>For the past couple of months I have been preaching through the first seven chapters of Leviticus. It has been an amazing study; I have enjoyed it and been blessed by it immensely. I have decided to put together a series of posts that will summarize the highlights of my study.
But before I begin the Levitical slide show, I think it would be helpful for me to put my “hermeneutical” cards on the table. Leviticus 1-7 contains ritual law. As such, it can be intimidating reading. In fact, how often have we known a friend (its always a friend and never ourselves!) who began a Bible reading program only to get thrown off and quit once he or she got into Leviticus! The strange and difficult details and rituals can be difficult to understand.
But let not your heart be troubled, for although “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them,” (WCF 1.7).
The scripture itself is so completely sufficient as “the only rule of faith and obedience,” (LC, 3) that it even provides us the proper interpretive method that is to be used in reading it, “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly,” (WCF 1.9).
So, how is Leviticus to be read? It is to be read in light of clearer portions of scripture that help us to understand it. The first clear text that I would suggest helps us to understand the ritual law of Lev 1-7 is Luke 24.27. In this section of Luke 24, Jesus is walking with a couple of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples are dejected and forlorn over the crucifixion of Jesus, their shattered hope for the redemption of Israel, and that Jesus’ body is missing from the tomb. Jesus then helps them to understand that the promise of the Kingdom has not failed, but has been achieved through the Messiah’s death and resurrection according to the promises of the Old Testament. He then began with Moses and all the prophets and interpreted the Old Testament scriptures to reveal that they speak about him. According to Jesus, correct interpretation of Moses’ literature must seek to understand that Moses is speaking about Christ. So in my look at the ritual law of Moses, I approach the text Christocentrically–it witnesses to us about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The writer of Hebrews has also provided Holy Spirit inspired interpretation and interpretive model for understanding the ritual law in Leviticus 1-7. Throughout Hebrews but especially in chapters 7-10, the writer interprets the ritual law in light of the Christocentric approach noted above. A good summary of his conclusion is found in 10.1, “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. The writer provides three central truths that help us understand the ritual law, and therefore must be utilized to correctly interpret the ritual law. For the sake of space, we will focus on Hebrews 9-10.1.
First, in chapter 9, the writer explains that the forms of worship of the ritual law are temporary, earthly and inadequate. He says in 9.9b-10, “the gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” The last portion of verse 10 can also be translated as, “imposed until the time of the new order.” From the rest of the chapter we find that this “reformation, or new order” arrived when Christ appeared. With his appearance, he has inaugurated a new covenant through his shed blood to accomplish what the old covenant could not. Now, because of Christ, the temporary, earthly and inadequate has given way to the eternal, heavenly and fulfilled. So, the shadows and types of the ritual law are anticipations of the person and work of Jesus Christ in history. The old points forward to the new.
Secondly, the writer of Hebrews helps us to understand that not only do the shadows and types of the ritual law direct us forward in redemptive-history as anticipations of the person and work of Jesus Christ, but they also direct us upwards to heaven itself. In 9.24, the writer tells us that the old covenant types and shadows were copies of the true things, which are in heaven. The Greek word behind “true” can also be translated as “real, genuine.” So the point is not that the old covenant types and shadows were false instead of true, but that they were representations on earth of what was real in heaven. The old also points upward to heaven.
Third, the writer tells us at the end of the chapter in 9.28 that with Christ’s accomplished work, it has not yet been consummated. What Christ accomplished in history through his death and resurrection in his first advent will be consummated in a second coming at the end of history. At the second coming, those who have believed in Christ by faith will receive their eschatological salvation. The new covenant, which was inaugurated with Christ’s work in history anticipates the consummation of that work when Christ returns with heaven with him. So, the new covenant is not only the fulfillment of the old covenant, but it is also an anticipation of a greater fulfillment to come. The new fulfills the old while also pointing us upward to heaven. So, the old and new point us forward and upward to heaven.
- The ritual law anticipates the future person and work of Jesus Christ in history at his first advent.
- The ritual law anticipates the consummation of Christ’s work in heaven.
- The New Testament fulfillment of the ritual law in the person and work of Jesus Christ anticipates the consummation of his work in heaven.
Therefore, as I have studied the ritual law in Lev 1-7, I have studied it Christocentrically, semi-eschatologically (already/not yet) and eschatologically. The ritual law teaches us about Christ and his work in history, and both old and new together teach us about the consummation of Christ’s work in heaven. My approach, then, has been nicely summarized by Andrew Bonar, “The one great principle of interpretation which we keep before us is apostolic method and practice,” (Leviticus, 8).
Hence, let us look at the ritual law of Lev 1-7 and gaze upon the images of the Savior it portrays.