What is blood sacrifice in the Bible? What is it for?
In this blog, you’ll learn the following:
- Definition of blood sacrifice
- Four instances where it was performed in the Old Testament
- Four of its types
- The ultimate fulfillment of blood sacrifice
- Its three 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 a destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.
But in a more theological aspect, it is a divine institution God appointed as a mode in which a guilty man offers Him an acceptable worship (M. G. Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature).
More specifically, sacrifice is a ritual of slaughtering animals and processing their bodies as an offering to a supernatural force (Oxford Bibliographies).
In some cases, foods, drinks, and even human beings were 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 shedding of blood.
Well, blood is a “key ingredient for bringing about atonement in the biblical system” (Douglas Mangum, The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016).
“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 to redeem them from their 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 gave the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions while the second offered fruits (verses 3 and 4).
Which one do you think did better?
Well, God favored Abel for his offering, which made Cain angry (verses 4 and 5).
“Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” God asked him (verses 6 and 7, ESV).
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 (Ellen White, Confrontation 23.1).
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 (23.2).
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,” Ellen White added in the book mentioned above.
2) Noah’s animal sacrifice
Do you remember the story of the worldwide flood in Noah’s time?
He and his family stayed in the ark and survived the flood for 150 days (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 completely dried (Genesis 8:14). Only then did God tell Noah and his family to come out of the ark.
Then, Noah built an altar, taking 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 ten 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 (Exodus 7-11).
The last plague was the death of the firstborn of all people and animals in Egypt.
But in order for the “destroying angel” to pass over the houses of the Israelites, God asked each household to sacrifice a lamb without defect (Exodus 12:3, 5; Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets 274.1).
Without defect? Yes. Since the lamb served as the substitute for the children, it should be innocent, blameless, or sinless.
Going back, they had to take care of their offerings until the fourteenth day of the month. On that day, they had to slaughter them at twilight (verse 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 passed over the houses of the Israelites (verses 12 and 13).
Why? Because they had the blood of the sacrifice God commanded them to offer and wipe on their doorframes. The angel didn’t touch their children for the offer was enough to save them.
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), travelled long, and stayed in the wilderness.
There, God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to bring Him an offering (Exodus 25:1-2.
Then, they had to construct a tabernacle with its furnishings according to the pattern He would show them (verses 8 and 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 two, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:33).
Inside the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant containing the Ten Commandments (verse 34).
Inside the Holy Place stood the following (Exodus 25 and 30):
- Table of shewbread – symbolized Jesus as the Bread of Life
- Lampstand – symbolized 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, were the following (Exodus 30 and 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 was “a male without defect” (Leviticus 1:3, 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 contents were to be removed as well (verses 15 and 16).
After which, it would be torn by its wings but not severed completely. Finally, it would be burned (verse 17).
4 Types of Blood Sacrifice
Not all sacrifices are bloody.
First-fruits, tithes, meat offering, drink offering, incense, among others, are also considered sacrifices in the Bible (M. G. Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature).
An example of these is Cain’s food sacrifice, 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 was 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 four of its 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 burnt offering comes from the Hebrew term olah and rootword alah meaning “to go up” or “to ascend” (Douglas Mangum, The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016).
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.
Mangum added that 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.”
From this passage, we can see that the peace offering was different from the burnt offering, which Ellen White echoed in The Cross and Its Shadow 154.1.
Specifically, a peace offering was made “in token of thanksgiving, to confirm a vow or contract, and as voluntary offerings” (154.2).
For this reason, it was also sometimes called the thank offering, votive offering, or freewill offering (James Hastings et al., Dictionary of the Bible, 1909).
Peace offering was the only one in which the people could eat the flesh. And unlike the Passover, it was not celebrated once but any time of the year (154.1).
Just like the burnt offering, the animals for peace offerings were chosen from the herd or the flock. They were to be without blemish because “no deformed animal could fitly represent the Prince of Peace” (154.2).
After which, the person making the sacrifice should lay his hands on the head of the animal and then slay it (154.4).
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.
Now, we conclude that 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 previous sacrifices we’ve just discussed.
What was it for?
We can read from Leviticus 4:27-28 (NIV) that “if any member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands…they must bring as their offering for the sin they committed a female goat without defect.”
In this regard, the committed sin was known in public and the offerer realized his guilt.
Diving deeper, a sin offering is designed to propitiate God, satisfy His justice, and pardon the offense for which it was offered (Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, 2002)
Simply put, this offering was being done to atone for one’s sins.
Now, how was it done?
Performed in the same place where the burnt offering was being slaughtered, the priest offering the sin sacrifice should eat it in the courtyard of the tabernacle (verses 25 and 26).
And would you believe that any male in the priest’s family might eat it, too (verses 28 and 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).
So much for the details. We now understand that a sin offering is a sacrifice offered to God by a person who committed sin unintentionally, seeking forgiveness.
4) Trespass offering
Trespass offering was mentioned in Leviticus 5:6 (KJV), which states, “And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned.”
But wait, was this sacrifice similar to the sin offering? Sin is synonymous to trespass, right?
Well, trespass offering was in itself “a sin offering” as Ellen White wrote in The Cross and Its Shadow 143.1.
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 (143.2).
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 as in the sin offering.
Also, it was mostly used to represent the sins of the person offering it rather than the public (143.3).
For this reason, sin offering was also known as the guilt offering (James Hastings et al., Dictionary of the Bible, 1909).
Now, let’s talk about how 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 (144.1).
If the sin was against another person who already died, the restitution was to be made to his kinsman.
What if there was no kinsman? Then, “the restitution was made to the Lord.”
All right. Let’s now conclude that a trespass offering is also 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 the Old Testament times?
Could you imagine yourself living in those times?
It’s a good thing we don’t have to do the same in our time. 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” (Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles 393.1).
By 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 (Ellen White, Christ in His Sanctuary 66.1).
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 (M. G. Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature).
Sacrifices only belonged to a temporary economy and a system of emblems. 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” (Douglas Mangum, The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016).
Therefore, Jesus has been the fulfillment of all ceremonial sacrifices. Hence, we no longer have to kill and sacrifice animals in 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.”
Ellen White echoes this in Selected Messages 3 192.1 in that through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, we have been justified. And we look upon Him as our only Hope and Deliverer.
Now, what does it mean to be justified by Christ?
It means that God remits the punishment that we deserve because of sin. He accepts us though we were just and had not sinned. 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 22:26, 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).
Because of this, we’ve been redeemed from sin.
Through repentance and faith, God remits the penalty prescribed to us for transgressing the law (Ellen White, Selected Messages 3 191.2).
We are given second chance to live holy. Hence, we stand righteous before God. And we 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” (Hebrews 10:10, ESV). As such, “how much more shall we be saved from [His] wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:9, NIV).
With this, 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 has made it possible for us to have communion with Him again because He has reconciled the world unto Himself (Ellen White, With God at Dawn 53.3).
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 sin, 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?
We’d love to hear your thoughts below.