Did Jesus Really Need to Die?

by Ann Sullivan

Did Jesus really need to die? The short answer is no. But the long answer is yes. Let me explain.

God didn’t ‘need’ to do anything. But He chose to put the sacrificial system into place to teach us about our flaws in light of His perfection.

We needed Jesus to die.

God has always desired to connect with His creation, but our rebellion put a wedge between us. And because He was unwilling to compromise His righteousness by ignoring our sin, God provided a solution: the sacrificial system. Although few things seem more distasteful to our 21st-century sensibilities than the idea of blood sacrifice, this is what God chose.

It’s a little disturbing for us to think about sacrifices offered to God back in Bible times. Thinking about blood being shed is troubling enough, but a dead bird or a dead lamb offered as a sacrifice? Yuck.

So, a little perspective might be helpful here.

I’ll be honest, I love animals as much as the next guy. And I have zero tolerance for any kind of abuse or suffering. But sometimes even I wonder if we haven’t gone a little over-the-top with our animal devotion.

We don’t see our dogs and cats as pets anymore. They’re family members. We’re uncomfortable thinking about farm animals as sources of sustenance. Somehow, the food on our plates just magically appears.

It’s a sign of the times and a human tendency to worship the created rather than the Creator. I don’t like to point fingers, but I think Walt Disney is partly to blame. We were brought up with Bambi and Nemo. We’re pretty sure that when we’re not looking, animals are in their little forest houses or under the sea setting tables for tea. They’re discussing politics and the weather. “Tut. Tut.”

All this to say, the idea of offering any kind of animal sacrifice couldn’t be more troubling to our contemporary thinking. The idea of sin itself seems politically incorrect.

However, scriptural truths are meant to transcend time and culture. Good hermeneutics teaches us that when we read a portion of scripture, we need to ask who wrote it. Who were they speaking to? What did their words mean to them? How does that translate to us?

Historically speaking, the entire sacrificial system was put into place long before organized religion began. But by the time the Book of Leviticus was written, God’s people were very familiar with the five main types of offerings: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering.

The burnt offering was an act of worship and a way of asking God’s forgiveness for offenses committed unintentionally. The grain offering came from the fields and expressed a thankful heart for a good harvest and other blessings. The peace offering was similar and included animals or grains as a thanksgiving. The sin and the trespass offering symbolized cleansing from the defilement of sin.

The first three sacrifices were considered voluntary. The last two were mandatory for God’s people and always involved bloodshed.

But why?

Two reasons.

First, the life of a creature is in the blood, as Leviticus 17:11 reminds us. And even though life was grittier back in biblical days, and death more eminent, it remained an ominous threat. So it’s no mistake that God chose bloodshed to illustrate the high cost of sin. Its consequences lead to death.

Second, the shedding of blood ultimately pointed to Christ. For thousands of years, well before Jesus walked the earth, God’s people were becoming familiar with the significance of sacrifice. God was preparing them for the coming Messiah, whom the book of Hebrews describes as the perfect offering, “the Lamb without blemish.”

Christ fulfilled the demands of the law and the sacrificial system by offering Himself as atonement or payment for our sin. God’s righteousness has always demanded payment for unrighteousness, but no longer would sacrifices need to be offered on the altar. God not only points out our sin, He offers to pay for it. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb.10:10).

After the demands of the Old Covenant were met, the New Covenant began. By that time, God’s people were aware of the significance of sacrifice. So when the Apostle Paul said, “Our spiritual act of worship is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices,” it meant something. It meant acknowledging God’s place of preeminence in our lives.

The question is: What does that look like for us today?

Becoming a living sacrifice to God means making ourselves available to Him. It’s about responding to His initiative and concerning ourselves with the things that bring Him pleasure.

But none of this would be possible without God’s provision—the death and resurrection of Christ.

Ann Sullivan is an author, speaker, and blogger. Her first book, Permission to Doubt (Kregel), both challenges and encourages people in their faith as they face a new generation of progressive ideas. Her next book is entitled Beautifully Discontent. Ann’s website is annsullivansimpletruths.com.