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This is perhaps the most difficult truth for mankind to accept, that the life of an innocent victim would be slaughtered on behalf of the guilty. To fully understand this we need to go back to the garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis.
1. Adam Hands The Crown Over To The Devil
The Lord created man in His image. Not because God looks like a man or like a woman. According to Luke 24:39 God does not have a body but He is an eternal Spirit Being (Jn 4:24). Adam and Eve were created eternal non-dying spirit beings. In that sense it was impossible for them to cease existing. Adam had absolute dominion and authority with only one restriction, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Everything that flew, swam, and crept was under the dominion of Adam. When that serpent being came into the garden, it too was under Adams feet of authority. Adam allowed this serpent (Heb. Nachash "poisoner") to dialog with the woman (his wife) which is forbidden in Scripture. Even Christ didn't talk with the devil, He would command the devil.
In that perfect state of control and dominion Adam allowed his wife to dialog with this creature who was under his authority and call God a liar and at no time in any of those stages of sin did Adam stop that being or his wife and he himself partook and his eyes were opened. It is important to note that he was not off picking fruit or something but was "with her" when she was deceived:
Gen 3:6 "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate."
Paul the apostle also makes this very clear that Adam was not deceived:
1 Tim 2:14 "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression."
Adam knew exactly what he was doing and as she chose to sin, Adam, who was with her, also chose to sin and to die because of his love for the for the woman (a type of Christ). But in doing this he literally handed to the devil the crown of spiritual power and dominion that he formerly possessed and placed it on the head of the Nachash. At that moment death reigned and Satan legally became the ruler of this world. From that point on 2Cor 4:4 denotes Satan as the "god of this world." The word 'world' in the Greek is interesting, its the word "cosmos" which literally means "the world system." Someone may ask, "Where in Scripture does it say that Adam handed the crown of authority to the devil?" The answer is in Jesus' temptation in Luke 4:
Luke 4:5-8 And he led Jesus up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. "Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours." And Jesus answered and said to him, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.'"
2. Gods Plan
So the whole world was hopelessly plunged into darkness and death. Though Adam and Eve didn't physically die for many years later it was spiritual death that came first as God had warned them, "In the day that you eat you shall surely die." Death means separation from God. They didn't know death but they knew God had said "No" and when they disobeyed God death reigned in their spirits and in their bodies. Their spirits, the part of them that was eternal, and the part of them that knew God was now filled with darkness and death was reigning in them, yet in Genesis 3 where the fall took place, in verse 15 God gives the first light of messianic prophecy where he foretells of the "Coming One" (Heb. Haba):
Gen 3:15 "And I will put enmity (war) between you (Satan) and the woman (Israel), and between your seed (Mankind) and her Seed (Messiah); he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."
This verse is very important to remember because it is the first mention of God's scarlet thread of redemption as the promises unfold throughout the history of Israel (The Old Testament) and ends on the cross of Calvary when the blood of the lamb of God is shed. So Genesis 3:15 is the starting point when God first releases from His mouth the promise that one day Messiah will come and make everything better. All ages were waiting for Him.
So Adam and Eve plunged the whole human race into darkness by disobeying and taking into themselves that fallen nature and taking into themselves all that the tree personified which was the very rebellious nature of Satan and from that point on this is the epitaph of man:
Isa 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Rom 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
The whole human race is categorized as those who seek their own way. In Romans 8:2 Paul talks about "the spiritual law of sin and death." So when Adam and Eve sinned, at that moment they were naked, lost, in darkness and had spiritually died, they are limited, and in a whole new realm, slaves of their senses and have the rebellious nature of Satan dwelling in them but at this point something happens.
3. The Blood
At this point God gives them a covering through the shed blood of an innocent animal:
Gen 3:21-24 "Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life."
Notice that He clothed them with tunics of "skin" and that the one sacrifice clothed them both. The word clothed speaks of blood atonement. They had never seen anything die yet they saw God the giver of life take a life because when God clothed them He had slaughtered an innocent animal to do it and they knew that at that point they could only approach God on the basis of the blood of a substitute because this substitute was a type of the lamb of God who was to come. From this point on one could only approach God through the blood. This would be the vehicle of redemption. Without the blood there was no other possible way for man to be saved. No matter how good he may be:
Lev 17:11 'For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.'
Blood (Heb. dam) is life, life is blood. When blood is shed a life is shed. Blood becomes the vehicle of redemption throughout the entire Bible. If you can't understand blood, you can't understand Jesus. Jesus didn't come to heal the sick, He did it in route. He came and set His face to go to Jerusalem and die. Jesus said, "For this cause I have come,"
John 10:18 "No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
Jesus came for one reason, to shed His blood. Remember, Jesus came to restore what Adam and Eve had forfeited.
1 Cor 15:21-22 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Why did John call Jesus the Lamb of God? Because the lamb was the animal whose blood was shed in place of the sinner. Every human being was guilty of sinning and the wages of sin is death, and Gods plan was that the one sacrifice from the innocent and sinless would cover the many guilty sinners.
God is holy. Heaven is holy. Everything that is perfect and right is in God's presence. Adam and Eve should have been blasted to oblivion by God's judgement angels, "The Cherubim," yet their swords were stayed because God, in His love, allowed them to see the beautiful blood.
Picture the sword of judgement coming down upon Adam and Eve and at the last moment in one instant God in His foreknowledge prepared a substitute so that the sword would switch off course and fall upon it. That substitue bears every drop of justice completely and Adam and Eve could go free. Think of it as a debt and it was time for the debt to be paid and at the last minute someone pays it in full.
But there is more that God wants man to know about the blood.
4. The Blood - A Deeper Meaning
As we look at Genesis 9 in a moment we need to remember that God instituted a plan, called the plan of redemption through the blood, and we are going to begin to see blood all over the Old Testament. Since the beginning there were those that didn't agree and called it a "slaughterhouse religion" but God's warning still stands just as he warned Cain. So throughout the Old Testament blood is everywhere. At certain times during the Passover celebration there were over 250,000 lambs slain with blood everywhere, all over the Temple, with so much blood flowing down the brook Kidron that it was called a "horrifying sight." Seeing the lamb which had become a household pet for four days, and then watching it kick and scream and be slaughtered in the presence of the family and the children was an object lesson that would forever make your skin crawl.
It may make us cringe to see an animals throat cut but it is our throat that deserves to be cut. That animal was standing in for us. Gods love and grace for us provided a means wherein full justice would be absorbed and not have to be absorbed by us. God had allowed full justice to fall upon it completely, not a little bit, but completely. The substitute would "stand in" for the judgment that belonged to the sinner and "identify with its condition." It would stand in because it literally "became sin" God didn't just make believe that the persons sins were on it but that animal in God's eyes became the very hated sinful nature and God's full judgment fell upon it. Remember what the Scripture says of Jesus?
2 Cor 5:21 For He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Jesus didn't just bear our sins, He became the very hated putrid thing within Adam that separated him from God. When Christ became sin and completely and utterly identified with the condition of fallen man He didn't just bear our sins, He bore the whole sin nature and He stood in for us by identifying completely with our condition and when Christ identified completely with our condition He became the "object of wrath." All the judgment of God was laid upon Him and it is no wonder that Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" which means "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" because He literally became sin for the world. Every sin, past, present, and future, every sin that ever was or ever will be was in a moment of time laid upon Him.
1 Cor 15:21-22 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
So throughout the Old Testament when they slaughtered a lamb the full penalty would fall upon the innocent substitute and the man who was really guilty was no longer guilty because the sin has been dealt with. He could proclaim that he had been forgiven and that the debt has been paid, until he sinned again and then he would come again at a point in time throughout the year and once per year on Yom Kippur all the sins of the nation were atoned for. Of course this was year by year, every year, until the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ came and took away sin for all time.
5. Restrictions on Blood
As we examine Genesis 9 we notice that after the flood God allowed man to eat animal flesh. Noah and his family (8 people) had survived the flood. Noah makes an offering and then God spoke:
Gen 8:20-9:3 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. "While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease." So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.
Notice that God allowed man to eat animal flesh. Up until then they were vegetarians. But notice that God begins to give restrictions concerning blood:
Gen 9:4 "But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood."
Gen 9:6 "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God he made man."
So now blood could not be eaten, nor could it be shed. Also in Leviticus:
Lev 17:10 "And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people."
Lev 7:26-27 'Moreover you shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast. 'Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.'
Why did God make strict commands about not eating or shedding blood? Because blood was the instrument of redemption. It was holy, it was set apart. God literally had to say that He would kill anyone that eats blood. He sanctified blood made blood so off limits that everyone would treat it with reverence. Even during a woman's menstrual period she was considered unclean and could not be touched even by her husband until after her purification. Even after giving birth there were restrictions because of contact with the blood.
So why did God put such a ban on blood? Why did He put such a hedge around every possible contact with it? Because blood was the vehicle of redemption. Blood could not be handled in any other context except sacrifice. God set blood apart as a holy thing.
6. Faith and the Blood
It wasn't enough just to bring a substitute. It wasn't enough just to shed its blood correctly and properly place its fat upon the altar. Remember Cain and Abel? Cain was upset because he clearly thought that he was a better person than his brother and yet God accepted Abel's sacrifice. Lets suppose that Cain was much better of a person than Abel in every way, after all, he did show up first to bring an offering. He showed the first act of religious devotion. But Abel crying out to God of his unworthiness and approaches Him with the blood of a substitute. Which one would be justified? Which one would God accept? Cain brought the fruit of the ground. Cain brought the best of his good works and God was repulsed. There are no good works in man apart from Jesus Christ. Abel knew that he was unworthy and that is why in faith he brought a substitute. Notice what it says in Hebrews 11:
Heb 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
It wasn't that he ritually brought the right thing the right way but it was his attitude. Notice it says, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice," he knew that he deserved to die and that the Lord in his mercy provided a substitute for him. It was the condition of the heart. It was never just the ceremonial act in the Old Testament that brought forgiveness and acceptance but ceremony plus faith.
Ceremony alone with the wrong attitude was never accepted. Remember when Jesus condemned the ceremonies and traditions of the Pharisees? Imagine that the long awaited Messiah had finally arrived in Israel and the leaders of Judaism were so hardened and blind in their ways that they completely missed it all. Jesus said to them, "You will not see Me again till you learn to say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."
Its always hard for the religious person who is severely devoted to his rituals and good works to tolerate how God can accept the most wretched who would come with a good heart, a heart of faith. God's love covers a multitude of sins.
Throughout all of history and even today it is the attitude of faith that the Lord wants. It is a heart that truly believes in the promises of God no matter how bad he might have been. No matter what depth of sin he had fallen to.
When a common Israelite brought a lamb, God never wanted just the ceremony. He never just wanted a proper ritual. He wanted a heart with full assurance that God keeps His promises. That is why praise was always a part of sacrifice. You could not truly praise God from your heart unless you knew you were forgiven.
If you were to tap the shoulder of one of the common Israelites at the altar and ask him, "Why are you here?" If he was a man of faith he would say, "because I am a sinner and I deserve to die, but the Lord my God, blessed be He, has given me a system and its called His Law, and according to ceremonial law this animal, when I press my hand upon its head, becomes me and I become as innocent as it is, its innocence is mine, my judgment is his, and as I kill it I realize that I should be slain but because God says so I am forgiven."
There were always those people who just went through the motions and never grasped the mercy of God. They would take the animal just right, put their hands on it just right, slit its throat just right, put its pieces on the altar just right, and looked just like the guy next to him but his heart was wrong and he was rejected by God. The naked eye will only reveal two identical people, we look on the outside, God sees the inside.
Jesus spoke about two men. One built his house on a foundation of rock and the other built his on a foundation of sand. They both had houses, yet they were built on two different foundations. But you don't know that until judgment comes.
Faith is simply acting on the promises of God. I believe what You said and I receive Your forgiveness.
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Matthew 21:21 - Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not... it shall be done.
Romans 5:10 - For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
also see: The 5 Levitical Offerings