salvation and respond with gratitude by sacrificing for others, just as Christ loved us. In short, the Levitical sacrifices were a shadow of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Neither the Levitical system nor Jesus ever involved violent abuse by God, pouring His wrath on them in anger.
How Can One Sacrifice Atone for All?
One of the greatest misunderstandings is the belief that the power in Jesus’ sacrificial atonement to remove sins was in the amount of cosmic suffering, pain and abuse he had to endure (allegedly by God). The notion is that because mankind’s sin was so great (due to the vast number of us), the suffering of Jesus had to be extreme. David Platt explains:
What happened at the Cross was not primarily about nails being thrust into Jesus’ hands and feet but about the wrath due to your sin and my sin being thrust upon his soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came down rushing like a torrent on Christ himself.[i]
Wayne Grudem, too, says:
Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world.[ii]
The assumption behind Divine Abuse theology is, I assume, that the death of one animal holds the value of a single person’s sin, so the death of Jesus had to somehow equal the deaths of all who ever sinned. To illustrate this, imagine one sin of man equals one nail thrust into an animal. So, one hundred people equal one hundred nails (ouch!). But how many nails are needed for all sins that have been “stored up since the beginning of the world”? Way too many for any Roman soldier to nail. Therefore, something that equals billions of nails hammered, like a cosmic nuclear bomb, had to substitute the nails. The atomic bomb, in this metaphor, is God’s wrath. The Divine Abuse argument is that for the death of Christ to be worth the lives of billions of people, Christ had to endure an enormous amount of pain and suffering — “like a torrent,” to use Platt’s own words. But such great pain and suffering cannot be caused by human soldiers but only by the wrath of God, allegedly.
But saying it’s not about “nails being thrust into Jesus’ hands and feet” is like saying that the physical suffering (and humiliation) of Jesus was not sufficient. Allegedly, God had to also abuse him in some cosmic manner. However, separating the material from the spiritual, as if they were two distinct and different things disconnected from one another, is called “Gnosticism.” Gnosticism differentiates between matter, which is considered inferior, and the spiritual, which is regarded as superior. The Gnostics believed the flesh and anything material to be worthless, thereby distinguishing it from the spiritual world, which they considered good. Gnosticism often penetrated and influenced Christianity. In fact, fighting Gnosticism was John’s reason for writing his first epistle.
Biblically, the spirit is integrated with the flesh. And while worshiping the material as bad, matter in itself, which God created, is not evil. We, humans, are a holistic combination of the physical and spiritual. There is no compartment or space hidden somewhere in our bodies where our spirit lives. We are body-soul integration of one unified essence. This is also why the scriptures tell us to confess Christ as Lord using our physical mouths and be baptized with our physical bodies. These are external public expressions of what is happening deep within our spirit-soul. And this is also why we will get resurrected with our bodies — because we won’t be able to live just as spirits without our physical form. The one is joined with the other. So, in principle, if you were to slap Jesus in the face, it would be as if you slapped God in the face.
But here is the main problem with Divine Abuse’s argument. In their logic, it’s about quantity rather than quality. For them, the endless sins committed by mankind had to equal endless deaths, or in the case of Jesus, an extreme cosmic torture Jesus had to go through by his own Father.
However, this logic is flawed. When many people obey the order of a king, it’s not because the king had to repeat himself endlessly, continuously yelling out loud in anger until every single person would finally hear and obey. Rather, it’s because a word of a king holds great value. The power is not in quantity (yelling loud enough, long enough) but in quality (the King’s authority). Therefore, comparing the value of Christ’s atonement to the pain and suffering he had to endure by his Father in heaven is the wrong way to look at the situation.
Instead of valuing the atonement in the amount of pain and suffering the sacrifice had to endure, the value should be weighed in the object of the sacrifice. The difference between all the bulls in the world and Jesus is not in number but in quality. He’s eternal, but they’re not. Offering a pigeon had greater value than offering bread. Offering a lamb or cattle had greater value than offering a pigeon. A red heifer had more value than a regular cow. This principle is still valid today (which is why Wagyu beef can be up to forty times the price of regular cattle). In the same way, Christ’s value is worth way more than all birds, cattle, and any other animal that ever lived combined. Why? Because Christ is infinite and eternal; hence, his value is infinite and eternal. Christ was not a lamb, goat, pigeon, or bull. He also never had an expiration date. Everything with a beginning and an end is limited in its worth. Gold and silver can weigh, value, and negotiate their worth. But Christ, the Son of God who has no beginning nor an end, holds a value that is beyond all measures:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1st Peter 1:18)
Jesus’s obedience in suffering is an expression of his love and an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). But the power of salvation does not come from the enormous extent of abuse he had to suffer. The worth of his atonement is in the value of his blood (life). It is not that Jesus experienced enough pain to substitute for all of us. It is that Jesus is precious enough to pay for all of us.
Therefore, it is not about quantity (of nails or pain and suffering). It is about the quality of the sacrifice that can serve as an atonement for all — once and for all. If the Son of God is eternal and infinite, so is the worth and value of his atonement, which is eternal and infinite.
Why would God sacrifice his own Son?
When you sacrifice for someone else, you’re basically telling them, “You are very important to me. I want to respect and protect you.” If someone told you, “I am willing to give you my kidney,” you would know they really love you. This is what a loving parent does. Furthermore, one will only sacrifice something of great value for somebody they really love and value.
Many, especially non-Christians, struggle to comprehend the logic behind God sacrificing his Son. So, what’s the big deal about it? I love my child so much that I would never sacrifice his life for anything. You could offer me ten billion coins of gold in exchange for his life, but I would refuse. Any sane parent knows that sacrificing their child is impossible. It goes against every fiber of our being and is too much to give up. We wouldn’t give our children up for anything, but God showed us that he is willing to sacrifice the dearest thing to his heart – his Son! And for whom? For us. For the sake of thieves and murderers. For those who rejected Him. I guess this means God sees a lot of value in sinners. We are valuable enough to God that he was willing to give up his child for us. Only if someone really, really, really, really loves you that they might ever consider giving up their child for you. Therefore, the gospel is not about an angry God releasing his wrath on Jesus. It is about a Father demonstrating the abstract concept of love in the most real and tangible way by giving up his child for our sake. Every parent can emotionally relate to this picture. In Jesus, we finally realize our real value in God’s eyes. This is how much God loves you.
But if sacrifice is an outcome of love, and you can’t force someone to love, then it is ridiculous to force someone to sacrifice against their will. Sacrifice must always be an act of free will.
This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
A free sample is available here.
 Romans 3:22; Philippians 3:9
[i] David Platt, Radical, 34-36.
[ii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), page 574.