Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by John D. Clark, Sr.
Christ, our passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us.
Because animal sacrifice is no longer practiced by most of humanity, there are certain aspects of such sacrifices which are virtually lost to our understanding. Consider, for example, the very meaning of the word “sacrifice”. To most people now, “to sacrifice” means “to kill”. But in the Bible, “to sacrifice” never meant simply “to kill”. The killing of the animal was only a part of the preparation for the sacrifice; it was not the sacrifice itself. “To sacrifice” means to offer to God the animal that has been chosen, slain, and otherwise prepared for sacrifice.
This is an extremely important point, for even if an Old Testament worshipper chose the appropriate animal according to the law, brought it at the appointed time to the place specified by God, presented it to the priest anointed with the holy oil, and killed it before him, and followed every other precept required by the law, there would still be no sacrifice unless and until the slaughtered animal was offered to God. The offering of the animal on the altar was the sacrifice. And everything that preceded that act, including the slaying of the animal, was only part of the preparation for the sacrifice. This principle holds true with the sacrifice of Christ. His death at Calvary was not itself the sacrifice. The crucifixion was the last, gruesome bit of preparation for his sacrifice, which took place after he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he offered himself to God for the sins of the world.
If Jesus had ascended into heaven before his death, he would have had nothing to offer to God for the sins of the world. The sacrificial Lamb had to first be slain and then offered to God for sin. It was necessary that Jesus, as high priest, have something to offer to God for man’s sin when he presented himself to God (Heb. 8:3).
On the Old Covenant’s Day of Atonement, Israel’s high priest entered with the blood of goats and calves into the temple built by men’s hands to make an atoning sacrifice for the nation (Lev. 16), but “Christ did not enter into holy places made by hands, the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” “Neither with the blood of goats and oxen, but with his own blood, he entered once for all into the sanctuary of heaven, and obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:24, 12).
If the story of Jesus had ended with the crucifixion, no atonement for sin would have been accomplished. Only the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial death accomplished that. Jesus’ death was made effective for the forgiveness of sin only after he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven to offer himself to God as a slain Lamb. Paul made this observation in his letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain . . . and if Christ is not raised, your faith is pointless; you are still in your sins” (1Cor. 15:14, 17). Why is our faith in Christ pointless if Christ is not risen from the dead? Because the offering for sin was not made on the cross. Jesus had to be resurrected and ascend into heaven to offer himself to God for the sins of the world. No one but Jesus was worthy to approach the Father’s altar in heaven to present his slain body to the Father for sin. We should always bear in mind that Jesus did not ascend into heaven because his atoning work was finished; rather, he ascended as our high priest to finish his atoning work. There, in the holiest place of heaven, Jesus “appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). It was this sacrifice of Christ in heaven, and God’s acceptance of it, not just his horrible death, which purchased our redemption.
God’s plan of redemption in Christ includes an oft-overlooked, yet essential, element. This is the witness, or “testimony”, which God gave to man as proof that the sacrifice of Christ took place and was accepted. For those seeking the truth, God has provided something which can be used as a sign to show the way, something which bears irrefutable record to the fact that the offering of Jesus’ body, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot”, was accepted by the Father as propitiation for our sins and that He “made him both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).
What is God’s witness? The Bible tells us. In 1John 5:6, we read, “The Spirit is what bears witness because the Spirit is truth.” In verse 10, John calls the Spirit “the witness that God has given concerning His Son”, and he states that anyone who refuses the Spirit is calling God a liar because he is rejecting the Witness God gave of His Son.
Man needed a witness that Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by the Father because the event took place in heaven, where no man could see. The disciples, obediently waiting in Jerusalem, learned that Jesus had made his sacrifice and that it had been accepted only when the Father sent His Witness of it on Pentecost morning, “And they were all filled with holy Spirit, and they began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit moved them to speak” (Acts 2:4).
Speaking in tongues, said Paul, is the sign that God gave to men to help them find the way of life (1Cor. 14:21—22). With so many religions claiming to be the true way of God, the Father knew He would have to give us something by which to judge men’s claims. Thank God, we do not have to decide for ourselves who has God’s Spirit and who does not. The Spirit gives its own witness when it washes a soul from sin, just as it bore witness through those humble disciples in Acts 2:4. Referring to this divinely inspired utterance, Paul reminded the believers in Rome, “You have received the Spirit of adoption, by which we cry out, ‘Abba!’ (that is, Father). The Spirit itself bears witness, together with our spirit, that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15—16).