Our Great High Priest (Leviticus)

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine..” Leviticus 20:26 ESV

The theme of the book of Leviticus is Holiness. It is about how the people of God should live, eat and sacrifice. Leviticus serves as a guide to the chosen, though sinful, people of a holy God. But if you note the title, another important theme is one of atonement; atonement by blood that ultimately points to the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Leviticus 17:11 ESV

Leviticus picks up where Exodus leaves off where the people of Israel had just erected a tabernacle at Mount Sinai. God now proceeds to relay specific laws to His people through Moses. Although there is some narrative, this book is almost all a relaying of these laws, a rule book as it were (borrowing Pastor Chris’ favorite phrase). And many Christians may gloss over this book simply because of its contents. Perhaps they endeavor to work their way through the Old Testament, having finished Genesis and Exodus. However once getting to Leviticus they view it as dull and either skip it entirely or give up trying to read through the Old Testament.

But the book of Leviticus is important for a couple of reasons. First is that through the very specific laws we see God’s holiness in fine detail. Compared to Exodus where we see God’s holiness on a large scale with grandiose miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea. The second and more important reason has to do with the title of this post. In Exodus we see God telling Moses that He has chosen the Israelites to be a priestly nation (Exodus 19:6). And then in Leviticus we find that some of these specific laws or regulations are for priests. In light of our beginning the book of Hebrews, one cannot properly understand Hebrews 4:14 which reads “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” let alone the entirety of the book of Hebrews without some familiarity of Leviticus. The point is this: Jesus is the simultaneous culmination and consummation of the Old Testament sacrificial system. John the Baptist realized this when he declared “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Here’s an overview of the entire book:

– Chapters 1-7 describe the offerings for both priests and the general people.

– Chapters 8-10 describe the key event of the ordination of Aaron and his sons. These chapters also contain instructions to the priesthood.

– Chapters 11-15 describe laws about being clean.

The remaining chapters are guidelines pertaining to practical holiness and they can be divided as such:

– Chapter 16 describes the Day of Atonement.

–  Chapter 17-27 describes laws for living a holy life. Because Israel is to be a priestly nation that through them “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3) will be blessed, other nations would see their holy living and model that.

I have one parting word for this post. Through the law, through the sacrifices and rituals, there was a type of temporary holiness imparted upon the people. But this was all just a foreshadowing. In Hebrews 10 we learn that the law is “but a shadow of the good things to come”. One day that temporary holiness imparted through the blood of creatures would be replaced by the absolute holiness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Israelites back then looked to that day. But for Christians today, that day has already occurred.