[Case Study] How Christ Saved Billions of Animals (and Counting)
Believe it or not...
Jesus has saved more animals than anyone who has ever lived...
...And maybe even more than anyone that ever will live...
Don't believe me?
Let's dive into how this is possible and just how he did it...
Ever since Jesus of Nazareth first began teaching, the world has never been the same.
Never has one person changed the lives and hearts of so many people.
The late pastor, James Allan Francis, once wrote:
“Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as that One Solitary Life”.
As Philip Schaff, the late church historian, put so eloquently:
“Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander the Great, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of school, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times”.
The story of how Christ risked everything he had and laid it all on the line is something we can all aspire to.
Although we will never completely live up to the character of Christ, there is no reason why we should not try to imitate what Christ taught us.
By learning what Christ did in the "cleansing of the temple", we can become better prepared to set the animals free, just as Christ did two thousand years ago.
When all the history books are written, Christ will not only be remembered for liberating the people, but he will be remembered for being one of the greatest animal liberators the world will ever know.
Most people are aware of the incredible sacrifice Christ made for humans and yet are completely oblivious to the sacrifice Christ made for the rest of creation.
To understand how this could be, we need to understand the historical context in the time of Christ.
Replacing Animal Sacrifice
Christ first began his ministry by being baptized by John the Baptist.
While the Old Covenant required animal sacrifice for the covering of sins, John the Baptist ushered in a new “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).
By replacing animal sacrifice, both John and Christ would later become a target for the religious leaders.
When the sinless Christ was baptized, we saw for the first time a shadow of the once-and-for-all replacement of animal sacrifice to come.
Even though water baptism had the benefit of being a non-violent replacement for the covering of sin, it still had the same shortcomings as animal sacrifice; namely, it was temporary.
The temporary nature of the animal sacrifices is spelled out for us in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
God met the Israelites where they were in their spiritual development and would lead them away from animal sacrifice at a future date.
One of the original intentions of animal sacrifice was to horrify the Israelites and show them the incredible cost of sin.
The idea was that by seeing the injustice of animal sacrifice, the Israelites would never sin in the first place.
However, this concession to human weakness was completely lost on the Israelites.
Since the meaning of sacrifice was lost on the Israelites and Christ was ushering in the New Covenant of mercy over justice, water baptism became a non-violent replacement for animal sacrifice.
This non-violent replacement would suffice until Christ could physically give his life as a ransom for all of creation.
At the time John introduced baptism, the Old Covenantal way of discussing sacrifice was being transformed into the New Covenantal way of describing sacrifice in terms of mercy.
Before the Epistle of the Hebrews and the work of Christ made it clear that animal sacrifice would no longer play a part in our future, the prophets of the Old Testament were beginning to realize that God was leading them to a better way.
But how did we get this far from animal sacrifice?
How did we become so disgusted with our ancestors for taking part in the sacrifice of so many innocent animals?
Why does animal sacrifice seem so primitive or even savage to our modern minds?
At the time Christ lived, there was a single temple where people would take animals to be sacrificed.
The temple was no ordinary building where people would come to worship God or pray for God’s forgiveness:
It was also a blood bath.
Animals were lined up, ready to be slaughtered. Since there was only one temple and people had to travel long distances to reach the temple, animals were being bought and sold.
After the men would buy an animal, they would take the animal to the altar to give to God as a sacrifice. The men would wrestle the animal to the ground and then slit the throat of the innocent animal.
As the animal was bleeding to death, the priests would hold out buckets to catch the blood.
Once the animal had bled to death, the priests would throw the blood against the side of the altar.
Sometimes the animal would move during the cut and struggle until the animal could be held firmer while another cut was made.
The sacrifice had come to be seen as a transaction. The people would give animal sacrifices or other goods to God and in exchange, God would either erase their sins or protect them from harm.
In these days, God’s scientific laws were not understood since something as simple as an infection or a bad harvest could be perceived as God’s wrath against an unfaithful servant.
The people of the time believed that it was only by animal sacrifice (or food and other object sacrifices) that one could be forgiven for their sins or find favor with God.
To any person living in the modern world, animal sacrifice seems rather absurd.
How could going against the free will of another and killing God’s own creation ever find favor with God?
Why would we ever think we could bribe God?
An unwilling participant is itself an injustice. The injustice of killing an innocent animal plus the injustice of our sin could never equal complete justice.
Isaiah and the later prophets went on to denounce the sacrifices and started the shift of consciousness toward our modern viewpoint on animal sacrifice:
However, the sacrifice of both humans and animals was widely practiced by the nations surrounding the Israelites.
These surrounding nations themselves were simply perpetuating the idea of sacrificing humans and animals from the generations that came before them.
The Law of Moses, given in the Old Covenant, therefore, solved many issues at once. These laws had the effect of making it so that the Israelites no longer performed human sacrifice.
These laws also made it so that animal sacrifice had to be performed in a single temple in Jerusalem with various restrictions.
At the time, this was a massive step forward from the barbarity that was running rampant at this time.
It seems strange to our modern minds, but God met the Israelites where they were and propelled them forward.
The priests who made a living from the sacrifices or by eating the meat were completely dependent on the sacrifices at this time.
The high priest, Caiaphas, was in charge of protecting the sacrificial system at all costs. Without the sacrifices, the priests’ livelihood was at stake.
The Time To Do What Is Right
Christ spent his time in the Jerusalem temple and saw the animals being killed to try to bribe God.
Christ saw all of the animals struggling in agony when their throats were slit. Seeing the injustice of sin substituted onto innocent animals was horrific.
Instead of finding a cure, the people of the day were treating the symptoms.
Christ looked with disgust at the unrepentant people who stood over the innocent animals while the animals trembled and bled to death.
Yet it was just another day in the temple to them.
The blood bath of the temple no longer stirred the people’s consciences. The people had become immune.
This infuriated Christ beyond belief. He could no longer allow this injustice to continue.
He had decided within his heart that he could no more stand idly by while evil was perpetrated. His courage had developed to such a point that his heart was ready to do God’s will.
Martin Luther King Jr. describes this point that comes in everyone’s life:
Christ understood that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.
He had decided that although he would be risking his life and going against popular opinion, his conscience told him that he had done enough waiting and “the time is always right to do what is right”.
If other people would not put a stop to it, then the Good Shepherd himself would risk his life to free the animals from the temple.
We are told in the gospels that it was almost time for Jewish Passover in Jerusalem and Christ walks into the temple court where he finds people selling sheep.
“Making a whip of cords”, he overthrows the tables with violent force.
Never does Christ get angrier than in the cleansing of the temple and this is the only recorded time in his entire life that he uses physical force.
He then “drives them out…with the sheep".
Christ deliberately breaks the status quo here.
This is the moment that would solidify his destiny of crucifixion.
Christ had now become a threat to public order for freeing the least among us and providing the first true act of animal liberation.
Christ later declares, "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
The Greatest Animal Liberator
When Christ is driving out the money-changers and the animals, he quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 which says that the temple will be called a house of prayer but the people had turned it into a den of robbers.
Jeremiah, only a few short verses later in verse 7:22, goes on to use figurative language to say that God never even desired the sacrifices in the first place:
Christ’s anger in the temple has been twisted into only being about moneychangers when money changing was only a small part of the corruption.
The traditional Sunday school explanation that Christ only became enraged and used physical force because the people were charging too much is absurd.
The issue was not simply about whether the people charged five shekels or ten shekels; the issue was with the entire system of sacrifice.
Instead of learning to seek out justice, the people had learned to seek out more animals to kill. The people had failed to turn away from the injustice of animal sacrifice and it was time for the entire system to come toppling down.
Christ was concerned with the inherent immorality of the entire Israelite system of sacrifice, not just some people charging too much.
The sacrificial system was only a temporary measure until the appropriate time when the foundation of sacrifice would come crashing down.
By freeing the animals, Christ was signifying that the temple would no longer be a house of slaughter; it would now be a house of prayer.
The new “burnt offerings” and “sacrifices” of the temple would now be prayer offerings and self-sacrificial love to God.
The gospel of Mark goes on to tell us how the chief priests responded to Christ when he explained the new function of the temple:
“The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching” (Mark 11:18).
“These people honor me with their lips” earlier declared Christ, “but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain. They follow merely human rules” (Mark 7:6-7).
The people of the day had learned to treat sacrifice as a way to bribe God, yet Christ tells us otherwise. Christ rejects the old ritualistic way of loving God and reinforces the new way of loving God when he declares:
“If only you had known what that text meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the innocent (Matthew 12:7)”.
Believe it or not, tied with loving our neighbor as ourselves, Christ quotes this old testament verse about God desiring mercy instead of animal sacrifice (Hosea 6:6) more than either other verse in the entire Old Testament.
Obviously this is a very important verse. No longer would the innocent animals be condemned to sacrifice. Mercy would now be the new sacrifice.
No one messes with the priest’s primary source of income.
Since the priests and just about everyone around the temple depended on the money that came in from the sacrifices, this came as a huge blow to the people’s entire livelihood and would not be tolerated.
The priests are not about to let some Nazarene shutdown their business. The priests begin demanding that Christ be arrested and crucified.
Since the chief priests fear that the entire sacrificial system that they depend on could come toppling down at any minute, they quickly devise a plan to have Christ arrested:
With the help of a betrayal kiss from Judas Iscariot, Christ is arrested that night and taken to trial.
At trial, the chief priests accuse Christ of predicting the future destruction of the temple. When Christ was standing by the temple earlier, he emphasized this point:
“Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).
During the questioning, Christ remains silent.
The gospel of Mark tells us:
Not only does Christ threaten the livelihood of the priests, but he claims to have the authority of God to do it!
Since the priests are not about to let one man take away their livelihood, they quickly bring Christ to Pontius Pilate.
According to custom in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate is allowed to free one prisoner based on popular crowd acclaim and he makes a gesture to free either Barabbas or Christ. Barabbas, a cold blooded murderer as he may be, did not attempt to take away the livelihood of the priests.
“Give us Barabbas! Crucify Christ!!” the crowd yells.
Christ had earlier taught the crowd in the temple: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).
Only Christ could have the foreknowledge to relate himself to a lowly chicken to describe completely selfless love.
For someone to do this in the 1st century, when caring for animals was an afterthought, let alone elevate an animal to his own level in the 1st century, is completely unheard of and could only come from the Son of God.
Pontius asks one more time, “Shall I crucify your king?” With which the crowd responds, “We have no king but Caesar!!”
Knowing the purpose the Son of God was sent to fulfill, Christ turns the other cheek and says nothing. Christ is about to be slaughtered like his sheep and be put through intense agony; much more agony than the very animals and humans he came to save.
Yet Christ would have it no other way.
Even if it meant saving just one of us, he would willingly lay down his life for us; each and every one of us are worth more than all the suffering this world can give.
As Christ carries his cross to his death, his determination never falters.
When any one of us would have given up long ago, he reminds us that we must deny ourselves; To deny our part of the equation so that the greater good will win:
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
The religious leaders of the day wanted to discourage any dissenters by causing a very public execution of any reformer or activist who spoke out against the sacrificial system.
The priests thought that it would send a clear message not to mess with their form of worship.
It didn’t work.
Christ would be crucified to become the only possible satisfactory ransom for all of creation. And countless disciples would pick up their cross and follow Christ after seeing what he went through for us.
Never again would innocent animals have to be killed.
The need for animal sacrifices had been erased and the temple would be destroyed, just as Christ had predicted.
Animal liberation through Christ could finally become a reality.
Some religious people today wave chickens over their heads and then sacrifice the chickens as a "substitute" for their sins (Kapparot).
Although many rabbis have spoken out against this ritual over the centuries, it is still practiced today.
Therefore, it is not hard to believe that if Jesus had not replaced animal sacrifice with his own body and blood (Matthew 26:26-28, Hebrews 10), we likely would only be getting rid of animal sacrifice today some 2000 years later.
By preventing roughly 2000 years of animal sacrifice, Jesus has saved over a billion animals and he should be remembered as one of the greatest animal liberators to have ever lived.
Christ recognized just how helpless the animals in the temple were, and there is no doubt he would recognize just how helpless the animals in our modern factory farms are.
If other people would not put a stop to it, then the Good Shepherd himself would risk his life to free the animals from the temple.
Christ knew that by freeing the animals from the temple, he would set in motion the events that would lead him like a lamb to slaughter; yet he did it anyway.
The animals of the sacrificial system were set free because one man had the guts to lay it all on the line.
Only after we understand this message will we understand what Christ meant when he said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). Jesus is quoting an Old Testament verse that directly says that God desired mercy instead of the sacrifice of animals.
Like Christ, we must turn over the tables of injustice if we ever want to be a reflection of God’s great character. We must do everything we can to advance the cause of justice for the voiceless animals.
Only then will we speak out against the den of robbers who take advantage of the oppressed just to make money off of God’s creation.
Not only will we know the truth and the truth will set us free, but the truth will set the animals free.
But we can go one step further...
Jesus says that we will accomplish even more in this life than he has accomplished (John 14:12). This means that you or someone you know can save even more animals than Jesus!
Do you want to start by becoming an "animal millionaire" (someone who saves over a million animals)? If so, Start here!
Are you inspired by Jesus' act to save animals? If so, let us know in the comments why it inspired you.
If you know of anyone who is saving animals, let us know. We would love to do a future case study on them and share it with the world!