Shadows Point Us To Christ: Sacrifice

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul referred to many of the institutions and commands revealed under the Law as, “things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17).  The same idea is found in Hebrews 10:1. The Spirit says, “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things…”  In both of these passages, the law is called a “shadow” of what would come in Jesus Christ. Another word used in scripture for a shadow is a “type”. A shadow/type can be defined as, “prefiguring of something future from itself.  It is a person, institution, office, action, or event, by means of which some truth of the Gospel was divinely foreshadowed in the Old Testament.” They are “prophetic pictures” or illustrations of the life and work of Jesus Christ. We will examine many of these shadows:

  • The Sacrificial System
  • Saints
  • Special Feast Days
  • The Sanctuary

The Old Testament Sacrificial System

In the Old Testament, God wanted a relationship with His people that was only necessary if they were holy. For this to be a possibility, God graciously put a system into place that would give His people the ability to have their sins forgiven and atoned for. In His love and mercy, He allowed an innocent animal to take the place of the guilty sinner. The animal would pay the price that was due the sinner. Instead of the blood of the sinner being shed for his sin, which is what the sinner deserves, the blood of the innocent animal was shed. In Leviticus 16:30 God states, “for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” The life of the animal atoned for, or covered, the sins of the sinner. This is described in detail in Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” Blood is the only thing that can pay the price for sin. Good works, good morals, or good intentions cannot pay the price for sin. No amount of money can pay the price. Only blood can. Blood is what God had determined to make atonement for the sinner according to Leviticus 17:11. But why blood?

  • The blood represents the life of the animal.
  • The innocent life atones for the sinner’s life.
  • The innocent life receives the penalty of the guilty life.

The Hebrews writer says it clearly, “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). Blood must be shed. A life must be taken for sin to be removed. Let’s consider some facts about animal sacrifices:

  • The animal was innocent. Atonement for the sinner was only possible through the sacrifice of a pure, innocent life. If the animal sinned, it would have been just as liable to pay the price for its own sins.
  • The animal also had to be physically perfect, spotless, and unblemished according to Leviticus 22:21-27. God wanted the one bringing the sacrifice to bring the best that they had to offer.
  • The sinner DID NOT deserve this substitution. Those who had sinned did not deserve an innocent being to step in and take their punishment, yet God permitted this by His grace.

What was it that made animal sacrifice work? Was it good enough for the sinner to kill their animals without knowing why? No, this was not good enough. Was it good enough just to believe in animal sacrifice? Could they just believe that animal sacrifice could forgive them by the grace of God and not go through the actual process of killing the animal? No. What made animal sacrifice effective was the active faith of the believer ̶ the faith of the one making the sacrifice. They believed what the Lord had said and did what He told them to do to be forgiven of their sins. Neither going through the act without faith nor just mentally believing in what sacrifice could do without showing it was good enough. Hebrews 11:6 demonstrates to us that faith is belief and action. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Faith is a belief based action. This is what God requires. Those who believe in the existence of God will show their faith by seeking God! Here are some examples of faith from the Old Testament that we are given in Hebrews 11:

  • “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice” (Heb 11:4).
  • “By faith Noah… in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household”  (Heb 11:7).
  • “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out” (Heb 11:8).
  • “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” (Heb 11:17).

All of these verses show us that faith is active.  These men believed the Lord and showed it by doing what He commanded. James makes the same point about faith. He asks the rhetorical question in James 2:14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” The answer is no. In verses 14-19, he shows us that faith is active. James says that an inactive faith is useless; it cannot save! If it could, the demons would be saved! (see James 2:19) This fact shows us a startling truth: there will be believers in hell! In verse 24 he states, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” An active faith is what made animal sacrifice effective for the sinner under the Old Testament. The sinner believed what God had said regarding how to receive atonement for his sin, and from the heart obeyed God by sacrificing the animal so he could be forgiven.

We are given a picture of the process of animal sacrifice in Leviticus 1:1-9. The sinner was active in the sacrifice of the animal. The sinner by faith brought the sacrifice to the priest. He would place his hands on its head to show the animal was going to be killed to make atonement for his sin. In Leviticus 16, we are also told the sins of the sinner were placed on the head of the sacrifice. Next, the sinner would kill the sacrifice, experiencing the death of the animal as its life was taken on his behalf. He would actually feel the life drain from the animal. How sobering this must have been! Through this process, the sinner paid the price and died symbolically through the innocent representative, resulting in the sinner being sanctified (made holy again). The penalty of his sin would be removed and he would be reconciled to God. The fellowship with God that was lost would be restored by His grace.

This system of sacrifice continued for over a thousand years. Millions of animals were killed for the sins of the people. But all of this had a purpose! Returning to where we began in Galatians 3:24, we have seen our tutor (or teacher), the Old Testament, teach us about how God takes care of the sin problem. The Law has taught us about blood atonement through sacrifice and a representative death. All of this had the purpose of teaching and to prepare mankind for a specific time in history when God would send His Son into the world. John the Baptist, Jesus’ prophesied forerunner, looks up one day and sees Jesus coming to him, and he makes a profound proclamation about Him:

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

(John 1:29)

Jesus is the Lamb of God! God’s amazing plan to save mankind is summed up in this one verse. So what is John saying? He is saying that this is God’s sacrifice! This is God’s sacrifice to atone for and to pay the price for the sins of the world. Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth was to bear our sins and to die as our sacrifice. He bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we may be healed (1 Peter 2:24). He shed His blood so we can be forgiven of sin (see Matthew 26:28).  Instead of the blood of an animal, it is the blood of Jesus Christ and the perfect sacrifice of His life that atones for our sin in fulfillment of the Law.

In 1 John 3:5 we learn something important about Christ’s life which made it possible for Him to be a sacrifice for sin. “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” Jesus did not sin (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19), and because of this, He was qualified to be the sacrifice to die in our place. Just as in the Old Testament, the innocent died for the guilty ̶ the just for the unjust, as 1 Peter 3:18 describes it. If Jesus had sinned, He would not have been an adequate sacrifice for our sin.  He would have been liable for His own sin.

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