Why did people offer sacrifices to atone for sin?


By BibleAsk Team

The act of offering sacrifices to atone for sin plays an essential role throughout the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. This practice served as a means for believers to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God for their sins. Understanding why a believer did that involves exploring the theological contexts surrounding this ritual. The Bible provides numerous references that shed light on this important aspect of biblical worship.

The Concept of Atonement

Atonement, in the biblical sense, refers to the reconciliation of humanity with God through the forgiveness of sin. The need for atonement arises from the reality of human sinfulness, which separates individuals from God and disrupts their relationship with Him. In the Old Testament, the concept of atonement is closely associated with sacrifices offered by believers as a way to seek forgiveness and restoration.

“And according to the law almost all things are [a]purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no [b]remission” (Hebrews 9:22, NKJV). The Bible teaches that everything in the sanctuary or connected with its service was a symbol of something Jesus would do in saving us. The sacrificing of animals and the shedding of their blood was a symbol of the blood of Jesus that was going to be shed to save humans. The punishment for sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23). And since all have sinned, all were sentenced to death.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they would have died at once but Jesus offered to give His perfect life as a sacrifice to pay the death penalty for all people (Revelation 13:8). After sin, God required the sinner to bring an animal sacrifice (Genesis 4:3-7). The sinner was to kill the animal with his own hand (Leviticus 1:4, 5). This action revealed to the sinner the awful consequences of sin – shedding of innocent blood – and the need for a Savior and a substitute.

This system taught, through the symbol of the slain animal, that God would give His Son to die for men’s sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). The Son of God would become not only their Savior, but also their substitute. “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28, NKJV). What infinite love that the innocent would die for the guilty! The Creator for His created beings! “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV).

The Ritual

The ritual of sacrifice involves offering an animal, such as a lamb or a goat, on an altar as an act of worship and atonement. The blood of the offered animal symbolically represents the life of the offerer, which is given as a substitute for the punishment that sin deserves (Leviticus 17:11).

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” This verse underscores the importance of blood in the process of atonement, highlighting its purifying power.


In the Old Testament, several types of sacrifices were prescribed for different purposes, including sin offerings, burnt offerings, peace offerings, and guilt offerings. The sin offering, in particular, was designated for atonement, serving as a means for believers to seek forgiveness for specific sins they had committed (Leviticus 4:1-35).

“1 Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them, 3 if the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord for his sin which he has sinned a young bull without blemish as a sin offering. 4 He shall bring the bull to the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord, lay his hand on the bull’s head, and kill the bull before the Lord.'”

This passage outlines the procedure for offering a sin offering, emphasizing the need for an unblemished animal and the laying on of hands as a symbolic transfer of guilt.

The Purpose

The primary purpose of offering animals for atonement was to seek forgiveness for sin and restore fellowship with God. The act of sacrifice demonstrated humility, repentance, and dependence on God’s mercy and grace. It also served as a tangible expression of faith and obedience to God’s commandments.

“For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17, NKJV). This passage from Psalm 51 highlights the spiritual significance of sacrifice, emphasizing the importance of a humble and contrite heart in seeking God’s forgiveness.

Fulfillment in Christ

While the sacrificial system in the Old Testament provided temporary forgiveness for sin, it ultimately pointed forward to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, offered himself as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity, once and for all (Hebrews 10:10, NKJV): “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This verse highlights the sufficiency and effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice in achieving complete atonement for believers.

When John the Baptist met Jesus, he declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV). In the Old Testament, people looked forward to the cross for salvation. Today, we look backward to Calvary for salvation. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJV).


In conclusion, the act of offering sacrifices for atonement was an integral aspect of worship in the Old Testament, providing believers with a means to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The ritual symbolized the cost of sin and the need for redemption, pointing forward to the ultimate death of Jesus Christ on the cross. While the sacrificial system has been fulfilled in Christ, its significance remains as a reminder of God’s grace and mercy, and the necessity of repentance and faith in seeking forgiveness for sin.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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