Why did God command that sacrifices should atone for sins?

Author: BibleAsk Team

The concept of sacrifice as a means of atonement for sins occupies a central role in many religious traditions, including Judaism and Christianity. In the Old Testament of the Bible, the practice of offering sacrifices to God is extensively documented, with detailed instructions provided for their various types and purposes. To understand why God commanded sacrifices for atonement, we must delve into their theological significance within the biblical narrative, examining key passages from the Bible and exploring the broader theological principles at play.

The Nature of Sin and Atonement

    a. Sin as Rebellion: Throughout the Bible, sin is portrayed as a violation of God’s moral law and a rebellion against His authority (1 John 3:4). It disrupts the relationship between humanity and God, introducing a barrier that separates individuals from His presence (Isaiah 59:2). Sin leads to death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

    b. The Need for Atonement: In light of the seriousness of sin and its consequences, there arises a need for reconciliation and restoration. Atonement, understood as the process of restoring fellowship with God and obtaining forgiveness for sins, becomes essential for addressing the brokenness caused by human disobedience (Leviticus 17:11).

    The Role of Sacrifice in Atonement

    The first lesson God desired to teach His children through the animal sacrifices was that sin causes death. This was a sad experience for the sinner, because he knew that his sin caused the death of the creature. This very act made him decide to “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). He visualized the result of sin. It meant the death of an innocent one. It raised a hatred in his heart for sin.

      a. Symbolism of Sacrifice: In the Old Testament, sacrificial offerings serve as symbolic representations of repentance, substitution, and reconciliation. The shedding of blood in sacrifices symbolizes the cost of sin and the necessity of atonement through the forfeiture of life (Hebrews 9:22).

      b. Types of Sacrifices: The Mosaic Law prescribes various types of sacrifices, including burnt offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, and peace offerings, each serving distinct purposes in the atonement process (Leviticus 1-7).

      c. Transfer of Sin: In the sacrificial system, sins are symbolically transferred from the individual to the sacrificial animal, which bears the penalty of sin on behalf of the offerer. This symbolic act underscores the seriousness of sin and the need for a vicarious atonement (Leviticus 16:21-22).

      Foreshadowing of Christ’s Sacrifice

        a. Anticipation of Redemption: The sacrificial system in the Old Testament foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Through His death and resurrection, Christ fulfills the role of the perfect and final sacrifice for the sins of humanity, offering redemption and reconciliation to all who believe (Hebrews 9:11-14).

        b. Completion of Atonement: The New Testament affirms that Jesus’ sacrificial death fulfills the requirements of the Law and accomplishes complete atonement for sin (Romans 3:25). His blood is depicted as the ultimate and efficacious means of cleansing and forgiveness (1 John 1:7).

        Humans were guilty and they deserved to die for their own sins but “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The ultimate expression of divine love was the Father’s offer of His own Son through whom it becomes conceivable for believers to be “called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

        Theological Significance

          a. Justice and Mercy: The sacrificial system reflects the divine attributes of justice and mercy. While justice demands payment for sin, mercy provides a way of forgiveness and reconciliation. Sacrifice serves as the means by which God upholds His justice while extending His mercy to sinful humanity (Micah 6:6-8).

          b. Demonstration of Faith: Offering sacrifices requires an act of faith on the part of the worshipper, trusting in God’s provision for forgiveness and restoration. Genuine repentance and contrition accompany the sacrificial act, demonstrating humility and dependence on God’s grace (Psalm 51:16-17).


          In conclusion, the commandment of sacrifices for atonement in the Old Testament serves multiple theological purposes within the biblical narrative. It underscores the seriousness of sin, the need for reconciliation with God, and the anticipation of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice symbolizes repentance, substitution, and restoration, foreshadowing the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.

          While the sacrificial system in the Old Testament provided temporary atonement, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ inaugurated a new covenant and accomplished permanent reconciliation between God and humanity. Through His death and resurrection, Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Law and offered salvation to all who believe in Him.

          As Christians reflect on the significance of sacrifice in the biblical narrative, they are reminded of the depth of God’s love and the magnitude of His grace. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ stands as the pinnacle of God’s redemptive plan, offering forgiveness, healing, and eternal life to all who turn to Him in faith.

          In His service,
          BibleAsk Team

          Leave a Comment