Both in the ancient world and later, sacrifice was normally understood as human beings in a cultic setting surrendering something valuable to God (especially a victim who was slain), with a view to bringing about communion with God and changing the participants who took part in the shared feast. Hebrews, however, while presenting Christ as a sacrificial victim in his death, explicitly denied that this death took place in a cultic setting (see above) and at best only hinted at a sacred feast shared by believers (Heb. 13: 9–10). The most startling difference, however, from any ‘conventional’ understanding of sacrifice, a difference which Hebrews and other New Testament books illustrate, is that it was not human beings who went to God with their gift(s) or victim(s); it was God who provided the means for the sacrifice to take place (e.g. Rom. 3: 25). As Hebrews put it, ‘in these last days’ God provided his Son for the priestly work of ‘purification for sins’ (Heb. 1: 1–3). The normal roles were reversed: in this sacrificial process the primary initiative was with God and not with human beings. In the words of Edward Kilmartin:

Sacrifice is not, in the first place, an activity of human beings directed to God and, in the second place, something that reaches its goal in the response of divine acceptance and bestowal of divine blessing on the cultic community. Rather, sacrifice in the New Testament understanding … is, in the first place, the self offering of the Father in the gift of the Son, and, in the second place, the unique response of the Son in his humanity to the Father, and, in the third place, the self offering of believers in union with Christ by which they share in his covenant relation with the Father.18