Romans (Part 45) – Atonement Part 6 (13:11)
The Christian understanding of the atonement, then, has suffered from the confusion of the world’s faulty ideas. Both progressives and evangelicals (biblically conservative Christians) assimilate those wrong death-gift-for-blessing ideas. So the progressives shun the whole idea of sacrifice as a barbaric practice. The conservatives insist that sacrifice is substitutionary payment of a penalty to get back into the good graces of a God who is shunning them. But neither viewpoint is biblical. As mentioned, the sacrificial system was not to win God’s favor as if he were neutrally or unfavorably inclined in desire for relationship. It was God himself who designed the sacrificial process precisely because he was deeply interested in relationship. That relationship, then, is the purpose behind sacrifice. As mentioned last time, God’s desire in the Old Testament sacrifice was to illustrate redemption and forgiveness that result in relationship.
We rightly understand that the activity of sacrifice—or simply considering the term itself—has the idea of giving something up for the sake of some cause. And this is true in God’s economy. The whole faulty existence of humankind since the fall is individual or selfish pursuit rather than a pursuit of relationship established on God’s essence. So, sacrifice calls to mind the giving up of that selfish pursuit for the cause of biblical relationship.
In his sacrificial system, God instituted five main offering (sacrifice) types: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Let’s examine those briefly.
Burnt offerings (discussed in Leviticus 1:3–17 and again in Lev 6:8–13) were primarily to atone for sin in a general sense. The offeror brought an animal to the altar outside the holy place of the tabernacle. The offeror placed his or her hands on the head of the animal to identify himself with it (“so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” Lev 1:4). The offeror would then kill the animal. The priest would take some of its blood and sprinkle it all over the altar. Then the priest would burn the sacrifice on the altar.
Grain offerings (discussed in Lev 2:1–16 and again in Lev 6:14–23) were presented to show devotion to God. The offeror would bring fine flour mixed with olive oil and salt. (Salt, a preservative, was used to symbolize the preserving, or permanent, aspect of the covenant.) Frankincense would also be brought with the grain offering. The priest would take a handful of the flour mixed with oil and all the frankincense and burn that on the altar. The rest of the grain and oil, considered the holiest part of the offering, was to be eaten by the priest in the tabernacle courtyard.
Peace offerings (discussed in Lev 3:1–17 and again in Lev 7:11–21) were presented to show satisfaction with God’s activity. For example, an Israelite may have had a distressing situation for which prayer to God was made. For the outcome of that situation, the offeror would bring a peace offering to show satisfaction and contentment with God’s interaction. The offeror would place his or her hands on the animal’s head for identification with it. The offeror would kill the animal. The priests would sprinkle the blood all over the altar (as in the burnt offering). But only the fat of the animal—from the entrails, liver, kidneys, and tail—would be burned. The rest could be eaten by the priests or the offeror. This fat portion of the animal represented excess or abundance. Just as the Israelites were promised “the fat of the land” in Egypt (Gen 45:18), the fat of the animal symbolized giving to God of the abundance he provided.
Sin offerings (discussed in Lev 4:1–5:13 and again in Lev 6:24–30) were to atone for unintentional sin. These unintentional sins were sins not really understood as sins when committed but recognized as sins later, such as rashly vowing to do something good or evil that can’t or shouldn’t be done. It is an influence of the body to do something that, upon thinking clearly or with full knowledge, you realize you shouldn’t have done. Again, the offeror places hands on the animal’s head for identification and then kills the animal. The priests sprinkle blood on the horns of the altar and its base. The priests burn the fat on the alatr, but the rest of the animal is taken outside the camp to be burned.
Guilt offerings (discussed in Lev 5:14–6:7 and again in Lev 7:1–10) are also called trespass offerings or restitution offerings. These offerings were to make restitution for something someone did that was wrong and harmful. The requirement was to repay what was done through sacrifice or restoration to a person wronged plus giving an extra 20%. The fat of the sacrifice is burned and the priest may eat of it within the tabernacle courtyard.
While all these offerings show aspects of relationship, we are going to concentrate on the sin offering. It is the sin offering that we most relate to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The sin offering is the offering predominantly discussed in Leviticus 16 concerning the Day of Atonement—the one day of the year specifically set aside to seek atonement for sin and to cleanse the tabernacle for the uncleanness of the people.
So, then, regarding the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, two goats were to be presented to make atonement for the people’s sins. The animals were to be without blemish. One of the goats was to be offered, according to standard procedure of the sin offering. The high priest would place his hands on the goat’s head, identifying it with Israel. The high priest would slaughter the animal, burning the fat on the altar and the rest of the body outside the camp. The blood of the slaughtered goat would be sprinkled within the Holy of Holies—the only time anyone ever entered the Holy of Holies.
After this sacrifice, the high priest presents the other goat before the Lord. He lays his hands on its head and confesses the sins of the people over it, symbolically putting the sins on the goat’s head. Now, if I held to the idea of penal substitution, I would really want the directions for what comes next to be that this goat is slaughtered, being killed for the penalty of sin placed on it. That’s what penal substitutionists believe happened with Christ—that he received the sins of the world placed on him and then went to die the penalty for that guilt. But that is not what happens to this goat. This goat, which has received on it the sins of the people, is led far away into the wilderness never to return. So, then, the only time in the whole sacrificial system that we are ever told that sins are transferred to a sacrificial animal, it is not for the purpose of paying the price through death. It is for the purpose of representing how sins are forever removed. It echoes David’s cry in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” God specifically uses two goats because he wants to get across these two ideas without having them confused. Sin is sent away; its penalty is not paid in death. The death is to symbolize something else.
Notice again what happens with the goat that is slaughtered. There is a separation in that goat—blood from body. The blood represents the spirit being released from the body that has the inherent curse upon it. That body is burned outside the camp, meaning that it has no connection with God. It is not an offering picturing something God gets but rather as something God discards. But what God does get is the blood, that representation of the unblemished animal’s spirit. The blood is accepted into the Holy of Holies itself—the meeting place with God, cleansing that meeting place. It is the blood that symbolizes life (which, remember, means relationship with God). Lev 17:11 tells us, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.” Recognize the importance of that statement! It is not a guilty payment of a penalty that makes atonement. It is the pure spirit lifeblood that makes atonement.
This picture shows the atonement of Christ! He lives in perfect, sinless conformity to the Covenant of Life, living his earthly life completely based on God’s essence—his truth, goodness, and beauty. His spirit is pure as he goes to the cross. He gives up his life, shedding his blood in imaging of the release of his perfect spirit from the sin-cursed flesh. But precisely because his spirit is holy (Acts 2:31), his now qualified (proven) perfection reasserts itself into the flesh, driving out the curse exactly as depicted with the pure animal’s blood cleansing the temple, which depicts the new body cleansed and in which he is then ready to meet God. Remember, we have relationship with God based onhis essence of TGB, but that relationship occurs inour essence of physical reality. And that is what the OT sacrificial is meant to show us.
Thus, we who trust in God’s salvation, who in faith look to live in relationship with God based on his TGB, die with Christ (Ro 6:4) and consider our bodies dead (Ro 6:11a), releasing our forgiven spirits from the cursed flesh (Ro 7:4) to take residence in his now pure flesh, being now “alive to God inChrist Jesus” (Ro 6:11b)! And we look forward to the day of Christ’s return when his purifying righteousness, which had been given as firstfruits in resurrecting his body, will purify all physical creation, giving us our new bodies, cleansed from curse, to unite with our forgiven spirits as pure and holy before our God.