Although Jewish and Christian scholars disagree about whether the sacrifices were to cease after the coming of the Messiah, as Edersheim points out, all agree that the object of a sacrifice was substitution for the offender (The Temple – Its Ministry and Service, p. 90). He also notes that the Jewish fathers along with the Scriptures that all these substitutionary sacrifices pointed to none other than the Messiah. This understanding is especially expressed in the proto-rabbinic biblical Aramaic commentaries or Targumim (e.g. Tarum Jonathan and the Jerusalem Targum; ibid., p. 92). Later rabbinic sages, in light of the rise of Christianity, were loath to accept this interpretation and, to this day, pretend it was never the belief of their ancient predecessors.
As the Tanakh progresses, the concept of the substitutionary sacrifice as it relates to the sinner and to the Messiah expands and unfolds. The unity of the Tanakh in this regard and its progression of revelation on this subject must be taken into consideration when studying the sacrifices listed in Leviticus and the rest of the Torah if we are to understand completely the biblical concept of substitutionary sacrifice as well as the Messianic prophecies. The concept of sacrifice in the Tanakh point us prophetically in progressive stages to the sin atoning death of the Messiah on behalf of sinners. Such passages in the Tanakh as Pss 2, 22, 35, 69, 72, 89, 110, 118 along with Isa 52:13–53:12 (many other scriptural passages could be cited here as well) point undeniably to the Person and work of Yeshua the Messiah including his suffering and glorification. The apostolic writers understood these prophecies and how Yeshua fulfilled them perfectly (e.g. Isa 52:13–53:12 cp. Heb 9:11–15; 10:4–7, 1; etc.), and this understanding forms the basis for the New Testament, which the authors thereof refer to as The Testimony of Yeshua (Rev 1:9; 6:2; etc.).
The Prophetic Significance of the Offerings
Along with the burnt offering there were five other types of offerings each representing different aspects of a follower of Yeshua dealing with sin in his life. They are listed in Leviticus and elsewhere in the Torah. They are:
- the meal or cereal offering (Lev 2; 6:14–23)
- the guilt or sin offering (Lev 4; 6:24–30)
- the trespass offering (Lev 5:14–6:7)
- the peace or wave offering (Lev 3; 7:11–21)
- the drink offering (Exod 29:40;–41; 30:9; Lev 23:13; Num 6:17; 15:5, 7, 10, 24; 28:7–10, 15, 24; 29:16, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 38)
In these offerings, there is great spiritual symbolism. For example, the oil, salt, flour, frankincense and baking over fire of the meal offering all point to Yeshua. In scriptural poetic symbolism, oil represents the Set-Apart (Holy) Spirit of Elohim and the Torah, fine flour speaks of the righteousness of Yeshua who is the Bread of Life, while salt is a metaphor for purity and taste enhancement, and frankincense speaks of prayers of the saints. This offering contained no leavening agent; it was unleavened bread, and leavening is a scriptural metaphor for sin. It contained no honey, since honey overpowers the real flavor of something. This prophetically points to the words spoken by Yeshua; they were not “sweetened” to blunt their real truth or intent. The Word of Elohim is never compromised to placate the palate of the carnal man (see John 6:60; 3:34; 8:28; Rev 1:5). The meal offering was baked by fire. Yeshua fulfilled this offering in every way by his death on the cross (see Isa 53:5–12; compare with Ps 22:15; Luke 23:56–24:1; John 3:14; 12:32). The Testimony of Yeshua teaches us that redeemed believers are to fulfill this prophetic symbolism by becoming like “living sacrifices” (see Rom 12:1; Matt 5:10–13; John 16:33; 2 Tim 3:12).
What Was the Purpose of the Sacrificial System?
The concept of animal sacrifices may be a hard for modern people to comprehend—especially for those who are squeamish when it comes to death and blood. This ancient ritual, rooted in the nomadic lifestyles of the inhabitants of the Middle East, carried more symbolic significance for a people whose daily existence was tied to the earth and who were dependent on domestic animals for their survival. It is out of this cultural background that the biblical narrative springs and with it the ritual symbols with which the ancient people described therein could relate. With these things in mind, the following is a list showing the main reasons for YHVH’s establishment of an animal sacrificial system as a means to help man to understand spiritual lessons far beyond the actual sacrifice itself.
The laws pertaining to the sacrificial system were added to the rest of the Torah because of sin, and were in force until the time of Yeshua the promised Seed (Gal 3:19). When and why did YHVH add them making this system incumbent upon the Israelites? This occurred after and because of the sin of the golden calf. It was then that YHVH established the Levitical priesthood and subsequently gave Israel the sacrificial system to not only show them the seriousness and grave consequences of sins, but to guide them forward on the path toward redemption and salvation.
The Levitical system foreshadowed and pointed to the Messiah’s ultimate sacrifice (Heb 9:11–12).
The tabernacle offerings were specifically designed to spiritually draw the offerer near to Elohim through the sacrifice of a prescribed animal (Ps 51:16–17; 50:12–15 cp. 1 Pet 2:21).
Elohim commanded offerings to assist the offerer to better understand himself; his attitude, and his personal relationship with Elohim (e.g. Gen 3:21; 4:3–5; 8:20; 22:1–2 cp. 1 Cor 11:28).
Altars were erected by the patriarchs in order to honor Elohim through sacrifice after having had direct contact with him (Gen 12:6–8; 13:18; 26:24–25; 35:1; 35:2–4; Exod 17:13–16; cp. Exod 20:12).
Proper and regular sacrificial offerings kept the children of Israel in direct contact with the Elohim of the patriarchs (Exod 5:3; 10:25; cp. 1 Tim 2:5).
To make the offerer holy (set-apart) so that he would be allowed to approach and commune with the Set-Apart Elohim of Israel (Isa 43:15; 57:15; Lev 19:2 cp. 2 Cor 6:16–18).
Under certain circumstances, blood, as used in the Levitical system, could serve as a purification agent for both people and objects (Heb 9:18–23 cp. Luke 2:22–24).
The blood of the animal sacrifices served to cover the offerer’s sins, thereby allowing him to draw near to the Set-Apart Elohim of Israel. However, the offerer could only be forgiven for specific sins through full repentance and by returning to Elohim’s way of life as outlined in the Torah (Lev 1:4; 4:35; 23:27–28; Heb 10:3–4; cp. Rom 4:7–8).
The purpose of the animals offered by the Levitical priesthood served as a shadow of the blood of Messiah, which does not merely cover our sins, but removes all of the sins of the person who accepts Yeshua’s offering of himself for that sinner (Heb 9:11–12, 24–28; 1 Pet 1:18–19; Eph 5:25–27; Lev 25:47–49; Rom 5:11; John 1:29 cp. Heb 13:10–13).