|The cross typified: the institution of sacrifice
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Nov 19 2010 08:00 A.M.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God pointed them to his plan of redemption in two ways. First, he gave them a promise
(Genesis 3:15). Secondly, he gave them a type.
The promises and types of the Old Testament are the ways in which God kept his people looking towards the coming
Redeemer. We have traced the stream of promises through the Old Testament by surveying the most prominent among
them and by going into detail about three in particular. Now we pick up the other means by which God pointed to the
coming Redeemer, that is, through types.
A type is a picture, or an emblem, of redemption. It is something that captures and expresses the very essence of
redemption. It may be an institution, an event, or a person. In this chapter we look at the institution of sacrifice. In the
next two chapters, we shall look at an event and a person that typified the work of Christ.
While there are many such types of Christ's redeeming work in the Old Testament, it is safe to say that the greatest of
all these types is the institution of the sacrifice of animals.
The first instance of sacrifice
The first such sacrifice took place there in the garden of Eden before God drove out Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21).
The sacrifice of those animals brings us to the very essence, or core, of God's plan of redemption, which is, as we have
established, propitiation through substitution.
The only way for sinners to be forgiven is for God's anger against them to be appeased. And the only way for it to be
appeased is for the sinner to be punished or judged. Now here is where the element of substitution comes in. If
someone else comes in between the sinner and God, that substitute bears the punishment, or the judgment of God.
God is, therefore, satisfied because sin has been punished but, at the same time, the sinner is spared because the
punishment of God has fallen on another.
In the case of Adam and Eve, we may picture it in this way: the wrath of God was going out towards them because of
their sin, but before it could fall upon them, a substitute came between them and God, and the wrath fell upon that
substitute. That substitute is pictured by God's slaying animals and using their skins to clothe Adam and Eve. This
signified at one and the same time that the works of their own hands, their fig-leaf aprons, were not sufficient for them to
stand acceptably in his presence, and that they could stand acceptably before him on the basis of his wrath being
propitiated by its being spent on a substitute.
From this starting-point, the practice of substitution becomes central to the Old Testament. Every time we see an animal
being sacrificed we see this principle of substitution at work. The Geneva Study Bible says, 'In every animal offering the
worshiper placed his hand on the victim's head, thereby identifying himself with the animal, saying in effect, "This animal
represents me." The animal sacrifices involved the animal's death, and so the sacrifices had atoning symbolism: the
animal dying in the sinful worshiper's place represented redemption from the death he deserved.'
When we say something is a type of Christ, we do not necessarily assert that those people who were personally and
directly involved in the action or event recognized it as such. God sees the end from the beginning. He sees his people
in every age, and some of the types he gave in the Old Testament were designed so that those saints who came along
after Christ could have their faith confirmed and strengthened by looking back into the Old Testament and seeing their
But this greatest of all the types, the sacrifice of animals, was most certainly intended to point the people who practiced it
to Christ. Thomas Boston writes of these sacrifices, 'I say, there is no question but every spiritual believing Jew, when
he brought his sacrifice to be offered, and according to the Lord's command laid his hands upon it, whilst it was yet
alive...he did from his heart acknowledge that he himself had deserved to die; but by the mercy of God he was saved,
and his desert laid upon the beast; and as that beast was to die, and be offered in sacrifice for him, so did he believe
that the Messiah should come and die for him, upon whom he put his hands, that is, laid all his iniquities by the hand of
It should be obvious to us that these animals had no power in themselves actually to make atonement for sin, but they
could point to the coming of the perfect substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. The plan of God required his Son to become
the substitute for his people - that is, to die in their stead. Whenever, therefore, we find this principle of substitution, one
dying in the place of another, we have a picture, or anticipation, of the cross of Christ.
Further instances of sacrifice
Cain and Abel
This matter of substitution is the focus of the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). We may rest assured that Adam
and Eve carefully informed their sons of the need to approach God through the shedding of the blood of innocent
animals. Abel accepted his word and brought an animal sacrifice to God. Cain, on the other hand, having heard the
same message, refused to come in the way God had commanded. Instead he brought the works of his own hands - that
is, the fruit of the ground. Henry Mahan says of Cain's offering: 'It was a bloodless sacrifice, thereby denying his need of
the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Cain would be his own priest, his own mediator and his own intercessor...It denied
that he was a sinner before God, who deserved condemnation and death. He approached God on the grounds of his
own merit and works.
Abraham and Isaac
Substitution was also the focus when Abraham took Isaac up the mountain to offer him up as a burnt offering (Genesis
22:1-14). Isaac was spared because God gave Abraham a ram to offer in his stead, and Abraham came down from that
mountain looking forward to the coming Christ and saying, 'In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided' (Genesis 22:
Substitution was the issue when the children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt. God announced that he was going to
send his angel of death through the land and that those who would escape the sentence of death must slay an
unblemished lamb and place its blood at the top and at the sides of their doors. And the promise he gave was this: 'And
when I see the blood, I will pass over you' (Exodus 12:13).
The greatest instance of sacrifice
The whole sacrificial system God instituted for the people of Israel was built on the concept of substitution. Martyn Lloyd-
Jones writes, 'The blood always means the life poured out. So that in the animal sacrifices the blood means that the
animal had been put to death, the life had been taken, and the blood was taken as proof positive of that - that the
animal had suffered death. The punishment that should have come upon the Jews had come upon the animal as the
substitute. The blood was presented in order to prove the fact of death. "Blood" means therefore "sacrificial death".'
In the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar (our October) came the most important day of the year for the people of
Israel. It was the day in which atonement was made by the high priest of the nation for the sins of the people (Leviticus
The high priest of Israel was to follow carefully a clearly defined procedure:
2. He was to bring to the tabernacle a bull as a sin offering for himself and his family and a ram as a burnt
offering (verse 3).
3. He was to take two goats to the tent of meeting and by lot select one to be a sacrifice and the other to be used
as a scapegoat (verses 7-10).
4. He was to sacrifice the bull as an offering for himself and his family, and take its blood, along with a censer of
burning coals and some fine incense, into the Most Holy Place. There the blood was to be sprinkled on the mercy-
seat. This sprinkling was to be done seven times with his finger (verses 11-14).
5. The goat selected for sacrifice was to be slain as an offering for the sins of the people. Its blood was also to
be sprinkled on the mercy-seat (verses 15-16).
6. The high priest was to sprinkle the blood of the goat in the tabernacle of meeting (verse 16) and on the main
altar (verses 18-19).
7. The high priest was then to lay his hands on the head of the second goat, confess the sins of the people and
send the goat into the wilderness (verses 20-22).
8. After this the high priest was to remove his linen garments, wash himself, dress in his regular garments and
offer burnt offerings for himself and for the people (verses 23-24).
9. The skins and flesh of the animals used for sacrifice were to be taken outside the camp and burned (verse 27).
The central truth
Such a procedure seems very strange these days, and many are inclined to see it as a custom devised by a very
primitive and superstitious people. But it was something far greater than that. Indeed, this procedure was not devised
by the people of Israel at all; it was given to them by God as an affirmation on a much larger scale of the same truth
announced in Eden - namely, that guilty sinners can be acceptable to God on the basis of a substitute who bears their
penalty. The word 'atonement' means 'to cover over'. The death of the animals in place of the sinner 'covers over' the
sin of the sinner and, in so doing, shields him from the wrath of God.
It must always be remembered, however, that the animals sacrificed could not in reality take the place of sinners. An
animal cannot pay for a man's sin (Hebrews 10:4). But those animals could and did serve the purpose of pointing
forward to the one who could indeed be a substitute for sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ. Because he was a man, he
could take the place of men. Because he was the God-man, he could take the place of more than one man. The Day of
Atonement must be seen, therefore, as an additional picture of the work of Jesus Christ, the perfect substitute.
When we approach that day with Christ in mind, we are immediately able to see some important distinctions and some
very interesting parallels.
One of these distinctions is that on the Day of Atonement the high priest offered the blood of another - and an
involuntary victim at that - in the Most Holy Place. But the Lord Jesus Christ is both our High Priest and our sacrifice. In
other words, he, as High Priest, offered his own blood as the sacrifice for his people, and he did it voluntarily.
A second distinction should go without saying: while the high priest of Israel had to first make atonement for himself, the
Lord Jesus, as our High Priest, had no sin for which to atone. He was, in the words of the apostle Peter, 'without blemish
and without spot' (I Peter 1:19).
Another important distinction is that while the high priest of Israel had to make atonement for the sins of the people on a
yearly basis, which signified the inability of the animals to atone for the sins of men, the Lord Jesus Christ atoned for the
sins of his people once and for all (Hebrews 9:25-28).
In addition to these things, we must observe that on the Day of Atonement the high priest went into an earthly sanctuary
to offer up his sacrifices. The Lord Jesus Christ, however, went into the heavenly sanctuary (of which the earthly
sanctuary was a mere copy) to make his atonement (Hebrews 9:11-15, 23-24). This does not mean the Lord Jesus
Christ actually carried his shed blood into heaven itself, but rather that he entered into heaven as our High Priest on the
basis of, or by virtue of, his shed blood.
Finally, the high priest of Israel went into th Most Holy Place as the representative of his people. No one was allowed to
follow him there. But Jesus Christ is not only the representative of his people, but also their forerunner (Hebrews 6:20).
In other words, he has ,as their High Priest, made it possible for them to follow him into heaven itself.
The following are some of the major ways in which the work of Christ is pictured, or typified, by the Day of Atonement.
Firstly, the high priest's actions in putting off his regular garments, washing himself and putting on white linen may be
taken as a picture of Christ laying aside his glory and being clothed in our humanity, a humanity in which he was
undefiled by sin (Hebrews 7:26).
Secondly, the two goats, one for the sin offering and the other as the scapegoat, must be taken as a type of two aspects
of the work of Christ. He not only died as our sin offering but, in doing so, also bore our sins away to such a degree that
they will never be found again or remembered again (Hebrews 8:12).
Thirdly, the fact that the high priest alone performed all the work on the Day of Atonement pictures the truth that Christ
alone made atonement for his people. Christ is truly able to take up the words of the prophet Isaiah: 'I have trodden the
winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me' (Isaiah 63:3).
Fourthly, as the burning of the skins and flesh of the animals used for sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was to take
place outside the camp, so Christ went outside the city of Jerusalem to be consumed with the fire of God's wrath
Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of the Day of Atonement has to do with the ark of the covenant and the
mercy-seat. The ark contained the tables of stone on which God had written the Ten Commandments. Those tables
represented the righteous demands of God. The mercy-seat was set above the ark, and was exactly the same width as
the ark. When the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the ark, it indicated that the blood of that innocent
substitute perfectly satisfied the demands of God's law. That constitutes a beautiful picture of the cross of Christ. There
Jesus shed his blood and perfectly satisfied God's demand for sinners to be punished for their sins. The law of God is
perfectly answered by the cross of Christ.
The purpose of the Day of Atonement, then, was to point the people to the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each
year it reminded the people of the plan of redemption God announced to Adam and Eve, a redemption that was made
possible only by the coming Christ offering himself up as the substitute for them.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.
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