Good question...if Jesus didn't stay dead, how could His death have been a REAL sacrifice?


Original posting: Nov/2K



I received this question a while back:


The essence of Christianity is that God SACRIFICED his only Son to save us from our Sins. But where's the sacrifice? Less than 3 days after His death, God revived Jesus. Then he took Him back Home so he could sit at His right hand.


I'll concede Jesus was "cut off" for awhile, but the connection was eventually restored. (Someone told me that being "cut off" for 1 second for God is like INFINITY for Man. So is Man stronger than God in the endurance of pain?)


Equating this with "sacrifice" is somewhat like Superman volunteering to stand in front of a firing squad. The bullets might sting, but He knows He won't die. Where's the kryptonite?


Could a Levite priest make a sin offering of an unblemished animal, and later have it "revived" so that it could be restored to its original owner? Not hardly.


In my mind, a true sacrifice would require Jesus to die FOREVER, i.e., cut off from Jehovah, FOREVER. God would have to feel this "infinite pain" in order to vicariously atone for Human Sin.


Otherwise all of this talk about sacrifice seems to be missing the point.





Thanks for the question, friend (and sorry to make you wait so long, but since you FIRST submitted it so long ago, I have had a chance to study Sacrifice in some detail, in both the OT and in the NT, and to teach (audio) on it for a year or two, see The Great Irruption files at the bottom of that A/V menu, and so my answer should have a better probability of being helpful to you)...



The way I want to work through this with you is by looking at this from a couple of different angles:


1. The nature of sacrifice itself  (in the OT/Tanach)


2. The Cross: the Offerer, the Offering, the Recipient


3. The issue of pain



So, let's dive in...



1. The nature of sacrifice itself (in the OT/Tanach)


The first thing to note here is that the core meaning of "sacrifice" has to do primarily with "giving something over" to God, and not with "death" itself per se. Even English dictionaries highlight the 'giving' aspect, as opposed to "mode of giving" (i.e., death, symbolic marking, going to live/serve the priests). Compare the Concise Oxford English Dictionary's main two entries:


"the act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else more important or worth" and "the slaughter of an animal or person or the surrender of a possession as an offering to a deity”


Notice that the most common meaning focuses only on “giving up” and that the second meaning allows for non-slaughter sacrifices (religious), involving transfer of property to the deity. We will see similar dynamics in the biblical data.



a. Fundamentally, sacrifice was the transfer of property from the offerer to God. The OT/Tanaach

laws highlight this aspect in the choice of materials allowed:


"The sacrificial victim had to be taken from the clean animals and birds (Gn. 8:20), and could be bullock, goat, sheep, dove or pigeon (cf. Gn. 15:9), but not camel or ass (Ex. 13:13). These provisions are not to be traced to the idea of sacrifice as ‘food for the gods’ (viz. that the gods ate what man ate)—as might be suggested by Lv. 3:11; 21:6; Ezk. 44:7—for fish (Lv. 11:9) and wild animals (Dt. 12:22) could be eaten but not sacrificed. The principle seems rather to have been that of property (cf. 2 Sa. 24:24), the wild animals being regarded as in some sense already God’s (Ps. 50:9ff.; cf. Is. 40:16), while the domestic animals had become man’s by his labours (Gn. 22:13 is only apparently an exception), and were in a kind of ‘biotic rapport’ with him. This was even more clearly the case with the non-blood offerings, which had been produced by ‘the sweat of his brow’ (cereals, flour, oil, wine, etc.), and were also staple articles of the kitchen. Property unlawfully acquired was not acceptable (Dt. 23:18)." [NBD, s.v. "Sacrifice and Offering"]



This can also be seen from David's comment in 1 Chrn 21.23f: "Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.” 24 But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” [Notice that it had to (a) be David's and (b) involve a personal 'loss']






b. ‘Sacrifice’ is often considered a sub-set of 'offerings' (although the distinction is not clear at all), in which the only common elements are (a) how the sacrificial material was "delivered to" the deity--by full or partial burning; and (b) that the materials were transferred to God from the offerer, becoming God's to dispose of as He chose.


"The Bible does have two basic terms for offering: minha (in the non-P materials) which means simply “gift,” and qorban (in P) which implies something “brought near” (namely, to the altar). These words are generic terms which include every type of sacrifice or oblation. There is no single term which defines how, or in what manner, an offering becomes a “sacrifice.”


“Indeed, we might define sacrifice in the Bible as those oblations which are burned (wholly or partially) at the altar. These would include the burnt offering, the “peace offering”, and the grain offering, as well as the purification and reparation offerings.  Other types of sacred donations, though brought to the sanctuary and even sometimes presented at the altar, are not burned in any way at the altar and so are not sacrifices. These would include the tithe, ), firstfruits,, the wave-offering,, and the heave-offering.” [REF:ABD, s.v. "SACRIFICE AND SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS."]


But this theoretical distinction between sacrifice and offering (the OT doesn’t distinguish between the two, in its usage of terms to describe them)  will not be important. In the NT, for example, Christ’s death is described as both ‘sacrifice’ (e.g., I Cor 5.7; Eph 5.2; Heb 9.28; 10.12)  and as ‘offering’ (Eph 5.2; Heb 8.3; 10.14).




c. Sacrifice and offerings--for the common Israelite, not the elite—were statements of faith in God. The most common animals offered were sheep (and then goats), the very lifeblood of the people, but the type of sheep generally required (i.e., a young male) required great faith on the part of the offerer.


·         Sheep were raised for their wool and milk, not for meat and hides (although hides and bone were obviously re-cycled wherever possible). The average person rarely ate meat in the ancient world, since animals were far more valuable for their secondary products.


"Ordinary people doubtless did not get to eat meat very frequently, and sheep were regarded as too valuable to kill for food." [OT:LIANE:39]


"In a simple society an accepted figure for the amount of wool fibre a person required annually for clothing is 1.5-3 kg (3.3-6.7 lb) which, for a population of c. 460,000 equals 690,000-1,380,00 kg (1,521,450-3,042,00 lb). We are also told that a caprovine produced c. 0.5-1 kg (1.1-2.2 lb) of cloth-grade fibre per year. This means that somewhere between 690,000 and 1,380,00 sheep or goats--mainly the former--would be needed to clothe the population [TankNote: Note that he is using a much smaller population figure than I would, for Israel at this time]. But how many such animals could there have been in the country? In the early Iron Age village of 'Izbet Sartah there were an estimated 6-7 caprovines per family. This would work out at between 600,000 and 700,000 for all Israel, which would just supply the basic clothing needs to be met, but leave no surplus for possible export. Of course, flocks held by large landowners and the crown might well have augmented the total considerably, but it is perhaps relevant that the Israelites demanded form King Mesha of Moab a very substantial tribute of wool-bearing lambs and sheep (2 Kings 3,4). Home production, it seems, was sometimes not sufficient to cover needs." [OT:I:179-180]


"[In Mesopotamia] Sheep were the most important [domesticated animals] economically and numerically...These animals were more important for their milk products and their wool than for their meat..." [OT:DLAM:249]


"In essence, none of these animals were normally consumed as part of the regular diet because of the fact that their secondary products and labour were much too value for the animal itself to be slaughtered....Sheep and goats...were kept principally for the fleece and hair they provided for the textile industry." [MCMF:89]




·         Comparative bone deposit studies in the area indicate that male sheep died earlier (since they were used for sacrifices in Israel, and additionally for omens in the surrounding cultures) than females, which were cultivated throughout their adult life [HI:ASHL:256f]. Males produced no milk products obviously, and their wool was inferior to that produced by their female counterparts. In fact, even though the ratio of male-to-female adults in a flock was about 1-to-1 [OT:DLAM:249], most of these males would have been gelded, to improve the quality of the wool ["Most male sheep were gelded because geldings give better wool, but a small number of males was kept as stud animals"--[OT:LIANE:39]].


·         Since the normal offering was a male (un-gelded) sheep, the only economic value of this sheep to the offerer would have been that of reproduction--the ability to ensure the future of the flock. It would have had almost no current “output” value at all. To sacrifice such an animal was NOT an offering from one's "current income" (in that case the offering would have allowed adults, females, geldings, or more exactly—wool itself), but rather from one's "pension" or "retirement savings". Since disease and disaster (including vandalism raids by nomadic tribes), killed off 10-15% of the livestock PER YEAR(!), to kill such an animal required real faith in God's commitment to provide for their family in the future. [Notice, by the way, that this sorta dispels the notion that God 'values males higher than females, because He only accepts male sheep'...This practice would seem to indicate the opposite, if such an argument can be made at all from this data...which I strongly doubt..!]




d. Some of the sacrifices and offerings are distinguished by the mode/means of giving over to the Lord, or by their purpose.


“The other frequently used words describe particular kinds of sacrifice, and are derived either from the mode of sacrifice, as zebah (sacrifice), ‘that which is slain, (zabah), and ‘ola (burnt-offering), ‘that which goes up’, or from its purpose, as asam (guilt-offering), ‘for guilt’ (asham), and hatta’t (sin-offering), ‘for sin’ (hatta’t). These may be distinguished in part by the disposal of the victim, whether wholly burnt (hola, Lv. 1), or eaten by priests and worshippers together (zebah, Lv. 3), or eaten by the priests alone (hatta’t and asam, Lv. 4-5)...Also included under qorban were the non-blood offerings, the cereal-offering  (Lv. 2), the firstfruits, the sheaf of 16 Nisan, the dough of the Feast of Weeks, and the tithes.” [NBD, op cit]


What must be noticed is that the elements involved in sacrifice and offering have different expressions:


·         Some of the sacrificial/offering material was meat, some was vegetable (e.g., cereal), some was chemical (e.g., oil, incense), and some were people (e.g., Samuel was given to God by his mother, the Levites were a wave-offering in Num 8.15)

·         Some of the offerings were to be killed, some were to be set free (e.g., the scapegoat and the dove of purification), some were to serve Yahweh in the service of the temple (e.g., Samuel was given to YHWH and moved in with Eli, 1 Sam 1).

·         For those sacrifices that were killed, disposal of the carcass differed according to God’s instructions: some were burnt on the altar, some were cooked/eaten, some were burnt outside the camp, some were burnt and dissolved in water for ritual use (e.g., Num 19).

·         Methods of ‘delivery’ to God also varied: some were burnt entirely (i.e. ‘olam, ‘that which goes up’), some had only a token portion burnt (while the rest was given back to the people—but it was still considered God’s possession), some were only held up toward God (i.e., the heave/elevated offering of Ex 29.26 and Lev 7.31). In the case of people, they moved to/lived next to the central sanctuary site of God’s presence, to serve God (e.g., Samuel, even as a young boy, moved into the tabernacle compound). In the case of vow-offerings (e.g. house, unclean animals, labor services/people), God could even ‘sell it back’ to the original owner (i.e., ‘redemption’).


But the main point was that the material/person became God’s property by the rite of offering, and it was then God’s sole prerogative as to what He did with his ‘new’ possession. For examples,


1.        In the case of the Levites, in Num 8, God accepted the Levites as a wave-offering and then gave them (now His possession) to Aaron, for help in the work:


“Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. 15 “Then after that the Levites may go in to serve the tent of meeting. But you shall cleanse them and present them as a wave offering; 16 for they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel. I have taken them for Myself instead of every first issue of the womb, the first-born of all the sons of Israel. 17 “For every first-born among the sons of Israel is Mine, among the men and among the animals; on the day that I struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself. 18 “But I have taken the Levites instead of every first-born among the sons of Israel. 19 “And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the sons of Israel, to perform the service of the sons of Israel at the tent of meeting, and to make atonement on behalf of the sons of Israel, that there may be no plague among the sons of Israel by their coming near to the sanctuary.”


2.        Some of the priestly offerings were given to Aaron from God (e.g., Lev 10.12ff):


Then Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, “Take the grain offering that is left over from the Lords  offerings by fire and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. 13 “You shall eat it, moreover, in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due out of the Lords  offerings by fire; for thus I have been commanded. 14 “The breast of the wave offering, however, and the thigh of the offering you may eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you; for they have been given as your due and your sons’ due out of the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the sons of Israel.

3.        Even the tithe was at God’s disposal—and it was to be given (back) to people for celebration and for relief (Deut 14):


And you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 “And if the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the Lord your God blesses you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 “And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27 “Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you. 28 “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. 29 “And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.



The net of this is that the sacrifice/offering of an Israelite/priest transferred ownership of something to God, and God was completely free to do whatever He wanted to with it then. The sacrifice was ‘completed’ when ownership transferred


And ownership transferred in an act, not in a state. It was in the act of ‘waving’ that the Wave offering was ‘taken’ by God—they didn’t have to keep waving it forever. It was in the act of holding the Heave offering up that it was ‘taken’ by God—they didn’t have to keep it elevated forever.  It was in the act of ‘burning’ that the offering was ‘taken’ by God—they didn’t have to keep burning it somehow forever. It was in the act of dying that the offering was ‘taken’ by God—the offering didn’t have to somehow keep dying forever. [Remember also, that it wasn’t ‘been dead’ that was the issue, because the Israelites were forbidden to bring dead animals to the altar for sacrifice—it was death-as-the-giving-over-to act that was the transitional event.]


If God had chosen to “resurrect” a burnt/dead animal, that would be entirely in keeping with His ‘legal rights of property’ under the rules of sacrifice, and would have IN NO WAY ‘un-done’ the act/fact of the sacrificial giving by the Israelite. [Also, remember that the sacrifice was OFTEN given back to the worshipper for food-celebration, but the fact that he/she got it back didn’t ‘undo’ the value of their heart’s devotion to God, as expressed in the offering.]





2. The Cross: the Offerer, the Offering, the Recipient


The next point we need to understand is that it was Jesus who was the Offerer and Priest at the Cross, that the offering was His own devout and unblemished life, and that the offering/sacrifice was made to (i.e., transferred to) the Father.


The Father gave His only Son to the drama of redemption, but it was the Son who ‘laid down His life’ for us. The biblical data witnesses to this quite clearly, using the more generic ‘providing’ and ‘giving’ words in reference to the Father’s act, and the more sacrificial images/terminology in reference to Christ’s acts:


Moving from the more generic/purposeful, to the more historical/priestly images, we can see the roles of the Father and Son manifest this difference of focus:


“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. (John 3.16f) [Very generic, purposeful statements]


“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?  (Rom 8.32) [alludes to the ‘turning over to death’ action of God, but no sacrificial notions yet]


“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.8) [‘death’ gets us closer, but still no ‘sacrifice’ notion.]


“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (I John 4.9) [Propitiation is very sacrifice oriented, but the statement still is a bit generic as to the separate roles.]


“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. (Gal 2.20) [He the generic ‘delivered up’ is used of Jesus, but in a substitutionary way—‘for me’]


“I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 “And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd. 17 “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10.14ff) [A very specific statement that it was Christ’s choice to die, even though it was at the commandment of the Father.]


“the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Gal 1.4) [A specific statement of Christ’s initiative, and for the purpose of deliverance]


And, when we begin to move into the more specific work of Jesus as Offerer, we see more explicit statements that He was also the Offering:


“just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5.2) [Here Jesus is both priest and offering/sacrifice]


“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb 7.26ff) [Christ as both priest and offering]


“how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God (Heb 9.14) [Christ specifically is the offerer, and is Himself the offering—with a detailed reference to sacrificial ‘blood’, God being the recipient]


“but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time (Heb 10.12) [Christ as Priest, only one act of sacrifice needed]


“but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Heb 9.26ff) [Very explicit reference to Christ as Priest and sacrificial offering, with clear reference to substitution.]



Now, we obviously have an interesting problem here—how is a priest going to kill himself, and still somehow be able to finish the ritual (e.g., sprinkling the blood, carrying the blood into the sanctuary, cutting/boiling/eating the meat, burning portions of it, disposing of the ashes, etc.)?


And, compound this difficulty with the fact that the death of Christ is the fulfillment of several different sacrifices in the OT background (all of which required some post-death priestly activity):


1.        The initial Passover sacrifice, which resulted in freedom for Israel from Egypt (1 Cor 6:5-8)

2.        The Covenant Inauguration sacrifice of Exodus 24 --but for the New Covenant (Mk 14.22-25; 1 Cor 11.25; Heb 9)

3.        The Peace/Communion offerings (1 Cor 10.14-22)

4.        The Sin offering (Rom 8.3)

5.        Burnt offerings (Hebrews 10)

6.        The Red Heifer cleansing offering of Numbers 19 (Heb 9.13-14)

7.        The Day of Atonement offering (Heb 9.1-12; 10.19-25)


Roger Beckwith points out that true forgiveness required (under the images of the OT system) someone to take blood into the “true” Holy of Holies:


“The true Holy of Holies, into which Christ entered at his day of atonement, was heaven (Heb. 9:23-8). And that is where we too can now boldly draw near, through faith in his blood (10:19-25). Heaven is the scene of his priesthood (8:1-5), of which this epistle, unlike the rest of the NT, says so much. But it was on earth, essentially, that his sacrifice took place. The epistle lays great stress on the importance, in Christ's sacrifice, of his death (Heb. 2:9,14; 9:15-17, 22, 25-28; 13:12, 20). All that was costly in the sacrifice-the part of the donor and the victim-took place at the cross; there remained only the priestly part-the presentation of the sacrifice to God by an acceptable mediator-and we are probably to understand that Christ performed this at his ascension, the time when, as man, he entered his Father's presence in the true Holy of Holies. We are told in 8:3 that he 'offered' (prosphero) something there, and this probably refers to the sprinkling or 'offering' of the blood in the Holy of Holies by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Heb. 9:7,21-26; cf. 12:24), a typical action fulfilled by Christ, perhaps by simply 'appearing in the presence of God for us' (9:24). Once he had appeared there, his sacrifice was over. “ [STB:134]



The Book of Hebrews consistently argues two points about the Priestly requirements of any adequate remedy for our need (vis-à-vis atonement—there are also needs relative to New Covenant, Mediator, Victor over Evil, etc.):


1.        The priest must be a morally perfect human himself (which leaves us out)

2.        The offering must be greater than simple animals (indeed, adequate somehow for everything in the universe!!—cf. Heb 9.23 and Col 1.20) , and morally perfect (which leaves us out again)


What this implies, of course, is that we (a) EITHER have two different ‘perfect’ human-plus individuals; (b) OR have a human-plus figure that dies and then comes back to life to finish the various sacrificial requirements (or, since the OT rituals were ‘shadows’ and not the ‘realities’, it would be more appropriate to say “to fulfill the actual spiritual requirements, foreshadowed by the earthly rituals and images”).


But (a) has a major problem—the ethical and theological problem known as the “Righteous Sufferer”.


OT/Tanaach theology had a fundamental tenet that a Covenant God could NOT allow undeserved suffering to be unrecompensed. ‘Bad things’ were only supposed to recoil on ‘bad people’—not show up in the lives of ‘good people’. Indeed, much of the emphasis on the afterlife in later Judaism was due to reflection on the problem of the Unjust Suffering of the (allegedly) Righteous Israel, and the more general discussions of Undeserved Suffering are warp and woof of the problem of Evil.


And, in fact, part of the argument against Jesus was that God allowed Him to die such an ‘unrighteous death’. Jesus’ Cry of Dereliction (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”) was a quote from Ps 22, in which the Psalmist raised the ethical issue before God:


“The worshiper begins by expressing the darkest mystery of his suffering, namely the sense of being forsaken by God. It is a mystery because it appears to be rooted in a contradiction, namely the apparent contradiction between theology and experience. Theology, based upon the tradition and experience of the past, affirmed unambiguously that trust (the verb is used three times, for emphasis, in vv 5–6) resulted in deliverance. Indeed it was of the essence of the covenant faith that those who trusted in the holy God would not be disappointed—hence the praise of Israel upon which God was enthroned (v 4). But experience was altogether at odds with theology; whereas the fathers trusted and were delivered, the essence of the psalmist’s complaint (“my moaning,” v 2) was “the distance of my salvation.” The God of covenant, who was believed not to have deserted his faithful people, appeared to have forsaken this worshiper who, in sickness, faced the doors of death. And it was the sense of being forsaken by God that was the fundamental problem—more grave than the actual condition of sickness and the threat of death. [WBC, in.loc.]



Those around Jesus at the time, understood this to be a call to God for deliverance (but they thought He said ‘Elijah’). So, BBC at Mark 15.34ff:


“Jesus’ cry is an Aramaic quotation of Psalm 22:1, which was sometimes recited at this time of day in prayer but receives special significance when Jesus prays it. The first line would evoke this whole psalm of the righteous sufferer—and its hope of divine vindication. (Jesus probably quoted the psalm in Hebrew, as in Matthew; Mark uses the Aramaic form because the saying was transmitted in an Aramaic milieu. “Eli” could be mistaken for “Elijah” much more easily than “Eloi”; cf. 15:35–36.)…Members of some circles of Jewish tradition believed that Elijah was sent like an angel to rescue famous teachers, in addition to his role in the time of the end.” [BBC at the Matthew cite adds: “Because Elijah was thought never to have died, some rabbis felt that he was sent on errands like the angels, often to deliver pious rabbis from trouble”]


The Psalmist of Ps 22, though, was praying for deliverance from death, in hopes of avoiding the suffering. For Jesus, on the other hand, this suffering, though horrific, was the very focus of His mission (as he had mentioned time and time again to His disciples). But the awesome experience of death was a chosen path, along which the truly Righteous Sufferer had to walk:


“What is most significant about the NT perspective (on Psalm 22) is the self-identification of Jesus with the suffering psalmist, for it provides an insight into one part of the meaning of the crucifixion. The sufferer of Ps 22 is a human being, experiencing the terror of mortality in the absence of God and the presence of enemies. In the suffering of Jesus, we perceive God, in Jesus, entering into and participating in the terror of mortality; he identifies with the suffering and the dying. Because God, in Jesus, has engaged in that desolation, he can offer comfort to those of us who walk now where the psalmist walked. But there is also a remarkable difference between the experience of the suffering psalmist and that of Jesus. The psalm concludes with praise because the sufferer escaped death; Jesus died. Yet the latter half of the psalm (vv 22–32) may also be read from a messianic perspective. The transition at v 22 is now understood not in deliverance from death, as was the case for the psalmist, but in deliverance through death, achieved in the resurrection. And it is that deliverance which is the ground of praise, both for the sufferer (vv 23–27) and for the “great congregation” (vv 28–32). [WBC, at Ps 22]


So option (a)—two perfect human-plus figures—has a major ethical/theological difficulty at the outset, in that the victim would need to be either delivered from death (rendering the sacrifice non-initiated) or recompensed after death (through resurrection of the Righteous, as promised in the OT). And, accordingly, we are led back to option (b)—one human-plus figure who is true-victim (fully dying), resurrected, and then who completed the priestly and mediator functions.






So, what we have seen so far is that:



So, a death (as long as it was very, very real), followed by resurrection, would be in perfect keeping with the religious requirements outlined by God in the OT/Tanaach. Not only would the return-from-death not be in violation of the Law, it would actually be required by the larger demands/promises of future, thoroughgoing, cosmic salvation.




3. The issue of pain



When we get to this issue (which seems to be the main issue for you), we have to focus again on the actual “requirements” of the sacrifice primarily, and then ask questions about ‘emotional pain’ or ‘loss’.


The sacrificial terminology in the OT, of course, doesn’t speak of ‘pain’ but only of ‘cost’ and ‘value’. David would not offer something that wasn’t his own property, or something that did not cost him something. And we have noted above that the focus of sacrifice was in giving something important to God, and something which required trust in God’s future actions of recompense, blessing, etc. [The victim had to be unblemished and perfect (as a picture of ‘value’), but for reasons of compassion on the poor, the Lord ‘scaled’ the victim requirements on the basis of the economic situation of the individual (e.g., Lev 14).]


Hence, in the OT the loss was expected to be ‘temporary’, in that God would provide (and indeed, bless) the offerer in the future (not with the same, identical animal, of course)—although the future might be very, very far away. The loss would be very, very real (requiring strength of faith and will until the ‘future’ recompense/blessing would arrive), and would involve some ‘hardship’ or ‘self-denial’ or ‘anxiety’ in the interim.



When we get the NT, the victim becomes a conscious human individual (for which ANY death would only be temporary, I might add, because of the fact of pan-human future resurrection and continued consciousness after physical death) and so the emotional experience of the Offering Himself can be considered for the first time. 


In this situation, we have to look at this from two vantage points: that of the Son (as Offerer, and as Victim), and that of the Father.


In the NT, when the victim becomes the very Son of God, the pain, terror, agony, and shame leaps to the foreground. The very Son of God—immaculate, compassionate, accustomed to pre-Incarnate peace and grandeur, love-loyal, depth-hearted, life-giver—is now going to die at the hands of unreasoning, hate-filled, ungrateful, omni-destructive, small-hearted creatures of mud, hair, and teeth…and, in the process, He will deliberately take on the accountability for their moral atrocities, before His Perfect and Holy Father God.


The motive for such an act was sheer love, but the Heart’s response to the requirements of this were couched in terms of pain:


In the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to  save him from death, and he was heard because of his devotion to God. (Heb 5.7)


Taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him, he began to be grieved and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Wait here and stay awake with me.” (Mt 26.37)


So he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to the point of death (Mr 13.34)


Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like large drops of blood falling on the ground (Luk 22.43)


“Now my soul is in turmoil, and what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No! It was for this very reason that I came to this hour. (John 12.27)


This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2.24f)


This death itself had an extra ‘load’ on it: it was a death as being “accursed of God”, and carrying the full consequences of being the Only Law-breaker in the Universe  (i.e., He ‘removed’ our law-breaking status, somehow, and put it on Himself—cf  2 Cor 5). The apostle Paul makes this clear in Galatians, that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” It wasn’t just a ‘natural’ death—it was a “punitive” death as well.


And, as an Offerer, there was no greater offering that could be given than one’s life—no possessions, no service, no labor would suffice. Jesus pointed this out in John 15.13:


“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”


As an Offerer, then, there was NOTHING greater He (as the incarnate One) could give than ‘laying down of life’—the act of dying. And the emotional glimpses we noted above of Jesus’ response to this demonstrate the very real ‘pain’ associated with His voluntary death.



But wouldn’t the knowledge that He wouldn’t stay dead sort of nullify the pain of dying? Me genoito! (That’s Greek for “no way!”).


Think about it for a second—what possible significant diminishing  of pain, agony, desolation, etc would some theoretical foreknowledge provide—WHILE IN THE AGONIES OF DYING?! It might help some (e.g., knowing that my foot pain will eventually go away helps me ‘put up with’ the discomfort, but the pain is still very, very ‘vocal’ every day!), but the biblical data above indicates that it wasn’t enough to help Jesus! Jesus knew and tried to teach his followers that He WOULD be raised from the dead, but that didn’t stop Him from crying, tears, anguish, agony, death-level grief, and the Cry of Dereliction. Dying is dying—it is unnatural, it is offensive to God, it is a moral stench, it is violation, it is existential rape—no matter WHO it happens to. And the more innocent and sensitive the Sufferer, the more likely its full terror and mocking violation will be felt…He had to drink this Cup…This suffering had an ultimate character to it, given the Ultimacy of the Sufferer, and the Ultimacy of the event itself.


And, btw, it’s here that the Superman analogy disconnects—there WAS kryptonite, and more than enough to drive Superman to death in pain and agony…How much good would the knowledge that “after I have suffered this agonizing death, I will be okay in the future” do while writhing in minute-by-agonizing-minute pain under the glow of green death?



But wouldn’t the pain of those few hours go away after He was risen from the dead? Probably not…


Depending on the nature of the pain, of course, some of it might NEVER go away. Emotional pain can be experienced over and over and over again, by simple memory recall.


According to the Scriptures, He still carries the nailprints in His hands…Can He look at them and not remember the experience of the Cross? Or His sufferings and rejection by His own (John 1.11)?


Indeed, we even have scriptural reason to believe all of His experiences of suffering are still ‘present to Him’, because of His ministry of solidarity:


Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Heb 2.14f)


For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4.15)


These passages suggest that Christ is currently able to sympathize with our sufferings, that He can somehow still ‘know what it is like to hurt’, that He can ‘weep with those who weep’…This requires Him to have a current knowledge/memory of the emotional pains of suffering, betrayal, desolation, abandonment, persecution, slander etc. This ministry of His, of “I know exactly what you are experiencing right now, friend” requires the emotional memories and feelings to be ‘available’ (if not omni-present, given the numbers of people bringing these trials to him each day!) in order to succor His needy.


His sacrificial death/suffering was ‘once for all’, but the memory and emotional experience of that will be forever with Him. [He certainly still remembered it by the time of the writing of Revelation—He identified Himself to John as the One “who died”.] It is not the dominant aspect of His life, of course, since the Father exalted Him because of His obedience and commitment, in spite of his degradation and suffering (Phil 2.9ff; Hebrews 2.9; 12.2).


So, when we factor in the hyper-reality of His suffering on the Cross, and the ever-present residual emotional memory of that experience, we get a very sobering view of the cost of the Cross to the Lord.



As for the Father’s experience of the Cross, it is even easier for me to understand how His heart would carry this forever—even in both directions of time, through anticipation and through memory (depending on how He ‘experiences’ time, of course)…As a father myself, biblical and personal experiences make sense of this for me.



I have reflected on this at a number of places in the Tank already, but let me summarize some of the argument on this again.


  1. The Gethsemane scene always amazes me. Here is the Son of God, whom the Father has “bragged on” a number of times in the Gospels, begging in anguish to a Father. I cannot imagine the emotional force of this on a Perfect-hearted Father. He was completely prepared to ‘abandon the plan’ they had had agreed on in eternity past (to salvage the lives of creatures like us…), and Jesus alluded quite clearly to this at the moment of His betrayal:


“And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” 49 And immediately he went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 50 And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus *said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. 53 “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?” (Matt 26.47ff)


The father was ready to intervene—ready to dispatch the armies of heaven to rescue His beautiful Son from the clutches of the traitors and the treacherous. But Jesus stayed the course for us, and the Father watched and heard His betrayal, abandonment, incrimination, abuse, humiliation, suffering, mocking, degrading public execution—and the undoubtedly cacophonic laughter of the malignant one and his followers. He heard His prayer of anguish from the Garden, wept at His cry from the Cross, and was probably very, very quiet for a couple of hours that afternoon…

  1. The memories of this event are not ‘lost’ in the past to God. Not only are there marks in His Son’s hands every time He looks at him, but these events—shame, slander, shock and all—are read every day from His book by people . The memories are constantly evoked by His people, in prayer, in hymns, in art, in emulation---“take up your Cross, and follow me…”. It was the focus of that Life, and is the fount from which all the blessings of the future will flow…it is not forgotten, it is not ‘in the past’ at all.

  2. My personal experiences as a father convince me of this. The most vivid memories I have of the past are of the times my kids hurt, and I still hurt with every recall of those situations. And some are too close to this issue for comfort…







No, our lives are more “of one piece” than we realize. All of us can recall times of betrayal and rejection and hurt and shock, and we can re-feel those very vividly. Why would we not believe that God is even more in touch with His memories? This is not about weakness at all—my pain is related to my depth and my sensitivity. The deeper, more authentic, and more sensitive I grow, the greater capacity I have to both re-enjoy and re-suffer the elements of my past. This is depth, not weakness. This is life, not morbidity. I have no reason to believe that the God who grieves with pain in his heart over pre-Flood human cruelty and atrocity (Gen 6.6), and who delights over His people with shouts/singing (Zeph 3.17), is any less emotionally robust than I am…(smile)


Now, let me also make just a brief comment or two about the use of the adjective ‘infinite’ to describe aspects of this.


There are two ways of looking at this issue, depending on how you view the ‘quantitative’ aspect of sin:




So, under either scenario, the sacrifice of Christ could/would be more than adequate, without it requiring to be infinite in duration.


But, I must protest here, that talk about ‘infinite’ and ‘finite’ aspects of sin and redemption leave me very thirsty, epistemically. I have very little confidence in our ability to use these adjectives in describing this amazing event—an incarnate Son of God, more-than-human, carrying the sin of the world, in perfect obedience and in perfect love, being shamefully executed by human political and religious authority, and abandoned to this by His Father (even though by mutual arrangement)—with any level of appropriateness and precision. But, even with this reservation, any discussion of the event in these terms still indicates that the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was painful, meaningful, and supremely costly, regardless of the duration of the actual process of dying.





Let me try to summarize some of these points:


  1. Sacrifice, in the OT background for the NT understandings of Christ’s death, focused more on the giving element than on the death element.
  2. Sacrifice, in the OT, was essentially transfer of property from the offerer to God, with various methods of ‘delivery’.
  3. The victim of the sacrifice became God’s possession, and God could do with it whatever He chose.
  4. The nature of sacrifice did not depend in any way on the sacrifice “staying dead”—it just had to be transferred to God’s ownership.
  5. The offering had to be something of value/cost to the offerer.
  6. The offerer could expect some later recompense or blessing from God, to “make up for” the current loss to the offerer, and this expectation was an expression of real faith.
  7. People could be offered, and this basically meant a lifetime of dedicated service to God (without a death, obviously).
  8. The actual method of delivery (e.g., burning, waving, elevating) was an act, that did not require on-going or continual action.
  9. In the NT, Jesus is both the Offerer/Priest and the Offering, and God the Father is the recipient.
  10. His death on the Cross is seen as the fulfillment of multiple sacrifices and offerings of the OT.
  11. All of these offerings required priestly action AFTER the death of any victim.
  12. Since the requirements for the ultimate, non-shadow sacrifice included a Perfect Priest and a Perfect human-plus victim, the constraints of covenant ethics and religious ritual would necessitate that the Victim be resurrected (to avoid the problem of Unrecompensed Righteous Suffering) and the Priest be able to continue the post-death activities.
  13. The NT data is very clear that the agonies and terrors of the Cross were significant and horrendous for Jesus, in both anticipation and in the actual experiencing.
  14. The NT data also suggests that the emotional pain elements of this experience are present/available to Jesus today, in His function as sympathizer and High Priest.
  15. The anticipation of resurrection, although it would be comfort and source of strength for endurance, would not lesson the agonies of death—while the experience was happening.
  16. The agonies of this extra-loaded death and the circumstances of that death would likely be significantly more painful, more vivid, more invasive for a pure Hearted and Eternal One, than for us normal humans.
  17. The Father’s full experience of His Son’s pain is a corollary of their intense union (not discussed in this paper).
  18. These events are constantly in the Father’s memory, and indeed, are actually rehearsed daily in the lives of His people.
  19. Even human fathers (parents, loved one generally) experience the phenomena of the never-lost emotional memories of the past, and this re-feeling is not a sign of weakness, but of depth and wholeness.
  20. Although discussions of finite-vs-infinite aspects of this question may be on shaky semantic or epistemic grounds, either of the two major approaches to the use of these terms indicate that the Sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross would have been adequate WITHOUT requiring it to be infinite in duration.



What this leads me to conclude is:


I hope this helps, friend, and thanks for the question (and sorry it took so long)…

Glenn miller, Nov/2000

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