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Human Or Self-Sacrifice?

By Elie Nessim, June 28, 1997 Printer Friendly Version

Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. 
A common objection to the claims of Messiah is this: I do not believe in human sacrifice; I do not need a super human counterweight for my sins.  Two misunderstandings are present in this kind of response.  The first is the mistaken idea that when the Tanakh speaks about Messiah dying for sinners, that this is nothing else than the teaching of human sacrifice.  The second mistake follows on the first, and involves the Deity, the identity of the Messiah.  Was He really more than human?  What need was there for such a Messiah if we can atone for our own sins?   Allow me to address both these issues, beginning with the first.  Our authority will be the Tanakh, that is, what is written in the Books of Moses and the Prophets.

The first mistake is to think of Messiah’s death for sinners as a human sacrifice, but that contradicts the Tanakh which teaches that He died for our sins as our substitute.  Isaiah 53, verse 12: Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. 

In the light of this verse of Scripture, Messiah is clearly our Substitute. He indeed died by sacrificing His life for us, and dying for our sins so that we should not have to pay the penalty of death for them.  This, in short, is self sacrifice; not human sacrifice.  The latter speaks of human victims offered to idols, of which our Text says nothing.  It refers to the self sacrifice of Messiah for us.  Examples of this kind of self sacrifice occur in the Tanakh, both in the Law and the Prophets.  One such example is that of Judah, the fourth son of our ancestor Jacob.  Genesis 44, verse 33: Now therefore please let your servant remain instead of the lad, as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brethren.  You are, no doubt, familiar with the account of Joseph who had become the second ruler in Egypt, whom his brothers had not recognized.  In an effort to find out what they would do for his brother, Benjamin, he hid his cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain, and then accused them of theft.  It was then that Judah offered to suffer the penalty of slavery instead of Benjamin.  The same Judah that had hatched the idea, many years earlier, of selling Joseph as a slave.  Here was an example of one who now offered himself as a substitute for his younger brother, who appeared to be guilty of theft.

Was this human sacrifice?  Not at all. It was self sacrifice.  Human sacrifice is forced and against the wishes of that person; whereas self sacrifice is a willing and free offer to suffer for the guilt and penalty of the condemned person.  The element of choice is lacking in the first, but is prominent in the second.

Another example is found in the account of the Prophet, Jonah who had run away from his mandate to warn the people of Nineveh of GOD’s approaching judgment. He took a ship to Tarshish; paid the fare, and went to sleep in the ship.  But GOD raised a great storm that threatened to sink the ship, and in their alarm the sailors sought the cause of their predicament.  They found it in Jonah, who informed them further as to the cause of the storm, and in reply to their question, ‘What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?’ He replied, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that this great tempest is because of me.’ (Jonah 1, verses 11 and 12).  At first the sailors refused, but when the tempest was too violent to handle, they did so. What happened then?  And the sea ceased from its raging.

Jonah the Prophet fully expected to be drowned, but he knew at the same time that there was no other way to save the ship and its crew.  Would anyone say this was a human sacrifice?  Nothing of the sort!  It was self sacrifice, a willing and deliberate choice by the Prophet to save their lives at the cost of his own. 

All this goes to prove that it is a fallacy to talk about Messiah’s death for us as human sacrifice.  It was nothing of the sort; it was self sacrifice.  He knew that there was no possible way for us to live and to escape condemnation for our sins, unless He took our place, and gave Himself up to the just judgment of GOD.  That judgment was no less than the sentence of death!  Ezekiel 18, verse 4: Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die. For us to live, Messiah must die and Messiah truly did die.

So much for the false objection which is usually touted by those who do not know, do not want to know any different.  This same attitude lies behind the second, equally serious objection that we mentioned at the beginning.  It is usually put in some such statement as this, We do not need a super human counterweight for our sins; we can atone for our own sins.  Is this true, or is this another example of the proverb that says, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’

The best way to find out is to consult the Sacred Book.  What does the Tanakh have to say on this subject?  Here is a quote from Isaiah 64, verse 6: But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.  We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Note the use of the word all in this passage.  There is no exception in this indictment, as the very next verse tells us.  Verse 5: And there is no one who calls on Your Name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You.  For You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities. 

That is a comprehensive statement that sweeps away the claim that we can atone for our sins.  We all stand condemned before GOD; we have nothing to pay; we are spiritually destitute.  How great is our debt?  Can we pay it?  We cannot!  It is too great for us, and even our death does not cancel it.  GOD speaks of the transgressor’s death in terms of endless punishment. Isaiah 66, verse 24: For their worm does not die; and their fire is not quenched. 

We do need a Deliverer Who has the resources to pay for our sins; One Who is wholly righteous and is willing to do so.  One Who has no debt of His own to render.  Such a One is our Righteous Messiah, YESHUA of Nazareth!  Of Him the LORD declares, By His knowledge, My Righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53, verse 11).  Will you accept the payment of your debt at His hands?  He is the One called ‘ADONAI Tzidkenu’ in Jeremiah 23, verse 6: In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely.  Now this is His Name by which He will be called, ‘ The LORD our Righteousness’. To turn the objection around, He the LORD is the Super Counterweight for our sins.  Nobody else could have taken them away!

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