Jewish Messiahs, Jesus, sacrifices, and Leviticus

I will be honest, I have been stuck in Leviticus for some time.  And, you know what, it’s really been a great eye-opener into the Scriptures.  Leviticus deals with everything relevant to the Levites, those descendants of Levi who shared the responsibility for the temple, and particularly those connected to Aaron and his lineage through Eleazar.  What has really blessed me in this reading is the casual friendship I have with one of my Facebook friends who is out in Chicago at their Divinity School, I presume, who happens to be Jewish.  He has spoken some things that were in part corrective to my understanding, and the understanding which is connected to our understanding as believers (note: I did not use the term Jew of Gentile there, because in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, ultimately, except as we self-designate). 

If we fail to embrace the Torah as believers, then we forget our history and the purpose of our L-rd.  The offerings expound, to the letter, what Jesus did.  Jesus was not only the burnt offering, wholly self-offered to the Father, for the joy set before himself,  he was also the sin offering, scapegoat, freewill offering, tresspass offering, grain offering, guilt offering, and fellowship offering. Every verse between Leviticus 1:1 and 7:21, Jesus fulfilled, operated, and functioned on our behalf, and on behalf of the nation of Israel, making completely unnessecary any sacrificial system for the Jews.  I know you will probably reply, “yeah, Dave, but He fulfilled everything.”  Those of  whose response is this are missing the point, and there are six and a half chapters you need to ingest and commit to memory.  This is one of the most critical parts of all Scripture for the purpose that it shows the full weight of what Jesus did in fact fulfill as the Messiah.  Verse by verse, read it and let it sink in.  

Repeatedely it says, :”a male without defect,” “an offering made by fire,” “an aroma pleasing to the L-rd,” skin it, “cut it in pieces,” “wash out and offer the very heart and soul of this creature on the altar,” “no mutilated sacrifices,” “an offering of fellowship,” “roast the grain in the fire,” “take eat, and drink, this is my body,” “perfection in both animal and priest, and “no uncleanness in the camp.”

Wow.  If this does not get your blood pumping, that Jesus did all of this for us, and created all sorts of doors for us open to the Father, that were better than the covenant under Moses, though he spoke with G-d face to face as a man speaks to his friend, then something drasitcally needs to happen in your heart.  

Moreover, I enjoyed this comment from the desk of Gary Shapiro, my Jewish friend, who said the following on a reading of Leviticus 19.

I read Lev 19 as a rich and powerful articulation of what it means to bring God’s holiness into all corners of life. Underlying this articulation is the affirmation (19:2) that it is possible (and commanded) to possess the same holiness which is God’s holiness.

It is possible to possess the same holiness that G-d possess.   Does that not just blow you away?  That really gets into me every time I read it.  Leviticus 19:2.  We are commanded to be holy, and the reason we are commanded to be holy is because He is holy.  He does not give us an easy path or set of directions that, when followed, will imbue us with holiness.  Rather, the L-rd gives us the illustration of Him as G-d and his own character and behavior as a model for us to follow.  We are to follow the creator of the universe who has enabled us to be holy.  Note, He did not say, DO holy.  He said, BE holy.  It is to be who we are, not merely something we do.  

 What I fail to get concerning Judaism is that since He is the L-rd and does not change, yet the sacrificial system seems to not have changed, at least as to it’s requirements, where does that leave Judaism.  If they are commanded to offer these sacrifices, and they are not doing so, where does that leave them.  Jesus offered the sacrifice for them, and, at least, from the writings of the New Testament, claimed to be the Messiah of the Jewish people, and indeed of all people, and perfectly, once and for all, fulfilled the requirements of the entire sacrificial system, where does that leave Jews as Jews.  I would suggest that that leaves them in the perfect, albiet uncomfortable and offensive position of accepting Jesus for whom He claims to be and in fact is: the Messiah of the Jews and the perfect sacrifice for all sins.  If they accept Him, He will take care of, indeed has already taken care of the system, making it unnecessary.  The New Testament book of Hebrews makes this clear, and was written to bear witness to the Hebrews, the Jewish people, concerning the Messianic prophecies.  If this is the case, I would even push the envelope one level further and say, at the risk of offending some of my Jewish brethren that, except one receive the Jewish Messiah, one cannot be truly Jewish in ones heart, no matter the nationality, genealogy, the forms of worship, and the culture. 
That is, without Jesus, there is no real Judaism, since Judaism is marked by the sacrificial system, which he satisfied. 

No, this is not replacement theology.  This is Roman 11 speaking.  I have been grafted in, and the bible speaks of addition theology.  That is, that believers are grafted into Israel by faith, as Abraham was made righteous, or as we call it in Jewish terms of Leviticus 19, holy. 


6 responses to this post.

  1. Hebrews is the NT exegesis of Leviticus – also holiness isn't necessarily to be perfect as in no mistakes, but perfect as in made whole through the blood of Jesus. Makes me want to get Allen Ross' commentary on Leviticus. J. Vernon McGee once said that he believed Leviticus to be the most important book for Christians today. He was probably right.


  2. Posted by Gary Shapiro on December 22, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the acknowledgement. May I boldly offer another “corrective”? You argue (as some of your historical predecessors did) that since the Torah commands sacrifices, and there are no longer sacrifices, Judaism, therefore, is not “real.” You further argue that Christianity is real because Jesus satisfies the requirements of sacrifice.

    So in the case of Judaism you feel the need to be very literal–literal sacrifices of literal animals must be offered on a daily basis. But when it comes to Christianity it's OK to be metaphorical or symbolic–Jesus can “satisfy” the sacrifical duties even though he was not literally a goat or a lamb or an ox, and even though he didn't die on the Temple altar, his limbs were not burned, it only happened once, etc.

    This is a double standard. The Rabbis also believed that since sacrifices could no longer be offered in Jerusalem, there were other ways to obtain forgiveness and to serve God, namely, to fulfill the other commandments as fully as possible; to practice deeds of lovingkindness; to study the Torah (including the portions concerning sacrifices); and to repent with all one's heart and soul. If, for you, Jesus can symbolically replace sacrifices (despite the Torah's abhorence of human sacrifice), why can't repentance of the heart do so as well–a practice well-suppported by biblical sources (see, for instance, the book of Jonah)?

    In the same vein, Christians aren't really interested in fulfilling commandments of the Torah because Jesus is thought to take the place of “the Law” as a whole–not just the sacrifices. This might make more sense if the ONLY commandments of the Torah involved sacrifices. But the logic of your blog demmands that Christians should turn to Jesus to fulfill sacrifices, but they should still perform all the other laws of the Torah as well (e.g., the Sabbath, dietary laws, circumcision etc.).

    Unfortunately, David, what you wrote IS replacement theology through and through. How can your position not be about replacement if Judaism is said to be “unreal” and Jews “must receive” Jesus, that is, must become Christians? What remains of the religion that you are supposedly respecting? A non-supersessionist Christianity affirms the authenticity, sanctity, and permanance of the Jewish covenant with God as revealed in the Torah.


  3. Posted by Gary Shapiro on December 22, 2010 at 12:24 am

    David, one other thing: In your summary of the sacrificial laws you include the phrase, “take eat, and drink, this is my body.” You make it sound like this was said in Leviticus. But I have never seen the phrase “this is my body” in connection with those laws (or any others). What were you trying to say or do?


  4. Gary, nice thoughts that challenge me to think carefully about how to reply.

    At the risk of appearing to hide behind the New Testament in this question, I will say this. On the subject of double standards. Let's look at your post one bit at a time:

    You argue (as some of your historical predecessors did) that since the Torah commands sacrifices, and there are no longer sacrifices, Judaism, therefore, is not “real.”

    My concern is that the Jewish faith commands the offering of blood sacrifices in many places, (firstfruits, etc). So, I could say that, yes, without the blood of sacrifice, Judaism is to some extent missing a portion of it's heart and soul. Now, I am at a loss to know with which branch of Judaism you identify most closely (conservative, orthodox, hasidic, reform, etc.), and maybe that does not matter that much for the purposes of our conversation, but it might help me gauge my comments more accurately as to which specific portions of the Jewish faith

    “You further argue that Christianity is real because Jesus satisfies the requirements of sacrifice.”

    I do not argue for Christianity. Nowhere in the post do I use the name of Christianity anywhere. Christianity I nowhere argue for, Christ on the other hand I do. However, I do say that Christ is real and valid as G-d and the Messiah, and that he does satisfy the requirements of sacrifice as the Lamb of G-d, but I do not pull his validity from the notion that he satisfied the righteous requirements.

    “So in the case of Judaism you feel the need to be very literal–literal sacrifices of literal animals must be offered on a daily basis.”

    But is that not spelled out for us in the Torah? Pretty unsymbolic, except when you look at Hebrews and other places in the Gospels. John for example. If you look at the way the New Testament writers use the Old Testament, including John the Baptizer, and read what happened with the sacrifices alongside Isaiah 53, and move from there to the interpretations found in Hebrews, then it should seem pretty obvious that I am not the only one being metaphorical. The believers of the New Testament wrote about and treated the literal sacrifices as metaphors pointing to the perfect sacrifice in Christ, called by John the Baptizer and John the “Lamb of G-d, looking as it had been slain, who takes away the sin of the world.” So, for me to become metaphorical, as it were, is not without precedent. But it's the other way round. The metaphor of Christ is based on the treatment of the literal sacrifices as metaphors pointing to Christ.

    Moreover, since the sin touched all of creation, even the lambs could not provide eternal expiation of the sins of Israel. Hence the nonstop sacrifices. This is all in Hebrews. On the other hand, since only G-d himself was without sin, only G-d himself could atone for sins eternally. Hence, Jesus being called the Lamb of G-d, and receiving divine worship.


  5. Concerning the “take and eat and drink,” that was a mistake. Oops. I would delete it directly, except once deleted, no others would know what you and I were talking about.

    “But the logic of your blog demmands that Christians should turn to Jesus to fulfill sacrifices, but they should still perform all the other laws of the Torah as well (e.g., the Sabbath, dietary laws, circumcision etc.).”

    Point conceded. My thoughts on the necessity of performing the other laws of Torah only extends as to both the moral aspects, insofar as moral precepts can be derived from Torah (e.g.: Leviticus 19 as per our previous discussion and being holy, with all that entails). Moreover, I would also say that what G-d says in circumcision and dietary laws, molds, skin ailments, there are some very useful principles and thoughts which can be derived from those passages. Especially when you consider the general health consequences that come from not following the dietary laws (eating pork and crustaceans for example). While it has nothing to do with redemption (thank G-d), I would contend that quality of life can be bettered by not eating pork, which I very rarely eat; crustaceans, which I never eat for the same reasons, and other carnivores, etc. Some of what was said in those dietary laws was just plain smart thinking, though they have little to do with redemption.

    Bottom line, Hebrews does a good job of metaphorically handling the sacrifices in the person of Christ. So, those of us whom you would like to say do this, are not without precedent.


  6. Posted by Gary on January 4, 2011 at 5:43 am

    Hi David,

    I don't think you understood what I meant by double standard. I'll try again, more succintly: You allow Christians the theological right to respond to the sacrifices commanded by God in the Torah (following the destruction of the Temple) symbolically or metaphorically, but you don't grant that same right to Jews. Why?

    Another double standard is that you treat the sacrifices as inviolable laws of God which are the “heart and soul” of Judaism (another d.s.–Judaism is a religion, an “-ism,” but Christianity is not), whereas other (“non-moral” commands are just helpful suggestions. A lot of picking and choosing according to your tastes, no? The Torah itself does not make these distinctions–see Leviticus, chapter 19.


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