Introduction to Leviticus
© 01.24.09 By D. Eric Williams
The Bible tells us that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests unto God. In the new Israel, we are a royal priesthood - or a kingly priesthood - as well. When we consider how to best demonstrate the messianic reign of Christ, the book of Leviticus is of special significance. You see, the primary way we manifest the messianic reign to the world and minister to the world is in our priestly capacity. The prophetic aspect is primarily the realm of the Church. The kingly aspect is exercised in individual self government under God and has a bearing upon the individual's sphere of influence; this plays out especially in the ministry of the state. It is within the family that the priestly emphasis of the messianic reign is best demonstrated. This doesn't mean that the priestly ministry is bottled up in the family unit. Indeed, it is as the family manifests the priestly facet of the kingdom that it can best minister to others.
Now, I need to mention that there is overlap in each category. I don't want you to think that I am saying that the Church has no business expressing the priestly function of the kingdom. It does. Look at 1 Timothy 5:3-10 for instance:
Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. And these things command, that they may be blameless. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work. (1 Timothy 5:3-10)
In other words, the family is the primary locus of the priestly ministry in the kingdom of God. However, the Church is supposed to step in where there is no family - and in this day and age there are plenty of folk out there who have no family either literally or practically speaking. By the way, it is not only widows we are to be concerned with. As we saw last week, we are to look after the orphan, the widow and the stranger - that segment of society with no advocate. It is a class that is not limited to just these three; anyone who is in need and has no family to look to for help - those are the people the Church must minister to. Even then it will be the families within the church who perform the actual priestly ministry of care and nurture.
In the Hebrew Bible Leviticus is titled wayyiqra which is rendered in the English as "and he called." Truthfully the title "Leviticus" is misleading. The vast majority of this book is not specific to the Levites or to the Aaronic priesthood. Instead, it is a manual for a living for the priestly nation as a whole.
Traditionally we ascribe authorship of the book to Moses. The first verse tells us that the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting. There is no reason to reject the idea that Moses was the author or at the very least the editor of this book. The suggestion that a scribe wrote down these words does not preclude the inspired authorship of Moses. The words of the prophet Jeremiah were written down by a scribe. Paul's epistle's were written by a secretary or scribe. And this book of Leviticus may very well have been written down by others and edited by Moses or in fact dictated by Moses, written down by a scribe and later edited by an inspired man such as Ezra or Nehemiah. In fact, rabbinic tradition holds that the Jewish cannon was put into its final form by Ezra. In any case, there's no reason to reject the authorship of Moses any more than we would reject his authorship of the other books of the Pentateuch.
Some scholars and commentators suggest that this book of Leviticus was actually written after the exile during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah and not simply edited. The suggestion is that the book was written to bring stability to the newly (re)formed community of Israel as the city and temple were being rebuilt. Yet, again, there is no reason to accept this viewpoint. Sometimes I think that commentators make these assertions simply to draw attention to themselves.
Anyone who denies the authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses casts a shadow of doubt over the entirety of Scripture. Anyone who denies that God spoke these words to Moses likewise denies the inspiration of the entire Bible and in fact rejects the words of Jesus Christ himself concerning this issue.
Jesus said that the Pentateuch is the law of Moses, that it is authoritative and that he himself came to fulfill it thus assuring its eternal use and application in the messianic kingdom. Jesus said that Moses wrote concerning him – a statement which attributes foreknowledge to Moses and therefore supernatural inspiration. Indeed, Jesus said that if his listeners truly believed Moses then they would believe him as well.
Jesus offered a specific endorsement of the book of Leviticus when he instructed a leper whom he healed to tell no one, but to go his way and show himself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded as a testimony. This command is found only in Leviticus 14:3–10. The witness that Jesus refers to is – at least in part – the fact that he himself the anointed one accepted God's law as a valid expression the mind of the Almighty.
Another example of Jesus' validation of the book is found in his defense of his disciples for picking grain as they walked through the fields on the Sabbath day. He references "the example of David, who ate the shew-bread when he was [hungry] which was not lawful for him to eat but only for the priests (Matthew 12:4); thus referring to a law which is only found in Leviticus (24:9). The citation was only pertinent on the assumption that he regarded the prohibition of the shew-bread as having the same inspired authority is the obligation of the Sabbath" (Kellogg, Leviticus, 10).
Christ also affirmed the validity of Leviticus in his comments concerning circumcision and the need of a child to honor his parents (John 7:32 cf. Leviticus 12:3 and Matthew 14:3 – 6 cf. Leviticus 20:9).
In light of these examples we are on solid ground when we embrace the book of Leviticus as the inspired, infallible word of God. In a nutshell, if it was good enough for Jesus, it is certainly good enough for us.
We have examined the structure of the five books of Moses in the past and as you recall the Pentateuch is structured according to the covenant sequence. Genesis is a book that emphatically proclaims the sovereignty of Almighty God. We see Yahweh as the creator of the physical universe and the creator of a new "House" in Abraham as well.
Exodus is a book concerning the establishment of a government and a system of representation. In Exodus we see God bringing Israel out of Egypt in order to establish them as a nation. They were a nation which had the responsibility of representation, called by God to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6).
Leviticus is third in the sequence and it is a roadmap - a manual of morality for the priestly nation. It furnishes a law of sacrifice and personal conduct which is applicable to every member of the Commonwealth of Israel. Thus, it is a book concerned with ethics.
Numbers is a book that tells the sad tale of Israel's failure to enter the land and the consequences of that failure. In other words it is all about sanctions: blessing and most especially cursing.
Deuteronomy is a book of continuity. It is the second giving of the law and the preparatory document to the entrance into the land of promise by the second generation.
Therefore we understand that the original purpose of Leviticus was to provide a guidebook for living. It is a book of law that covers all aspects of behavior not just a tome regulating the sacrificial system. Rather than assume the book of Leviticus concerns the conduct of the Aaronic priesthood we need to realize that it was directed at the entire population of the chosen people.
As we might expect, the book of Leviticus is presented to us according to the covenant sequence. In the first seven chapters we are reminded that God is sovereign; he is the one to whom sacrifice must be offered. Chapters 1 to 7 of Leviticus detail the various sacrifices and provide rules which guide each offering so that they will be acceptable to the sovereign Lord.
Chapters 8 to 10 regulate the conduct of the priesthood. This is about representation. Under the old covenant administration the priests were given the responsibility to represent the people before God.
Leviticus 11 through 25 – the largest portion of the book – is all about the conduct of the priestly people. This entire portion (more than half of the book), is concerned with ethics and gives the book its character. We should expect this since Leviticus holds the third position in the covenant sequence as realized in the five books of Moses.
The fourth division of Leviticus, Chapter 26, is concerned with sanctions. The entire chapter is a series of promises concerning blessing and cursing.
The final section of Leviticus, chapter 27, at first appears to be an addendum. However, when we realize that the fifth point of the sequence has to do with continuity it becomes clear that the contents of the chapter - regulations concerning vows, the valuation of vows and consecration of individuals to the service of God - depend upon a future hope. It doesn't make sense to encumber one's assets unless there is a future to the covenant relationship. A vow always looks to the future. A vow always looks ahead to the completion of that vow and the outcome one hopes to accomplish through the vow. To consecrate oneself or the consecration of another to the service of God assumes that tomorrow and the next day and the next there will be a relationship in place that allows for service to Yahweh. Therefore, Chapter 27 of Leviticus concludes the covenant sequence with a confidence in the continuity of the covenant relationship.
Now, does the book of Leviticus have any value in 21st "Christian" America? Well, in 2 Timothy 3:14–17 it says:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Please note: Paul says that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. He, of course, was referring to the older testament. It was the only Scripture that the first century Church had. Yes, the newer testament was being written in the first century and some of it was immediately recognized as the inspired word of God. However, generally speaking, the "Scripture" that Paul has in mind is the Old Testament and "whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4).
"All," of course, includes the book of Leviticus. Therefore, the law book of ancient Israel is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness. Think about that. Doctrine is teaching. It is all about the settled position of the Church. It is not about gleaning a few disjointed principals from an outdated letter. To reprove is to reprimand. It is to point out a deviation from the godly norm. Once again that is not possible if we are talking about a law code that is only applicable to an ancient near eastern civilization.
When we correct, we move beyond reproof and provide an alternative to the improper behavior which is reproved. Leviticus supplies law that guides us in right behavior. This is akin to instruction in righteousness except that righteousness is specific to a right relationship with God. One might say that it has to do with ecclesiastical law.
Thereby, to ignore Leviticus is to ignore the mind of God. We should not fall into the trap of thinking that the New Testament has made the older testament obsolete. The new complete the old. It does not abolish it. To suggest otherwise is to say that God has changed and that old news is no news.
No, Leviticus - along with the rest of the Old Testament - has been given to us to reveal the mind of our Father in heaven. It reminds us that God has always dealt with his prole on the basis of Grace. As Gordon Wenham wrote, mankind is expected to respond to that grace and proper response involves the law "which tells mankind how to imitate God. The New Testament [along with the Old] insists that the law is not a means to salvation but a response to salvation." Thus, "it seems fair to say that the New Testament not only accepts the moral law of the Old Testament but reiterates the basic theology of the covenant of which the law forms a part" (ISBE, Wenham, Leviticus, III:116-117).
Therefore, Leviticus continues to play a role in confirming the salvation of each individual Believer. It continues to be a part of the instruction manual for "assembling" the gift of salvation (Phil. 2:12-13), a process that leads us ever forward in becoming like Jesus Christ.
Additionally, Leviticus is typical of Christ. In other words it presents to us a collection of types which inform us concerning the character and ministry of the Messiah. If we hope to understand the work of Christ then we must seek to understand the book of Leviticus. An understanding of the letter to the Hebrews - Paul's epistle of persuasion to the first century Jews - depends upon a familiarity and an understanding of Leviticus. Unless we know the book and understand its contents we will not see the significance of Christ's better priesthood and change of the law (Hebrews 7:12). So, we who worship God in Christ must make a study of Leviticus a priority. We forego much of the richness and depth of the Messianic kingdom if we remain untutored in the third book of the Pentateuch.
Leviticus also has to do with the condition of man and his need. In conjunction with a display of God's sovereignty and holiness, Leviticus reveals man's depravity and dependance. The book reveals the graciosus character of God and guides man in his response to that grace. In the book of Leviticus we are brought face to face with man's utter sinfulness and his absolute dependance upon God for his salvation.
Yet, are we required to impose the law code of Leviticus upon our modern society across the board? Obviously not. As we have already mentioned, with the changing of the priesthood there comes a change in the law. Indeed, a fulfillment of the law implies a change if not an abolishment. It implies a completion that allows for the proper use of the law. Like a partially constructed house that shelters its occupant yet fails to provide true rest, the law prior to Christ furnished protection and guidance but could not offer the comfort of a well-appointed home. In Christ the law is complete. No longer is the law an external code compelling us to obey by a threat of punishment; it is now a person with whom we have a familial relationship and whom we deeply desire to imitate out of love and gratitude. Indeed, as new creations we put on Christ and the law is written upon our heart.
Hence, the appropriation of biblical law for modern society must take place in light of the state of affairs in the Messianic reign. Certainly the ritual law of sacrifice has been once and for all completed in Christ. He is the great high priest who has offered the final perfect sacrifice and has presented his own blood in the holy of holies in the heavenly realm. In this age we offer a sacrifice to God in our unreserved surrender to his will.
The rituals of purification are likewise fulfilled in the work of Jesus Christ. In the book of Hebrews the primary argument is that "Christ fulfills all of the ideals enshrined in the Old Testament law" (Wenham, 117). In Hebrews, Paul argues that the high priesthood of Jesus is superior to Aaron's in that it fulfills and supersedes the Aaronic ministry and thus rendering it obsolete. Therefore, all of the ritual concerning the unclean and their restoration to fellowship is this fulfilled in Jesus Christ. All of our uncleanliness is purged by the blood of Jesus.
Yet it is when we consider the "civil law" found in Leviticus (and elsewhere in the older testament), that we find a wide difference of opinion among Christians. Suffice it to say that an intelligence application of biblical law to modern society will recognize the need to make use of the principles of Scripture rather than the letter of the law. For instance,
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
Obviously God is not telling 21st-century farmers that they should poke holes in the sides of their combines so that grain will spill out on the ground. Even if they did, it would be of no benefit to the poor. Most of the world's poor live in cities a great distance from the farms was produced food. Instead, we need to look at the principle in this command and think of how we should apply at in this modern era.
Del Tackett in his video series The Truth Project provides an example of this law in action in modern America. He tells about a man who owned a cabinet shop and who wanted to find a way to obey this particular law. In the end he concluded that the sawdust which fell on the floor of the shop could be due to as "gleanings" for the poor. Up until that point the Cabinet shop owner had collected all of the weight fiber and sold it for additional profit. Upon considering this law in Leviticus chapter 19 the owner of the shop decided to allow local poor folk to come into the shop after hours, sweep up the waste fiber and sell it to the company he had previously sold it to.
Obviously the law concerning gleanings has application and use in our day; just as obviously it cannot be applied in literal, wooden fashion.
Finally Leviticus reminds this that worship of God requires the whole man. This is the primary thrust of the book. It tells us that worship of God is not merely intellectual but is an activity of body and soul and all of life. You might say that Leviticus is the "Book of Common Prayer" for ancient Israel providing the liturgy of a life of worship.
And so we study Leviticus in order to understand God, ourselves and Jesus Christ. We study Leviticus in order to be a more accurate representative of Christ here on earth.
Now then in this first chapter of Leviticus we see the regulations concerning the burnt offering. In this first chapter there are three principles introduced which are common to all of the old covenant sacrifices. We find that the worshiper must submit to Almighty God, provide a substitute victim for his sin and by his own hand slay the sacrifice. We will cover the first point in the remainder of this article.
The Burnt Offering
We begin in the book of Leviticus with God calling Moses from the tabernacle meeting. This in contrast to God calling Moses up to the mountain. As you recall when the presence of God descended upon Mount Sinai there was thundering and lightning and smoke which ascended from the mountain like the smoke of a flaming furnace. The sound of the trumpet became so loud that the people shook with fear. It was into this environment that God called Moses. He came to the mountain and stayed there for 40 days and 40 nights; not once but twice as you recall. The first time he brought the law written on the stone tablets to the foot of the mountain he found that the Israelites had fallen away from the truth. He threw the stone tablets down and broke them, took the golden calf which Aaron had made and ground it up, threw it in the water and made the Israelites drink the water.
The second time Moses ascended the mountain he remained there for aneother 40 days and 40 nights and received the law a second time. Interestingly enough the second time it was Moses who cut the stone tablets and brought them to God.
This time God called Moses from the tabernacle of meeting. There was a tent that Moses had used for his own personal meeting place with God but this is the tent of meeting, the tabernacle of meeting that was built according to the instructions given to Moses on the mountain. It is the first time that God meets with his people in this domesticated fashion. By that I mean we have moved from the kingly to the priestly. Exodus is the book of representation. It is the book documenting the establishment of the nation and wherein God is recognized as the king. He is a terrifying and powerful ruler.
But here in Leviticus he meets with his people in the tabernacle. It is a house of meeting. Thus we see that God had in mind to develop the priestly character of his people.
Remember now, this book of Leviticus is a letter of instruction to the entire nation not just the priesthood. The us God says to Moses, "speak to the children of Israel, and say them: ‘when any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you should bring your offering of the livestock – of the herd and of the flock'."
The first thing we see here is a call to submission. Anytime a person submits to another person or in this case submits to Yahweh that action rests upon certain presuppositions. Any time a person obeys a command they are in submission. And submission rests first of all upon the presuppositions that the one who issues the command has either the right or the might to do so. Now, I'm not suggesting that might makes right. I am merely pointing out that when someone responds to a command in obedience they are presupposing that a person making that demand has either the right to enjoined them to obey or has the power to back up their directive. In this case God has both the right and the might.
Therefore the person who hears this command concerning the offering brought to God presupposes that God has the right to receive a sacrifice from them. They presuppose that God is the creator of the universe. They assume that he is more than just a local deity. If he were simply a local or tribal god then they might consider it an option to find a more powerful deity to whom they would pledge allegiance and thereby extract themselves from this duty of sacrifice. Indeed, that is how most people approach the question of submission to God. In the minds of men – even modern man – God is nothing more than a local deity so to speak. Thus, mankind finds a more comfortable deity: typically himself.
So anyone who would submit to this command is embracing the concept of God that was presented to them there at Sinai. He is the omnipotent ruler of the universe who has formed Israel into a nation and given them the character of a nation via his law.
Now, the burnt offering is a spontaneous offering and so there is no requirement that they offer this particular offering on a regularly scheduled basis. However if they are going to make an offering of any kind the animal they offer was required to meet certain criteria. The requirements concerning the sacrificial animal are the same for any offering - peace offering, sin offering and so on. The differences arise in the circumstances surrounding each offering.
So, If they're going to submit to Yahweh at all they must submit to him completely and God says that the sacrifice must be an offering of the livestock. Now, he also allows an offering from the flock or an offering of birds. However, what we see here is that God demands the most a man can afford. He demands the best the man has. Certainly a man who had a herd of cattle would have flocks and birds as well. To own cattle was to have wealth. And so God says you who are wealthy bring to me a sacrifice that reflects the blessings God has given you. God says that if you have herds, I will not settle for a sheep from the flock or a bird. I demand from you the best you have.
Indeed, it is not simply the most expensive thing that you have is also the most typical of the species. In other words God wants the very best of your herd. In the case of the burnt offering which we are considering here, It must be a male without blemish; it must be a bull with no fault, no disability, no obvious ravages of sin.
This idea of the best or the most important is likewise exhibited in the demand for a male from the herd. Even today ranchers pay a very high price for pure bred bulls that are most typical of the species. In other words they need to be exactly what that breed is supposed to be. And so God says bring me your very best prize bull for your burnt offering sacrifice.
I suppose we could say that the burnt offing is the most basic form of animal sacrifice. The Hebrew here carries the idea of ascending, as in the sacrifice being consumed by the fire and ascending to the Father in heaven. It is the type of sacrifice that Noah made upon leaving the Ark. It was the form of sacrifice that God demanded Abraham make of Isaac - and then accepted the ram. It was the sort of sacrifice that Samuel offered when the Philistines were pressing hard against Israel in battle. It is the kind of sacrifice that Job offered each time his children would complete a round of feasting. When a burnt offering is made, the entire animal is burned up. Th entire animal ascends - so to speak - to the heavenly real where it is received and enjoyed by Yahweh. This is the all-important component of the burnt offering. There is no portion of the victim that is eaten by the supplicant or the priest. There is no portion of the sacrifice that is separated from the rest and burned at another location. The burnt offering is a holocaust, a total annihilation of the victim completely given over to God.
It is also an offering that assumes a petition and a desire for atonement (1:4). To atone is to cover, to effect reconciliation. The Hebrew word used here is kâphar meaning "to cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation." In the New Testament the word used to define atonement (as found in Romans 5:11), is katallage, which concerns the "adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor." Thence, a sacrifice that is an atonement restores or affirms the relationship between Yahweh and the supplicant.
And yet this must be a free will offering. Let me explain; God is not saying they have to make this particular sacrifice; he is saying that if they do decide to make this burnt offering then here is how you do it. Don't get me wrong; this is a free will offering. There is no demand placed upon them which requires a certain number of burnt offerings each year from each Israelite.
So this very expensive offering of the best they have must be a spontaneous expression of their love and loyalty to Yahweh. Think about that for a minute. God didn't require anyone to bring a burnt offering. No one was obligated to participate in this particular ritual. Nonetheless, those who choose to do so were expected to freely give their all. If they are wealthy then they must give the very best of the heard - the most expensive and the most perfect example of the cattle. If they are less well off then they are required to bring an unblemished male sheep. Again, it must be the very best they have. It must be the best example, the most typical representative, the paragon of "sheeply" character. If they are too poor even for a sacrifice from the flock, then they are required to bring turtle doves or yong pigeons. Now, the text doesn't say that they birds must be without blemish; that is implied. If you look at each of the three types of burnt offerings, you will see that they are not diagramed exactly the same. The best approach to the discrepancies is to understand that all of the requirements apply to the ritual of the burnt offering no matter what kind of animal is offered.
The point is, everyone who desired to make a whole burnt offering could do so. It was a completely a matter of personal choice.
In any case it was an offering that recognized the authority of Yahweh and expressed the submissive loyalty and love of the petitioner. It was an offering of the very best, without fault and the most exceptional example of the type that a man could come up with. It was an offering that was totally consumed, reserved wholly to God with no part of it reserved for another. It was an offering made to effect atonement. And it was an offering of the free will.
Christ The True Burnt Offering
As we consider Christ's fulfillment of this particular aspect of the Mosaic ritual, it will be important for us to remain focused on just the burnt offering. In other words, it would be easy to begin to consider Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover or as the one who fulfills the sacrifice and ritual of the Day of atonement. Those are very important and we will examine them into her bias in order to extract as much as possible from this section of Leviticus we must maintain a laser like focus on the burnt offering and Christ's fulfillment of that sacrifice. On the other hand we do not need to become overly concerned with this issue. Let us just remember that each of these sacrifices tells us a little bit about the ministry of Jesus Christ Erie
To begin with Christ is both the one who offers and the offering itself. This makes it a little tricky I suppose but if we stick to this single offering it shouldn't be too difficult.
Thus, Jesus Christ is one to access the authority of the father in heaven. Christ made this clear during his earthly ministry when he said time and again that he came to do the father's will. In a night in which he was betrayed as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he asked the Father that this cup might pass from him. And yet, knowing the unspeakable torment he would experience when God forsook him, when God turned his back upon him because he "became sin that we might be the righteousness of God in him" - knowing all that, Christ still said not my will but your will Father in heaven.
Undoubtedly Jesus Christ recognizes the authority of the father and is wholly submitted to him.
Moreover, Jesus is a perfect offering - a Lamb without blemish. In other words he is without sin. And God left no room for doubt concerning the sinless character of his son. In the letter to the Hebrews we read:
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. ...though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-9)
In other words Jesus was tested to the fullest extent. There was nothing more that Satan could do in his attempt to cause the Son of God to stumble. There is no aspect of temptation that Jesus did not overcome. Christ was assailed by the enticement to do wickedness to the uttermost of its might and yet he remained without sin. Thus he was perfected - proven - in the crucible of suffering. Thereby he is a proper burnt offering. There is no blemish in him at all.
Moreover, Jesus is the best example, the most typical representative of Man. He is the ultimate Man. Everything that a man should be - everything that Human kind is supposed to be - is exemplified by Jesus. He is the paragon of the family of Man.
Christ is also a holocaust - an offering that is wholly given over to God with nothing held in reserve. No aspect of his being was held back for himself. Of course I'm speaking of his humanity. It is obvious that in his deity there is nothing held back. But in his humanity as well there is no part of his being that Jesus withheld from the Father. Had he done so he would not have been able to withstand the full force of temptation. You see, mankind is not able to overcome the enticement to sin on his own. Christ in his humanity overcame temptation not in his own strength but in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Had he not been wholly given over to God he would have failed.
And this total devotion was consummated at the cross. Jesus was obedient even unto death - even death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). There Jesus visibly expressed his role as the burnt offering the sacrifice which ascends in totality to th e Father.
Clearly Christ brought about atonement as well. Romans 5:8-11, in the King James Authorised Version, reads:
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:8-11)
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
There is no other way that we might be reconciled to God. There is no other sacrifice that makes atonement and covers over our sins. As a new creation each of us does put on Christ, covering over our sin. Indeed, we become the righteousness of God in him.
And all of this activity on the part of Christ is wholly voluntary. Jesus said,
Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father. (John 10:17-18)
When the mob came to the garden to capture him and Peter drew his sword in defense of the Lord, Jesus told him that if he asked, his Father in heaven would send twelve legions of angels to rescue him from the hand of his oppressors (Matt. 26:52-54). Yet to do so would be to circumvent the will of the Father and to side-step the role that he had voluntarily assumed. Again, it is important that we understand that it is in his humanity that Jesus makes these statements. He is fully and truly human. We tend to forget this fact and so we are not properly impressed by the voluntary act of Christ in sacrificing himself for us. Put yourself in his place. Would you be able to follow through on the commitment? I know that I could not. And yet Jesus, in his humanity, would not have been capable of doing so apart from the power of God.
The Royal Priesthood
As members of the Royal priesthood and we must begin with the fundamental issue of submission to God's authority. We must function with a presupposition that God is who he says he is and that he is worthy of our worship. Moreover, we must rest upon the absolute truth that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. We are his friends if we obey him. In other words if we submit to Jesus Christ as our captain and arcane and we are reconciled to the family of God and our heirs according to the covenant. If we do not embrace this truth of the authority of our Lord then we are not part of the Royal priesthood. We might attend church, we might say we are Christians: but if we refuse to walk even as Jesus walked then we are denying the authority of God on a practical basis.
Therefore are beginning place must be a recognition of God's authority just as the one who brought the burnt offering began with the assumption that God is the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God.
As members of the Royal priesthood we have the responsibility to be the best men and women and children we can be. In other words we must express what it is that God intends for humanity. We cannot be satisfied with second-best. This means that we must be the most moral people. We have God's law before us in his word and we should do our very best to express the mind of God in our behavior.
Likewise we must express the character of Jesus Christ in every activity we undertake. We need to be honest and trustworthy on the job. In addition, we need to be like our Lord in that we take hold of our responsibility, and "tear it apart," rearrange and improve upon it. We do this in every part of life: the arts, medicine, science, business, social work and so on.
If we are pursuing our responsibility as part of the Royal priesthood, we will do all that we can to show this world what human beings are really supposed to be live.
In following the example we see in Leviticus and more importantly the example we see in Jesus Christ we must be a Holocaust – a whole burnt offering to the Lord. This is what Paul has in mind when he tells the church in Rome:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)
This sacrifice of ourselves to God must be complete. Everything we do must be given over to him. Our entire life must be a life of praise and worship (Hebrews 13:15), with everything we do as unto the Lord (Colossians 3: 23).
All the while we recognize that we are unable to do this in our own strength. Thus we must cultivate a dynamic, vital relationship with our Lord so that we can both desire and do his good will (Philippians 2:12–13). Yet our failure to be wholly devoted to God is not an excuse to quit trying. We are expected to be loyal to our Lord in every way and when we fail to do so we are further expected to come before him asking for forgiveness, for if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all righteousness (1 John 1:9).
Members of the Royal priesthood do not effect atonement; no mere human being can die on behalf of another in order to bring about reconciliation between man and God. It is only Jesus Christ through can do this. And indeed he has done this. But because of his atoning death we have a part to play as those who express the priestly aspect of the messianic reign in bringing others to Jesus Christ. Therefore we reconcile others to the Lord just as Paul did. Once again, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19:
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Because God has reconciled the world to himself through Jesus Christ he has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Not by our atoning death of course, but through our emphatic witness concerning our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his atoning death.
Of course all of this is the expression of our freely offered allegiance to God. It begins with the new creation which allows us the freedom to embrace the gracious offer of salvation. As we live this life of grace we continue to operate on the basis of free will. God does not force anyone to obey him. We have the freedom to disobey. Obviously if we do, we can expect to be punished. Indeed as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, legitimate sons of God are punished for their misbehavior. The point is simply this: the life of a kingly priest is voluntary. If I might adopt the example I have used many times before to illustrate the gift of salvation, I would suggest to you that our priestly manifestation of the messianic reign is not unlike an unassembled model airplane. On the front of the boxes it says "Priestly demonstration of the kingdom." We open the box and there are a variety of duties found therein. Our job is to put this all together and display this priestly aspect of the kingdom. We can leave it in the box and ignore our responsibility if we like. But we will miss out on what it is God hopes to accomplish through us.
I mentioned at the beginning of this study that the priestly expression of the reign of Jesus is best exercised within the context of the family. We touched on what Paul said to Timothy about the care of widows and discovered that the Church does not have the primary responsibility to care for that segment of society. As we saw last week that entire class of society suffers because of its lack of connection to family: they have no advocate, no one to defend them or care for them.
We also know that the priestly aspect of the kingdom finds its fullest expression in the family from the discussion concerning the marriage covenant in Ephesians chapter 5. This is the highest expression of the priestly function in the kingdom of God. There is nothing like this whthin the Church structure, polity or practice. In this section of Ephesians we see all of the priestly and pastoral duties detailed. Indeed, the failure of the Church to recognize the familial responsibility to display the priestly - the pastoral - function of the kingdom has done tremendous damage to the Church and family both. It has brought about the feminization of the Church and has contributed to the break down of the family. Thus an understanding of the book of Leviticus is necessary to the restoration of both family and Church.
Indeed, simple logic would cause us to see that the priestly demonstration of Christ's rule is the best expressed in the context of the family. It is in the family that the duties of headship and nurture are supposed to take place. As each family matures in the kingdom it is able to express these priestly - pastoral functions - to others who are without a familial relationship. Certainly individual families do so under the (prophetic), oversight of the local Church but once again I must insist that the priestly facet of the messianic reign is best demonstrated in and by the family.
If we hope to begin to present all of God's ways to this world then it is imperative that we understand all of God's Word to the best of our ability. There is no part of the Scripture which we can afford to overlook. We may not think of it this way but each detail of the character of Jesus Christ displayed in the New Testament – a character which we are called to imitate – finds its explanation in the Old Testament. I hope we realize that we can not properly understand the New Testament without an understanding of the older testament.
My hope and prayer is that in the year ahead we will come to recognize the priestly aspect of Christ's character and how we are supposed to imitate that. Our effort to do so will fall short without an understanding of the book of Leviticus. I encourage you to initiate your own study in this book so that you and your family may be able to better manifest the kingdom of God as priest.