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110 Sacrificed or Slaughtered?

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

If all that was needed for God to save sinners was the death of Jesus then why was he tortured to such an extent before He died? This episode reveals the difference between the sacrifice and the slaughter of a victim. In doing so, we understand the reason Jesus suffered so much and what that means to not just us, but to the whole universe. God was dealing with a bigger issue, the controversy surrounding His character, in sending Jesus to this earth to love and serve us and we in turn tortured and killed Him. God's love allowed us to do the unthinkable so the universe would know forever that God is not selfish but loved to the very end.

110 Sacrifice or Slaughter
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Was Jesus Christ Sacrificed or Slaughtered?

No sacrificial animal associated with Hebrew worship rituals was tortured to death. The animal was killed as humanely and painlessly as possible. The death of Jesus was quite different. He was tortured, abused, ridiculed, and then executed in the most painful way possible. The cross had evolved under the Romans into an instrument of prolonged agony before death. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent for those considering rebellion against Rome. Jesus was slaughtered not sacrificed if we compare his death with the humane sacrificing of dumb animals.

Animal sacrificial deaths were designed to be as painless as possible. Slaughtering an animal carried no such sentiment. The gladiators slaughtered wild animals in different cruel ways. Jesus was slaughtered in the cruelest of ways known at that time. It is the slaughtered lamb not the sacrificed lamb that is at the center of the universes worship with the cosmos singing, “You are worthy!” in Revelation 5.

Here is part of the record of the physical and emotional abuse of Jesus Christ before he died.

Matthew 27:26 NIV Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified. 27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

This description fulfills the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah

Isaiah 53:7 NLT He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.

Almost all English translations use slaughter in this verse.

Here is the record in Revelation of what happened to Jesus Christ.

Revelation 5:6-10 NASB And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slaughtered (sphazo), having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slaughtered (sphazo), and You purchased people for God with Your blood from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have made them into a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.”

Translations differ in their rendition of the Greek word sphazo. In considering 52 English translations, slain is used 24 times, killed is used 14 times, and slaughtered 14 times. Thus, slaughtered, is apparently a legitimate translation.

Strong’s Greek Lexicon gives the following information for sphazo:

1) to slay, slaughter, or butcher. 2) to put to death by violence. 3) mortally wounded.

Slaughter includes slaying and killing but it implies extreme cruelty in the action.

The Greek word sphazo is used seven times in Revelation 5:9; 5:12; 6:4; 6:9 (martyred); 13:3 (wounded); 13:8; 18:24. This word indicates a violent death as noted above. The Greek word associated with sacrifice is thysia, which does not appear in Revelation.

In Revelation 5:6 the slaughtered lamb appears “in the middle of the throne” (NIV)–which means at the centre of the attention of the four living creatures and the 24 elders. From the context of chapters five and six in Revelation the slaughtered lamb is the solution to the problem of sin and suffering on this planet. The attendance of thousands and millions of angels (5:11), the four beings, the 24 elders and every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea (5:13) indicates this event is of cosmic interest.

Being “in the middle” implies that we have a revelation of great importance. “Middle” also indicates in the middle of the cosmos and the middle of history and in the middle of God’s government since the throne of God is also pictured here in the middle of the 4 living beings and the 24 elders.

“a Lamb, that looked as if it had been slaughtered” (NLT)— the contrast between the lion (5:5) and the slaughtered lamb is extreme. This scene is the most surprising one in all the visions of Revelation. Apparently, the lion, symbolizing physical power and violence, while having the right connections is of little value as a solution to the problem of suffering. The solution is also not in a lamb but in the slaughtered lamb. This is a most unusual, unexpected solution.

Thus, we have the Lamb, a symbol of gentle non-violence, suffering a violent death. This solution had the worst possible consequences for Jesus. He enters the conflict as a gentle lamb and ends up slaughtered. He comes alive and appears “in the middle” of the universe.

This is a story that would appeal to the Greek love of tragedy as depicted in their literature. Apparently, victory came to the lamb through his slaughter. What is happening here? What does the slaughter of God tell us? It certainly tells us he has suffered with us, that he has suffered more than we have suffered collectively, and finally, that there was no other way to solve the problem of evil and suffering.

The traditional method of killing a sacrifice in Israel was to sever the jugular artery and allow the animal to rapidly bleed out. This is an almost painless death. If Jesus’ death was to be a sacrifice, as illustrated by the sacrificial system, his brutal torture does not fit the type. No animals were tortured in the sanctuary rituals.

The Aztecs sacrificed children to the rain god and believed that if these children were crying as they were sacrificed there would be abundant rain. The children were tortured to ensure they were crying enthusiastically while they were executed.

The Old Testament taught that if you were hung on tree you were accursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:23). The religious people of Jesus day saw him as accursed of God. He could not possibly be the Messiah as the Messiah was to live forever (John 12:34). The Messiah was to be a triumphant hero like king David who never lost a battle. Christ’s crucifixion was regarded as just penalty for his spurious claim to be Messiah.

Exchanging Barabbas for Jesus is evidence that the religious leaders viewed Jesus as accursed. There was more hope for revolutionary Barabbas (son of the father) than for Jesus, the pretending Messiah.

If it was the death of Jesus which provided the atonement, then all that was needed was his demise. If this demise was required by God, as many Christians suggest, then a painless death would have sufficed. The torture and abuse, followed by execution on the cross, which was designed to take up to ten days would have been entirely unnecessary. There must be more to this saga than the traditional explanations given to explain the death of Christ.

The Crisis of the Cosmos—Is God Selfish? The reason for the cruelty of Jesus’ suffering and death.

We have made many conclusions concerning the death of Jesus out of our egotism. We have reduced the cross event to be about our salvation when there are bigger issues at stake.

Satan or the devil or the mighty, fallen angel accused God of selfishness in opposition to God’s claim of being unselfish love. The evidence for this accusation by the devil is found in the devil’s temptations to Eve and then to Jesus Christ.

The serpent suggested to Eve that God was withholding position and wisdom from her by forbidding her to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The devil implied that God was selfish in doing so. Here is the record of this temptation.

Genesis 3:1-5 NLT The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” 2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” 4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

In the devil’s temptation of Jesus Christ in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane he appeals to the desire for peace and comfort which Jesus would have had as a human. He tempts Jesus to make bread to alleviate HIS hunger. He tempts Jesus to throw himself off the temple pinnacle and suddenlyarrive in the temple courtyard and be acclaimed Messiah by Israel. He would thus avoid the painful rejection which caused his death. This would be a powerful temptation to Jesus who knew of his coming universal rejection. If Jesus bowed down and worshipped the devil the devil would give him the kingdoms of this world and he would not have to suffer torture and an excruciating death to gain them.

These three temptations were designed to reveal the selfishness of Jesus and thus of God. Ostensibly they were about food, acceptance and comfort but these were only masks for the principal temptation about the character of God.

The temptation to go back to heaven would be pressed on Jesus in Gethsemane as his best friends slept through his hour of greatest need. It would be pressed on Jesus during his inhuman torture and on the cross when Jesus experienced apparent abandonment by his Father.

To suggest that God is selfish is a fiendish accusation since it was not possible to show that God is unselfish before the suffering of Christ. As far as the Creation could tell, all that God ever desired was created by the word of the LORD and the breath of his mouth (Psalms 33:6).

At the cross, God in Jesus Christ, is faced with the choice of giving up on loving the people he had blessed for three years with food, healing, emotional support, forgiveness, resurrection from the dead and unbelievable kindness at every turn. God, in Jesus Christ, owned only the clothes on his back. He had lived the three years of ministry in faith that the people around him would care for him. He was one of them and he blessed them in every conceivable way. Now he suffered alone. Such is the fickleness of the human heart.

If Jesus gave up on them now and went back to heaven it would prove Satan’s accusation of the selfishness of God to be true. Love would be demonstrated as failing under extreme stress. This was the crisis of God’s kingdom and government. Would the David of love conquer the Goliath of selfishness?

Does God give up on People?

In the Old Testament account God gave up on people periodically. Here are some examples. The people before the flood were wicked and violent to the point that God regretted creating them and they were drowned (Genesis 6:5-8). When the Amalekites’ cup of iniquity was full (Genesis 15:16), they were destroyed (1 Samuel 15:1-9). The Israelites were warned that if they were unfaithful to God, he would turn against them and curse them with suffering (Leviticus 26:14 onwards). This occurred with their dispersion by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Romans.

At Mount Sinai when the people worshipped the golden calf God turned on his people who he had saved and instructed Moses to execute 3000 guilty Israelites (Exodus 32). If one adds up all the people ostensible killed by God in the Old Testament the total is over two million.

If this is God’s consistent response to wickedness, then surely it would be observed at the cross. At the cross, God himself in the person of Jesus Christ was placed under extreme emotional and physical abuse by his creation. If ever God was to give up on his people and start over, it would have been at the cross.

No such vengeance was observed.

Some feel that God needed Jesus’ death before he could forgive sinners and thus, he did not start over at this time. Having this view of God’s character reduces our responsibility for the death of Jesus (Acts 2:23, 36; 3:15) which is comforting but prevents personal moral growth.

The opposite was demonstrated by God’s response. There was an earthquake and darkness to make is known that God was present but there was no killing of the perpetrators for their cruelty to the Creator. The Creator had only words of kindness and forgiveness for his tormentors and his executioners.

The Trial of God

At the cross, God was on trial. The charge was that, at the core of his being, he was selfish. So, God is examined with lash and ridicule, by religion and politics, by uncaring, hypocritical priests and brutalized soldiers. This is an attempt by satanically inspired humans to extract the devil’s “truth” about God from Jesus Christ. Will Jesus repent of making these fiends and go back to the safety and security of heaven or will he demonstrate that there is no end to his love for the worst of sinners?

John 13:1 he loved them to the end

It is the crisis of the universe which is described in Revelation 5. No one was found who could solve the problem of suffering as symbolized by the scroll sealed with seven seals. Notice that God is present on his throne and cannot terminate suffering. No wonder John weeps bitterly. Will suffering and sorrow continue forever? Is there to be no end to this sorrowful misery?

This is where the slaughtered lamb comes in (Revelation 5:6). The slaughtered lamb represents our treatment of the loving God when he came to love and serve us (Matthew 20:28). Notice the marks of slaughter are permanent as the lamb is alive but can be seen that it was slaughtered (phazo) not sacrificed (thysia).

The Reason for Jesus’ Death

To reveal the inexhaustible love of God or his unselfishness, God in Jesus, must lay down his eternal life in eternal death. The is the truth of God. He was willing to give up his eternal life because of his love for sinners. He does this, not to prove something about himself, but, for the sheer love of his creation.

We know this from the way he treated: His conniving disciples at the last Passover meal,

The criminals crucified on either side of him, His executioners, His mother from the cross, His faithless, disciple John after John had abandoned him a few hours earlier.

Jesus’ suffering and death was not a punishment from God for our sin, it was the consequence of sin. Satan was attempting to cause Jesus to give up on sinners, to go back to the safety and security of heaven.

Punishment is not part of love and heaven. It is extrinsic to God’s order. It is a consequence of the use of violence and deceit to enforce our way on another. Punishment is an alien concept in heaven.

One writer has, tongue in cheek, characterized the salvation story, as usually told or implied as follows: "God is holy and perfect. You are not. Therefore, God is angry at you, or hates you, so he has to kill you. But because he’s merciful, he’ll let you bring this animal to him and will have the animal killed instead of you. Thankfully, Jesus came to be the one who gets killed by God instead of me. Jesus rescues us from God, so now we can go forever to the happy place after we die and not the bad place."

There are multiple problems with this depiction of the story of salvation.

God is not angry with you (John 3:16-17). God does not want to kill you (1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Peter 3:9). Jesus was not killed by God but by us (Acts 2:23, 36, 3:15). Jesus did not rescue us from God but from our bad choices (Romans 5:6-11) Where sin abounded grace much more abounded (Romans 5:20).

Don’t believe anything about God that would make you think less of Him for it could not be true.You cannot believe Him to be better than He really is. Hugh Williams.


The manner of Jesus suffering and death demonstrated the depth of God’s unselfish love. There is no limit to God’s love for his creation. In his arms of grace and mercy he would embrace all his creation and cherish them forever.

The manner of Jesus’ death also demonstrates the abhorrent nature of sin or evil. We are evil, not of our own choice, and we need a supernatural Saviour to rescue us from ourselves. We have such a champion in the suffering and dying Christ.

We have hope!


Ian Hartley June 2022

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