The Torah has a lot to say about coming near to God at the Temple and bringing offerings and gifts, including animals for slaughter. A curious question to ask is whether Yeshua ever offered sacrifices in the Temple? It’s a curious question because the Gospels never depict him doing so. Our off-the-cuff answer to the question may reveal a lot about our assumptions concerning Yeshua. Another question might be, “Why don’t the gospels ever depict Yeshua offering a sacrifice or mention that he did so?”
From the point of view of many modern Bible readers, if someone were to ask, “Would Jesus do that?” it would be hard to imagine it. Can we conjure up an image of Jesus (the white, European looking savior) is bringing an animal so its blood can be poured out as a cleansing for sin? Some would immediately object, “But Jesus never sinned.” There are two answers that nullify this objection. First, Yeshua was baptized by John for repentance, which seems a rather parallel case. Second, sacrifices were not only brought because of an offense committed against God, but also for rejoicing and worship.
On the other side of the question, we might note a few things Yeshua said about the sacrifices and the Temple:
- He believed in the sanctity of the Temple: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV).
- He believed in the sanctity of the altar and its offerings: “Which is more important? the sacrifice? or the altar which makes the sacrifice holy?” (Matt 23:19).
- He spoke as if bringing sacrifices was a normal part of life with God: “Leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother” (Matt 5:24).
- One of Yeshua’s final actions and the thing that sealed his doom was an act of zeal for the sanctity of the Temple: “Yeshua entered the Temple grounds and drove out those who were doing business there” (Matt 21:12).
- Earlier in his career, Yeshua engaged in a dispute with some Judean leaders about the sanctity of the Temple and his disciples applied a verse from the Psalm 69 to him: “Zeal for your house [i.e., the Temple] will devour me” (John 2:17).
- So Yeshua regarded the Temple as God’s house, the altar as sacred, the Temple as a place not to be corrupted with business, and his disciples believed his zeal for the Temple got him killed.
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Given the seriousness with which Yeshua took the authority of Torah and the unfailing obedience he showed toward God, it is impossible to think he did not offer sacrifices. But why then don’t the Gospels show him doing so?
The likely reason is simple. The Gospels assume many things about the Jewish world in which its characters lived and moved and expect their readers will share in these assumptions. In other words, it did not occur to the evangelists that any audience would ever imagine Yeshua as something other than a Torah-keeping, Temple-worshipping Jew. Things like the sacrifices are part of the shared world which did not seem to require any notice in the accounts of Yeshua’s life.
This is a principle which should be applied across the board to the life of Yeshua and the disciples and apostles: their covenantal practices of obedience to Torah should be assumed even where not specifically stated. And Yeshua expected his critics to have as high a view of Torah as he did.