So begins my nontechnical journey through Leviticus. I am learning a lot. The New Testament authors give us permission to use typology to fully explain the elements of the burnt sacrifice in the New Covenant believer’s life. (References: Lev. 1, 6:8-13, and Num 15:1-16)
As I note in many of these posts that touch on the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices, the Spirit-inspired writers of the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament) encourage us to read the Old Testament, particularly the priesthood and the ministry of the priests, as containing types and shadows of the substance or reality, which is Christ and his heavenly priesthood, as follows:
They [priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Heb. 8:5)
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Heb. 10:1)
Then the author of Hebrews writes many, many verses explaining the realities of the copies and shadows. They are revealed most clearly in Jesus’s sacrifice and his priesthood in the heavenly, eternal sanctuary.
Peter explicitly makes the water of the flood during the time of Noah symbolic:
And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. (1 Pet. 3:21)
Paul writes that food and festivals are but the shadow, while Christ is the substance:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)
Even the lives of the people in the OT serve as exemplary warnings for us:
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11)
With their permission, so to speak, I apply their typological and symbolic method here.
For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:
Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.
The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.
The passages studied are Leviticus 1, 6:8-13, and Num 15:1-16.
What is the ritual sequence and meaning?
First, the offerer–the one who brings the animal (or grain)–must take it from his own herd. It was a sacrifice to give. The animal tended to be young, never more than three years old, so this was prime breeding age. In this case it was a young bull. It was to be without defect. Jesus was without sin, though tempted in every way that we were (Heb. 4:15). The ancient Israelite farmer knew of the animal, being part of his livestock. It was a genuine sacrifice for him. But he was being compelled by the law and his conscience to honor God. This relates to the New Covenant Scriptures in this way: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Heb. 13:15).
Second, the offering is to be presented at the tabernacle, not just any place that just anyone designates, so that the offering will be acceptable to God and the system he set up. Too much individualism in religious matters breeds social disorder and anarchy in a theocracy. Strange fire and offerings. This relates to the NT because we are to live in community. Please see this post for the “one another” verses. What Is Fellowship? We can only show love to one another when we meet together. Spiritual “Lone Rangers” are misguided.
Third, the offerer is to lay his hand on the animal’s head. Some have interpreted this as transferring the man’s sin to the animal, but this means a contaminated animal would purify the offerer and tabernacle. The better explanation is that in laying his hand on its head, the man consecrates the animal and identifies with it. It is from his own herd, after all. He acknowledges that the animals which he himself is about to put to death stands in or is a substitute for the human himself. “It will be accepted on your behalf” (v. 4). It also means that the animal will take the place of the offerer. So already there is an early form of penal substitution. Jesus said in John 17:19 before his sacrifice: “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” He consecrated himself.
See my post: What Is Penal Substitution?
Fourth, the animal sacrificed on behalf of the offerer makes atonement for him. The offerer himself slaughtered the animal. This speaks of our bringing Christ before the Lord as our sacrifice. We have to do this (Kellogg, p. 39).
Let’s review what atonement means.
In English the word literally means “at-one-ment,” or reconciliation, being at one with God (the -ment suffix means the “result of”). The Hebrew verb is kapar (used 102 times) and is generally translated as “to atone,” “to wipe clean,” and “to appease.” In Gen. 32:20, Jacob sent gifts ahead of him to “wipe” (atone) the anger off his brother Esau’s face. The gift of the burnt offering was to atone for the worshiper’s own sins, not by blood manipulation primarily (that is the sin offering), but by a gift. As it turned out, Esau was not angry because time healed his wounds, and he was prosperous. The main point, however, is that sacrifice and gifts atone for or wipe away just wrath. The sacrifice of an animal during the sin offering (Lev. 4:1-5:13), for example, was to atone for the worshiper’s own sins, by blood manipulation primarily. Then God’s judicial wrath would be lifted and he would smile on his people again. Jacob and Esau were reconciled. Either by gift or blood manipulation or handling, God and his people were reconciled.
Jewish commentators on Lev. 4:20 say that a Hebrew verb for “forgive” is salach (pronounced sah-lahkh), and it refers only to God’s forgiveness (Torah, 771). The forgiveness of God runs deep in NT Greek, and makes no such distinction in the Greek verb aphiēmi (pronounced ah-fee-ay-mee). Humans have to forgive, as well.
See the post: What Is Biblical Forgiveness?
The NT Greek nouns are hilasmos (used twice and pronounced hih-lahs-moss) and hilasterion (also used twice and pronounced hih-lah-stay-ree-own). The first noun appears in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 and means “an atoning sacrifice, propitiation.” Propitiation means “satisfaction” or “appeasement.” Jesus is the sacrifice that atones for sins. Our sins destroyed and separated us from God, but the sacrifice of Jesus reconciles us to God (1 John 1:6-7).
For more information, please click on this post:
To forestall objections that falsely accuse God of being primitive or petty or a child abuser, please see this post:
Fifth, the priest is to perform the rituals with the animal parts and put all of it on the altar, a separate constructed one designated just for the burnt offering (Exod. 38:1-7). This burning all of the animal, and none eaten by the priest or the nonlevitical offerer symbolizes: total consecration and sanctification in the New Covenant sense. And fire symbolizes purging of the person in a total consumption: “for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Heb. 12:29, quoting Deut. 4:24). These verses from the New Covenant speaks of offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, so God can take full control of our lives.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2)
Further, Rev. 6:9 says that saints had been martyred are under the altar in heaven:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. (Rev. 6:9; see 16:7)
So the sacrifice of martyrdom is the ultimate sacrifice. They shed, so to speak, their own blood, if they died by the sword.
Lev. 6:8-13 says that the fire is to keep going throughout the night with the offering on it. And the fire, when no offering is on it, must be kept going perpetually (v. 13). This symbolizes that God is continuously burning away the flesh (sin nature) from our lives. The sanctification process goes on and on throughout our lives. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
See this post about sanctification of the whole person:
Sixth, the rest of the passage is about less costly animals or substitutes based on the wealth or poverty of the offerer. See Lev. 4:1-5:13 or How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Sin Offering for more detail.
Seventh, the aroma of the smoke pleasing God speaks of his pleasure at total consecration of God’s New Covenant people. It may also symbolize prayer. The twenty-four elders were holding “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (Rev. 5:8; and see 8:3-4).
This is based on David’s psalm:
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. (Ps. 141:2)
More deeply still, recall this verse: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). Jesus is the pleasing aroma when God inspects our sacrifice. Jesus stands in for us, and God is pleased with our offering, because of his Son.
Paul writes that we too–our message and Christ in us–are a pleasing aroma, but with conditions attached:
14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Cor. 2:1416, ESV)
Those who are being saved knowledge of Christ through God is pleasing, but not to those who are perishing. So the condition is attached to the hearer of our message.
Some may object that the aroma of the offering and incense are two separate things, and this is true, but both aromas please the Lord. I see a message in both.
Eighth and finally, still in 6:8-13, the priest was to take the ashes of the burnt offering at the burnt altar and carry them to a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. To me this speaks of all the leftovers in our lives that God has used up is to be disposed of in a sacred place, never to be used again. It’s all his now, and he takes it where he wills.
Notice how the author of the epistle to Hebrews applies this outsider idea to Jesus and his church:
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Heb. 13:11-13, emphasis added).
I like to keep this next section separate, since it is important. It is about blood manipulation:
The priest is to splash it on the four sides of the altar. The altar speaks of total dedication and sacrifice, and only the blood was splashed on its side is the access point to devotion to God. In other words, Jesus’s blood leads people to be totally dedicated and consecrated to God. Any other pathway is just a shortcut that God doesn’t accept. Jesus said he is the gate (John 10:7). Anyone who shepherds God’s flock without coming through the gate, but had climbed over the wall is a thief and robber. He is the good shepherd, and he lays down his life for the sheep, which speaks of sacrifice (John 10:14-15). Jesus said he is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). Bottom line here: don’t listen to anyone who denies the significance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His shed blood applied by faith to the heart is the only way to be truly dedicated and consecrated to God.
The author of Hebrews writes of Jesus entering the heavenly tabernacle: “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). So in effect, he splashed his own blood on the eternal altar.
Rev. 6:9 says about the martyrs who are at the alter in heaven: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” If they died by the sword, then their blood was precious. Their life was in it (Lev. 17:11). Their blood was not splashed at the altar, but the symbolism does exist indirectly.
See my posts:
What was the purpose of the burnt offering?
The worshiper expressed concerns and wanted to dedicate his life afresh. He could express various sentiments in worship (Lev. 22:18-20). He could make atonement for his lawbreaking. Yes, the animal really did substitute for its owner, who identified with it by laying his hand on its head.
Once again, please see my post: What Is Penal Substitution?
The burnt offering was intended by the worshiper to have a good effect on the Lord and the worshipers relationship with him. That’s why the aroma pleased the Lord.
A review and preview of the five main offerings:
Burnt offering: full surrender of the worshiper symbolized by the victim animal to God, and full surrender and consecration must come before fellowship with God;
Grain offering: consecration to God of the fruit of his labors; people are at rest in Christ;
Peace / fellowship offering: sustenance of life from God’s table and peace with God; Fellowship offering: joy and fellowship with God and humans; humanity needs fellowship with God
Sin offering: expiation of sin by the shedding of blood; it is beneficial for the Israelite worship to have his sins forgiven. The animals stands in for him.
Guilt offering: expiation of sins even for sins a man may not know he committed; providing an Israelite a way of ridding himself of guilt benefits him psychologically. Sometimes he is also responsible for restitution.
How does Jesus fulfill the burnt offering?
The author of Hebrews draws out the lesson most clearly in this passage:
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Heb. 9:11-14)
That passage says, in sum: He entered the heavenly temple with his own blood, not the temporary blood of bulls and goats. Ashes and sprinkled blood of these animals could not go inside the offerer and really cleanse him from the inside out. He was only ceremonially and outwardly clean. The blood of Christ, in contrast, through the eternal Spirit cleanses our conscience from the inside out. We are both inwardly and outwardly clean. Purpose: serve the living God (v. 14).
How does this post help me grow in Christ?
Jesus gave us his all. He was totally dedicated to God and us when he went to the cross. He even instituted the Last Supper to represent his dedication and consecration:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:19-21)
He knew his blood was going to be shed and told us to drink the fruit of the vine to remember it.
In the Garden of Gethsemane he suffered so intensely that his sweat took on another look.
And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)
Are you willing to give your all for him in total dedication and consecration, so that all your self-efforts are consumed at the altar? Let Jesus be your sacrifice. And miraculously, let him be your high priest after his resurrection. He opens access to God for you, just by his being in heaven as the mediator between you and God.
The Burnt Offering from a NT Perspective