Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. | Hebrews 9:22
Blood isn’t just vitally important for life—it’s also vitally important for biblical theology.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God clothed them with animal skins (which were taken, I presume, from animals He killed). When Noah went out from the Ark, he burned animals as an offering to God. When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he sacrificed over 140,000 animals.
Clearly, there’s a whole lot of animal blood shed in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. At times, it gets pretty gruesome. Little lambs are killed. Birds’ heads are ripped off and their bodies torn open. Rams and goats and bulls and heifers are all slaughtered.
Have you ever stopped to consider why it was like this? Why so much blood and gore? Why did our God institute a system where hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of animals were put to death? Does this not seem cruel and bizarre and unconscionable? I’m no animal rights activist, but slaughtering so many creatures for purely religious reasons seems a little over the top. Couldn’t there have been some other way?
Well, from our perspective, it does seem unusual. Why not use a less gruesome system, maybe one based off of financial penalties or jail time or something like that?
Of course, we know that the animal sacrifices ultimately foreshadowed the death of Jesus. On the cross, He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. | Hebrews 9:13-14
But maybe there was something more. Maybe all those animal sacrifices were designed to vividly show the people of Israel just how serious, just how disgusting, just how horrifying sin truly is.
Matt Chandler puts it this way in his book The Explicit Gospel:
“What if the sacrificial system was given so that we would learn, no matter how much we gave and how much we worked and how many precious things we sacrificed, that we still can’t fix what is broken?”
At the end of the day, God doesn’t particularly relish the blood of animals.
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. | Isaiah 1:11
As Chandler puts it: “God is saying, ‘I don’t need your bulls. I don’t want your goats. You’re missing the point. I’m trying to communicate to you how disgusting and how horrible and how costly your sin is before me.’”
The Israelites thought that by fastidiously following the Law and offering countless sacrifices, they would earn their own righteousness. They eventually took great pride in their bloody sacrificial system. But they missed the point.
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. | Romans 10:3
Brothers and sisters, God doesn’t desire scrupulous law-keepers. He doesn’t want animal blood splashed all over the place. He wants humble, broken, repentant sinners—men and women acutely aware of their sin and earnestly desirous of a righteous Savior.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. | 2 Corinthians 5:21