Christ in the Sacrifices

4b8b9-bullI have heard preachers make the following point so often that it almost sounds like a cliché: the New Testament points back in time to Christ, and the Old Testament points forward in time to Christ.

I believe that it is true, however. The overwhelming theme of the whole Bible is that our sovereign, holy God chose to redeem lost, sinful, undeserving humanity unto Himself; the ultimate act of redemption was Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. And the Old Testament is peppered with hints or “types” of Him and His redeeming sacrifice. What is a type? According to Got Questions Ministries:

“We can define a type as a ‘prophetic symbol’ because all types are representations of something yet future. More specifically, a type in scripture is a person or thing in the Old Testament which foreshadows a person or thing in the New Testament” (view source).

One such example I found recently was in the burnt offering required under Old Testament law.

“If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD” (Leviticus 1:3-9).

God laid out instructions for instances when cattle were brought for the burnt offering. In the specifics of these sacrifices, I believe we can see parallels with the Gospel and Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Here are a few that I found.

1. The bull
Without trying to read too much into the picture, it did strike me that God could have simply told them, “Bring cattle,” but He didn’t. Rather, he specified in verse 3 that the sacrifice must be a male—a bull. When, for centuries, God promised His people a Deliverer, the Messiah, He promised a son, a king. When Isaiah foretold the Messiah, he wrote, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder […]” (Isaiah 9:6). Now, the fact that the sacrifice is male is not—on its own—enough to make this a parallel of Christ’s sacrifice, but it is a necessary detail.

2. A lack of blemishes
When making a sacrifice before a holy God, not just any bull would do. God demanded a perfect sacrifice. The bulls that were brought for this purpose could not have any blemishes (Leviticus 1:3). There is another instance, this time in the New Testament, where only a perfect sacrifice would suffice. Speaking of Jesus Christ, Hebrews says:

“For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:26-27, emphasis added).

And John adds of Christ, “[…] in him is no sin” (I John 3:5).

3. Offered to the Lord
It has already been mentioned here, but another important aspect of the burnt offering is that the unblemished bull wasn’t simply offered, but offered to God. Theoretically, if this was just an empty religious or cultural exercise, offerings could be made anywhere. But bringing the bull to the “door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD” (Leviticus 1:3), was an acknowledgement that the offering was made to the Lord God, because sin was an offense against Him. The New Testament says that Christ was the offering for our sins, and that the offering was made to the Father. Paul writes, “[… Christ] hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2).

4. Imparting guilt
One who brought a bull for a burnt offering was told to place his hand on the head of the bull, and that atonement would be made for him through the death of that bull (Leviticus 1:4). John Gill explains:

“at the same time he made confession over the burnt offering both of his sins committed against affirmative and negative precepts: and indeed by this action he owned that he had sinned, and deserved to die as that creature he brought was about to do, and that he expected pardon of his sin through the death of the great sacrifice that was a type of. Moreover, this action signified the transferring of his sins from himself to this sacrifice, which was to be offered up to make atonement for them” (Exposition of the Entire Bible).

At this point the one making the sacrifice symbolically places his guilt on the sacrifice. A direct parallel is found in Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus took our sins upon Himself on the cross. Paul writes, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (II Corinthians 5:21). In His case, this was no mere metaphor, as Jesus Christ felt the full weight of that sin on Himself when He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

5. Sprinkling the blood
When the bull was sacrificed, the blood was shed and sprinkled around the altar (Leviticus 1:5). And throughout the Old Testament, blood was used as a symbol of atonement and cleansing from sin. In the New Testament, these same terms are applied to the blood of Christ.

“For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

“For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:19-26).

I don’t believe that God put anything in the Bible by mere accident. While God’s commands had immediate purposes and applications for His people in the Old Testament, even in the sacrifices He was already pointing the people to the ultimate, all-sufficient sacrifice that He would provide 1,500 years later.

“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2).