Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 1, we started to look at why animal sacrifices of the kind specified in the Old Testament Law are incapable of completely dealing with human sin once and for all. First, the sacrifices were limited in their moral efficacy, and second, the sacrifices were limited in scope to certain kinds of personal sins.
Biblical scholar Duane Lindsey, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, provides three more reasons why they weren’t completely effective.
Third, the sacrifices were limited in purpose to the covenant preservation and renewal of a redeemed people. The Levitical sacrifices were a part of the worship of a redeemed people in covenant relationship with their God. Corporately, and perhaps for the most part individually, the occasion of the slaying of the Passover lamb and the application of its blood to the doorposts in Egypt were outward expressions of inward faith that signaled the regeneration and justification of individual Israelites.
The subsequent sacrificial system dealt ideally with worship and covenant renewal, not initial salvation. It was comparable to the New Testament believer’s experience of 1 John 1:9, not to the sinner’s experience of John 3:16. . . .
Fourth, except for the Day of Atonement ritual, the sacrifices were limited in scope and duration to one sin per sacrifice. The forgiveness granted was real though temporary (in the sense that each sin required another sacrifice). Thus while God accepted the sacrifices for the removal of guilt in the case of the sin being dealt with, such temporary stays of divine wrath did not result in the permanent purging of a person’s conscience (Heb. 10:2).
Fifth, the efficacy of sacrifice was not inherent in the animals sacrificed or in any or all parts of the sacrificial ritual. God provided atonement and forgiveness in view of the all-sufficient sacrifice that Jesus Christ would offer on the cross. Christ’s death was “a sacrifice of atonement” by which God paid in full for the forgiveness which He had extended before the Cross (Rom. 3:25).
In other words, the Levitical sacrifices were validated in the mind of God on the basis of Christ’s death as the one truly efficacious Sacrifice for all sin, the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; cf. 1 Peter 1:19–20). The efficacious value of the sacrifices was therefore derivative rather than original. It is in this sense that the author of Hebrews asserts, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Nevertheless the benefits experienced by the Old Testament believers were just as real as the clothing which is worn by a 20th-century credit-card purchaser whose account has not yet been paid in full.
Lindsey summarizes, “The Levitical sacrifices were efficacious both for restoring the covenant relationship and (when offered in faith) for the actual forgiveness of particular sins, but this efficacy was derivative, needing to be validated by the one all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross.” Once Christ’s sacrifice occurred, the animal sacrifices were no longer needed.