Q – I never knew that God required blood to be shed in order to relieve himself of his punishment. If God created everything why would he demand blood sacrifices? It seems to be pretty awful and cruel. Since God wanted to see blood, why would Jesus teach about God if He’s so cruel and wanted a human to die in order to alleviate all sin from Earth? It doesn’t seem right for God to bear a Son and have Him killed just because He couldn’t deal with man sinning. So, I’m seeing that Jesus was sent to the Earth in order to die for the elect and to die for someone who was angry.
Jim – Let’s start with a couple very large concepts and then we’ll consider your thoughts individually. Firstly, we need to clarify some of the attributes of God. In other words, what are the essential characteristics of God? What makes God distinct and “Godly”? And, can men be like God?
God’s primary attribute is that He is holy. Throughout Scripture, the one thing we learn and read over and over is that God identifies Himself, and reveals Himself, as eminently holy. What does that mean? Mostly, it means that God is above sin, completely and uniquely just and righteous. There is no part of God that is dark, sinful or evil. He is the very, living definition of good.
As such, goodness, righteousness and justice are defined by what God does. In other words, there is no standard above God that God has to live up to. He is the standard. And, His holy righteousness and justice demand that He always defend that which is good and eschew that which is evil. That’s essential to His character. If God ever allowed sin to exist without just punishment, He would be lowering His character and compromising His holiness.
Okay, I know that’s lots of big words connected to big concepts. But, we must understand that God is not like us. His thoughts are high above our thoughts, and His ways are high above our ways (Is. 55:8).
We humans see everything from a human perspective. So, we consider things to be right or wrong, good or bad, fair or unfair from our point of view. But, our opinions are skewed by the fact that we are sinful humans, limited in our ability to understand, and far short of genuine holiness or personal righteousness. On the other hand, God sees everything from His perspective, which starts with His unerring holiness and is not effected by sin or human notions of fairness, kindness or justice. Again, fairness, kindness and justice are determined by what God does, not what men think.
So, we don’t really get the chance, nor are we invited, to argue about the way God does things. He does not answer to our standards. Nevertheless, when we gain a proper concept of God – who He is, what He desires and what He has done for us – we see that He is never capricious, never unfair, and never inconsistent with His own holy justice.
Okay, let’s look at the details.
In the Garden of Eden, God promised Adam that as long as He obeyed one simple rule, He would live. However, if He broke that one, single command he would die. Of course, the serpent beguiled Eve and she coerced her husband to join her. After they ate from the forbidden tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – their eyes were opened and they understood things they had never previously known. For instance, they knew they were naked. Prior to that, it had never been an issue. But, they quickly sewed up some fig leaves to cover their shame. They also knew that God would be unhappy with them. They had never experienced that. They had always walked and talked in His presence and God “saw that it was good.” But, now they ran from Him.
That was the first occurrence of sin on planet Earth. When the Bible says that Adam and Eve were made “in the likeness of God,” it means primarily that they were made sinless. They had no inherited sin, being the first people, and they had no acts of sin. That’s why their nakedness was no big deal. They had no lustful intentions. They were morally pure. But, after their first foray into rebellion against God’s will, they were no longer pure. They were “sinners.” They were rebels against God’s revealed and definite will.
Okay, now two things began happening to Adam and Eve. The first thing that happened was that they were cut off from their regular communion with God. They were sent out of the Garden of Eden and made to work for their food. They suffered a spiritual consequence for their deeds. Their connection with God was no longer perfect. They were rebels, they had fallen, they were less than perfect, and so God’s utter perfection, holiness and righteousness demanded that He separate Himself from them because He cannot be tainted with sin.
He was perfect. They were imperfect. If He continued to act the same with them as He had when they were perfect, it would have lessened His perfection.
The second thing that happened to them was that they began to suffer physical death. They began to get old, decay and die. The book of Romans argues that the proof that all men are sinners is that all men die. If any man wants to claim that he is sinless, the obvious proof to the contrary is that he dies. Only after a man has had his sin cleansed can he live eternally. But, we’ll come back to that. That’s the essence of the gospel.
So, there’s poor Adam and Eve. They had it perfect, but they blew it. They only had one prohibition against their freedom and they choose to do that one thing. Now, where was God in all this? I mean, if God knew that it would destroy the human race if Adam and Eve fell, why did He let it happen?
Let’s ask a couple questions.
Could God have made the entire Garden of Eden and left the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil outside the garden somewhere? Yep.
Could God have simply put a gigantic wall around the tree and kept the humans from having any access to it? Yep.
Could God have kept the Serpent out of His garden if He had wanted to? Yep.
Could God have come down and interrupted the conversation between the Serpent and Eve just before she took that first bite? Yep.
Could God have talked to Adam and warned Him about what Eve had done so that he wouldn’t make the same mistake? Yep.
Could God have prevented sin from entering in to the world? Yes, yes, yes.
But, He didn’t do any of those things. Why not?
Because He wanted it to work exactly the way it worked. Sovereign God made sure that things happened exactly the way they happened. He had every intention that men would fall. That’s why, before He ever made people, God created the failsafe plan of crucifying His Son, long before the worlds were formed. That’s why Jesus is called, “the lamb slain before the foundations of the world.” (Rev. 13:8) But, we’ll get back to that, too.
Now, immediately after Adam and Eve fell, they heard God walking through the Garden in the cool of the evening (Gen. 3:8). So, they ran and hid. God sought them out. That’s important to remember. God knew what they had done, and He forced them to live up to what they had done. But, He did not utterly abandon them. He certainly could have. But, in His grace, He did not. Instead, God killed an animal and made skins for them to wear to cover their nakedness. That’s the first time that bloodshed happens in the Bible. Immediately after the first sin, you find the first sacrifice. And, after the sacrifice, you find God using the covering of that sacrifice to cover His people. That’s the essence of what Christ did in the atonement, by the way.
So, as soon as sin was introduced into the world, we also find the shedding of blood. Sin is a very, very important matter with God. The curse that accompanies sin – all sin – is death. When sin enters, something has to die. “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) This is no joking matter.
We humans view sin lightly because we’re used to it. We sin all the time. We lie, cheat, steal, kill, etc. etc. etc. That’s how humans are and that’s how humans act. So, we don’t think of sin as any big deal. We’ve grown accustomed to it. And, instead of view it as God views it, we make up excuses and rationalizations to try and tell ourselves that we’re really not all that bad.
But, from God’s point of view – the only point of view that matters – we are all slaves to sin, born dead in our sinful estate, and we all share in Adam’s guilt. So, we all grow old and die. God’s holiness and God’s justice absolutely demand that sinners die. God’s standard cannot be bent. God’s righteousness cannot be lessened. God’s justice must absolutely be served. Sin brings death.
Sin makes God angry. Disobedience makes God furious. Rebellion brings God’s judgment. So, as we study the Levitical Law, given to Moses, and the whole of the Old Testament, we find that blood – the sign of death – is required over and over for sin. Lots of blood is required because lots of sinning is going on. But, the blood of animals was never sufficient to actually cleanse anyone’s sin or make them truly righteous. It was simply propitiation – a sacrifice to God’s wrath. But, it could not set aside God’s anger forever.
And, that kind of brings us to your first questions.
God requires blood and death as payment for sin. From a human perspective that seems cruel. But, from God’s perspective, it’s merciful. After all, if every man is a sinner, then every man deserves to die. If every man is a rebel against God, then every man deserves the fate that awaits a rebel – eternal separation from God. If every man is unclean, then no man can ever stand in the presence of the Holy, pure God who even the planets and stars flee from. He is the eternal, unspotted, pure light that no man approaches. Blood is a small price to pay. And, if it’s the blood of an animal instead of your own blood (which is the proper payment), then you got off easy. Better a goat than a human, eh? So, God allowed animals to die in the place of people.
From one perspective, that’s cruel. From God’s perspective, that’s kind.
But, there’s really so much more to it than that. Remember that all the animal sacrifices were building up to one great sacrifice that would be the final atonement for sin. The animals were never meant to alleviate our debt for sin. The animals could never make a person perfect. The purpose of the constant stream of dead animals was to remind the nation of Israel that they were a constant stream of dead sinners. They had to perform these rituals to remind themselves that they were sinners and God was requiring death because of that fact.
But again, there was more to it. God was pointing the way toward His Son. He was teaching the people that a bloody sacrifice could propitiate His wrath and make atonement. He was getting ready to do something marvelous, but first He was teaching how awful sin was.
So, I agree with you, the bloody sacrifices are awful. They’re smelly and messy and ugly and cruel. But, so is sin. It’s a fair trade. Our sin is black and smelly and horrid in God’s sight. So, He caused Israel to perform this awful ritual to remind them of their sinful estate and to look forward to the perfect, final sacrifice that would put away our sin debt once and for all. And, when that happened, God never required another animal. The debt was fully paid at Calvary. No more blood had to be shed. The Son of God shed His blood and God was fully satisfied. He bore our sins, taking them out of the way, and He put His perfect righteousness on our account, so there is no more necessity for a sacrifice.
So, what God did seemed cruel, but He was never cruel. He created animals for the same purpose He created men – to glorify Him! And, if dead animals glorify His holiness and point the way to His Son’s perfect atonement, then they were created for that purpose and they served that purpose.
Our God is not cruel. He is a teacher. And, He uses very graphic illustrations because He has to. We are very slow to learn. Sometimes it takes graphic, violent, even seemingly cruel events to get our attention. But, God in His grace is willing to stoop to our level of understanding and do whatever it takes to teach us what we desperately need to know.
In the end, what we see in Scripture is that God designed all things to work according to His plan. And, His plan included the revealing of Himself to His people. And, two of the core attributes of God that He wanted to reveal were His mercy and grace. It’s impossible to be merciful to perfect people. They don’t need mercy. They have done nothing wrong. And, it is impossible to be gracious to people who can merit your kindness. So, God created men in His image and allowed the circumstances that led to their fall. Then, He immediately exhibited His mercy in covering their nakedness.
All these many years later, we find God still graciously revealing Himself to sinners who were not looking for Him, did not want Him and were running from Him. He bestows mercy on people who deserve His wrath because of the complete atonement accomplished at Calvary. And, He is bringing people to Himself, accepting them in His beloved Son, and giving eternal life to damnable rebels who could never deserves such favor and kindness. So, God is revealing Himself not as cruel, but as gracious. And, His Son’s death did not show us how heartless He is. It proved how loving He was when He spilled His own Son’s blood in our place, when Christ deserved nothing but love and we deserved nothing but punishment. Christ took the punishment and we received the love. That’s amazing.
Lastly, the blood that Christ shed was sufficient because it was God’s own blood. It was a price that God would accept completely and never require any more payment for sin.
Now, remember that I said that wherever there’s sin, something has to die. That’s true, no matter what. And, you will either die for your own sins, or you will be found in Christ and His death will be sufficient for your sin. But, either way, someone must die. God’s holy justice absolutely requires it. But, the astounding grace of God provided a death other than our own that was sufficient to satisfy Him and allow us to live eternally in His presence, the recipients of kindness we could never deserve, because of Christ’s shed blood.
Blood runs through the Bible. That’s a fact. In Israel, a man could escape the punishment his sin deserved if He believed what God said and sacrificed an animal in his place. In the New Testament in Christ’s blood (Luke 22:20), those who believe God also believe Christ and they trust that Christ’s atoning work completely pleased the Father and that we need nothing more than Christ’s finished atonement to secure our eternal home in the Father’s house.
Remember, God said way back in Eden that when someone rebels against His word, someone has to die. God will require the payment of death from every individual human for their sinfulness – what they have done and what they are by nature, sinners. And, a man will either pay the price with his own blood and his own death, physically and eternally, or that man will plead the blood of Christ, be “accepted in the beloved,” and live eternally because Christ paid his price for him.
That’s the gospel, my friend.
Thank you for your questions, but thank you even more for allowing me to answer them. We serve a glorious and gracious God. Keep seeking Him and He will gladly open your eyes and answer your every question. He can’t help Himself. It’s just how He is. 🙂
Yours for His sake,