N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Part 11 (Why Sacrifice? Part 2)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes our salvation.

Why sacrifice? Continued [NTW’s argument but expanded by JFG]

To tie the Levitical sacrificial system to the death of Jesus on the cross, we need to think in terms of a expiatory [sin forgiveness] sacrifice, Passover offering, and the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement. These are three very different “sacrifices,” and all are applied to Jesus by various NT authors.

The expiatory offering

Passages such as —

(Eph. 5:2 ESV)  2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

— sound like Paul has an expiatory offering in mind. In the case of general expiatory offering, the sin of the sinner is not transferred to the sacrifice and God doesn’t accept the life of the sacrifice in place of the life or other penalty owed by the sinner. Rather, the sinner is cleansed through confession and washing in water (which sounds quite a lot like baptism, does it not?), and the sacrifice — Jesus on the cross — cleanses the tabernacle/Temple of the stain of sin so that God does not depart from his Temple — which, in this case, is the church. Jesus cleanses the church, as a body or nation or kingdom, so that God can continue to dwell in the church.

Passover

Jesus is specifically described as the Passover lamb in several passages, such as —

(1 Cor. 5:6-8 ESV)  6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

In the case of the Passover lamb, the lamb is not sacrificed at the Temple in the usual sense. Rather, it’s slaughtered and the blood is drained at the Temple, but the lamb itself is taken home to be eaten by the family. It’s dedicated to God, but the lamb isn’t given for forgiveness of sin. Rather, it’s to protect the family from the death angel — the death of the oldest son — at the original Passover. Thereafter, it’s a remembrance of God’s deliverance.

Indeed, Jesus’ crucifixion took place just before Passover, and so the symbolism is surely very intentional. The Passover recalls the Exodus, which is a major theme of the NT. That is, the language and thought of the NT is very often built on the Exodus — which is a key part of Wright’s book.

If we analogize Jesus on the cross as comparable to the sacrificed Passover lamb, we have deep symbolism in the blood that poured on the ground when he was speared in the side. All animal sacrifices were required to have their blood poured out on the ground.

The original Passover lamb served to protect the family that offered the lamb from the death angel — surely analogous to the salvation found in Jesus. But the Passover lamb did not pay the price or assuage wrath. Rather, it marked the household as believers in a very public way. The Egyptians worshiped Khnum, the sheep god. According to Ray Vander Laan, it’s likely that the Israelites, had God not rescued them, would have been killed by the Egyptians for such an act of sacrilege. That is, when God insisted on the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintel — very public places — he was asking for a true act of faith and great courage.

 

Applying the imagery to Jesus on the cross, those who claim his crucifixion — believers — are marked for protection from death and made eligible for the Eucharistic meal.

But there is no substitutionary atonement in the Passover sacrifice because there is no forgiveness of sin — rather, the original Passover was the marker of great faith in God’s protection.

The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the most important of the forgiveness sacrifices, except on Yom Kippur the goat who carries the sins of the nation does not die. He is sent out into the wilderness to carry the sins of the nation far away.

Hebrews makes the analogy —

(Heb. 9:5-7 ESV)  5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.  6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties,  7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.

The author is describing the ritual for the Day of Atonement (a fascinating study but it’s very elaborate and so we’ll not cover it in detail. See Lev 16 for the details).

 

Two goats are used in the ritual. One is sacrificed (slaughtered) to provide blood for the ritual. The other has the sins of the people placed on it, and it is sent into the wilderness, far away from the camp.

The blood of the sacrificed goat purifies, not the people, but the tabernacle.

(Lev. 16:15-16 ESV) “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.  16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.”

The sin of the people contaminate the tabernacle/Temple. Of course, today the temple is the church — and so it seems that Jesus’ sacrifice should be seen as cleansing the church for its corporate, community sinfulness.

Another key passage is found in Romans —

(Rom. 3:24-25 ESV)  24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a propitiation [hilasterion] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

This is a very controversial translation as hilasterion in used in the LXX to mean “mercy seat,” that is, the space immediately above the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwelt and where forgiveness was given. That’s a very different meaning from “propitiation,” which is a sacrifice given to slake the anger of a deity.

The NET Bible translators explain,

The word ἱλαστήριον (hilasterion) may carry the general sense “place of satisfaction,” referring to the place where God’s wrath toward sin is satisfied. More likely, though, it refers specifically to the “mercy seat,” i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This term is used only one other time in the NT: Heb 9:5, where it is rendered “mercy seat.” There it describes the altar in the most holy place (holy of holies). Thus Paul is saying that God displayed Jesus as the “mercy seat,” the place where propitiation was accomplished. See N. S. L. Fryer, “The Meaning and Translation of Hilasterion in Rom 3:25, ” EvQ 59 (1987): 99-116, who concludes the term is a neuter accusative substantive best translated “mercy seat” or “propitiatory covering,” and D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Rom 3:25″ (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999), who argues that this is a direct reference to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant.

The NET Bible thus translates, contrary to nearly all others,

(Rom. 3:25 NET) God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

We’ll return to this question as we consider Wright’s new interpretation of Romans.

Summary

The NT is filled with sacrificial language alluding to various OT sacrificial practices. It would take months to work through them all. But when we review the Torah’s sacrificial practices, we quickly find that they make a very poor parallel for Penal Substitutionary Atonement. That is, the goat, lamb, or other sacrifice is not killed to carry the sins of the worshiper. Rather, the scapegoat isn’t killed at all. The Passover lamb is killed but not to gain forgiveness; it’s a remembrance and declaration of faith that brings about God’s own protection. The expiatory (forgiveness) sacrifices serve to cleanse the tabernacle/Temple of the stain of sin, not the sinner.

On the other hand, in both the Day of Atonement and expiatory sacrifices, the tabernacle/Temple is cleansed, and the contemporary meaning of “temple” is the church or else the perfect Temple in heaven in the New Jerusalem described in Hebrews. In Paul, the temple is the church.

Therefore, there is a sense of corporate sin and corporate forgiveness, especially with regard to the Day of Atonement. Hence, it could be argued with some considerable force that the point of sacrifice is not to forgive your or my particular sins but to provide corporate forgiveness for the sins of the nation.

It may be too literal, but confession/repentance/baptism could be seen as forgiving individual sin, but the sacrifice of Jesus is necessary to cleanse the Temple of the church so that God can be present there. Thus, his sacrifice is seen by the NT authors as a corporate forgiveness — not because he took on the sins of the church but because his blood serves to cleanse the church from the stain of corporate sin.

That is, the purpose of the crucifixion is not suffering my punishment but to cleanse the church to allow God to be present in it and so able to draw near — even to pierce the wall between heaven and earth — so that he may forgive.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Part 11 (Why Sacrifice? Part 2)

  1. Monty says:

    2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” “To be obedient to Jesus and to be sprinkled with his blood.” 1 Peter 1:2 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.” 1 Peter 2:24 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 3:18

    Jesus died with our sins on his body. We are sprinkled with his blood. His blood washes us from all sin. Jesus serves double duty. He is both the atoning sacrifice and he is also the scape goat. “Living he loved me, dying he saved me, buried he carried my sins far away, rising he justified freely forever, one day he’s coming O glorious day!

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    I hear you attaching the term (temple) to the church, but I have not found the NT teaching that connection. I will supply the only occurrences that I believe anyone could use to draw that conclusion. If you find others would you supply them? Is a contemporary meaning a scriptural concept that we are to believe to be authoritative?
    “On the other hand, in both the Day of Atonement and expiatory sacrifices, the tabernacle/Temple is cleansed, and the contemporary meaning of “temple” is the church or else the perfect Temple in heaven in the New Jerusalem described in Hebrews. In Paul, the temple is the church.”
    Temple I have found 114 times 103 verses. In 103 of the occurrences the term is applied to a building or place of worship. In the following the first two are Jesus’ body, the next 8 times it is being applied to an individual, not a group of individuals called the church, in the last it is representative of a worship place. The very closest concept I can find to represent your statement is in Eph 22:21,22. Is one time out of 114 occurrences a solid enough authority for us to apply a certain idea (contemporary meaning). Where do you find it representing the church?
    Joh 2:19 ESV Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
    Joh 2:21 ESV But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

    1Co 3:14-18 ESV If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (16) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (17) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (18) Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

    1Co 6:17-20 ESV But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (18) Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (19) Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, (20) for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

    2Co 6:15-18 ESV What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (17) Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, (18) and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

    Eph 2:19-22 ESV So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (20) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, (21) in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (22) In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

    2Th 2:3-4 ESV Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, (4) who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    I hope these are not your concepts.
    “Therefore, there is a sense of corporate sin and corporate forgiveness, especially with regard to the Day of Atonement. Hence, it could be argued with some considerable force that the point of sacrifice is not to forgive your or my particular sins but to provide corporate forgiveness for the sins of the nation.”
    The New Covenant abolished (corporate) sin. There is no entity such as a nation either saved or condemned in the NT. That was a part of the modifications from the OT nation of Israel.

    “It may be too literal, but confession/repentance/baptism could be seen as forgiving individual sin, but the sacrifice of Jesus is necessary to cleanse the Temple of the church so that God can be present there. Thus, his sacrifice is seen by the NT authors as a corporate forgiveness — not because he took on the sins of the church but because his blood serves to cleanse the church from the stain of corporate sin.”
    This concept requires the church to be a separate entity than the body of Christians that are added to the saved. No human can be added to the church until they have been cleansed (saved) and the church has no need to be cleansed because it is never guilty of sins, all who make up the church are still accountable as individuals. The church has no saving or condemning power. The church (body of Christians) can purge a sinful individual from its fellowship. But, that individual cannot seek only forgiveness from the church he/she must be reconciled to Christ. The concept of corporate sin is not a NT concept.

    Jesus forgave individuals prior to his crucifixion. His crucifixion did not give him the power to forgive sins. No church (congregation or multiple congregations) on earth has the power to forgive anyone for God, therefore it has no power to save.
    (Mat 9:6 ESV) But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—”Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
    (Mar 2:7 ESV) “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
    (Mar 2:10 ESV) But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—
    (Luk 5:21 ESV) And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
    (Luk 5:24 ESV) But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
    Jesus did not come to earth to save the church.
    (Joh 3:16 ESV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
    (Joh 3:17 ESV) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
    (Joh 4:42 ESV) They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
    (Joh 6:14 ESV) When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
    (Joh 6:33 ESV) For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
    Joh 6:50-51 ESV This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. (51) I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
    Joh 11:25-27 ESV Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (26) and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (27) She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
    Joh 17:6 ESV “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
    Joh 17:9 ESV I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
    Joh 18:37 ESV Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

    1Ti 1:15 ESV The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
    1Jn 2:2 ESV He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

    Act 20:28 ESV Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
    This is the only passage that I have found that conveys that it even looks like it says that Jesus blood bought or paid for the church. Yet the church is nothing without the individual members that were added to it, and each one of them was saved prior to being enjoined to the church by God.
    (Joh 12:47 ESV) If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

    “That is, the purpose of the crucifixion is not suffering my punishment but to cleanse the church to allow God to be present in it and so able to draw near — even to pierce the wall between heaven and earth — so that he may forgive.”
    There is not a concept presented in the NT that would suggest that the church was ever in the need of cleansing. The church is not the sinner. These words are never found together even in the same verse in the NT (church) (sinned) or (sin).

  4. Eric Thomas says:

    The way I see it is when you sin against someone they can forgive you or choose to end the relationship. Forgiveness requires in my opinion a dying to oneself. In other words you decide that whatever the offense received that you are willing to forgive it and continue the relationship. I feel like this implies that the offended party has in effect taken on the punishment himself. That’s not the way penal substitution is normally described but may be what scriptures and experience show.

  5. Dwight says:

    Yes, I too have an issue with the church is the Temple in any cooperate sense, the church might be the Temple, because the people are the Temple, so it might be accommodative, but the church isn’t the Temple in any other sense and when it comes to coming to Christ, we do not do it in a cooperate sense, but individually, etc.
    While (Lev. 16:15-16 ESV) “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.” does talk of cleansing the Temple. The sacrifices of this were usually required because man had to approach God, but it was the priest who did this.
    But the people were still required to bring their own sacrifice for their own family. In the Passover, the nation wasn’t saved nationally, but individually. The people had to offer a lamb and place it over their personal door mantle as one sacrifice wouldn’t have been enough or wasn’t commanded. If you didn’t have the blood on your mantel the angel of death would have killed even an Israelite.
    During the time of the apostles the concept of Jewish nationalism with God was done away with opting for a Christian personalism with God (it became more personal on all accounts).
    The person became the Temple, the priest and the living sacrifice to God. The person could come to God, who we are told to pray to by Jesus, through Jesus. All of the walls of the Temple were removed and access was opened up.

    I don’t know of a scripture that reflects “That is, the purpose of the crucifixion is not suffering my punishment but to cleanse the church to allow God to be present in it and so able to draw near — even to pierce the wall between heaven and earth — so that he may forgive.”
    Instead we find that “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son”. Jesus didn’t die for the church, but the world “Even while we were still in our sins”. His death allowed all mankind to draw near in order to become the church.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    Read Leviticus regarding the Day of Atonement. Future posts will cover in detail. The commentary is quite right and the sources are there. Just didn’t want to copy over footnotes and such. Milgrom is a very highly respected expert on Leviticus.

    (Lev. 16:15-16 NET) 15 “He must then slaughter the sin offering goat which is for the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil-canopy, and he is to do with its blood just as he did to the blood of the bull: He is to sprinkle it on the atonement plate and in front of the atonement plate. 16 So he is to make atonement for the holy place from the impurities of the Israelites and from their transgressions with regard to all their sins,29 and thus he is to do for the Meeting Tent which resides with them in the midst of their impurities.

    Notice the language. The high priests “makes atonement for the holy place from the impurities of the Israelites.” Seems pretty plain once it’s been pointed out.

    The ritual performed at the Ark is very similar to cleansing rituals performed elsewhere in Lev.

    (Lev. 16:17-20 NET) 17 Nobody is to be in the Meeting Tent30 when he enters to make atonement in the holy place until he goes out, and he has made atonement on his behalf, on behalf of his household, and on behalf of the whole assembly of Israel. 18 “Then31 he is to go out to the altar which is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He is to take32 some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it all around on the horns of the altar. 19 Then he is to sprinkle on it some of the blood with his finger seven times, and cleanse and consecrate it33 from the impurities of the Israelites. 20 “When he has finished purifying the holy place,34 the Meeting Tent, and the altar, he is to present the live goat.

    The sins are not atoned for until the scapegoat is sent into the wilderness, which happens after the high priest leaves the Holy of Holies. Rom 3 refers to Jesus as the “mercy seat.” Well, the mercy seat is pretty only part of any arguable atonement process on the Day of Atonement. So that ceremony has to be studied closely to see what Paul is saying.

    And there are plenty more scriptures yet to be covered, including a big chunk of Romans, yet to come.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Eric,

    I like the way you think.

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