Leviticus— the book many Christians dread during their Bible reading plan. The laws about different offerings, purifications, cleanliness, and required feasts seem to lack a clear application to our lives, so we push this book to the bottom of our favorites and give up on trying to understand it. My goal is to show why that would be a tragic mistake.
In his book Radical, David Platt displays how “it is more important for you and me to read Leviticus than it is for us to read the best Christian book ever published, because Leviticus has a quality and produces an effect that no book in the Christian marketplace can compete with” (192). The words of man will never be able to compete with the Words of God.
We must be in His Word (yes, even in Leviticus) to see the full picture of His glory and His redemptive purposes. If we love to quote Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” then let us treat the book of Leviticus like this is true (2 Timothy 3:16).
Leviticus jumps right into the reality by listing out the five major offerings the Israelites are to maintain. Since we no longer make sacrifices, we might be tempted to throw this out as irrelevant. That would be a mistake. Christ’s sacrifice is the reason we no longer have to make these offerings, and understanding their original purpose helps us see Christ’s purpose.
During the long and bloody process of making the sin offering, the anointed priest does a lot of sprinkling and pouring of blood and finishes the atonement by taking the remnants of the sacrifice and carrying it outside the camp and burning it (Leviticus 4:1-12). We might read this and say “wow, gross. I didn’t realize the Word of God is this bloody”—you should read the rest of the Old Testament.
But, here’s the point: sin required atonement and a bloody one at that. While we read Leviticus cringing at the vivid description of sacrifices, do we realize how brutal Jesus’ death was? We avoid reading how bulls and goats were slaughtered in Leviticus, but do we realize how the Savior of the world was treated even more harshly in the Gospel accounts? Flogged. Pierced. Mocked. This was a brutal and cruel death, but just as in Leviticus, this death was not without a purpose.
The author of Hebrews draws the comparison clearly for us:
“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:11-16).
Jesus was brought out of the city gate and bore reproach for our sanctification through His atoning blood. His death fulfilled the requirements set forth in Leviticus, and he became our sin offering. Now, we seek the Kingdom that is to come by not fearing to bear the same reproach he endured, letting our lives be a continual offering of praise, and giving what we have with glad and generous hearts.
The offerings set forth in Leviticus were means of purification for the people by spotless animals, but the final sacrifice was the sinless Son of God. If the Israelites were thankful for God’s grace for the sacrificial system, how much more so should we be for His Son! The author of Hebrews describes the far greater implications of this atonement:
“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
Our High Priest
As we know, Aaron was far from being a perfect High Priest. Moses’ second-hand man not only makes an idol for the Israelites when they ask, but he lies about it. He acts like a little kid claiming the golden calf just popped out of the fire (Exodus 32). Yet, he is the one making sacrifices for the people of Israel.
This is why Moses tells Aaron he must “make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded’” (Leviticus 9:7). He has to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people. The picture formed is a mere shadow of the greatness that is to come.
Understanding Leviticus and the high priest of old helps us see why Jesus was the perfect replacement and fulfillment. Hebrews tells us:
“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:26-28).
We no longer have a high priest that falls to the same temptations we do. We have a high priest that helps us out of them because he was tempted, but he overcame.
You might hear people make comments that Christians just pick and choose what to follow from the Old Testament (like ignoring foods we can and can’t eat), but they clearly do not have the whole view of redemptive history in mind when they make these misguided claims.
We must understand the purpose of the laws concerning purity that we might address these statements and understand them for ourselves as well. The purpose of the food laws and cleansing were to set Israel apart from other nations in their standards of purity. When it was set forth in Leviticus 11 what they were and were not to eat, God’s purpose was to show them as a distinct people serving a holy God.
When Jesus came, he made it abundantly clear he was changing the game. His claim that “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” would have been shocking to the Pharisees and Scribes around him. Jesus “declared all foods clean,” and displayed how “evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:15,19,23).
Paul later reaffirms this development in redemptive history by displaying the Holy Spirit’s role in sanctification that certain foods could never accomplish. He displays how “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Now, we are sanctified, purified, and set apart by the Holy Spirit’s cleansing power.
Reading through Leviticus, we behold God’s grace in sending His son to suffer like animals did outside the city walls to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, we see Jesus’ fulfillment as the perfect high priest who would need to make no sacrifice for himself—only us, and we witness the Holy Spirit’s role in our sanctification that foods and rituals could never accomplish. Don’t neglect this book, but let us read it with a smile on our face as we see the shadows of the glory that was yet to come.