Q&A: Was Jesus' sacrifice on the cross a real sacrifice?

Was Jesus' sacrifice on the cross a real sacrifice?

Question

Since Jesus knew he would be resurrected (Mark 8:31; Luke 24:46) was his death a real sacrifice? Since it was guaranteed that he would be raised from the dead, then his death wasn't real and it wasn't a genuine sacrifice was it? If you know you will walk away from death, then it's really no big deal.

Answer

Is a mother's agony during childbirth any less real though three hours later she holds her little baby in her arms? (John 16:20-22). Is heart surgery any less painful or less real though three days later the patient can get out of bed and walk? Jesus' physical restoration three days after his death does not make his prior suffering any less real or sacrificial.

Sacrifice: Jesus Suffered Tremendously

Jesus died a very real and agonizing death. If you would like to understand just how agonizing and sacrificial it was, please see "Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?" below.

Jesus suffered a very real and painful death for his people. He was literally tortured (Isa. 53). And yes, Jesus resurrected up from the dead. However, something good happening after something bad doesn't make the bad any less bad.

If a person was seriously injured in a car accident but three days later feels somewhat better, it doesn't make the initial event any less frightening, real, or tragic. They will still remember what happened. Just because a prisoner of war is finally released after a period of time doesn't make his pain and suffering during captivity any less real or genuine. In the same way, just because Jesus overcame death, it doesn't make his death any less real or agonizing.

Jesus suffered even more than an ordinary human being would have. His pain was multiplied, magnified, and amplified. Why? Because being sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5), he didn't suffer for his own sin, but for the sin of others - many, many others.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, 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 Pet. 3:18).

He suffered for each and every sin of each and every one of his sons and daughters. How many sons and daughters does Jesus have? More than the sand of the sea or the stars of the sky (Gen. 22:17)? How many sins would that be? Our multiplication tables don't go that high. [1]

Jesus came to earth. He was and still is fully God and fully man. As a man he suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He was betrayed and abandoned by those he loved. He was falsely accused, mocked, abused, humiliated, and beaten to within inches of his life, then hung on a cross for hours to die, and even at the end a spear was placed into his side. Jesus suffered. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. But Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus did not deserve to be on the cross. He could have called down a legion of angels and ended it all, but out of love he chose to suffer for his people (John 15:13) — the same ones that abandoned him! God's wrath was fully poured out on him on the cross where he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). Jesus suffered in multiple ways and without measure. We should avoid any hint of minimizing the suffering that took place on the cross.

Sacrifice: The Giving of Something of Value to God

The word "sacrifice" itself means much more than just death, pain, and suffering. The meaning of sacrifice also has to do with giving something of personal value over to God. It is often understood as the transfer of precious personal property from the offerer to God. We have this example in 1 Chronicles 21:23-24:

Then Ornan said to David, "Take it, and let my lord the king do what seems good to him. See, I give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I give it all." But King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

Sacrifice had great meaning to David. It was personal, valuable, and involved a loss. This was no half-hearted offering; shortcuts weren't allowed. In Jesus' case, his offering was personal, costly, and precious as well. His loss was immense. He took no shortcuts down the Via Dolorosa. Jesus made an acceptable sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2).

Sacrifice: It's God's to Do With as He Pleases

Once sacrifices were given to God the Father, they were his to do with as he pleased. We see this exemplified throughout the Bible. For instance, there were five main types of sacrifices performed under the old covenant: (1) the burnt offering (Lev. 1); (2) the grain offering (Lev. 2); (3) the peace offering (Lev. 3); (4) the sin offering (Lev. 4); (5) the trespass offering (Lev. 5).

Moreover, sacrifices in the Old Testament included various things, such as meats (Lev. 1:3-17), oil (Num. 15:4), incense (Exod. 30:34-38), salt (Lev. 2:13), and even people (1 Sam. 1:28). The Levites were presented as a wave offering to the Lord (Num. 8:15). Most animals sacrificed were killed, but the scapegoat was set free. Samuel, for example, offered his life in serving Yahweh in the temple.

The main point here, however, is that once a sacrifice was offered to Yahweh, it was Yahweh's prerogative to do what he pleased with it. He commanded what was to be done with what was really his own. Likewise, Jesus owned his life. He gave his life as a living sacrifice to God (John 10:11-18; Eph. 5:2). This is as loving and costly as it gets. Once it was given to the Father (Heb. 9:14; 10:10-18) it was God's to do with as he pleased, and with Jesus, he chose to raise him from the dead (Acts 2:24, 32; 10:40; 13:30; Rom. 6:4; Gal. 1:1). The Father's acceptance of Christ's sufferings didn't diminish or lessen the pain, agony, and sacrificial nature of Christ's death. He established it for all eternity. Glory to God in the highest!

In Summary

Although Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he made a genuine and very real sacrifice. He underwent severe trails and tribulations. He died a literal death. His death was infinitely worse than any other death in the history of man. No death will ever surpass Jesus' in suffering or in any other way. It was given to God the Father to do with as he pleased. Knowing the cost, love, and genuineness of Jesus' sacrifice, he accepted it and forgave his people of their sins.

Rather than Jesus' resurrection nullifying the realness of Christ's death, God the Father's acceptance of it reveals the infinite value of Christ's amazing sacrifice for his people for all eternity.

Reference

[1] The Earth's beaches contain roughly 5,000 billion billion—aka, 5 sextillion—grains of sand. ... there are about 8,000,000,000 = 8x10^9 grains of sand per cubic meter of beach, and the Earth contains roughly 700,000,000,000 = 7x10^11 cubic meters of beach. Which means that we can find the number of sand grains on Earth's beaches by multiplying these two numbers together. When we do that, we get 8x10^9 x 7x10^11 = 5.6x10^21. So the Earth's beaches contain roughly 5,000 billion billion—aka, 5 sextillion—grains of sand. Which, needless to say, is a HUGE number! "How Many Grains of Sand are on Earth's Beaches?" By Jason Marshall, Ph.D., the Math Guy. (https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/math/how-many-grains-of-sand-are-on-earth-s-beaches?page=all). Last Accessed 10 July 2019.

Though the reference to the literal number of the grains of sand in Genesis 22:17 is not to be taken literally, like the stars in the sky (est. at 70 billion trillion with our present telescopes) it represents a very large number (cf. Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Now multiply the number above (5,000 billion billion—aka, 5 sextillion) by the total number of sins (past, present, and future) of each grain of sand or stars in the sky. That's a multitude of sin. That's an immense amount of suffering placed upon Jesus. "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

Related Topics

Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).