- Religion and Philosophy
Can the Death of Jesus Really Be Called a Sacrifice?
The Nature of Sacrifice
What is a Sacrifice:
According to Webster's Dictionary
1: an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar
2: something offered in sacrifice
3a : destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else
b : something given up or lost <the sacrifices made by parents>
4: loss <goods sold at a sacrifice>
If I was asked, for example, to sacrifice my home to another family in need and I agreed, I would move all of my belongings out of my home and allow them to move in. I would not expect to regain my house within a few days. A sacrifice is intentionally giving something up with the knowledge or expectation that you will never get it back - and if you do get it back, it's never the way things were, prior to giving it up in the first place.
In the Old Testament, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his precious son Isaac to god as a burnt offering. Abraham and Isaac went to a specified place, and Abraham had the knife poised over his son's living body, ready to kill him to appease god - but god was merely testing his faith, and he chose to spare the child - and provided a nearby ram to take his place. Abraham intended to, but did not ultimately go through with the sacrifice of his son to god. The ram was sacrificed in his place - and the ram did not come back. (Genesis 22)
In the story of Jephtha's daughter, however, the child was not so lucky. Jephtha made a deal with god. He told god that, if god would deliver the upcoming battle into his hands and allow him victory over his enemies, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering the first thing to greet him upon his victorious return home. Unfortunately, the first thing to greet him was his only child - his daughter. Jephtha went through with his word to god, and sacrificed his daughter (after allowing her a brief mourning period for her virginity). Jeptha's daughter, therefore, was killed as an offering of victory to god - and she didn't come back. She was simply dead. (Judges 11)
Does Jesus' Death and Subsequent Resurrection Follow the Requirements for a Sacrifice?
The story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is a strange one - even by biblical standards, and it begins with the biblical creation story found in the first chapter of the first book of the biblical narrative. When god created adam and eve in the garden of Eden, he told them to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They disobeyed. Therefore, he banned them from the garden so they could not also eat from the tree of life, and thereby gain eternal life. This leads to the christian doctrine of "original sin". Later on in the story, god is said to regret his decision to ever make man at all. He wipes out the earth in a global (and impossible) flood and starts over with Noah and his family. they don't fare much better. God delivers his people from slavery and gives them a set of laws that they repeatedly break, are punished for breaking, apologize for, are forgiven and delivered from captivity.
God realizes that his laws are impossible for his fallen and flawed creation to manage. This supposedly omniscient and all-powerful, benevolent being comes up with a plan. You'd expect great things from a god-being who knows everything and can see all points of existence at once, right? Wrong. God's ultimate plan was to send himself to earth as a human being, in order to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself in a blood sacrifice that would therefore negate the necessary penalty for sin - death - and allow his creation to be forgiven for their shortcomings.
Jesus was born, lived for 33 years or so - and then was crucified by the Roman empire at the behest of the Jews - the people he supposedly came to save in the first place. His death is deemed by his followers throughout history and today to be the greatest sacrifice in the history of mankind - but was it a sacrifice at all? Does it fit the model for a sacrifice?
No. It's simple, really. No one argues that if the historical Jesus existed, crucifixion was a horrible, torturous death. The emotional agony at being abandoned by god the father (or himself) was beyond measure. Jesus is said to have died on the cross, been taken down, buried and left for dead. Three days later (or two, or two and a half, depending on the Jewish consideration of days) he rose from the dead - and went right back to heaven where he came from. He is with god the father in heaven now. God says repeatedly in the bible that a millinium is like the blink of an eye to him - so 33 years doesn't seem like that big of a deal. Additionally, god the father now has Jesus beside him for all of eternity. No harm, no foul. Not only is it ridiculous to think that a substitutionary atonement is a suitable alternative to everyone getting what they deserve, it's equally ridiculous to call Jesus' supposed death a sacrifice at all. What did god give up? 33 years? What did Jesus give up? A few agonizing (admittedly) hours, a death - and then an eternity back where he came from in the first place? At best, Jesus' time on earth, ministry and death was an all-too-brief displacement from his heavenly home. At worst, Jesus' time on earth was like nothing in the eyes of god.
How many animals brutally killed on the alters of the Jews and other pagan religions came back to life after a few days? None. How many people killed by the Aztecs, Romans, Celts or other cultures that practiced human sacrifice come back to life after a brief period of rest in a rich man's grave? Not a one.
How many times have you sacrificed something then turned around and regained it? If it was a real sacrifice, the answer is simple. Never. Sacrifice doesn't work that way. Therefore, Jesus' death was not a sacrifice at all - and cannot be viewed as such - especially when you consider that an all-knowing, all-powerful being came up with THIS as his best plan to reconcile himself with his own creation instead of just deciding to forgive them and move on - or not create them at all.