Sunday, February 21, 2016

What sins did "Jesus" die for, exactly?

Question: If unintentional sins are the only ones that can be forgiven with a sacrifice (lamb, bread, etc.) in the Torah; then what unintentional Sins did "Jesus" die for, exactly?

Answer: The same unintentional sins, violations of Torah, the people would commit before the Messiah came - Numbers 15:22-30 for example.  Just as the provision in Torah provided for atonement for an unintentional sin by a substitutionary act - often the shed blood of an innocent animal - and the people were expected to continue with their lives and (try to) not sin again; the Messiah's death was the substitutionary act offered to us, for our sins up to that point when we accept what the Messiah did for us, and afterward we are expected to continue with our lives and try not to sin any more.  As it is for all, today, after the Temple sacrifices ended and the Levitical priesthood was lost, we can't simply kill an innocent animal for our transgressions, so everyone (Jew and Gentile alike) must now seek atonement for continued, unintentional sins through repentance and prayer in hopes we are forgiven. 

This question, though, was obviously designed by someone who does not "buy" the idea that the Messiah had to die for us, or that his death atoned for our unintentional sins.  But the question itself shows that the questioner does not even understand his own Tanakh.  Upon hearing the answer given above, the person asking the original question will more than likely respond with: "But Torah does not require a blood sacrifice for forgiveness of sins!", and then they'll rattle off a litany of verses which demonstrate this fact.  And, there really is no argument!  Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can read scripture and see that, of course, sins can be forgiven by repentance and prayer.  But saying "Torah does not require a blood sacrifice for forgiveness of sins" is, by itself, not an accurate statement!

It's not accurate, because Torah DOES require blood sacrifices!  You read about these blood sacrifices throughout Numbers and Leviticus!  And nowhere do you find any scripture which says they are "optional".  So the more appropriate question might be: "Why does the Torah speak of blood sacrifices, yet, we find also within Torah that forgiveness of sin can be gained by repentance and prayer?"  Or put another way: "What is so "special" about blood sacrifices that they are in Torah?"

Well, here is the answer:  The blood sacrifice made by the Levite Priest at the Temple, was the guarantee of everlasting life!  Leviticus 17:11 makes this abundantly clear!   "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood, as life, that effects expiation." (JPS Tanakh)  Let's examine this verse a moment because it's significance is lost in English:

While the word "life" is used in the verse, three times, the actual Hebrew word in the verse is "nephesh" more accurately translated as "soul" rather than "life".  The English word "life" does not convey an accurate meaning nephesh. Actually, the English word "soul" does not convey a proper understanding either, but a more accurate translation might be: "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your souls upon the altar; it is the blood, that effects expiation of the soul."  I think that is pretty clear!  One "nephesh" is given for another "nephesh".

The reason blood sacrifices were specifically called for, was not just that "it forgave sins", rather, it assured your place in the Kingdom, i.e., everlasting life! This was the special significance of the blood sacrifice, because it is about the soul not the sin!  The blood from the animal, carrying the nephesh, ceremonially splashed on the altar, substituted for your nephesh/soul and made you "whole" again, so you could be considered worthy of being with YHWH after you physically die.  Otherwise, you are nothing but a filthy body, not worthy of being in the presence of YHWH.  In a minute you will see that this verse in Leviticus 17 is very important because it is demonstrating that the substitution saves the soul, the nephesh, and prevents it from dying!

The role of blood sacrifice is therefore pivotal!  But the fact that a poor, sinless, blemish-free animal had to die to assure one's place in the afterlife was clearly not enough to keep people from committing more sins, so the sacrificial process had to be repeated over and over and over!  But for the "day-to-day" inadvertent, unintentional sin, Torah certainly permitted your seeking forgiveness by an animal sacrifice or by less drastic means - i.e., repentance and prayer and fasting!  There are plenty of verses to cite indicating this, including: Jonah 3:7-10, Numbers 16:47, Numbers 14:17-20, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Job 33:26, Hosea 14:2 and many others.  

So by one's own recognition of having sinned, one could seek forgiveness in this physical life by making a heartfelt repentance and asking YHWH for His forgiveness, and assuming He responded positively, you could go on with your earth-bound life.  Nevertheless, everyone also needed to have been "cleansed" by the blood sacrifices at the Temple, otherwise, they are simply worm-fodder when they die. 

Some will argue that "scripture says sacrifices were less important than obedience" and cite Jeremiah 7:22.  That verse, (out of context, especially in English), blows your mind: 

"22 For I didn't speak to your ancestors or give them orders concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices when I brought them out of the land of Egypt."  

What? YHWH didn't speak to our ancestors about sacrifices? The verses go on:

"23 Rather, what I did order them was this: 'Pay attention to what I say. Then I will be your God, and you will be my people. In everything, live according to the way that I order you, so that things will go well for you.' 24 But they neither listened nor paid attention, but lived according to their own plans, in the stubbornness of their evil hearts, thus going backward and not forward." (CJB)

So sacrifices are not important, they say, and only obedience is required.  Not so!  If you read the context of Jeremiah 7, you see that YHWH is not "reducing" the significance of sacrifices, rather, it was the PEOPLE who had reduced the importance!   Read Jeremiah 7:9-10:

"9 First you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, offer to Ba'al and go after other gods that you haven't known. 10 Then you come and stand before me in this house that bears my name and say, 'We are saved' - so that you can go on doing these abominations!" (CJB)

So what YHWH is actually saying in verses 22-24 is that He "did not give the sacrifice for it to be done with such contempt and disrespect."

Another verse some will use to try to lessen the significance of the sacrifice is 1 Samuel 15:22, which says (again, out of context): 

"Sh'mu'el [Samuel] said, "Does ADONAI take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what ADONAI says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice, and heeding orders than the fat of rams." (CJB).  

Again, this sure sounds like obedience is more important!  But if one would only go back and read all of 1 Samuel 15, you'd see that it was King Sha'ul who had disobeyed YHWH because he (Sha'ul) had allowed the troops to take animals as spoils from a battle when he had been commanded by YHWH to "destroy all".  Why did Sha'ul permit the animal spoils? Verse 21: "…and the troops took from the spoil some sheep and oxen - the best of what had been proscribed - to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal." (JPS Tanakh)  Now reread verse 22 and the context is understood!  Sh'mu'el was not saying sacrifices were less important at all!  He was admonishing Sha'ul for his disobedience which reduces all YHWH's commands to nothing!  Read verse 23 and see this clearly!

Despite the volumes written on this subject by those insisting "forgiveness" only requires prayer and supplication, and no need for any sacrifice we see Torah actually teaches otherwise.  Forgiveness always had two "levels" - an individual responsibility to seek forgiveness when committing unintentional transgressions of Torah, and a Levite Preist responsibility to substitute the nephesh of another sinless thing for survival of your nephesh.  These requirements go hand-in-hand.  One is not more important than the other. Denying the importance of the blood sacrifice is truly making YHWH out to be what "you" want Him to be instead of who He is and what He asks of you!    

So now, even though the questioner, if they were to be reading this answer, would likely not want to hear what I say next, nevertheless it is important to understand because it ties the Messiah to the blood sacrifices.  Here is what must be understood:

Two points: 1st, when Yeshua died, the Temple still existed.  So the timing of the presence of the Messiah could not be more important. 2nd, Yeshua's death was not a "human sacrifice" as He was not "sacrificed" like an animal and He did not have a "human" nephesh!  

Addressing the 2nd point first:  Yeshua's "nefesh" was not like ours!  When a person dies, physically, the Hebrew/Jewish mindset still considers the body a "nefesh".  It's just that a "dead body" is a "dead nephesh", a dead soul.  Numbers 19:11 says, for example: "He who touches a corpse of any human being shall be unclean for seven days." (JPS Tanakh).  Again, this rather sterile English translation does not do the original Hebrew justice.  The Hebrew actually reads "…touch any dead human nephesh…".  So we come to understand that a "nephesh", is more than "soul" as the English word "soul" conveys little. When a person is dead, and we (in our Western mindset) look upon the body, we do not see a "soul", in fact, we are taught the "soul" is no longer with the body. 

The "nephesh" is intimately tied to the individual. In death, the nephesh of a person will live on, provided the person was in good favor with YHWH.  Read these verses from Ezekiel 3:

17 "Human being, I have appointed you to be a watchman for the house of Isra'el. When you hear a word from my mouth, you are to warn them for me. 18 If I say to a wicked person, 'You will certainly die'; and you fail to warn him, to speak and warn the wicked person to leave his wicked way and save his life; then that wicked person will die guilty; and I will hold you responsible for his death. 19 On the other hand, if you warn the wicked person, and he doesn't turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, then he will still die guilty; but you will have saved your own life.

20 Similarly, when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and commits wickedness, I will place a stumblingblock before him - he will die; because you failed to warn him, he will die in his sin; his righteous acts which he did will not be remembered; and I will hold you responsible for his death. 21 But if you warn the righteous person that a righteous person should not sin, and he doesn't sin; then he will certainly live, because he took the warning; and you too will have saved your life."

Now, both the wicked and the righteous will "die", that is, die a physical death on earth, so these verses must be understood to be describing the saving of one's nephesh in the afterlife by living their earthly, physical life righteously.  By living your life righteously, and not wickedly, when you die, you are eternally "saved" (with a caveat, described later on.)
We can see this again in Ezekiel 18:4 "Consider, all lives [nephesh] are Mine; the life [nephesh] of the parent and the life [nephesh] of the child are both Mine.  The person [nephesh] who sins, only he shall die." (JPS Tanakh)  I have inserted "nephesh" where it appears in the original Hebrew.  Clearly, since all humans die in their earthly life, this verse too is addressing the eligibility for an eternal existence - after all YHWH says "all lives [nephesh] are Mine!But the verse also reveals the terrifying prospect that when you fail, your nephesh simply dies, no continued existence: "The person [nephsh] who sins, only he shall die."

Which brings me back to Yeshua's nephesh.  Yeshua was sinless, so his nephesh could be considered "unblemished".  When Yeshua died, both His "live nephesh" and "dead body nephesh" left the earth.  When mere mortals die, their "dead body" remains on earth.  Yes, that part of Yeshua that was a human body, died and was taken down from the stake, physically handled by live humans, wrapped and placed in the tomb.  But 3 nights and 3 days later, the physical, dead body disappeared.  That does not happen to us mere mortals. Yeshua's nephesh could not die, and did not die!  

Now some argue that Yeshua could not be the Messiah because "God does not require human sacrifice!"  This is absolutely true, but completely misses the point.  The point of the animal sacrifice was NOT the "sacrifice", rather, as I tried to explain above, it was to substitute one nephesh so the human nephesh could live eternally.  But instead, many stubborn people cannot see that Yeshua was not "sacrificed" at all, rather, He offered his sinless nephesh for us!  It's that simple.  His blood, containing His nephesh, had to be spilled on the altar for Him to be that substitution for our nephesh.  This is what the act required - see Leviticus 5:9 for example. (And the "altar" on which Yeshua's blood was spilled was the earth, see Exodus 20:24).   

So now the 1st point. Yeshua died in 30 CE.  The Temple still existed till 70 CE.  That's 40 years, ONE generation, from Yeshua's death to the end of the Temple.  YHWH gave all mankind ONE generation to come to understand what He did for humanity by offering Himself as a substitute for our nephesh, before the Temple was destroyed, and the substitution of the nephesh of animals could no longer be done, and no longer abused. 

The number forty appears many times in the Bible, usually designating a time of radical transition or transformation.  It is the same 40 years the Israelites had to wander in the desert, when the 1st generation of the promise finally entered the land.  What could be more "transforming" than the substitution of the nephesh of Yeshua, so that within one generation, all who accepted this gift could be eternally saved and retained in YHWH's favor by continued obedience!

So now you should understand the caveat mentioned earlier. Being "righteous" alone is not enough for the nephesh to be "saved", for being saved requires also the substitution on the altar, a "redemption" if you will, of a nephesh for your nephesh.  Your love and obedience to YHWH is the purpose of your life (Ecclesiastes 12:13), and you are expected to return to YHWH if you have inadvertently sinned.  

But "eternal life" always required that substitution or redemption of one nephesh for another.  The possibility of that substitution of an animal at the Temple is gone.  You can't get that any more.  It has been replaced by your acceptance that the Messiah died for you, and redeemed you, so you can be saved.  He volunteered to substitute His nephesh for yours!  Now, go learn how to live your earthly life in obedience to YHWH.

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