The Bible makes it quite clear that God hates human sacrifice. The pagan nations that surrounded the Israelites practiced human sacrifice as part of the worship of false gods. God declared that such “worship” was detestable to Him and that He hates it (Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). Furthermore, human sacrifice is associated in the Old Testament with evil practices such as sorcery and divination, which are also detestable to God (2 Kings 21:6). So, if God hates human sacrifice, why did He sacrifice Christ on the cross and how could that sacrifice be the payment for our sins?
There is no doubt that a sacrifice for sin was necessary if people are to have any hope of eternal life. God established the necessity of the shedding of blood to cover sin (Hebrews 9:22). In fact, God Himself performed the very first animal sacrifice to cover, temporarily, the sin of Adam and Eve. After He pronounced curses upon the first couple, He killed an animal, shedding its blood, and made from it a covering for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), thereby instituting the principle of animal sacrifice for sin. When God gave the Law to Moses, there were extensive instructions on how, when, and under what circumstances animal sacrifices were to be offered to Him. This was to continue until Christ came to offer the ultimate, perfect sacrifice, which made animal sacrifice no longer necessary. “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3–4).
There are several reasons why the sacrifice of Christ on the cross does not violate the prohibition against human sacrifice. First, Jesus wasn’t merely human. If He were, then His sacrifice would have also been a temporary one because one human life couldn’t possibly cover the sins of the multitudes who ever existed. Neither could one finite human life atone for sin against an infinite God. The only viable sacrifice must be an infinite one, which means only God Himself could atone for the sins of mankind. Only God Himself, an infinite Being, could pay the penalty owed to Himself. This is why God had to become a Man and dwell among men (John 1:14). No other sacrifice would suffice.
Second, God didn’t sacrifice Jesus. Rather, Jesus, as God incarnate, sacrificed Himself. No one forced Him. He laid down His life willingly, as He made clear speaking about His life: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). God the Son sacrificed Himself to God the Father and thereby fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. Unlike the temporary sacrifices, Jesus’ once-for-all-time sacrifice was followed by His resurrection. He laid down His life and took it up again, thereby providing eternal life for all who would ever believe in Him and accept His sacrifice for their sins. He did this out of love for the Father and for all those the Father has given Him (John 6:37–40).