Jesus as Sin Offering
“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall … do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you” (Leviticus 16:29).
Reading through Leviticus can be mind boggling. It seems to go on forever, one sacrifice after another described in thorough detail, from the kind of animal to be sacrificed, to the way it is killed, to what is to be done with each part. After a while it would seem there wouldn’t be an animal left in the Hebrew herds, and there would be blood all over the place.
Let’s focus on one sacrifice—one day in the Israelite year that continues to be important today for Jews, and, in a different way, for Christians. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is observed sometime in September. It is the event described in Leviticus 16:29.
God spoke in detail to Moses about the day. Aaron, the high priest, was to wear special vestments, and was not to put them on until he had cleansed his body. After he had bathed and dressed, he was to offer a bull as sacrifice for his own sins. Then he was to take two goats and choose one by lot to serve as the sin offering for the people. This goat was also sacrificed. The other goat was to bear all the sins of the people and be turned loose in the wilderness (the origin of our word “scapegoat”). Finally, a ram was to be offered as a burnt offering.
Today, while animal sacrifice is no longer practiced, Yom Kippur is still celebrated as the occasion when the sins of the past year are remembered and forgiven. It is still a day on which observant Jews do no work. It is set aside for fasting and prayer, a day when Jews experience the full weight of their sinfulness as well as the forgiveness of that sin.
Christians believe there was a sin offering once that did away with the need for all other sacrifices. On Good Friday Jesus became the sin offering for all humankind. His death on the cross atoned for all sin, past, present and future.
The writer of Hebrews goes into great detail concerning Jesus’ role as both high priest and sacrifice. From 4:5 to 8:10 Jesus is described as our High Priest, one without blemish, so that he need not offer a sacrifice for his own sin. In 9:11 the writer turns to Jesus’ role as sacrifice. Jesus has negated the need for animal sacrifices by offering himself. In 10:10 the writer makes it clear that Jesus has become the sin offering “once for all” (italics mine).
In the wilderness, no one was to enter the tabernacle’s Holiest Place. This statute remained in place in the temple in Jerusalem. Only once a year, on Yom Kippur, was the high priest to enter the Holiest Place to offer atonement for the sins of the people. Apparently, so strict was this commandment that the other priests would tie a rope around the high priest’s leg. In the event he died while in that sacred space, his body could be dragged out without incurring God’s wrath. Whether this is true, or whether it was ever necessary, I do not know; but it emphasizes the importance of keeping the Holiest Place sacred as God had commanded.
Matthew tells us (27:51) that when Jesus died, the curtain separating the Holiest Place from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom. This not only gave us direct access to God, but gave God direct access to us. Now, through Jesus’ sacrifice, each of us can come to God to receive forgiveness for our sins. No longer is it necessary to wait all year. No longer is it necessary for anyone to represent us before God. Our Sacrifice and High Priest has opened the door for us, and become our intercessor.