You Can’t Have It Both Ways
Christians usually react to this line of reasoning by protesting that it’s absurd to be so literal, and that Jesus’s death was more of a symbolic or spiritual sacrifice. This would be fine if the Bible provided for such ethereal offerings, but such is not the case. The New Testament, though, insists that Jesus was a real sacrifice, literally fulfilling the Biblical requirements.
An example is the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion. In his narrative (19:33–36), the author of John relates that there was a request to break the legs of Jesus and two others who had been crucified on a Friday in order to hasten their deaths so they could be buried before the Sabbath.
But coming to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs… For these things were done in order that the Scripture should be fulfilled: not a bone of it shall be broken.
The Gospel of John (1:29) likens Jesus to the Passover lamb. According to Torah law, this sacrifice was not supposed to have any of its bones broken (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12). Since the author of John insists that Jesus was a literal sacrifice to the extent that the Biblical rules of the Passover had to be fulfilled by him, we can’t dismiss the problems cited above as legalistic nitpicking.
One wonders why the New Testament chose to type Jesus as a Paschal lamb. We know from Exodus 12 that the annual Passover sacrifice did not serve to atone for sin; it commemorated the exodus from Egypt. When the lamb was slaughtered in Egypt and its blood smeared on the doorposts, it did not serve to atone for the sins of anyone. It was a sign for the angel of death to pass over Jewish homes during the plague of the first-born. The only people in danger were first-born males. The blood wasn’t relevant to other people in the family and didn’t serve to atone for the first-born.
Another problem with using the Passover lamb as an archetype for Jesus’s sacrifice is that the Torah barred uncircumcised males from participating in the Passover ritual (Exodus 12:48).
However, historical Christianity, based upon the teachings of the Apostle Paul, did not advocate circumcision and actually derided the practice (Galatians 5:1–12). A more fitting prototype for Jesus would have been the Yom Kippur sacrifice, which atoned for the sins of all the people. It is noteworthy that according to Leviticus 16:10 and 21–22, the animal that effectuated the atonement for the sins of the nation was not killed – but sent live out into the desert. Again, according to the Biblical text, the shedding of blood is not a sine qua non for atonement.
Quoted from: You Turn! The Jewish Response to a Christian Challenge by Rabbi Michael Skobac. Published by Jews For Judaism.
“We know from Exodus 12 that the annual Passover sacrifice did not serve to atone for sin; it commemorated the exodus from Egypt.”
It didn’t serve to atone for specific individual sins but it did atone for the people who otherwise would have been killed along with the Egyptians. The meaning of atonement includes propitiation or the turning away of the wrath of God which is what the death of the lamb and the sprinkling of it’s blood did for the Israelites.
“The only people in danger were first-born males. The blood wasn’t relevant to other people in the family and didn’t serve to atone for the first-born.”
This unfounded assumption is contradicted by the text of the passage itself:
“and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.”
If only the firstborn were at risk why were all people commanded to stay inside their houses until the morning? The only reasonable conclusion is that anyone who stepped outside the house would have died, whether he/she was firstborn or not.
“Another problem with using the Passover lamb as an archetype for Jesus’s sacrifice is that the Torah barred uncircumcised males from participating in the Passover ritual (Exodus 12:48).”
After the death and resurrection of Jesus there was no reason to participate in the passover ritual as it was fulfilled by Jesus.