Why was a blood sacrifice required in the Old Testament sacrificial system?
In Leviticus 17, the Lord commands against consuming blood by noting, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life" (Leviticus 17:11). Blood represented life. Without blood, a creature or person could not live.
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Because of this, God chose to use a blood sacrifice as part of the sacrificial system of the Jewish people. Each time blood was shed, it reminded the people of life and death.
Further, the blood sacrifice of the Jewish people was directly related to the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt at the first Passover. On that night, each family was to share a meal of lamb, placing some of the blood on the sides and top of the doorposts to keep the family from losing its firstborn son. The people of Egypt who did not were struck by this plague and many died. The blood in the sacrifices represented life and death as well as freedom by the hand of God from slavery.
A blood sacrifice also included a cost to the one giving the sacrifice. The price of the animal involved represented a price that had to be paid by the one providing the offering. Each time a blood sacrifice was made, the one giving it was reminded of the cost of sin.
On a practical note, God also used part of the sacrificial offerings at the tabernacle and temple as a means of providing food for the Levites. The Levites served in the tabernacle and temple and did not share in the land inheritance of the other tribes. Deuteronomy 18:1-2 explains, "The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord's food offerings as their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them." God gave instructions for how and what the Levites could use as food for themselves and their families from the sacrifices of the people.
In addition, the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament also foreshadowed the coming of Jesus and His death upon the cross. The blood of Jesus was poured out as a sacrifice for the sins of people. This one-time sacrifice became the completion of the law and marked a new covenant for those who would believe in His name.
Before the death of Christ, the Jewish law required regular blood sacrifice offerings on behalf of sins. Hebrews 10:11-12 shares that this need changed with the shed blood of Christ: "And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God." Christ's sacrifice was now sufficient and no further blood sacrifice is necessary.
Hebrews 9:11-18 also expresses that the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed toward what Jesus would later provide. Verses 13-14 explain, "For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God."
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