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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Single Sacrifice for Sin

Hebrews 10:10-18 presents the death of Yeshua of Nazareth as the “single sacrifice for sin,” but does that make Yeshua a sin offering like those once offered in the Temple? In what sense is Yeshua a sacrifice? How can he be a sacrifice when his death does not accord with the Levitical laws for the sacrificial services whatsoever? This teaching, based upon the final chapter of D. Thomas Lancaster’s booklet What about the Sacrifices? answers the difficult question of how the death of the Messiah provides atonement for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Eight: Single Sacrifice for Sin
Originally presented on January 11, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”

He then says,

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:10-18 (NASB)

In today’s sermon, Lancaster continues to build on the points he made in previous weeks, including last week’s sermon in which he strongly differentiated between the nature, character, and purpose of the Temple sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood, and the purpose of Jesus as the single and final sacrifice for sin in the Heavenly Temple.

Now he specifically takes on a really big issue that even many Christians struggle with: just how does the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross take away sins and why doesn’t that mean God approves of human sacrifice?

LambThe “official” answer of the Church is that the sin and guilt sacrifices as well as the annual Yom Kippur sacrifices of the Temple took away the sins of the people of Israel, sacrifice by bloody sacrifice, year by year until Jesus was crucified, taking our sins away forever. Then the Temple system was rendered meaningless, having been replaced once and for all (Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:12) by the blood of Jesus, for as John the Baptist said (John 1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

But we have some problems with this theological theory. The Torah is very specific about what qualifies as a sacrifice according to God. Lancaster laid out a very convincing list:

Condition 1: An acceptable sacrifice must be an unblemished, undamaged, uninjured kosher animal, and usually a specific animal or set of animals relative to the particular sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t an animal of any kind, he was a man, and he certainly wasn’t unblemished or uninjured, having been whipped and bloodied before ever being nailed to the cross.

Condition 2: Any sacrifice must be made in the Temple, according to the Torah. Jesus was executed outside the walls of Jerusalem, not in the Temple.

Condition 3: The blood of the sacrifice must be splashed on the altar. This did not happen with the blood of Jesus.

Condition 4: The sacrifice must be performed by Levitical priests. Jesus was killed by people who weren’t even Jewish, the Romans.

Condition 5: The sacrifice must be slaughtered in a highly specific manner, with the throat cut by a very sharp knife. The animal must be bled out and suffer no pain whatsoever. If it suffers, it is disqualified as a sacrifice. Jesus certainly did suffer and suffer greatly, and no knife came anywhere near his throat.

Condition 6: God forbids human sacrifice and finds it repugnant.

All this means that Jesus absolutely, positively could not be a literal sacrifice for the atonement for sin and guilt.

Lancaster brought up the obvious objection of the Akedah or the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) but the flaw here is that God did not allow Abraham to actually kill Isaac. It was a test, not a human sacrifice.

This is the problem with Christianity reading from the Gospels and Epistles backward into the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. If you start with a New Testament mental and interpretive template, it forces standard Christian doctrine into the Old Testament text. Unfortunately, this results in erroneous conclusions based on Christian tradition.

So if the blood of goats and sheep never, ever took away sins in the first place, and Jesus can’t in any sense be considered an acceptable sacrifice, how does his death take away sin? Are the anti-missionaries and apostates right? Is Christianity a crock?

First of all, the writer of the Book of Hebrews says that the death of Jesus takes away sins once and for all in his single sacrifice:

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:10

After that single act, Jesus waited and still waits.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.

Hebrews 10:11-13

LevitesOn Earth, the Levites had to daily minister in the Temple, but the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem were never designed to take away sins, but instead, to cleanse the bodies of those desiring to draw near to the Divine Presence physically (Hebrews 9:13). The sacrifice of Jesus was qualitatively different in that it enables people to draw near to God spiritually (Hebrews 9:14). But now that the single sacrifice of Jesus has been made, he need offer no other sacrifices in the Heavenly realm, but waits seated at the right hand of the Father for the final battle to begin, when his and Israel’s enemies will be laid at his feet.

Verses 14-18 cite the New Covenant, specifically how God will write His Torah on the hearts and minds of the people of Israel and he will cleanse them of sin forevermore. In fact, verse 12 says for all time,” which Lancaster interprets as from the beginning of human history and the sin of Adam and Havah (Eve) to the end. So the blood and death of Jesus cleanses you and me of our sins two-thousand years after he was slain, and cleanses Abraham of his sins two-thousand years before the crucifixion, even though Jesus was executed at a single point in time, the early First Century CE. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

But first, we have to solve the mystery of how Jesus can be an effective sacrifice to atone for sin for all time and yet not be a literal Temple sacrifice. I mean, when John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God” do you really think John believed Jesus was a four-footed animal who grew wool and went “baa”? Of course not. John wasn’t being literal, the was being “literary”

The hearers and readers of the teachings of the Bible, that is, the ancient Jewish people, received these teachings within a certain conceptual context. They understood the Hebraic metaphors, symbolism, and wordplay being employed by the Prophets and the Sages of each time period in which the Biblical text was authored. As Christians almost twenty centuries later, we can make the mistake of either allegorizing the Bible, rendering God’s promises to Israel as “really meaning” promises to “the Church,” or we can be overly literal and attempt to directly compare the sacrifice of a sheep on the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover with the execution of a late Second Temple itinerant Rabbi, and one who ultimately was proven to be Moshiach, by a bunch of Roman soldiers at the command of the local Roman governor.

So if Jesus wasn’t a literal sacrifice, and comparing him to a lamb and the spilling of his blood to the splashing of the blood of lambs on the altar is metaphor, how does his sacrifice work?

self sacrificeThe answer isn’t very obvious in the Bible, which tends to throw a lot of people, but it has to do with God’s quality of absolute justice and something called “measure for measure.” That is, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.

Period.

Problem is, we see very little of that kind of simple justice in the real world:

Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?

Jeremiah 12:1

Good question.

According to Lancaster, the Pharisees answered Jeremiah’s (and our) question this way:

  1. Death is not the end. If it were, then our world, and God, is unjust.
  2. Justice is delivered in the resurrection when the righteous and the wicked are judged before God, with the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being condemned.

The righteous may suffer in this world, and even suffer horribly, but they will be rewarded in the Messianic Kingdom and the life in the world to come.

…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

Of course, even the best among us isn’t completely sinless. Even Lancaster admitted to having committed acts of which he is still ashamed and probably will be for the rest of his life. It can be said that we suffer in this world, at least in part, as a consequence of our own imperfections and our own sins, and thus, when we die, it can be said that our death is just because we have sinned. Even Paul said “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But what if a totally and completely sinless person should die unjustly? If he’s not suffering and dying in his own sins, when why is he suffering and dying at all?

Another explanation of AND THOU SHALT MAKE THE BOARDS FOR THE TABERNACLE. Why does it say FOR THE TABERNACLE? Should it not rather have said ‘ into a tabernacle ?  R. Hoshaya said: Because the sanctuary stands as a pledge, so that if the enemies of Israel became deserving of destruction, it would be forfeit as a pledge. Moses said to God: Will not the time come when Israel shall have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then? ‘ The divine reply was: ‘ I will then take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins. Thus too it says, And He hath slain all that were pleasant to the eye (Lam. II, 4).

-Exodus Rabbah 35:4

This Talmudic text points back to Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant, and specifically verse 11 which states:

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities. (emph. mine)

The Death of the MasterAlthough the traditional Jewish interpretation of these verses render the suffering servant as Israel, I have to agree with the Christian view in this case, and say that the Prophet is writing about Messiah, who as an individual person and who was completely without sin, suffered and died to justify the many.

The concept of the Suffering Tzaddik is known in Rabbinic literature and Lancaster even delivered a sermon on the topic. Although I haven’t listened to that sermon, I wrote a commentary of my own on the same subject several years back. Here’s part of one of the texts I quoted:

“… suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree … In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole.”

Derech Hashem (The Way of God)
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
As translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan
Feldheim Publishers
Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.
Quoted from Yashanet.com

To extend the thought, if a tzaddik or righteous one among the sages may die and atone for the sins of his generation, how much more so can death of the great tzaddik, the most righteous one, who was completely without sin, take away the sins of all peoples in all generations across the vast span of time.

Thus, the death of Jesus is effective to take away the sins of the world, but not because it was based on the sacrificial system that took place in the Temple as commanded by the Torah of Moses. It was effective based on God’s justice and the principle of “measure for measure.” If the completely sinless Jesus died an unjust death, to balance justice, since he did not die for his own sins, in the merit of his death, his blood atones for the sins, not just of many in a single generation, but of all people across all generations.

This also means that any comparison or “competition” between the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrificial system of the Temple is like comparing apples and airplanes. The one has nothing to do with the other. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was employing metaphor so he could get his point across, not saying Jesus was a literal lamb, or a literal sin offering. This is like saying Jesus is a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Jesus didn’t really establish and belong to this “order” of priests (and he certainly wasn’t literally Melchizedek). The Hebrews writer was using metaphorical language to say how Jesus could be High Priest in the Heavenly Court, even though he can’t and won’t qualify to be a Priest of any kind in the Earthly Temple (including the future Temple) in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

The biggest thing for me was nailing down the “time span” within which the sacrifice of Jesus atoned for sins. Lancaster says that metaphysically, it covered all sins across human history, from Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the very end of the age including our age and beyond.

…“for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”

“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Romans 11:25-27

King DavidThis seems to answer the question, “are the Old Testament Jews saved?” The answer is “yes” if they sincerely repented of their sins. Like David’s lament in Psalm 51, it wasn’t the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and sheep that atoned for his willful sin with Bathsheva, it was repentance and a broken heart.

Lancaster didn’t address this, but it brings up the question of a Jewish person and if he/she must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. A Christian would say “yes,” and further, a Christian (at least some of them) would say that only Jews who believed in Jesus after the crucifixion were saved, since no one comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). However, if that is literally true, than all of the Jewish people who were born, lived, and died before Jesus (and the rest of humanity as well) were automatically condemned to eternal damnation.

But that violates the language of the New Covenant promises as well as Romans 11 and Hebrews 10. While I don’t understand it completely, the Jewish people, not just in the age when Jesus returns, but across time, will “mourn for him as one mourns for an only son” (Zechariah 12:10).

These conclusions won’t sit well with most Christians (and most Jews, since Lancaster will be accused of playing “fast and loose” with the Talmudic texts), especially the Bible literalists, but they have the benefit of making the older scriptures harmonize rather than drastically conflict with the Apostolic Scriptures. If we are to consider the Bible as a single, unified document describing God’s overarching redemptive plan for Israel, and through her, for the rest of the world, then we can’t have that plan jarringly switch tracks somewhere between the end of the Gospels and the beginning of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

If the Bible doesn’t appear to have a seemless flow that preserves God’s promises and integrity, and avoids making Him a liar by pulling the biggest “bait and switch” with Israel the world has ever seen, then the problem isn’t with the Bible, it’s with how the Bible is interpreted.

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:17-18

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

The consequence of the New Covenant promises to Israel is just that. On the merit of the death of the great tzaddik Yeshua who is the mediator of that covenant, God remembers the sins of Israel no more and writes His Torah within them so they will never sin again (but see last week’s review for why sin offerings will continue, even in the absence of people sinning). From that time on, with all sins forgiven, there will no longer be any offering for sin, for there will be no need for Israel to make sin offerings. They have drawn near to their God in Spirit and in truth.

May it be so for all of us who believe and make teshuvah before Hashem by the merit of Moshiach.

Tonight begins the festival of Sukkot. Chag Sameach Sukkot.