The sacrificing of one’s own sons and daughters to appease “the gods” (ostensibly to somehow guarantee continued fertility in oneself or one’s crops) was something that YHWH said never even crossed His mind before humans invented such a repulsive practice. (Jeremiah 32:35) That in itself is an astounding statement—that we could come up with an idea that the Creator never even imagined. But this just shows how awful a twisting of reality the idea is. Much less would He ever ask us to do that. In fact, long before Jeremiah, He had given specific commands not to offer our firstborn children to an idol. (Lev. 18:21; 20:2; Deut. 12:31; 18:10)
Yet He asked Avraham to do something that sounded a lot like child sacrifice (Genesis 22), not to an idol but to Himself. Though he ultimately was not required to follow through with it, why would YHWH even ask him to do something that seems so immoral? It was a test of whether he put YHWH above even his own moral understanding, but this (temporary) command may also have been given so that he could feel the weight of what YHWH Himself would have to go through. (He saw the ram “behind him”—a Hebrew idiom for after him in history, so he was acting out a picture of something that would come later.) As Michael Card sings, “What Abraham was asked to do, He’s done; He’s offered His only son.”
So does that mean Yeshua was what Yitzhaq wasn’t—a human offering to YHWH? For some people, the very idea is just too much—and enough to write off his followers as false witnesses, making unrealistic claims about a good man and thus ruining his reputation by taking it much too far.
Well, what did he himself say? “The Son of Adam came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) That was his understanding of what he was called to do. So where did he get it from?
He knew the prophecies of what Messiah had to do. It is completely in line with what Isaiah had said:
“If he shall make his soul a guilt offering… the pleasure of YHWH shall prosper in his hand… By his knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities… He has poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the transgressors, and he bore the sin of many, when he made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:10-12)
But it is often claimed nowadays that the “righteous Servant” of this context is not the Messiah at all, but Israel in general. But that is an idea born out of polemics; it does not fit with what the ancient Jewish writers believed. An Aramaic Targum (a translation, but more—the “Amplified Bible” of its day, which elaborated on the prevailing views of what the Hebrew text actually meant) considered this passage to be about the Messiah, although in other places Isaiah did directly say Israel was YHWH’s servant (chiefly in chapters 41-45).
It is simple to resolve the discrepancy when we realize that a king is his nation’s figurehead. Messiah, who inherited the right to the throne of David (who is also called YHWH’s servant in Isaiah 37:35), acted as representative of all Israel, and what is true of the head is true of the whole “body”. So both are right. The equation becomes overt in 49:3-6, where the prophet takes the idiom from the universal to the particular. As Ezekiel shows us, the prince can also bring offerings on behalf of the whole nation. (Ez. 45-46) He is thus acting not only as king but as a kind of priest.
It is commonly thought that the Messiah being a high priest is a Christian concept, foreign to Judaism. But not if we dig deeper. Solomon, the continuance of the line of David, brought such offerings (e.g., 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chron. 8:12), so the role of the king in the line of David was to be a priest of sorts. And Zechariah himself said the two roles would one day be reconciled in one and the same man. (6:13)
Rabbi Yitzhaq of Acre (Akko) said, “It is Moshekh (Mashiakh/Messiah) the High Priest, anointed by the oil, the supernal holy anointing, the true Messiah, who will come today, if we listen to the voice of his Master, whose Name is found in him; he will redeem us… ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of His face saved them’ [Isa. 63:91] and ‘And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him’ [Isa. 11:2]. Those [verses] and all similar to them hint at Metatron [the Forerunner], the Prince of the Face ... [The] sheep, which is the innocent lamb is—in its entirety—good, and it is Messiah, the Prince of Mercy.” (Sefer ‘Otzar Hayyim)
Did you catch that? Messiah is described in this purely Jewish writing as a lamb who can redeem and save those who listen to YHWH Himself (ultimately our only Savior, per Isaiah 43:11, but indirectly—through a mediator; compare Isaiah 59:20, where the prophet also speaks of a human redeemer.) That sounds nothing like modern Judaism, which has shifted its emphasis away from anything that sounds even remotely like the Renewed Covenant, but it is from a highly-respected rabbi in the land of Israel.
So now that we have established that the Servant can also be Messiah, who can redeem those who turn to YHWH, let’s go back to what Isaiah said (above): in being afflicted, he would pour out his life as a guilt offering, carry the sins of many, and justify them (render these former transgressors just or righteous).
But why would such an extreme measure ever be necessary? Why would such a redemption even be needed? Again, the answer comes from Isaiah:
"Behold, YHWH's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your Elohim, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2)
So a reconciliation has to be made. How? The core idea, in seed form, is all the way back in the Torah, as the root of any true idea must be:
“The life of the flesh is in the blood; I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, because it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul.” (Lev. 17:11)
In the early 1970’s, making the point that “freedom isn’t cheap just because it’s free,” Ron Salisbury sang, “Some prices are so high they’re only paid in blood.”
Because every human being since Adam and Chawwah (Eve) had tainted blood, animal blood was actually more acceptable on YHWH’s holy altar because those animals were innocent. They still suffered the effects of our ruination of the world (Romans 8:22), so some were blemished and not allowed on the altar, but they themselves did not have sin in their blood, and so were a better picture YHWH wanted to give us of the idea that any substitute for a sinner had to be innocent, not another equally-defective creature.
But “the blood of bulls and goats” never could take away sins (Hebrews 10:4); it could only cover them up (the meaning of “atone”) until a more appropriate blood could come along that could remove the underlying cause—actually taking away our sins and making us just, as Isaiah said. Only the blood of a man can even out the balance of blood spilt by man. (Genesis 9:5-6)
But even that is only placation. Yes, it restores a balance that has been lost, but it does not solve the real problem. It removes yet another person from the earthly scene. In a sense, it’s a hollow justice—a necessary evil, but that very description gives away the fact that it is a very direct consequence of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Killing the murderer does not bring back the person he killed.
For that kind of restoration, not just ANY human blood would do. When YHWH threatened to destroy Israel in one fell swoop (Exodus 32:32-33), Moshe tried to offer himself as a substitute for Israel, but He was denied that privilege. Why? Could it be because YHWH did not consider even someone as holy and righteous as Moshe to be qualified for this task? Even he did not have what it would take to pay for the sins of so many people, because as sincere as his heart was, his blood was just as tainted as theirs. He did not have a “universal donor blood type”.
Only someone who had never sinned could actually undo what Adam did, because no one else was ever in the position to. Dr. Arthur Custance wrote, “The Redeemer must enjoy a physical immortality which he can then voluntarily sacrifice on behalf of others for the redemption of their bodies (Romans 8:23). And the Saviour must achieve a flawless perfection of character…, which will permit him to stand as a substitute for sinners whose character is totally unacceptable in the sight of God... He who need never die must voluntarily embrace death (John 10:18), and he whose character has never in any way been corrupted by sin must be ‘made sin’ [the same term used for a sin offering in Hebrew] (2 Corinthians 5:21). Only so can the tragedy of Eden be undone. A new history must begin with a new Head of a new race.”
The Jewish mystical work, Zohar, says,
“As it is written: ‘But he was wounded because of our transgression, he was crushed because of our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:5)... The Messiah… calls for all the diseases and pains and sufferings of Israel, bidding them settle on himself, which they do… As long as Israel were in the Holy Land, by means of the Temple service and sacrifices they averted all evil diseases and afflictions from the world. Now it is the Messiah who is the means of averting them from mankind.”
This iconic Jewish book said Messiah has in some sense “replaced” the Temple sacrifices. Again, this sounds much closer than one would expect to the “New Testament” description of “grace”: Messiah stands in and holds us over when we want to but are not in a position to follow the Torah completely.
And today, which of us is? Who among us could not honestly say that our debt to YHWH is far deeper than we could ever bail ourselves out of? It is not that we try to “get out of” our obligations, but that we need help to make it over the top. We need someone with feet on solid ground to pull us out of the quicksand. We need someone with resources to pay the part of the debt that we cannot pay because when we miss one payment, it keeps compounding.
If the Torah, as we saw above, says that only blood can atone for one’s soul, and we have no animal sacrifices going on today, what other blood is covering YOU today? There is a reason behind this idea, and it is not a pagan one!
But wait. What of the Torah principle that “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin”? (Deuteronomy 24:16) Doesn’t that rule out one person being able to die in the place of another?
And Jeremiah 31:29-30 says, “In those days they shall say no more, ‘The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But every one shall die for his own iniquity…” Isn’t this saying that no one can pay for another person’s sin? (Interestingly enough, this is immediately before Jeremiah introduces us to the concept of the renewed covenant in 31:31.)
The emphasis here is on injustice—that no one should be forced to suffer because of the sins of someone they are closely associated with—like a parent. It is not saying one COULD not die for another.
As Ami Yisrael Fellowship points out, after giving examples of some people who took a grenade to save others’ lives or who volunteered to substitute for children in front of a firing squad in a Nazi concentration camp, “Obviously we don’t have a problem with human sacrifice as long as a person willingly gives his life for another person. In reality, it happens quite often, especially in times of war.“
Yeshua himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (Yochanan 15:13)
This is an important point. Yeshua said that no one took his life from him, but he offered it up willingly. (Yochanan 10:18) He offered himself. That is very different from someone sacrificing his own firstborn in hopes that he would later have more children.
The idea of a human sacrifice for YHWH suggests that YHWH asked someone else to offer Yeshua up to Him. Caiaphas, the high priest, might be the only one who could possibly be construed to be offering Yeshua up in lieu of the whole nation (Yochanan/John 11:51), but though that was the outcome, it was not what he had in mind when he thought of sacrificing one for the whole nation. Those who killed him were not intending to make an offering to YHWH; they just wanted to be rid of him, and a convenient way to do this was to make him an “offering” to the Romans—a bribe to get them to leave the rest of the nation alone!
But there is yet another angle to view this from: Isaiah 53:9 says, “He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased YHWH to bruise him; He is the one who has put him to grief.”
So Yeshua was not any other human being’s offering to YHWH; if anything, he was YHWH’s offering to us: “For Elohim loved the world so much that He gave His unique son…” (Yochanan 3:16) “Unique” here parallels what Yitzhaq was called in relation to Avraham when he was asked to give him up for YHWH. (Gen. 22:) Indeed, Yeshua was YHWH’s greatest treasure, His only perfect specimen of humanity once again made in His image—the only complete human He had for the first time since Adam. There was no other like him. But that also meant that only he qualified to buy back and restore the others that were truncated and misplaced.
Rabbi David Fohrman has pointed out that here are two words for “where” in Hebrew: eyfo?, which means “In what location?” and ayeh?, which is used when something that used to be present is lacking, as with Hevel after Qayin killed him (Gen. 4:9). He was not misplaced, needing to be found; he was no longer there. When YHWH said, “Adam, where are you?”, He used “ayeh”. Humanity had gone missing, but now there was finally a way to get us back.
Did YHWH tell Yeshua that he had to offer himself? I don’t think it was like that. I think He let him know the facts: “This is what it will cost to redeem mankind. There is only one who can pay that price. Only you have what it takes.” And He waited to see what his response would be, as the one—the only one--who finally had what it took to buy us back.
Yeshua did choose to “redeem us for YHWH by his blood”. (Rev. 5:9) But the way that is phrased begs a certain question: whom did he pay? YHWH? Maybe ultimately, because that is to Whom he made his offering. (Heb. 9:14) But he wasn’t redeeming us from YHWH. From whom, then? When you pay a ransom, you have to be paying somebody.
The answer, when it hits us, makes us shudder: he had to buy us back from the one who had obtained us legally, even if deceitfully and underhandedly, because we become slaves to the one we obey. (Rom. 6:16) They had obeyed the serpent, and so now belonged to it, by their own choice. But really it wasn’t our choice, as Adam’s descendants, though he unwittingly made that bad choice for all of us. And YHWH wanted us back. What it cost was that “precious blood”—so costly because it was of a truly spotless “lamb”. (1 Kefa/Peter 1:19)
No one could have blamed Yeshua for wanting to spare it; YHWH would certainly have understood if Yeshua did not want to “waste” this only instance of blood without blemish and keep it for whatever more fitting purpose it could have been used, with the honor it deserved instead of such a desecration. (Gal. 3:13) But “instead of the joy that was set before him, he endured the crucifixion stake, paying little mind to the disgrace” (Hebrews 12:2) because he—like Moshe—loved us and wanted to preserve us even at the cost of himself. He went the distance and did what it took—for which we are eternally grateful.
Are we willing to despise such a beautiful, incomprehensible, undeserved choice just because on the surface it sounds a little bit like something the pagans did for much less noble reasons? If so, the disgrace remains ours.