Old & New Testament Connections
The book of Leviticus, like the rest of the Old Testament, is only one part of an unfinished story. All these symbols pointed forward, to a time anticipated by Israel’s prophets, when God’s people would no longer be rebellious (see Ezek. 36:16-38), and would be forgiven once and for all (see Jer. 31:31-34). After Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the earliest Christians all went back and re-read books like Leviticus with brand new eyes. They began to see how the accomplishment of Jesus was the reality to which all of these sacrificial symbols were pointing all along. Here are some examples of how they thought and wrote about this conviction.
For the law was but a shadow of the good things to come, not the true form of these realities. The law could never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. – Heb. 10:1
In the New Testament, Jesus’ death is described as a sacrifice that accomplished atonement. The apostles specifically used the Greek words that corresponded to the Hebrew words for “atonement” (Grk. hilasterion, Heb. kipper), which, if you remember, literally means to “cover” for someone’s debt. Everything you see in Leviticus, summed up in the Day of Atonement, all points towards the events surrounding Jesus death, and especially the manner in which his death occurred.
Ransom – Payment of a Debt
The death and resurrection of Jesus, just like a diamond, had many facets of meaning depending on the angle of your gaze. But one of the most repeated phrases used to describe what Jesus’ death accomplished is “ransom payment” or “atonement.” This was accomplished through some of the daily sacrifices, but ransom was the focus on the Day of Atonement, as well.
But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. – Heb. 10:3-4
Only the Creator could offer the forgiveness of sins, as he was the one ultimately sinned against. Since human sin introduced death into God’s good world, only the offering of an animal’s life could communicate the gravity of human evil. Jesus offered his life and his death as a substitute on behalf of others. He became what we are: destined for death as a result of our collective and individual evil. In return he gave us his life, opening up a way towards a forgiven future that goes beyond death.
The son of man didn’t come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. – Eph. 1:7
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through his blood. – Rom. 3:25
You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Pet. 1:18-19
Purification – Cleansing of Defilement
The Day of Atonement ritual provided a confident forgiveness of sins, as well as a symbolic purification of the temple and the community. However, it was limited in application and had to be repeated annually. There was a deficiency of some kind, not in the ritual, but in the humans surrounding the temple! It was their sin that kept piling up year after year. What was needed was something that would purify not only the temple, but the corrupt and selfish human heart.
Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own. – Titus 2:14
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Heb. 10:10
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. – Heb. 9:14
The blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7
Repentance – Turning Away from Sin
Lastly, the self-sacrificial offering of Jesus’ life did more than provide forgiveness or purification, it was also an act of love aimed at changing people. Remember the two goats offered up from the people; the scapegoat would symbolically be sent outside the city in order to remove Israel’s sins. The goal was to look on this expression of God’s mercy, and allow this divine love to permeate and motivate a whole new way of life.
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. – Heb. 13:24
With the death of Jesus, our sin has left the city. God no longer holds it against us.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Cor. 5:21
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Pet. 2:24
Covenant Relationship – Maintaining God’s Good Presence
At the end of the day, these rituals were aimed at healing the fractured relationship between God and his people, so they could become the kinds of humans he made them to be. In the same manner, Jesus’ death provided a permanent way for people to be reconnected to the presence of the living God despite their failures.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? – 1 Cor. 3:16
Maintaining, cultivating, and growing this covenant relationship with God is a huge topic, worth exploring in its own right. But we hope that drawing the connections between the Day of Atonement and the meaning of Jesus’ death offers a new perspective on God’s love for you. In Jesus, we see the heart of God revealed, that he would rather die than live without us.