The first seven chapters of Leviticus are all about the sacrificial system. Many New Testament believers know that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, but is that all we can learn from the divinely-mandated sacrifices? You know I’m going to say “no”, because otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post 🙂
One thing I’d always overlooked is that with the exception of Leviticus 6:8-7:36, these chapters are addressed to the ordinary Israelite (one of my podcast pastors pointed that out). God says to Moses, “say to the Israelites” in 1:1-2; 4:1-2; 5:1; 6:1, 8-9, 24-25; 7:22-23, 28-29. If these instructions were for the regular members of the covenant community then, they must have some significance for the regular members of the covenant community now. Following is some of what I’ve been thinking on:
Sacrifice and worship
Some of the principles of worship then are applicable now:
- Excellence: the animal offerings were to be without blemish, e.g. 1:3, 10.
- Spontaneity: the burnt offering (ch. 1), grain offering (ch. 2) and fellowship offering (ch. 3) were voluntary. One of the occasions for a presenting a fellowship offering was when the worshipper wished to express general gratitude to God. (Isn’t that a delightful provision God makes?)
- Structure: there were rules to be followed, such as what sacrificial animal to bring and what to do with its various parts. There are still rules to be followed by the New Testament believer, such as the ones Paul lays down in 1 Corinthians 14.
- No economic barriers: The type of sacrifice to be made was in some cases porportional to the worshipper’s status and wealth (1:14-17; 5:7-13). Yahweh wouldn’t let that be a hindrance to atonement for sin.
- Substitution: The worshipper placed their hands on a sacrificial animal, which died instead of the human.
Sacrifice and the Christian
The New Testament writers used metaphors drawn from the Jewish sacrificial system with reference to the Christian.The burnt offering (Leviticus 1) was completely burnt up on the altar, nothing remained. In the same way, the follower of Christ is called to give up their life completely to God:
- Matthew 10:38, parallel in Luke 9:23-24
- Galatians 2:20
- Romans 12:1
- 1 Peter 2:20–25; 4:12–13; 5:9–10
Additionally, portions of some sacrifices were given to the officiating priest (e.g. Leviticus 2:3, 10). Paul picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 and applies it to the ministers of the New Covenant.
Sacrifice and Christ
The New Testament as a whole helps us understand that the sacrificial system, the tabernacle/temple and the priesthood were all pointers to Christ. The language of sacrifice is used to describe the life and death of Jesus:
- The Lamb: John 1:29, 36; 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6, 12-13 (and elsewhere in Revelation)
- The blood: Romans 3:23-25; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:12-14, 21- 22; 10:19, 1 John 1:7, Revelation 1:5
- A pleasing aroma to God: Ephesians 5:2 (see, for example, Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17)
- The suffering servant Isaiah 53 is picked up in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23 and John 19
Resources I used
- Leviticus Lecture 1 by Gordon Wenham (audio and handout available here)
- Five sermons on Leviticus by Dale Ralph Davis (audio available here, date range is from April-October 2008)
- HCSB Study Bible