Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27
As we prepare to excavate our first site in Leviticus, we should know that there are two names for this book: The English name Leviticus refers to the priestly tribe of the Israelites, “Levi.” In Hebrew, the book is called Vayikra (Hebrew: וַיִּקְרָא), from the opening of the book, va-yikra “And He [God] called.” The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting… (Leviticus 1:1).
Often, people wonder what happened to the sacrificed animals. The answer can be found in several places in the Bible. Let’s look in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 9:13 we find: Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings.
The officiating priest for the sacrifice could invite not only his family but other priests and their sons to join in the meal. There were some sacrifices that were completely burned on the altar which meant that there wasn’t anything left to eat.
Our First Sighting of Jesus
Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him (to make atonement for you). Then slaughter the young bull in the Lord’s presence, and Aaron’s sons, the priests, will present the animal’s blood by splattering it against all sides of the altar that stands at the entrance to the Tabernacle. (Leviticus 1:4-5 NLT)
The word atonement is the key that unlocks the book of Leviticus. God gives us this key at the very beginning of the book. If we look in Strong’s Concordance for the definition of “atonement” (Strong’s Hebrew 3722) we find that atonement means: to cover, purge, make reconciliation, cover over with pitch, to coat or cover with pitch, to cover over, pacify, propitiate, atone for sin, make atonement for, atone for sin and persons by legal rights, to be covered over, to make atonement for, to be covered.
Hey, atonement can mean pitch! We discovered pitch when we dug into Noah’s work on the ark in Genesis. And, in Exodus, we saw that the blood applied to the doorposts and lintel for the “pass over” in Egypt protected the Israelites from God’s judgement upon the Egyptians. And now, in the very first verses of the 3rd book of the Old Testament, we find God telling Moses how atonement could be applied for the children of Israel.
Now, this is getting interesting. We saw Jesus in Genesis, and we saw Jesus in Exodus, and, already, we’ve spotted our Lord in Leviticus. And, we should keep in mind that about 1,000 years elapsed between Noah and Moses. Still, God’s message is the same. He will provide.
Just as God provided an ark for Noah and a ram for Abraham, so Father God provided Jesus, the Son of God, as the substitution for us. Jesus was the sin offering. He was the only sinless son of Adam (man), ever. That qualified Jesus to be the one sacrifice for all eternity; the only perfect sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19), the Lamb without spot or blemish.
We’ve seen atonement in Genesis, Exodus, and now Leviticus. Let’s stop here for a moment and consider what God is doing. Atonement communicates three fundamental thoughts. These concepts are “covering over,” “propitiation (appeasement),” and “reconciliation.” We find all three meanings in Strong’s definition. The way atonement works is “covering over” + “appeasement” = “reconciliation.” Atonement by the blood of animals was always a “stop-gap” measure until God’s perfect sacrifice by the blood of Jesus.
Covering Over: Just as Noah covered over the ark, both inside and outside, with pitch so atonement covers over (paints over) sin. Why? Because God cannot look upon sin. We know this from passages such as “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Psalms 51:9) and “for you have cast all my sins behind your back.” (Isaiah 38:17). The atonement through the sacrifice of animals could not remove sin, it simply covered over it.
Though the sin wasn’t removed by atonement it did restore access between God and man. Until Jesus was crucified there was no way for God to live in a person. Abraham, Moses, and King David were friends of God, but it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came into the eleven apostles that God lived in a son of Adam.
Propitiation: The concept of propitiation is that once a sin has been “covered over” at the cost of the life of a substitute (bird, goat, ram, bull) then God’s judgement was appeased. You can think of it like a speeding ticket. You broke the law, so justice demands a punishment. The punishment is that your fine must be paid. The money is the “blood” that appeases the court. You are still guilty, but the court no longer holds your guilt against you. Nevertheless, you are still guilty so God cannot come and live in you. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
Jesus not only atoned for our sins, He took the wrath of God that should have come upon us. We know this from John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Reconciliation: The reconciliation that was accomplished by Old Testament sacrifices reestablished an external relationship between God and a person or the whole nation of Israel – remember the speeding ticket. The court was appeased but the guilt remains, so there is still no way for God to commune with a person the way God and Adam communed in the Garden of Eden. Only Jesus can provide the perfect sin sacrifice.
Wrapping Up Today’s Dig
Isn’t it interesting that God’s sacrifices can be traced all the way back to Abel’s sacrifice (Genesis 4:4). And from that beginning point God required the shedding of blood 🩸. My hope is that we’ve seen Jesus, beginning in the very first chapter of Leviticus. And, I also hope we’ve seen God’s consistent message, traced from here back to the fall of Adam; that message is that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). There is no way to avoid this. Sin demands death. Before Jesus, God provided a way for reconciliation but not for regeneration (born again).
Jesus was the ultimate blameless sacrifice presented to God on our behalf (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus took our place, shed His blood and died as the perfect sin offering (Romans 5:8, 1 Peter 3:18). His salvation is available to everyone, not earned by anyone, and given to no one unless they ask.
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