Christ As The Burnt Offering

The work of Christ is so unfathomable to the human mind that God has given us numerous pictures of it in the Old Testament in order to help us appreciate the multifaceted glory of the Messiah. Due to past abuses of typology, in recent days the typological significance of many of the great events of the Bible has been either ignored or reviled by many Bible teachers; nevertheless, the New Testament itself bears witness to the presence of types and shadows in its ancient counterpart. The Lord Jesus Himself sanctioned the typological interpretation of the Scriptures in His discourse to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:25--27) Likewise, by inspiration the writer to the Hebrews employed many types in exhorting his audience to appreciate the superiority of the Lord Jesus above all else (e.g. Heb. 8-10.) Other scriptures could be cited to prove this point, but the aforementioned verses should be ample for justifying the study of Biblical typology.

Among the many types of the Old Testament perhaps few are as comprehensive as the Levitical offerings. In these five offerings we have a well-rounded view of Christ's work and the consequent benefits to the believer. In the initial instructions concerning the offerings, the burnt offering stands first on the list. This position is no accident, but rather has great significance to the careful student of Scripture. This offering speaks of the Lord Jesus presenting Himself wholly to God. From the human standpoint, a repentant sinner normally thinks of the truths that the offerings symbolize in reverse order (i.e. beginning with the trespass and sin offerings and proceeding onward to the burnt offering.) This notwithstanding, the burnt offering aspect of the Lord's death is the basis of all of the other facets of Christ's redemptive work. Without the complete presentation of Himself to God there could be no redemption, propitiation, forgiveness, etc. From the divine perspective, the burnt offering character of the Lord's death is fundamental to all of the other sacrifices, and therefore, is first discussed in Leviticus 1.

The burnt offering's Hebrew name, olah, comes from a root meaning "ascending"; this speaks of the death of the Lord Jesus coming up before God. Like the meal and peace offerings, the burnt offering was referred to as a "sweet savour" (Lev. 1:9,13,17; the author likes the New American Standard's rendering: "a soothing aroma.") These three offerings present the work of Christ without emphasizing the sin bearing aspect; consequently, the holy God, who despises all sin, found them especially pleasing.

It is beautiful to consider how the offerings were first given. ne book of Exodus ends by speaking of God's awesome shekinah glory resting upon the Tabernacle. While such a scene inspires wonder, it does not present a welcome for men who are tainted by sin! The Israelites could not approach "the dwelling" (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for 'Tabernacle"), for their sin kept them from a relationship with the Holiest Being in the Universe. Like their ancestors Adam and Eve, their consciences were inclined to tell them to run from the pillar of fire that hovered over the previously mentioned structure, rather than draw near and commune with their Creator.

Unlike its predecessor, Leviticus commences with a far different tone; it begins by saying: "And the Lord called..." (interestingly, this phrase is the name of the book in the Hebrew Torah.) The nineteenth-century scholar S. H. Kellogg noted the difference between Exodus and Leviticus in these words: "The first words from Sinai had been the holy law, forbidding sin with threatening of wrath the first words from the tent of meeting are words of grace, concerning fellowship with the Holy One maintained through sacrifice, and atonement for sin by the shedding of blood. A contrast this which is itself a Gospel!"1 How precious it is to know that the Divine heart longed to commune with His creatures, rather than sovereignly execute judgment without possibility of forgiveness. Based on the work of His Son, God can call to His redeemed ones and bid them come near to worship Him. We must never forget, however, that this would not be possible apart from the burnt offering aspect of the work of the Lord Jesus.

As to the sacrifice itself. the offerer was instructed to bring an unblemished male "of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock." (Lev. 1:2) These three classes of animals were non-carnivorous and ceremonially clean, speaking of the Holy One who did not take the lives of others, but "gave His life a ransom for many."2 (Matt. 20:28) The person bringing the offering was then told to place their hands upon the head of the animal, in front of the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. In the ancient world, this action signified complete identification on the part of the offerer with the offering; in other words, this innocent victim was taking his place. The Hebrew word that is translated "lay" in verse four, really means to "to lay the hand as to rest or lean heavily upon..."; thus it pictures the complete reliance of the offerer upon the sacrifice.3 Likewise, the believer completely relies on the voluntary presentation of the Lamb of God for his acceptance before God.

The first physical component of the sacrifice that is mentioned is the blood; throughout the Old and New Testaments, this vital fluid is used as a picture of life. (e.g. Lev. 17:11,14) Although Christians delight to sing hymns like "There is a fountain filled with blood," "Power in the blood,"and "Precious, precious, blood of Jesus," it is God the Father who possesses the supreme appreciation of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though thrilled by the redemption that we have in Christ Jesus, our hearts and minds cannot enter into the pleasure that God received from seeing His Son completely fulfill His will at Calvary.

The offering was flayed and cut into pieces before being placed on the brazen altar. This action suggests that the Lamb of God was subjected to careful scrutiny of the tiniest portions of His being. How precious it is to know that the Lord Jesus was wholly devoted to His Father in mind, body, and spirit. He alone could say "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" and "I have glorified thee [i.e. the Father] on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." (Jn. 5:19; 17:4) The total consecration of the inward motives and will of the Lord Jesus is seen by the presence of the head, fat, and inward parts that were burned on the altar. Interestingly, the inwards and legs of the sacrifice were washed with water before being offered up to God. As water in Scripture frequently typifies the Word of God, we may conclude that this speaks of the complete accordance that existed between the Lord Jesus and the Bible. Throughout His life, He performed certain actions in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. When tested by Satan in the Judean Wilderness the Lord Jesus repeatedly met each challenge with the words: "It is written..." This pattern of obedience did not end at Calvary; rather the Gospels tell us of various events surrounding the crucifixion that were done in order that the prophecies might be fulfilled. (e.g. Mk. 14:49; 15: 18; Jn. 19:24,28)

While other offerings provided a portion for the priests or the offerer, the burnt offering was entirely reserved for God. The only component of the animal that was not presented to the Almighty on the altar was the skin. This reminds us that if the Lord Jesus had not offered Himself up to God in complete perfection there could be no remedy for our sin. Thanks be to God that Christ was the whole burnt offering, and thus brought pleasure and satisfaction to the righteous heart of His Father.

1. S. H. Kellogg, The Expositor's Bible: Leviticus (ed.W.Robertson Nicoll), (New York: Eaton & Mains, n.d.), 29.
2. Ibid., 37.
3. Ibid., 43.