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Practical Theology | Once for All

  • April 2023 Issue
Practical Theology

“Sacrifices pointed out the problem sin poses but were not meant to solve it. That task was reserved for Christ.”

Leviticus is not an easy book to read, with its collection of rules and rituals. Old Testament scholar R. K. Harrison calls the book of Leviticus “a well-organized reference manual for the Old Testament priesthood.”

Those more familiar with the New Testament than the Old may feel as if they are in an entirely different world when they read Leviticus, and in a way, they are. The sacrifices and repeated cycles of offerings had a temporary function and played a specific role in God’s plan of redemption. According to the author of Hebrews, they were a “shadow” of what Christ would do and served as a “reminder of sins” (Heb. 10:1, 3). In other words, these sacrifices pointed out the problem sin poses but were not meant to solve it. That task was reserved for Christ.

The book of Hebrews points out a fundamental difference between the sacrifices in Leviticus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The sacrifices required by the law of Moses were merely a “copy” (Heb. 9:24). As a reminder of sin, they were repeated on a regular basis. The offering of Christ was real and permanent. Jesus “appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26).

As a foreshadowing of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice of Himself, the book of Leviticus has much to teach us. But Christ’s perfect offering has made Leviticus obsolete as a worship manual (see also Heb. 8:3). Unlike these sacrifices, Jesus does not need to be offered again and again (Heb. 10:11–12). By that one sacrifice, “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb. 10:14). We do not draw near to God by offering the blood of bulls and goats but “by the blood of Jesus” who provided “a new and living way” (Heb. 10:19–20).

The mode of worship described in Leviticus paved the way for the worship we read about in the New Testament. We can learn about sin and holiness by studying Leviticus. But we cannot be made perfect by the sacrifices it describes. For that, we need Jesus!

For Further Study

To learn more, read Leviticus by Samuel Schultz (Moody Publishers).

BY Dr. John Koessler

John Koessler is Professor Emeritus of Applied Theology and Church Ministries at Moody Bible Institute. John authors the “Practical Theology” column for Today in the Word of which he is also a contributing writer and theological editor. An award-winning author, John’s newest title is When God is Silent: Let the Bible Teach You to Pray (Kirkdale). Prior to joining the Moody faculty, he served as a pastor of Valley Chapel in Green Valley, Illinois, for nine years. He and his wife, Jane, now enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan.

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