The Bible Project video on sacrifice and atonement answers the questions: What was the purpose of sacrifice in the Old Testament and what does it mean for us today?
If you look at the first couple books of the Bible, you will quickly come to the conclusion that “If God is going to rid the world of evil, he’ll have to get rid of us.” Us meaning humanity, who can so easily side with evil.
However, as the following Bible Project video explains, “This is the story of the Bible: Not only is God going to rid the world of evil, he’s going to do it without destroying humanity.”
In the Old Testament, we are told about one of the devices God used to cleanse his people from evil: Animal sacrifices. Animal sacrifices represented atonement, a word which means to cover over someone’s debt. But there is also the “vandalism of relationship” that evil causes. It puts us at odds with our fellow man and God himself. It muddies the waters of relationships, so to speak. So, in addition to sacrificing animals, the priests would also sprinkle the animal’s blood (which represents life) in the temple. “The sprinkling of blood is this representation of how God is cleaning away these indirect consequences of evil in their community.”
The people of Israel experienced God’s love and grace through these animal sacrifices, and ideally, they would have in turn shown love and grace toward other people. However, we are told the Israelites didn’t always do this. The book of Isaiah contains the message that Israel’s sacrifices were no longer acceptable because of all the evil they were committing. The prophet also speaks about the coming Messiah who would deal with evil “in a surprising way.”
The Messiah would become a servant, and not just serve but also suffer and die for the evil committed by his own people. Jesus’s death was an atoning sacrifice and a source of purification. But Jesus’ sacrifice is unique from the animal sacrifices because his sacrifice broke the power of death and evil. “He is the perfect sacrifice to which all the previous sacrifices were pointing all along.”
Now that Jesus has come, instead of the ritual sacrifices, we have other rituals. Namely: baptism and communion. These rituals serve to remind us of the atoning and purifying sacrifice Jesus made for us and his ability to overcome death and evil.