The book of Leviticus was a priestly manual. According to Old Testament scholar J. Barton Payne, it served a specific purpose: "God revealed the priestly codes to Moses in 1445 B.C. at Sinai, immediately after the construction of the Tabernacle. The purpose of these was to provide professional guidance for the priests and a detailed liturgy for the house of God." The laws found in the book of Leviticus differ from those found in Deuteronomy primarily in their scope. The laws of Deuteronomy were more comprehensive, intended to guide God’s people in their new life in Canaan. The laws of Leviticus were more technical and related to the priestly rituals associated with Israel’s worship.
When Christ came, however, an important theological shift occurred. These Old Testament laws, which figured so importantly in the daily life and worship of God’s people, had fulfilled their purpose and were replaced by a new order. The sacrifices demanded by the Law of Moses ceased to be necessary, since Christ’s sacrifice of Himself accomplished what the Levitical sacrifices could not (Heb. 10:1). The Levitical priesthood became obsolete, surpassed and replaced by the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:11–14). In the current church age every believer is a priest and has direct access to the Father’s presence.
The blood of Christ gives us the confidence to approach God directly without the help of an earthly mediator (Heb. 10:19–22). This access gives every believer the status of priest. We offer our worship to God as we "declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). We present our bodies (i.e., our lives) to God as a living sacrifice and an act of true worship (Rom. 12:1).
We should not conclude from the Bible’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers that the church has no need of designated leaders. In his first epistle Peter describes all believers as priests, but also describes the responsibilities of the church’s elders. They serve as the church’s shepherds (1 Peter 5:1–2).
Nor should we conclude that believers no longer need a High Priest. The writer of Hebrews assures us that Jesus Christ continues to serve as our heavenly High Priest. Because He was made like us, Jesus is able to be merciful. Because He was sinless, He is able to be faithful (Heb. 2:15). Because He was tempted like us in every way, He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Because He was victorious over temptation, sin, and death, He is able to offer redemption. Jesus always lives to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25).
For Further Study
To learn more about how Jesus is reflected in Leviticus, read Leviticus by Andrew Bonar (Banner of Truth).
By John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of Folly, Grace & Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching (Zondervan), A Stranger in the House of God (Zondervan) and served as general editor of The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.