A Better Priest: Part 3

Let’s continue with the parallels between the mediatorial work of the Old Testament priests and the work of Jesus Christ.

Blood Atonement. God’s holiness is absolute. No sinful creature can enter into His presence and live. The demand of divine justice is death. “[f]or the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). God warned both Adam and Eve in the garden that the penalty of disobedience and rebellion was separation from the ultimate source of life (Gen. 2:16-17). Leviticus 17:11 makes the point that the blood of the sacrificed animal represents its life, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”[1] By the offering of the sacrifice the sins of the people were (temporarily) dealt with. This occurred on the solemn Day of Atonement, otherwise known as Yom Kippur. “The verb kipper (as in Yom Kippur) …seems to derive from a concrete notion of rubbing clean. In the cultic lexicon, it has the more abstract-indeed, theological- sense of effecting atonement.”[2] R. Laird Harris points out that, “[b]lood…plays the major role in the sacrificial system…”[3] Elsewhere, in Lev. 16:14, we see the presentation of the blood upon the atonement cover (also called the mercy seat) as the evidence that the appointed substitute had been executed. In fact the belief in blood atonement was so common in both Israelite and mid-east culture that the author of Hebrews mentions it in passing without even attempting to support it (Heb. 9:22).

The requirement of a “blemishless” sacrifice. As mentioned earlier, God demands that a sacrifice be presented to atone, and cover over, sin. But God does not accept just any sacrifice. His lofty standards require a perfect sacrifice. We find in both Lev.4:3 and 16:11 that the sin offering must be without blemish or defect. The sacrificial substitute represents the worshipper. To offer a sacrifice with imperfections would be a blight against the character of God. If God were to accept a less-than-perfect sacrifice it would indicate a horrible reality regarding His moral nature, for how can a less than absolutely holy and pure God stand as the ultimate standard of all morality? Thus God, acting in perfect accord with His divine nature, commands perfection. We also find this principle repeated in the New Testament. Christ is spoken of as pure and sinless, and notably is likened to a spotless lamb (1 Pet. 2:22, 1 Jn 3:5, Heb. 4:15, 9:13-14).

As one can easily notice by even a cursory reading of Leviticus, all the sacrifices of life were performed on a substitute, not the worshiper themselves. Goats, Bulls and lambs were offered to God. As always, God provides a substitute.

The worshiper lays his hand on the animal, signifying his identification with it. Then he kills the animal at the entrance into the courtyard, signifying that the animal dies as a substitute for the worshiper.[4]

But how can an animal atone for what we have done?

Imputation of guilt. In Leviticus chapter 16 the priest places his hands on the head of the sin-offering. In the first few chapters of Leviticus the priest places only one hand on the offering’s head, yet, in striking contrast, on the Day of Atonement in chapter 16 we explicitly find a description of the priest placing both his hands on the substitute’s head. In confessing the sins of the people over the animal (a goat in this case) he “put[s] them on the head of the goat.” The imagery here is as if the sins of Israel were a physical load borne by the scapegoat (“For Azazel”). “The passing of the sins onto the scapegoat was a demonstrative act stressing the reality of sin almost like a physical entity”[5] This transferring of guilt was the symbolic imputation of sin. In the New Covenant Scriptures it is Christ Jesus that was “made… sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) and dies as the ultimate substitute for His people.

[1] All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

[2] Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation and Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2004), 612. Parenthetical statement added.

[3] R. Laird Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2: Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 395.

[4] The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 44.

[5] Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 764.


Posted on May 18, 2012, in Jesus Christ, Old Testament. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: