“Without Shedding of Blood…” — the gospel in Leviticus

For other entries in this series, click here.

I recently had a friend ask me, “When you have more time, can you describe to me what makes Leviticus interesting?”

You see, in my stubbornness, i tend to like things that other people don’t like. So if someone says, “Leviticus is boring,” which unfortunately is said far too often, i want to scream, “Let me show you why it’s not!” It’s stubbornness. It might be a sin. But Leviticus is part of God’s Word, and we should never pass judgment on the Word of God. Instead, we must heed its voice when it passes judgment on us.

Being asked why i like Leviticus—i actually claimed it is my favorite of the Pentateuch besides Genesis 1 through Exodus 18—i just said, “It points to Jesus.” From there, i broke down a basic outline of the book, explaining how Christ shows up in each section:

  • Chapters 1-5 = Christ fulfilled these sacrifices for us; we don’t have to make them anymore because of Him.
  • Chapters 6-10 = Jesus is our perfect High Priest who is accepted by God for all time.
  • Chapters 11-15 = Jesus lived with us and experienced all of these things (sometimes healing them, but always experiencing them); He knows our trials.
  • Chapter 16 = Jesus atoned for us as the perfect atonement offering for all time; He was both goats at the same time.
  • Chapter 17 = Our life is found in Jesus’ blood.
  • Chapter 18-20 = Jesus’ blood covers even the wickedest of sinners who turn to Him in repentance and faith.
  • Chapter 21-22 = Again, Jesus is our perfect High Priest.
  • Chapter 23-25 = Jesus is the reason for every season.
  • Chapter 26 = An outline and preview of the rest of the Bible.
  • Chapter 27 = A whole lot of talk about things belonging to God and redemption: Christ redeemed us, and we now belong to God.

There is more to be said for this book of the Bible, but at its most basic level, Christ smoothly flows out of each text. It’s almost as though the whole book was based around the ministry of Jesus that He now has at the right hand of God (hint: according to Hebrews 8:5 this was its basis). If you want more parallels, read the book of Hebrews simultaneously as you read Leviticus, and fall to your face in thankfulness for Jesus. He frees us from the ceremony of Leviticus.

But He doesn’t free us from worshipping God.

I believe the thesis statement in this book is actually found repeatedly throughout the book. It first appears in Leviticus 11:44. “For I am Yahweh your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy.” Or, in my own words:

God requires holiness from those who want to be in His presence.

This idea occurs in several other passages throughout the book:

  • Leviticus 19:2-4 (HCSB)
    Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy. Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep My Sabbaths; I am Yahweh your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images of gods for yourselves; I am Yahweh your God.
  • Leviticus 20:7 (HCSB)
    Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am Yahweh your God.
  • Leviticus 20:24, 26 (HCSB)
    And I promised you: You will inherit their land, since I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am Yahweh your God who set you apart from the peoples . . . You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.

As such, what does Leviticus have to say, specifically, about the gospel? Or in other words, what would be missing from our knowledge of the gospel if the book of Leviticus was absent?

When it comes to Leviticus, we must begin with the title of the book. It is called Leviticus. It is written to the sons of Levi—the Levites—the priestly tribe of Israel. Basically, it was originally written to Israel’s priests so that they could know how to properly approach God, both on their own and on behalf of the people they represented.

Now before you allow the book’s original audience cause you to say, “Hey, I don’t have to read Leviticus because I’m not a priest,”  need to tell you something. According to 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.” Every believer in Jesus is a priest. As such, it is vital that we approach God rightly. Leviticus helps us in this, even though we don’t have to follow all the ceremonial details down to a T.

But why don’t we have to follow all the ceremonial details down to a T?

Jesus. Our perfect High Priest. Jesus, the One who perfectly fulfilled—and is eternally fulfilling—every detail of Leviticus in heaven at the right hand of God. He atoned for our sin so that we can come before God and be accepted because—and only because—Christ is accepted by God. We can live as holy as we want—and we should desire to live holy because Leviticus demands it—but we will never by our holy living become more acceptable to God than we are the day we first placed our faith in Jesus. In God’s economy, every believer is a saint. Saint means “sanctified one.” In Christ, we are all sanctified, and we must live lives that show it, for the simple fact that God is Yahweh. In reality that’s the only reason He gives, and it should be good enough.

We don’t live holy lives to be canonized.
We don’t live holy lives to earn rewards.
We don’t live holy lives because it keeps us saved.

We live holy lives because we were redeemed by God, and because we were redeemed by God, we belong to Him. He owns us.

So, while every section of this book can be tied to Jesus in and of itself, as the outline above seeks to show, we must never lose sight of the book’s main thrust when we are studying or teaching or preaching it. Again, Leviticus 11:44 says, “For I am Yahweh your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy.” If we look closely at this verse, it follows an A, B, A1 pattern:

A.   “For I am Yahweh your God

B.   so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy

A1.   because I am holy.”

It begins and ends with God declaring who He is. In the middle, He commands us to do something. The reason for His command flows from His nature and not from anything else. When God calls Himself Yahweh, He is doing two things. First, God is reminding the people of His victory over the gods of Egypt, as evidenced in Exodus 7-12, when He redeemed the people from bondage in Egypt. Second, God is telling Israel, “I am I am who I am your God” (cf. Exodus 3:14-15). In essence, He is reminding them of His presence. If God is with them, it should affect the way they live. And then, in the last part of the verse, He explains what He is: “I am holy.” This is why God reminds them of His presence. If He is holy, they must be holy too.

The whole book of Leviticus explains how to maintain holiness. As i’ve said before, God will never ask more of you than He is willing to do Himself. He calls His people to holiness because He Himself is holy. God ordained a handful of sacrifices and purification rituals and laws that were given to Moses so that the people could maintain holiness. He wants His people to be holy, so He provided a way for it to be a reality.

And again, all of these provisions in Leviticus point to Jesus—our true High Priest. In reality, the blood of animals could never atone for a human being’s sin (Hebrews 10:4). So when a person believed that their sins were washed away on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16), they actually believed in Jesus’ sacrifice without realizing it. The Old Testament saints were saved by faith as well.

You see, we are NOT holy in and of ourselves. We cannot produce holiness. We are too tainted by sin. Even just read Exodus 20:2-17:

  • Do not have other gods besides Me.
  • Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.
  • Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
  • Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
  • Do not murder.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  • Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

If you’ve broken even one of these ten commandments, you are not holy, and you have no access to God. This is bad news. But the good news—the Gospel—is that Jesus Christ came to earth 2,000 years ago, lived a perfectly holy life, and died on the cross as our substitute, bearing our sins in his body, like the sacrificial lambs in Leviticus pictorially bore the Israelites’ sin. If we place our faith in Jesus, then His blood covers us, God sees His Son when He looks at us, and He lets us approach Him. The inexplicable good news of this is spoken well in Hebrews 4:16, “Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.”

Have you believed in Jesus? I pray that you have. The access we have to God is incredible. We don’t have to fear when we approach Him. But if you have never believed, you must fear! You stand in danger of eternal separation from God if you refuse to believe. The gospel is only good news to those who believe! To those who refuse to believe it is the worst news ever!

So, believe today!

And check out Leviticus. It doesn’t have to stay boring. Even if it merely causes you to say, “I’m so thankful for Jesus,” then the author of Leviticus accomplished His goal.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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