What’s Up With the Book of Leviticus?

A few weeks into the second semester of my freshman year, my History and Literature of the Old Testament professor said that we were “about to study the hands-down, most important book of the Bible…Leviticus!” With the way he’d started that sentence, I was expecting the Psalms or Genesis or even Isaiah, maybe. But Leviticus…really? I was dumbfounded.

I’m currently reading through Leviticus with my fiancé (for the first time since taking that class, I’ll have you know) and I must admit that my professor had more of a point than I’d realized. I still don’t know that I would call Leviticus the most important book of the Bible (I think he just said that for the shock factor, anyway), but it is much more important than most modern American Christians realize. All the rules and regulations and prescriptions for offering sacrifices that come to mind when we think of Leviticus point ahead to our Savior. To put it plainly, Leviticus is important because we can see Christ there.

CHRIST AND THE SACRIFICES

The first several chapters of Leviticus deal with five different types of sacrifices – the burnt offering (Leviticus 1), the grain offering (Leviticus 2), the fellowship offering (Leviticus 3), the sin offering (Leviticus 4:1-5:13), and the guilt offering (Leviticus 5:14-6:7). Each sacrifice required a different element and served a different purpose. For example, burnt offerings consisted of a bull, ram, or male bird that was to be fully consumed by the fire and symbolized atonement for general sins and expressed overall commitment and surrender to God. A grain offering, which was made up of fine flour, olive oil, and salt, was a voluntary act of worship, in which the worshipper recognized God’s goodness and providence.

There was nothing special about these sacrifices except the fact that Yahweh ordained them to be the means by which His people would be pointed to Christ. The Old Testament saints were not saved by the sacrifices they offered. They were saved by Christ, just like you and me (Hebrews 11:1-2). The reason those animal sacrifices were necessary for God’s people was because God commanded them to offer up animals to Him, as a way of recognizing their sin, its consequences, and His character. The God of the Old Testament is the same God we serve, and just as He is merciful now, He was merciful then. But He is not merely merciful. He is just too, and this was something that His people learned through the sacrificial system discussed in Leviticus. God, in His justice, could not simply turn a blind eye to their sins. Sin demanded blood (Romans 6:23a). But God, being rich in mercy, provided the sacrificial system for them, allowing atonement to be made a third party, that His beloved repentant sinners might live.

Before offering up an animal sacrifice, the priests would lay their hands on the animal’s head, symbolizing the imputation of the peoples’ sins to the creature (Leviticus 8:14). Now, imputation wasn’t actually occurring here, of course. This process was just a symbol. But it was a symbol that pointed ahead to a time that imputation would actually occur – during the crucifixion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul wrote, “God made [Jesus], Who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Levitical sacrificial system pointed ahead to this, all while teaching God’s people that sin demands blood, but by grace and in faith, that blood need not be our own.

CHRIST AND THE PRIESTS

The book of Hebrews explicitly calls Christ our great High Priest. He was there, in type and shadow, in the Old Testament priests. In Leviticus 8, Aaron and his sons were called by the Lord and ordained as priests. This was a unique ministry, in which a man would offer sacrifices, effectively interceding for the people and mediating their relationship with God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing the appeasement of God’s wrath towards His people.

Christ is our High Priest. He does not work in a temple made by hands, but dwells eternally in the true Holy of Holies, at God’s right hand. On the cross, He was both priest and sacrifice, shedding His own blood for the remission of our sins. Now, He resides with the Father, constantly making intercession for all who hope in Him (Hebrews 7:25). What a glorious High Priest we have!

“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. 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. 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. 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!” (Hebrews 9:11-14).

CHRIST AND THE FELLOWSHIP

Another, albeit less prominent, theme in Leviticus is fellowship. Except in the cases of burnt offerings, the priests would share the meat left from some sacrifices. According to Joel Beeke, this points to the way we, as believers, share in the riches of Christ’s sacrifice (Family Worship Bible Guide). May we look back and see the camaraderie of the faithful in the Old Testament and remember that we have been reconciled to God and are now called to similar fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

CHRIST AND LEVITICUS

Leviticus is different. It’s challenging at times, but it’s good. After all, it is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). And if you open your eyes, I promise you’ll see Jesus there. All of Scripture either points ahead or back to Christ, and the book of Leviticus is no exception.

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