The Altar & The Cross

Five Common Elements of Old Testament & New Testament Sin Sacrifice

Cross_in_sunsetSome people struggle with the book of Leviticus in the Bible. I get that. But there’s some incredible stuff in that book, including chapter four where the most amazing foreshadowing ever was cast. This is the chapter that deals with the offering required when someone sins, including five familiar elements, the effect of which are summed up nicely at the end of verse 20.

“So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven.” – Leviticus 4:20b

First, the sin offering must be a bull (male) without defect (vs. 3). Second, the offering has hands laid on its head to symbolize a transfer of sin from the offender to the sacrifice (vs. 4). Next, the blood goes on the horns of the altar (vs. 7a) that has been made out of wood overlaid with bronze (see Exodus 27:2). Then the rest of the blood is to be poured out at the base of the altar (vs. 7b). Finally, the remains are to be buried in a clean place (vs. 12).

Fast forward to the saddest day in human history, hundreds of years later, to the first Good Friday as recorded in John 18 and 19. Jesus has been given up by Judas and is ultimately hauled in front of Pilate, the only authority who can legally declare his death sentence. There we find the story of Leviticus 4 take on its ultimate meaning and fulfillment.

Pilate himself not once, not twice, but three times declares Jesus to be a male without defect (John 18:38; John 19:4; and John 19:6). I don’t know about you but that reminds me a lot of what the Bible has to say about the One, True God: “holy, holy, holy” – and this from Pilate of all people.

In John 19:2, what do they twist together but a crown of thorns. And in Genesis 3, what do thorns signify but sin. This is then placed on none other than the head of our sacrificial offering, Jesus. He is of course led to a wooden cross. But where is this overlaid with bronze?

Interestingly in scripture, bronze is on more than one occasion associated with Jesus. In Revelation 1:15, John gets a glimpse of Jesus and describes his feet as being like bronze. In John 3 when Jesus was talking with Nicodemus about being born again, he makes this analogy about Himself:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15

Well, what is that serpent made out of? Check out Numbers 21:9 and you will find it was made out of bronze. Jesus overlays the wooden altar of the cross with Himself. And with nail-pierced, bloody hands and feet the “horns” of this altar are smeared with His blood.

According to Leviticus, after the blood has been put on the altar, the rest of it is to be poured out at the base of the altar. So what do you think happens when one of the Roman soldiers comes to the lifeless body of Jesus on the cross and pierces His side with a spear? John 19:34 tells us blood comes gushing out and where would it go but to the base of the cross.

Finally, John goes to the trouble of mentioning the tomb where they lay the remains of Jesus. There’s just a piece of a sentence in John 19:41 that describes it as “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” To a Jewish person, dead bodies are not clean and so a previously-used tomb (common practice in those days) would not be a clean place. But we have Jesus buried in a clean place, fulfilling all the requirements of the Old Testament sin sacrifice.


To learn more, I would love to slide alongside your group for a discipleship class or workshop. Drop us a line today and let’s get started!


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