Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Could Jesus Really Be A Substitute Sacrifice for Us?

The Importance of The Dome of The Rock in Jerusalem

By Dawud Jabal

When we see pictures of the Haram ash-Sharif and the golden Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, we should think of the hundreds of thousands of sacrifices which were offered there in two thousand years from the time of Abraham, continuing into the time of the beautiful Temple built by King Solomon. It was a house of prayer for people of all nations. (1 Kings 8:41-43­) During the years the sacrifices continued until the Babylonians destroyed that First Temple in 587 B.C. After that sacrifices were resumed in subsequent structures until the Romans finally destroyed the last Temple and badly wrecked Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Some people say that Jesus, the Messiah could not have been a sacrifice for our sins because no one can take the place of another to die for his sins. In the Law which God commanded for the Sons of Israel, it states: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Fifth Book of Moses, Deuteronomy 24:16)

Is that law relevant to the subject of a substitute sacrifice for sins? No.

That law is often referred to in an effort to refute the most important work of Jesus. However, this is due to a misunderstanding of the differences between sacrifices for sins and the death penalty punishment for certain specific crimes and sins.

Some people think that Jesus could not have been a sacrifice for anyone’s sin. However, that particular law in the Hebrew Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament was referring to capital punishment for offences done by fathers and children. Each would bear the burden of his own criminal punishment. That criminal law is NOT referring to sacrifices or offerings to God because of sin and for the purpose of getting right with God.

Related laws tell in careful detail about how the approved sacrifices were to be made to God for sins. They are found in several portions of the Holy Scriptures such as in Chapters One through Five of the Book of Leviticus, which is the Third Book of Moses.

In Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or Haram ash-Sharif [the Noble Sanctuary] is very instructive for us regarding sacrifices. Photos and paintings of the golden Dome of the Rock on that Temple Mount are in many Islamic homes, businesses and mosques around the world. The fact is often forgotten that one main reason for the very existence of the Temple area in Jerusalem from about 966 BC to 70 AD was to provide a place for sacrifices for sins of the Sons of Israel and other worshippers who came there.

This opens the door to understanding substitutionary sacrifices for sins. The necessity for sacrifices for sin was clearly taught in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament, Leviticus 17:11-16) and in the New Testament (Hebrews 9:22).

The New Testament part of the Bible tells of the one Sacrifice which Jesus made. He voluntarily gave up His physical life temporarily and later took it up again in the Resurrection from the dead.

Every one of us should accept the sacrifice which Jesus gave, just as Abraham and his son accepted the ram which God provided as a Substitute Sacrifice which saved the physical life of the son. (Genesis 22:13-14) Certainly none of us are greater than Abraham. We should be as humble as he was to accept the Substitute Sacrifice.


Let’s look at sacrifices carefully.

God gave a great gift to mankind by allowing people to offer sacrifices of clean animals to show their gratitude to God or to ask for forgiveness of their sins. God is the One who has to accept the sacrifices in order for them to be effective. For example, God declared that both the pig and the camel are not clean for sacrifice or food. (Deuteronomy 14:7-8) Animal sacrifices take the lives which God originally created. The Holy Scripture says, “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11-14)

The life which is offered as a sacrifice has to be a sinless one. The clean animals that are sacrificed have not sinned and so are sinless. All adult humans have sinned at various times in their lives, EXCEPT for Jesus.

In the system of laws of sacrifice which God gave to the Sons of Israel, there is NO such thing as one person killing another and claiming it was a sacrifice. On the contrary, that would be murder! An innocent small child or baby who had not sinned could not be sacrificed – because that would also be murder. God declared such murders to be an abomination. (Deuteronomy 12:31)

Certain FACTORS are necessary for an effective sacrifice.

First: God is the most important factor. Offering a sacrifice would be worthless if God did not exist and is not a Gracious and Forgiving God. Also, He had revealed certain things about why and how sacrifices were to be made.

Second: The human being should know that God is his Creator and that it is needful to be on good terms with his Creator and that sometimes a proper sacrifice will be accepted by God.

Third: He is The Holy God and He has disclosed that He wants only “Clean Animals” [i.e. kosher] to be given to Him in the sacrifices. He commanded that pigs or swine and camels are NOT to be sacrificed. (Deuteronomy 14:7-8) The Holy Scripture says, “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11-14) The living healthy ritually clean animal would be killed. Its life blood would be drained away into the soil so no one would drink it. (Leviticus 17:11-13)

The dead animal would then be offered to God. Generally most sacrifices would be burnt up by fire.

The ceremony could be simple. The sacrificed animal offering is placed between the worshiper and God. This represents the humble petition that the worshipper recognizes that God is the Creator of life and that He is the giver of life. The sacrifice shows that we recognize that fact. If the sacrifice was for praise and thanks, we show that God is the one who is worthy to be worshipped. We want our lives to be lived in service to Him.

If the sacrifice is for our sins, placing the dead animal between ourselves and God shows another fact. We recognize that because of our sin against God, He being the Sovereign of the Universe has the right to take our life. However, we humbly ask that He forgive our sins. The sacrificed animal is between God and us. It is somewhat like a buffer or minor barrier between us and God. Another way to think of it is actually as a “BRIDGE” which God authorized between the Holy God and us.

However all of this would be worthless without God’s acceptance of the sacrifice. That is the most important factor. The approval and acceptance by God of a sacrifice was what was necessary, even if the person who gave the sacrifice did not completely understand the importance and significance of sacrifice.

God graciously directed that each year the first born male animals from the herd and of the flock be offered as a special sacrifice. However, this was a special blessing. The animals would be roasted or cooked, not completely burnt-up. The family would eat a special meal of this meat in the presence of God! It was a wonderful time of honoring God and in a way being with Him. (Deuteronomy 15:19-23)

Several laws regarding sacrifices were given to the Sons of Israel specifying that only certain clean animals were to be offered; and the methods to determine suitability and the circumstances of the offering. (Leviticus 11)

A person taking their animal to be sacrificed would not be completely sure that the animal was ritually clean and acceptable to God. This doubt could be in the minds of the worshipers. There would be a great advantage and comfort in knowing before the time that a particular sacrifice would be completely acceptable to God. The Sacrifice which Jesus gave and its acceptance by the Father in Heaven, as shown by the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, is a great comfort to worshippers.

Life of a Sinner As An Attempted Sacrifice

There is a great difference between a sacrifice to the Holy and Living God and the proper punishment for a crime or sin for which the Law provides the death penalty. Regarding the death penalty for a crime, neither the father nor the son would be put to death for the other person’s crime.

A sacrifice should not be confused with capital punishment for crimes. Some people say, “I will pay for my own sins.” Is that possible?

In a proper sacrifice, a ritually clean innocent animal loses its life as an offering to the Holy God. However, in the capital punishment (death penalty) of a criminal, the sinner whose life is taken from him by execution in the so-called “sacrifice” just ends up as another dead sinner. His so-called “sacrifice” of himself for his own sins is completely worthless. He is dead and still goes into Hell as a sinner. (Last book of the Holy Bible, Revelation Chapters 21 & 22)

The sinner is NOT a clean living creature suitable for sacrifice. If he dies it does NOT give salvation or provide forgiveness of his or anyone’s sins! There would just be another dead sinner. What is needed for success is a good non-sinful “victim” to be sacrificed in a manner approved by God and accepted by Him.

Real Substitute Sacrifices

In the Holy Scriptures, one man offered sacrifices for others. That was during the time of Job [Ayyoub]. That righteous and wise man offered burnt offerings as sacrifices for his seven sons in case they had sinned and cursed God in their hearts. (Job 1:5)

One time when God provided for a kind of a “Substitute Sacrifice” was during the Passover.

When the Sons of Israel were brought by the strong “hand” of God out of the house of slavery in Egypt, God provided a ceremony of remembrance, the Passover, for each family. God provided that when a family was small, they were to invite another person or family to commemorate the solemn event with them so that all of the meal would be consumed. So the smaller family or even the individual did not have to obtain a sacrificial lamb for himself. He could use a substitute for himself by sharing the use of a lamb which another family was using already. (Exodus 12:1-5)

Similarly, NOW people from every ethnic group, tribe and language are invited to participate in solemn holy occasions remembering the perfect Sacrifice in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. He gave the invitation at the “Last Supper” to His disciples and the invitation was to be given to others, including us. This meal commemorates Jesus and is more than any of us individually can fully comprehend and we invite others to participate in the holy celebration. Various communities around the world may call this by various names including: The Holy Communion; the Lord’s Supper; the Eucharist or Mass. (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)


A MERE common human can not be a Substitute Sacrifice, because he cannot be any kind of a sacrifice. The human is not classified as ritually “clean,” such as clean animals that God requested for sacrifices.

However, Jesus was born Pure of the Virgin Mary and He never sinned. (Matthew 1:18-21 and also Luke 1:39-56) His Resurrection from the dead and His publicly viewed Ascension up into Heaven in the clouds showed that His Sacrifice was accepted by God in Heaven as being good and effective.

BEFORE JESUS STARTED HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY, John the Baptist [Yahya] told people that Jesus was “THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.” This showed that Jesus would be a sacrifice, similar to an innocent lamb that is a sacrifice. (John 1:29-34)

Normally an animal for sacrifice was chosen by the person who was offering the sacrifice for himself or his family. However, in the case of Jesus, the Father in Heaven selected and gave Jesus as the Sacrifice. At the time of Jesus, no person selected Him or asked Him to be a sacrifice for their sins. Some political and religious leaders were jealous of Him and wanted the Romans to crucify Him.

We know that the Father in Heaven spoke out loud twice from Heaven giving His approval of Jesus and what He was doing. Once was at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River (John 1:29-34) and second was at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain (Matthew 17:1-7),

Some people planned to kill Jesus. He could have easily walked away from danger. Jesus was beaten and put on the cross. This was a great sin against God the Father. So Jesus asked the Father to forgive these people because they did not realize what they were doing. (Luke 23:34) Then Jesus voluntarily gave up His spirit, separating it temporarily from His body. (Luke 23:46) Thus his body died for parts of three days while His spirit was gone from it.

His death was during the same afternoon of the Preparation Day when the lambs were being killed for the Passover meal which would take place after sunset. (John 19:14 & 31)

He was not murdered, even though that was the intent of some social and religious leaders who became morally responsible for their attempt.

Jesus was the “stone” which the builders of the continuing religious establishment rejected as Messiah. That “stone” which was Jesus became the “Chief Cornerstone” of His Church which embraces people from every ethnic group, tribe and language around the world. (Psalm 118:22 and Matthew 21:42)

It is interesting to remember that about 1,000 years before the time of Jesus, His ancestor, King David prepared to make a sacrifice to the Lord in Jerusalem. Ahaunah or Ornan, a Canaanite of the city of Jebus, offered to give King David animals for the sacrifice and even a flat hard open space for the sacrifice. This was apparently the grain “threshing floor” on top of Mount Moriah, which several years later was where King David’s son, Solomon, built the Jerusalem Temple. However, King David would not accept the offered free gift of the land. He bought it from the generous man and said, “I will not offer to the LORD things that do not cost me anything.” (2 Chronicles 3:1-2)

The Sacrifice which Jesus gave did not cost us anything, however it is unlike the sacrifice which King David gave in two important ways. We could never have afforded to pay for Jesus to be our sacrifice. No amount of money or property would have been enough. Also, we did not initiate His Sacrifice that was decided by God the Father before the earth was even created. (Hebrews 4:3 and Matthew 25:34)

The Prophet John the Baptist (Yahya) (himself born by a miracle to Zechariah/Zakariyya) confirmed that Jesus is the approved sacrificial “Lamb which takes away the sin of the World.” So if any sins are taken away from anyone in the world it is because of the sacrifice of Jesus, “the Lamb of God.” (John 1:29)

Jesus has become the “Passover” Lamb for the lives and sins of those who have trusted and follow Him. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) This is a reminder of how God broke the slavery to Pharaoh and allowed the Sons of Israel to leave and serve God. The Passover in Egypt was not a sacrifice for crimes. The Sons of Israel were not criminals in Egypt, but rather they were slaves who needed God to bring them release.

The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and His public Ascension up into Heaven proved that God approved of His life and His Sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus is the Ideal Substitute Sacrifice and anything less than that is a step downward, not effective and will be a complete failure.


On Abraham’s journey to make the sacrifice, he approached Mount Moriah [in what is now Jerusalem] from the South, from the desert area of Be’er Sheva [Beersheba]. On the other hand, three times a year, Jesus would go to Jerusalem for the three designated holy days. (Exodus 23:14, 17; 34:23)

For the Sacrifice of Himself, Jesus approached Mount Moriah [in Jerusalem] from the North coming from the Galilee area, passing through the region of the Samaritans and of the central hill country of Israel.

The call to Abraham did NOT say that the son was to be a sacrifice for his own sins, nor for sins of Abraham, nor for sins of the family. (Genesis 22)

Despite the proper intentions of Abraham and son, God did NOT let them proceed to take the life of the son. Abraham did OFFER the son for a burnt offering [sacrifice]. God had commanded Abraham to make the OFFER of his son. That OFFER completed Abraham’s obligation. The fact that God did not allow the son to die, did not defeat the offer which Abraham made. (Genesis 22)

The Significance of The Jerusalem Temple and Mount Moriah for Sacrifices in the Place Later Called the Haram Ash-Sharif and the Dome of The Rock

What should we think about when we see pictures of the golden Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Al-Quds? Why did Abraham call this place “God Will Provide” or “YHWH-Jireh”? This location shows that God allowed, even required, for Substitute Sacrifices. Abraham and son, Kings David and Solomon, the Angel Gabriel and Jesus were all there. Also, throughout the years, probably a few million animals were sacrificed there for thanksgiving offerings and for sins.

This location has a history going back 4,000 years. It starts with Abraham whom God called about 2000 BC to go to this place, Mount Moriah, to present his son as an offering. It turned out that God stopped the son from being killed, but as requested by God, Abraham and son had made the “Offer” of a sacrifice. Then God provided the clean animal, a male sheep, a ram, for the Substitute Sacrifice in place of the son. This is why Abraham called this place “God Will Provide” YHWH-Jireh.” (Genesis 22:14) The name of the son whose life was spared is recorded several times as Isaac in Genesis 22. This son became a physical ancestor of Jesus thru His Virgin mother, Mary. (Luke 3:3)

That established this location, more than any other on earth, as a special location approved by God for sacrifices by people submitted to Him.

Then 1000 years later, about 1000 BC at this location King David prepared to make sacrifices to the Lord. He asked to purchase the land from the owner, Ornan (Araunah), a Canaanite of that city of Jebus. But Ornan offered to GIVE King David the flat hard open space which was a grain “threshing floor.” Ornan also wanted to give to David the other things necessary for the sacrifices: oxen and fire-wood and grain. However, David rejected the gifts saying that he would not offer to the Lord something that did not cost him anything. So David bought the land. Then from his personal possessions he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord.

God even sent down FIRE FROM HEAVEN onto the altar! (Verse 26) This showed that God had taken special notice of this place and approved of the sacrifices. (1 Chronicles 21:18-28)

Years later, about 970 BC, David’s son, King Solomon began to rule. In his fourth year, Solomon began to build the Temple of God about 966 BC. (1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3:1-2)

This First Temple continued in use as a place of worship and animal sacrifices until 587 BC when the Babylonian nation came and destroyed it and took many people into captivity. The Temple was gradually rebuilt although somewhat smaller. Later, Herod, the so-called “Great”, enlarged the Temple area and beautified the buildings.

It was in this very Temple where the Angel Gabriel (verse 19) came and giving his usual greeting said, “Do not be afraid.” He spoke with the old Priest Zacharias, telling him that he would be the father of a Prophet to be named John [the Baptist] (Yahya). (Luke 1:5-25) In this Temple the Virgin Mary and Joseph publicly presented Jesus on the eighth day after His birth. (Luke 2) When Jesus was 12 years old, he was in this Temple discussing the Mosaic Law with the doctors of the Law. (Luke 2) As a law abiding man, Jesus would come three times a year to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Holy Days. (Exodus 23:14, 17 and 34:23) Jesus preached and taught in the Temple on many occasions.

The Temple was the storage place of the family and birth records for the nation. There were Prophecies that the Messiah, the “Anointed One” specially selected to bring the Good News and salvation from sins would come from a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) and King David. The official genealogical records of births and families were kept in the Temple buildings. So anyone claiming to be the Messiah would have to be able to prove his “Birth Certificate” from those records. However, in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Temple and those records were forever destroyed also. So since then, no “new Messiah” could ever prove his lineage was proper.

Why the reluctance by some people to accept a Substitute Sacrifice?

Perhaps it is because of a reluctance to accept and understand the need for any sacrifice. Perhaps there is a lack of understanding the Holiness and Majesty of God and of the wickedness of sin as rebellion against the Sovereign of the Universe.

Offering a sacrifice indicates that the One who receives the sacrifice is so much superior to the one who gives the sacrifice that most people are unwilling to admit that fact. Many people do not care to look at sin and the rebellion in their hearts. They would rather just call it failures or mistakes or weakness.

Abraham Teaches Us

About 4,000 years ago, Abraham graciously and thankfully accepted the ram as the Substitute Sacrifice in place of his son. Abraham was mentioned as a “Friend of God” by King Jehoshaphat in the Temple during prayer. (2 Chronicles 20:7) A prophecy also mentioned him the same way. (Isaiah 41:8)

We are not greater than Abraham who humbly accepted what God did in providing the Substitute Sacrifice. So we should humbly accept that God has already provided the Lamb of God, Jesus, as a Substitute Sacrifice for us so that we might live. (John 1:29-34)

We should at least aspire to be friends of God. Even more blessings and status are taught about in the Holy Scriptures. We should accept the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, as our Substitute Sacrifice for our sins and trust Him to lead us from sinful lives to holy lives.

Jesus said that God, the Father in Heaven, loves to GIVE GOOD GIFTS to His children. He has given a Good Gift to us by the Sacrifice of Jesus, so we should accept this Good Gift that God gave. (Matthew 7:10-11 and Luke 11:11-13)