At the heart of the Old Testament is the story of the Exodus. This is the foundational event in the formation of Israel as a nation. At the heart of the New Testament is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. And this is a foundation event in the creation of the church.
It is easy to read about the events of the Exodus and at Sinai and see it as having some historical interest. But nothing particularly relevant to 21st century American Christians. I believe there are two reasons for us to understand what is taking place here. The first is that it will help us to understand better the references to sacrifices scattered throughout the New Testament, particularly in Hebrews. And the second, and more important reason, is that the Exodus will help us to understand the events of Easter better; the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. This article will take a look at the relationship between these two events.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Table of contents
In the Torah, especially Exodus, is found the story of God delivering a ragtag group of slaves out of Egypt. After he brought them to Sinai, he established a covenant with them. This covenant promised Israel that they would be God’s chosen people. At least as long as they followed the expectations of that covenant. Expectations that came to be known as the Law. The Law established a priesthood, a place of worship, and a sacrificial system.
Of particular importance was the Day of Atonement, an annual sacrifice to make atonement for the High Priest, for the people, and the Tabernacle and its furnishings. This sacrifice included a pair of goats for the people, the first being a sin offering and the second being the scapegoat, one who would bear the people’s sins out into the wilderness.
The Significance of the Torah
Central to much of what takes place in Exodus and Leviticus was the shedding of blood. Blood represents life, and it was tightly regulated in the Torah. Human blood was not to be shed, except for extreme violations of the Law. And animal blood was not to be consumed. Instead, it was to be poured out as an offering to God. Blood was an integral part of the Old Testament worship as well. As Hebrews 9:22 says, “the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.“
Hebrews 10:1 says that “the law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” So now, on the other side of the Law, we should be able to see some of these ‘realities’ that the Law pointed to, including the extensive use of blood. Included among the ‘shadows’ pictured by the Law are:
In the 12th chapter of Exodus, God instructed the Hebrews to kill a lamb, put its blood on the doorframe of their houses, and then eat the lamb. When the death angel passed through Egypt, he would pass over all the houses with the blood, not killing their firstborn. The lamb that was slain takes the place of those in the house. And it delivered them from God’s judgment on Egypt.
Confiming the Covenant
As a part of confirming the covenant in Exodus 24:3-8, several bulls were sacrificed as burnt offerings. The blood of the bulls was collected and then sprinkled on the people. This was described as the blood of the covenant. This blood served both to confirm the covenant and to purify the covenant people.
The Day of Atonement
As a part of the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus 16, a bull and a goat were sacrificed as sin offerings. The bull was the sin offering for the high priest. And the goat was a sin offering for the people. The blood of both animals, each in their turn, were collected and taken into the Most Holy Place. There it was sprinkled on the atonement cover or mercy seat. This was to make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the sin of the people. It was then sprinkled on the Tabernacle and the altar of burnt offerings. Once again, to make atonement for them.
A second goat used on the Day of Atonement was the scapegoat. Leviticus 16:20-22 instructed the high priest to put his hands on the head of the goat. To confess over it all the sins of the people. And then to send it out into the wilderness. As it went, it carried on itself all the sins of the people.
For each of these ‘shadow’ requirements of the Law, their reality is found in Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross.
Christ, Our Passover Lamb
In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul told us that Christ, our Passover lamb, had been slain. It was no coincidence that Jesus’ crucifixion occurred at the Passover. The Passover was pointing to him. And his death for us is our Passover event. Jesus became our Passover Lamb, protecting us from God’s righteous judgment.
The Blood of the Covenant
The author of Hebrews referred to the blood of the covenant in Hebrews 9:16-28. Here he talked about Christ’s blood being used to purify the heavenly sanctuary as well as the people of the covenant. Christ was the mediator of the new covenant, and his blood was used to establish the covenant. As well as to purify both the worshippers and the place of worship. His blood inaugurated the new covenant and our participation in it.
Atonement at the Cross
Hebrews 9:6-14 referred to the sacrificial goat of the Day of Atonement. But the sacrifice was made, not at an earthly temple, but at the heavenly sanctuary. Here Christ, as the high priest, went into the Most Holy Place. And there he made atonement for our sins with his own blood.
While not certain, it is likely that the second goat of the Day of Atonement is what John the Baptist refers to in John 1:29. Here he announced, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” As our scapegoat, Jesus carried our sins out into the wilderness, removing them from us.
The Old Testament paints a vivid picture of the sacrifice Christ made for us, and the significance of it. I am thankful that Jesus is my Passover lamb, delivering me from judgment. That he is the atoning sacrifice for my sin, sanctifying me by his blood. And that he takes on himself my sin, bearing it far away from me. He has done for me what I could not do for myself.
As you celebrate Easter this year, look beyond the fancy clothes, the Easter eggs, and other trappings of the day. Instead look to him, who through the sacrifice of himself, cleansed us from sin and ensured an eternal redemption for us.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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