What is blood sacrifice in the Bible? What is it for?
In this blog, learn the following:
- Definition of blood sacrifice
- 4 instances it was performed in the Old Testament
- Its 4 types
- Its ultimate fulfillment
- Its 3 consequences
What is Blood Sacrifice?
Let’s define sacrifice first.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sacrifice as an act of offering to a deity. It also means the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.
But from a more theological perspective, it is a divine institution God appointed as a mode in which a guilty man offers Him acceptable worship 1.
More specifically, sacrifice is a ritual of slaughtering animals and processing their bodies as an offering to a supernatural force 2.
In some cases, foods, drinks, and even human beings are used as a sacrifice.
Now, let’s focus on the blood sacrifice.
Considering those definitions, we understand that blood sacrifice is a sacrifice that involves the shedding of blood.
Well, blood is a “key ingredient for bringing about atonement in the biblical system” 3.
“The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22, NIV).
Coming from animals prescribed by God such as sheep, goats, and birds, which we will discuss later, this blood is offered in place of the sinner’s blood to redeem him from sin.
Does it make sense?
Now, let’s see how this was practiced in the Bible.
4 Examples of Blood Sacrifice in the Old Testament
1) Abel’s animal sacrifice
Do you know Abel, one of the sons of Adam and Eve and the brother of Cain (Genesis 4:1-2)?
Abel was a shepherd while Cain was a farmer.
So, when God asked them to offer Him sacrifice, the first one gave the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions, while the second offered fruits (verses 3-4).
Who do you think did better?
Well, God favored Abel for his offering, which made Cain angry (verses 4-5).
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” God asked him (verses 6-7, NIV).
What made Abel’s sacrifice better than Cain’s?
Abel’s sacrifice showed that he was humble enough to acknowledge himself as a sinner. And he believed that through the animal’s blood, God would redeem him from sin 4.
On the other hand, what made Cain’s offering offensive to God was his lack of submission and obedience to the ordinance of His appointment 5.
Lack of submission and obedience?
Well, because God instructed each of them to offer an animal, not fruits and vegetables, though they were also an acceptable sacrifice.
Yet, Cain thought that his offering was “nobler and not as humiliating as the offering of the blood of beasts, which showed dependence upon another, thus expressing his own weakness and sinfulness” 5.
2) Noah’s animal sacrifice
Do you remember the story of the global flood in Noah’s time?
He and his family stayed in the ark and survived the 150-day flood (Genesis 7:24). And they waited several more months for the waters to completely subside.
By the second month of the following year, the earth had completely dried (verse 14 of chapter 8). Only then did God tell Noah and his family to come out of the ark.
Then, Noah built an altar, took some of the clean animals and birds, and sacrificed burnt offerings (verse 20).
God smelled its aroma and said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done” (verse 21, NIV).
3) Blood sacrifice in Egypt
Remember the 10 plagues God sent all over Egypt in Moses’ time?
Water turned to blood. Then there came frogs, gnats, flies, plague on livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. And the last one was the death of all firstborn (Exodus 7–11).
Now, in order for the “destroying angel” to pass over the houses of the Israelites, God asked each household to sacrifice a lamb without defect (verses 3 and 5 of chapter 12).
Yes. Since the lamb served as the substitute for the children, it should be innocent, blameless, or sinless 6.
With this, the Israelites had to take care of their offerings until the 14th day of the month. On that day, they had to slaughter them at twilight (Exodus 12:6).
After which, they had to take some of the blood and wipe it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses where they ate the lambs (verse 7).
And true enough, when the plague came to strike the firstborn of the Egyptians, it just passed over the houses of the Israelites (verses 12-13).
Such privileged Israelites!
4) Animal sacrifice in the tabernacle
Fast forward to the time when the Israelites were set free from Egypt.
They crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 14), traveled long, and stayed in the wilderness.
There, God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to bring Him an offering (verses 1-2 of chapter 25).
Then, they had to construct a tabernacle with its furnishings according to the pattern He would show them (verses 8-9).
What did this tabernacle look like?
Imagine a large tent inside an open space or what they called the court. The tent was divided into 2 parts—Holy Place and Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:33).
The Most Holy Place sheltered the ark of the covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments (verse 34).
On the other hand, the Holy Place housed the following (chapters 25 and 30):
- Table of shewbread – symbolizing Jesus as the Bread of life
- Lampstand – symbolizing Jesus as the Light of the world
- Altar of incense – where Aaron was instructed to burn incense as a regular offering to God
Outside the tent, still inside the courtyard, one could find the following (Exodus 30; Leviticus 1):
- Laver – basin for washing hands and feet before entering the tent of meeting
- Altar of burnt offering – where someone who committed sin would offer an animal sacrifice
Now, let’s focus on animal sacrifice.
If it was a bull, sheep, or goat, God required that it be “a male without defect” (Leviticus 1:1-4, NIV).
It should be killed, and the blood was to be thrown against the sides of the altar. Then, it would be cut into pieces, the legs washed with water, and burned altogether (verses 5-13).
If it was a bird, God preferred “a dove or a young pigeon” (verse 14, NIV).
After removing its head, it should be burned on the altar with its blood drained out on the side. The crop and feathers were to be removed as well (verses 15-16).
After which, it would be torn by its wings but not divided completely. And it would finally be burned as a sacrifice (verse 17).
4 Types of Blood Sacrifice
Not all sacrifices involve the shedding of blood.
Firstfruits, tithes, a meat offering, a drink offering, an incense, and others, are also considered sacrifices in the Bible 1.
An example of those sacrifices is Cain’s food offering (Genesis 4), which we discussed earlier.
Another one is what Exodus 34:26 (ESV) says: “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
Still, another example is in Numbers 28:7 (ESV): “In the Holy Place, you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord.”
But since this article focuses on blood sacrifice, the most common sacrifice in the Levitical system, let’s explore its 4 types:
1) Burnt offering
As you’ve seen from how the Israelites did it in the tabernacle, an animal was being killed, cleaned, cut into pieces, and burned on the altar (Leviticus 1).
That was an example of a burnt sacrifice. But what was it basically?
Burnt sacrifice or offering comes from the Hebrew term olah and root word alah, meaning “to go up” or “to ascend” 3.
The entire sacrifice ascended to God from the altar, illustrating the individual’s “approach and entreaty of heaven.”
Since this offering was voluntary, it was a commitment type of sacrifice, an expression of the offerer’s free and deep devotion to God.
In addition, it was “given in integrity but only when the heart of the person offering the sacrifice was right before God.” Otherwise, it would become “an act of deceit and hypocrisy.”
Wrapping it up, a burnt sacrifice is a sacrifice being burned as a voluntary offering to God.
2) Peace offering
In Exodus 20:24 (ESV), God instructed the Israelites to make an altar and “sacrifice on it [their] burnt offerings and…peace offerings.”
Notice that the peace offering is mentioned apart from the burnt offering, meaning it is different 7.
That’s right. A peace offering served as an expression of thanksgiving, a vow or contract, and a voluntary offering 8.
For this reason, it was sometimes called the thank offering, votive offering, or freewill offering 9.
Peace offering was the only one in which the people could eat the flesh. And unlike the Passover, it was not celebrated on a particular day but at any time of the year 7.
Just like the burnt offering, the animals for peace offerings were chosen from the herd or the flock. They had to be without blemish because “no deformed animal could fitly represent the Prince of Peace” 8.
After which, the person making the sacrifice should lay his hands on the head of the animal and then slay it 10.
Then, he had to separate the fat from the different organs of the body, and the priest would burn it on the altar of burnt offerings.
So, to conclude, a peace offering is a voluntary sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.
3) Sin offering
Leviticus 12:6 (ESV) mentions, “And when the days of her purifying are completed…she shall bring to the priest…a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.”
So, it’s clear that a sin offering is another type of sacrifice different from the two sacrifices previously discussed.
What was it for?
Well, “if any member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, when they realize their guilt and the sin they have committed becomes known, they must bring as their offering for the sin they committed a female goat without defect” (verses 27-28 of chapter 4, NIV).
Diving deeper, a sin offering is designed to propitiate God, satisfy His justice, and pardon the offense for which it was offered 11.
In short, it was done to atone for one’s sins.
Performed in the same place where the burnt offering was being slaughtered, the sin sacrifice should be eaten by the priest offering it in the courtyard of the tabernacle (Leviticus 6:25-26).
And would you believe that any male in the priest’s family might eat it too (verses 28-29)?
Yes, but there was an exemption to this. A sin offering whose blood was brought to make atonement in the Holy Place “must not be eaten.” Instead, it “must be burned up” (verse 30, NIV).
Enough with the details. We now understand that a sin offering is a sacrifice offered to God by a person seeking forgiveness for a sin he committed unintentionally.
4) Trespass offering
Trespass offering is mentioned in Leviticus 5:6 (KJV): “He shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned.”
Wait, is this sacrifice similar to the sin offering? Sin is synonymous with trespass, right?
Well, trespass offering was in itself “a sin offering” 12.
It was offered “especially for sins ‘in the holy things of the Lord’ as when a person had trespassed by not following God’s instructions in regard to the holy things.”
Whatever his sin was, the person who committed it was to bring a ram for an offering 13.
But while the trespass offering was being disposed of much the same as the ordinary sin offering, it differed in that the blood was sprinkled “round about upon the altar” instead of touching the horns with the blood.
Also, it was mostly used to represent the sins of the person offering it rather than those of the public 14.
For this reason, sin offering was also known as the guilt offering 9.
Now, let’s talk about the rules of restitution.
If the sin was against “the holy things of the Lord,” the restitution “was made to the priest” being God’s representative 15.
If the sin was against a dead person, the restitution was to be made to his kinsman. But if there was no kinsman, the restitution was to be made to God.
To conclude all this, a trespass offering is like a sin offering but it differs in the manner by which it was performed.
The Fulfillment of the Ceremonial Blood Sacrifice
Having learned about the ceremonial sacrifices, isn’t it overwhelming to know how much was at stake whenever a person sinned in Old Testament times?
Can you imagine yourself living in those times?
Good thing, we don’t have to do the same today. But what if we still have to?
Well, “the Son of God had died as [our] Sacrifice and had ascended to heaven to stand before the Father as [our] Advocate” 16.
Through repentance and faith, we have been freed from the condemnation of sin. And through the grace of Christ, we have been “enabled henceforth to render obedience to the law of God.”
Because of this great fulfillment, the sacrificial service had passed away. The earthly priesthood ceased but we look upon Jesus, the Minister of the new covenant, and the power of His redeeming blood 17.
The sacrifices themselves had no value or efficacy. They were only the “shadow of good things to come,” pointing us to the coming of the great High Priest 1.
Sacrifices only belonged to a temporary economy. But these have passed away as the ultimate Sacrifice had “perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
As such, “God no longer commands the symbolic action of worship. Instead, He wants our entire being presented to Him” 3.
Therefore, Jesus has been the fulfillment of all ceremonial sacrifices. Hence, we no longer have to kill and sacrifice animals when confessing our sins, offering thanksgiving, or making a vow to God.
What Does Jesus’ Sacrifice Do for Us?
1) It justifies us.
We read in Romans 3:24-25 (NIV) that “all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith.”
Through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, we have been justified. And we look upon Him as our only Hope and Deliverer 18.
Justified by Christ? What does it mean?
It means that God remits the punishment that we deserve because of sin. He accepts us as though we were just and had not sinned 19.
Hence, He receives us into His divine favor and treats us as if we were righteous.
It’s also worth mentioning that Jesus “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26, ESV).
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, ESV).
With this, we’ve been redeemed from sin. We are given a second chance to live holy lives, and are taken into favor with heaven in fellowship with the Father and the Son.
2) It sanctifies us.
Like the animals whose blood was brought by the high priest into the sanctuary and burned as a sacrifice for sin, “so Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood” (Hebrews 13:12, ESV).
Indeed, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (verse 10 of chapter 10, ESV). As such, “how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:9, NIV).
Therefore, to be sanctified by Jesus’ blood is to be made holy and set apart by His Spirit. It comes after justification.
3) It reconciles us with God.
Jesus suffered “the righteous for the unrighteous that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV).
Sin separated us from God. It hindered us from approaching His presence in person. But Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for us to have communion with Him again because He has reconciled the world unto Himself 20.
What a blessing to know that Jesus Himself paved the way for us to reunite with Him!
Though we don’t deserve to be reconciled with Him because of our sins, His sacrifice has broken the walls in our favor.
We Want to Hear From You
What have you learned about the blood sacrifice and its great fulfillment in Jesus Christ?
Share your thoughts by commenting below.
To learn more about this topic, subscribe to Heroes: The Bible Trivia Game, read the stories of Moses and Jesus on our hero page, find them in our Bible study course, and download our game on Google Play and App Store.REFERENCES
- M. G. Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature
- Oxford Bibliographies
- Douglas Mangum, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2016
- Ellen White, Confrontation, 23.1
- Ellen White, Confrontation, 23.2
- Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 274.1
- Ellen White, The Cross and Its Shadow, 154.1
- Ellen White, The Cross and Its Shadow, 154.2
- James Hastings et al., Dictionary of the Bible, 1909
- Ellen White, The Cross and Its Shadow, 154.4
- Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, 2002
- Ellen White, The Cross and Its Shadow, 143.1
- Ellen White, The Cross and Its Shadow, 143.2
- Ellen White, The Cross and Its Shadow, 143.3
- Ellen White, The Cross and Its Shadow, 141.1
- Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 393.1
- Ellen White, Christ in His Sanctuary, 66.1
- Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 3, 192.1
- Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 3, 191.2
- Ellen White, With God at Dawn, 53.3