Why The Cross Beats Animal Sacrifices

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10:14

In last week’s column we studied the problem with Old Testament animal sacrifices: they could not take away our sins (Hebrews 10:1-4).  The divinely inspired writer of Hebrews then quoted from Psalm 40:6-8 to show how God the Son (cf. John 1:1, 14) fixed this problem by offering himself as the sacrifice necessary to redeem mankind (Hebrews 10:5-7).  In this week’s column we continue this study by seeing the Hebrew author’s elaboration of that last point.  Citing again the part of the Old Testament psalm which says “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” and clarifying that they were offered in accordance with the Law of Moses (Hebrews 10:8; cf. Psalm 40:6), the writer then again quotes Psalm 40:8: “Behold, I have come to do your will” (Hebrews 10:9a). 

God wanted the first century Hebrew Christians who originally read this to understand that while the Old Testament animal sacrifices were in one sense acceptable because they were in accordance with God’s laws given to Moses, they were not meant to be permanent.  They could not truly atone for sin in a permanent fashion.  Rather, they were a type or a foreshadowing of the real atonement to come when Jesus died on the cross.  Knowing that the Levitical sacrifices were not adequate to fix our sin problem, Jesus came to do God’s will in the fullest, most complete sense possible.  He gave himself on Calvary.

By doing so, Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17).  And like any fulfilled contract or obligation, the Mosaic law ceased to be in effect and was done away with.  Thus, the Hebrew writer writes that Jesus “does away with the first in order to establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9b).  As he had already shown earlier in Hebrews, the Old Testament of Moses was replaced with the New Testament of Christ (Hebrews 8-9).  By offering his body on the cross and thus removing the old covenant and replacing it with his new one, he made it possible for us to be sanctified – set apart, made holy – for all time.  This is why the Hebrew author then writes, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).  Jesus’ sacrifice was according to God’s will.  It was the perfect offering and atonement, one with which God was pleased and used to forgive us our sins.

Under the Old Testament, the service offered by the Israelite priests was continual, a daily requirement in which they “offered repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11).  Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was different and much better.  Hebrews describes it this way:  “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14).  Once Jesus made the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin “for all time,” he ascended into heaven and took the best seat of all at God’s right hand in heaven (cf. Mark 16:19; Daniel 7:13-14).  As prophesied in Psalm 110:1-4 and taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, Jesus is still sitting at the right hand of God, patiently waiting until all who oppose his work as High Priest and his reign as King of kings are defeated.  He can do this because his sacrifice on Calvary has provided the solution for our sin problem for all time.  His death makes it possible for all who obey the gospel to be made holy in the sight of God.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to the validity of this.  He did so by inspiring the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21) to prophesy about the new covenant which would offer complete forgiveness of sins.  The Hebrew author points this out in Hebrews 10:15-17 by quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34 once more after having previously done so to make a similar point earlier (cf. Hebrews 8:7-13).  His point in doing so was this:  “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). 

Why do followers of God no longer offer animal sacrifices like they did in the Old Testament?  Because there is no longer any need to do so.  Jesus’ death on the cross took care of that.