Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses… (Romans 5:14)
The cold grip of death tugs relentlessly at the soul of every man, no matter how lofty his ideals, as if to claim its fair wages in advance of his dying breath. The evil ruler of the unseen realm knows the Bible all too well. Eager to exact the justice due him, he plays with the sin-sick souls of men as a cat plays with a mouse, holding them captive to the fear of death. For some, depression works best, for others, a manic denial of their sorry circumstances, or an unbridled obsession for sex, or money, or recognition — anything to capture the soul, crush the spirit, and silence the objective voice of man’s conscience. Thus Satan feeds his insatiable desire for the destruction of God’s image in man.
Yes, it is true: All men sin,1 and the wages of sin is death,2 therefore it is appointed to man to die once, and then comes the Judgment.3 And yes, it is also true that the Messiah was offered once to bear the sins of many,4 and set them free from their captivity to the evil ruler of this world.5 So who are the “many” whose sins He bore? “But,” you may object, “He bore the sins of the whole world!” And so it may seem from a casual reading of this popular verse:
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:22, NIV)
But obviously the whole world is not experiencing freedom from Satan’s reign — not even the many who claim Christ as their Savior. Statistics consistently show that Christians in America are as much in the grip of the world’s vices as the unbelieving society in which they are immersed.6 How then can they claim to be saved from sin’s dominion? For the Apostle Paul wrote of the profound effect in this life of having received the benefit of Messiah’s sacrificial death:
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
So whoever is still a slave to sin has obviously not received God’s abundant provision of grace through Messiah’s sacrifice, or His gift of righteousness, regardless of what he claims to believe.7 Clearly something more than that kind of belief8 is required on the part of the sinner in order for his sins to be borne by the Savior, releasing him from his slavery to sin.
Perhaps the key to understanding what is required can be found in the puzzling statement that Paul began his thought with a few verses back: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses…”9 Why didn’t he say, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Christ”? What did Moses do to bring an end to death’s reign? Well, it was through Moses that God gave the law, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system, and through these He provided a way for a man’s sins to be atoned for, loosening death’s grip on his soul. If we can understand how this sacrificial system worked, then maybe we can understand why Christianity today doesn’t work — and where to find the faith that works.
It has been said of old Israel’s animal sacrifices that enough blood was shed to float a battleship.10 If even a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground without our Father taking notice,11 how much more did He care about the lifeblood of all those animals that served His people? Was it all poured out in vain? The writer of Hebrews taught that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin,12 yet it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.13 So why did the Law require animal sacrifices? The key is found in what happened in a sensitive human heart during the shedding of that blood.
This was the law of the sin offering for a common Israelite:
If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar… Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:27-31)
Unless you happen to be a goat farmer, it will be very hard for you to put yourself in the place of this Israelite of old who must offer a sacrifice for his sin — a perfect female goat from his herd. Notice that it says female. It would have been easier if it had said male, for you don’t get so personally attached to the bucks. You keep a few on hand for breeding, but you don’t handle them so much. The extras you kill for meat. But it’s the females that receive your tender care, for they are the most valuable. They provide milk to feed your family, and they bear kids every spring. And it’s the ones without blemish that you value the most, not only because you want to increase your herd with their offspring, but also because they win your heart.
So there you are, an Israelite who has become conscious of your sin, because the Law has done its work of identifying your transgressions.14 Perhaps you try to push it out of your mind for a time, but eventually the guilt of your sin weighs heavily upon you. Looking over your herd of goats, you pick out the yearlings15 from among the females. They are so sweet and innocent. Knowing already which one is your favorite, you find yourself trying to justify choosing one of the other nice goats, which you reason would also be considered “without blemish” in anyone else’s eyes. The priest wouldn’t know the difference, but you would, and your God would. You would just be fooling yourself if you didn’t offer your best. Your sacrifice would not be acceptable, and your sins would not be forgiven.
So taking your best yearling doe, you head out on the familiar but difficult path to Jerusalem to present yourself to the priest at the Temple. Along the way, the goat’s innocent bleating causes you to grieve over your sin and the death it produces, taking its toll in your own life, and prematurely ending the life of this beautiful animal. All too soon you find yourself at the Temple. Kneeling in front of the altar of burnt offerings and laying your hands gently on the head of the goat as the priest restrains it, you confess your sins in the simple faith that God will transfer your guilt to that innocent animal. Then the priest takes a razor-sharp knife and slits the animal’s throat, and you watch helplessly as its lifeblood spurts into the waiting basin with each beat of its heart, until the goat collapses in its last spasm of death. The priest pours its blood out at the base of the altar, and tells you that your sin is forgiven. You realize that your heart is pounding more than the goat’s was, and as you walk away, the cost of your forgiveness causes you to cry out to your God to help you overcome the sin that keeps bringing you back to this place.
Was the guilt actually borne by the goat? Of course not. A goat is not a moral creature with an eternal soul that can bear guilt. But the goat, as an innocent and unblemished sacrifice, was a type or foreshadow of the One who was to come. He would indeed bear the sins of all whose faith was expressed in giving their best in obedience and childlike trust, along with the sincere and complete confession of their sins. Our Father, seeing the honest and sincere heart of the offerer, covered his sins until the time when Messiah would come to give His life as the culmination of all the sacrifices offered in sincerity, and to release these captives waiting in “Abraham’s bosom.”16
The sacrifice for personal sins was not the only type that looked forward to Messiah. Each year on the Day of Atonement, two male goats were chosen for a special kind of sin offering — for the sins of the whole nation. The high priest would kill the first goat in the customary way for a sin offering, but the second goat he presented live:
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22)
This is where the term scapegoat comes from. It became the custom in Israel that when the second goat was released, all the people would curse it, hurling insults, derision, and scorn upon the poor animal as it fled the angry mob, only to meet certain death by wild animals in the wilderness. It is not hard to see how this goat also foreshadowed what would happen to Messiah at the hands of His own countrymen:
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation. (John 11:49-51)
Just as happened to that innocent scapegoat, the Jews heaped their scorn and derision upon the innocent man, Yahshua, the Messiah sent to save them. They cursed Him and spat upon Him and treated Him shamefully, driving Him outside the gates of Jerusalem to the certain death that awaited Him. Little did they know, they were fulfilling the prophetic significance of all those poor scapegoats that gave up their lives for the nation each year on the Day of Atonement.
But probably the most familiar Old Testament foreshadow of Messiah’s sacrifice is the offering of the Passover lamb, which the Apostle Paul makes explicit reference to:
For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
Indeed, according to John’s Gospel, Yahshua died on the cross at the same time as the Jews were killing their Passover lambs,17 and ironically, the chief priests petitioned Pilate to break His legs so that He would die18 and be taken down from the cross before evening, so as not to defile their ritual observance of the Passover.19 But He had already died from the crushing weight of our sins which cut Him off from His Father,20 so it was not necessary to break His legs, even as a Passover lamb’s bones were not to be broken.21
For the Israelites of old, the Passover lamb was an expression of their utter trust and dependency upon the God of Israel to deliver them from death. On the 10th day of the first month,22 each household was to take from their flock their best yearling male lamb, one without blemish, and “keep” it close to them until the 14th day:23
…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. (Exodus 12:6)
The Hebrew word translated as “keep” in this verse is translated as “become” or “come to be” almost everywhere else it is used in the Old Testament. The implication was that they would become very attached to this sweet lamb so that they would really suffer to take its life at the end of that 14th day. In tears they would put its blood on the doorposts and lintel of their house, and eat its roasted flesh with bitter herbs safe inside their house, trusting that the death angel would see the blood and pass over them.24
The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)
Their deliverance from the slow death of bondage in Egypt and the immediate death of their firstborn offspring would not come without shedding the blood of an innocent animal. On the scale of things, it was a small price to pay for their freedom, but in order for it to be acceptable and effectual it required their utter sincerity and unflinching obedience. Any who failed to choose their best lamb, or failed to let their heart pity it, also failed to receive the salvation they tried to weasel out of God, for God is not mocked.25
Over 400 years before the Messiah walked the dusty roads of Palestine, the prophet Malachi cried out to the backsliding nation of Israel,
“When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept it or show you favor?” says the LORD of hosts… “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you,” says the LORD of hosts, “and I will not accept an offering from your hand.” (Malachi 1:8,10)
After Malachi’s death, no prophetic voice was heard in Israel until the days of John the Baptist, four centuries later. Although the Levitical priesthood continued to go through the motions of offering the ritual sacrifices in the Temple, most of that blood was shed in vain. But finally, in the fullness of time, our Father found a handful of sincere Israelites who were looking for the consolation of Israel, longing for the promised Messiah to come and deliver them from their bondage.
Through a miracle conceived in the heart of God before time began, a poor Hebrew virgin named Miriam26 became pregnant and gave birth to a child whom she was told to call Yahshua, which means “Yahweh’s Salvation,” for He would save His people from their sins.27 He was the “only begotten” Son of God in that the seed that caused conception in Miriam’s womb was a pure human seed preserved by God from before the Fall, not the fallen seed of Adam through her betrothed husband Yoceph.28 Therefore Yahshua did not inherit the sin nature common to all who are descended from Adam.
When John the Baptist first saw Yahshua coming down to the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit spoke through him the prophetic words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”29 Those words would echo in the minds of sensitive ones who witnessed the willing sacrifice of His life on the cross only a few years later. Indeed, this man, Yahshua of Nazareth, was to be the fulfillment of all the sacrifices offered in faith by sincere Israelites since the Law was given through Moses.
Not only was Yahshua born without blemish, but He lived His entire life in unbroken communion with His Father in heaven, doing all the Father’s will, not once succumbing to any temptation. He never took a thought for Himself, but instead was always concerned for others, loving even those who hated Him, even to His dying breath. That is why the Father loved Him so much.30 He was the very best that the Father had to give, which is why the most famous verse in the Bible is so significant:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
God did not expect His people to do what He was unwilling to do Himself, therefore He did not withhold His very best — His beloved, only begotten Son with whom He had sweet communion — but gave Him to be slain as a sacrifice for our sins.
Like all the sacrifices sincerely offered before Him, Yahshua was an innocent lamb without blemish, but unlike all those sacrifices, He had a human soul that could actually bear the guilt of all who would “lay their hands” on Him. Therefore, in the last moments of His life, the guilt of all the sins that had been confessed by sincere Israelites as they laid their hands on the heads of their sacrificial lambs was placed upon Him, along with the guilt of all the sins confessed by His true disciples up until the day of His return. He literally became our sin,31 and His Father, from whom Yahshua had never experienced one moment’s separation, turned away from Him.32
It was the weight of our sins and the separation from His Father that finally snuffed out His life, not the excruciating physical suffering on the cross. Although His body was placed in the grave, His soul was put to grief in Sheol,33 the realm of death, a place of torment34 where for three days and three nights He paid the full wages of our sin.35 When Death had exhausted its fury on Him for the guilt of our sins, it was no longer possible for Him to be held by its power.36 That is when His soul and spirit returned to His body, which was waiting without decay in the grave,37 and He rose triumphant over Death.
So after the untold millions of gallons of innocent blood shed by sacrificial animals, and after the Father’s heart-wrenching sacrifice of His beloved Son, and after the Son’s unimaginable suffering in death on our behalf, what should be the outcome? Will Yahshua see the fruit of the anguish of His soul in death and be satisfied?38 What is the credible witness of His resurrection? Where are those whose life of love and unity is a living testimony to the end of death’s reign? They could be found in the first century:
The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in common. And with great power they gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:32-33)
They can also be found today, not among the 39,000+ denominations of Christianity, but at the addresses listed on the back of this paper, where all have truly laid their hands on the Lamb of God and obtained the forgiveness of their sins. The love of Messiah controls them, because they have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.39 This is eternal life, and it begins as soon as death’s reign comes to an end.