In Abide, our church-wide Bible-reading project, we just finished reading through Ezekiel and today we started reading Leviticus. Which prompted the following thoughts:
First Ezekiel, and now Leviticus? What gives?
In order to read and “get” Leviticus, you need to read it alongside of the whole story of the Bible, particularly helpful is the book of Hebrews, which we’ll be starting to read in a week or so. Hebrews helps us understand that Leviticus (and the entire sacrificial system, temple, tabernacle, etc) was pointing ahead to Jesus. Jesus is the new and greater sacrifice, atonement, high priest, and temple. The things laid out in Leviticus are copies and shadows of what is to come in Christ.
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
As we read the Old Testament in general, and Leviticus in particular, new covenant Christians are tempted to either not read these sections of God’s word at all, or to read them moralistically. Often, specific verses get cherry-picked out of Leviticus to prove the evils of tattoos or homosexuality, while the rest of the book is left untouched. If we are to read from Leviticus in the way that the Holy Spirit intended us to, it must always culminate with Jesus.
Leviticus is all about Jesus. He is our once-for-all sacrifice for sin, our great substitute that dies in our place, purchasing life for us. He is our sinless and yet sympathetic great high priest who is our mediator with God. He is the one who cleanses us from all unrighteousness and makes whole what the curse has broken. He washes our filth, disease, sin and death and makes us clean, pure, whole and new. And Jesus is our perfect righteousness, fulfilling the holy requirements of the Law that we could never fulfill and gifting us his righteousness so that we can have standing before our righteous and holy God. To read Leviticus and not see Jesus is to read it all wrong and to miss the point. Jesus is the hero of Leviticus.
Leviticus is written to answer the question posed by Exodus: how can a holy God dwell in the midst of a sinful people? The ultimate answer given by the totality of Scripture is that true acceptance by God is not based on our own righteous effort, but on the righteous, cleansing, atoning work of Jesus on our behalf. A sinful people can be in covenant with a holy God because of the person and work of Jesus.