THE SIN OFFERING: Christ at Calvary

Leviticus 4:1-35; 6:24-30


When Adam sinned he brought spiritual and physical death upon the human race. All die – rich or poor, strong or weak, young or old, schooled or unschooled – it is appointed unto man once to die! Death reigned from Adam to Moses though individual guilt, for sin was not imputed to man. Man was not held individually accountable for his sin because the law had not been given imputing personal guilt (Rom. 5:13). But since all men die, it is evident that all must possess a sin nature inherited through Adam. Scripture bears testimony to this fact: “. . .  every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5); “. . . there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:3); “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked . . .” (Jer. 17:9).

Man became conscious of personal sin, with its guilt and consequences, when the law was given: “. . . for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20; cf. 7:7). Although God established personal responsibility for sin through the law, He also provided an offering for that sin. Naturally, the sin offering was established to atone for the individual’s sin, but it taught man the seriousness of sin – the need for repentance and the consequence which unrepented sin would bring.

Although the need to expiate sin was strongly implied through the burnt and peace offerings, it was still necessary to have a special sin offering. The sin offering is the foundation for all other offerings, for without it the Israelite’s sin could not be expiated. The sin and trespass offerings are distinguished from the other offerings by being non-sweet savor offerings.

The term sin comes from the Hebrew word Chattah and means to miss the mark, or to err from God’s way. In Leviticus, Chattah points to the act of disobedience toward God and to the sin offering by which the guilt and penalty of sin are removed.

The purpose of the sin offering is to cover sins of ignorance (4:2) or those done unintentionally which come to the Israelite’s mind (4:28). The words “through ignorance” (Heb. bishgagah) [4:2] mean to wander, do wrong, err, sin through ignorance. The sin offering did not cover presumptuous sins, where the individual rebelled against God’s law deliberately breaking His commandments (Num. 15:30-31).

The Offering

Different animals were to be offered depending on one’s rank in Israel. The priests (4:3) and elders (representing the congregation [4:13-15]) were to offer a bull; the ruler a he-goat (4:22-23); and the individual could bring either a female goat, lamb, two turtledoves or young pigeons, or a tenth of an ephah of flour (5:11).

Why were the priests and elders to bring a more costly offering than that of the ruler or individual? Because they were to be an example to the congregation, leading in the area of the nation’s spiritual life. Though the ruler held a high position in Israel, he was not to be involved in representing the people before God, thus a less expensive offering was prescribed for him. Unlike the preceding offerings, the sin offering was not voluntary but compulsory by its very nature. God’s holiness demands a blood sacrifice before He can have communion with the individual.

The offering was to be a non-sweet savor sacrifice since it was made in regard to sin. It typified Christ’s bearing the sin and shame of man on the cross. Both the offering and place of sacrifice were to be “most holy” (6:25) unto the Lord.

The Offerer

The sin offering made clear man’s responsibility for his sin, either the guilt was borne by the individual or its penalty paid through a blood substitute. Spiritual leaders in Israel were judged more harshly than those in lesser positions. This is shown by the prescribed ritual given to four different groups in Israel.

The Priest

The priest held the highest position in Israel, representing the people before God. The consequence of his sins was more serious and affected the whole nation (4:3).

The priest was to bring a bull to the door of the Tabernacle and place his hand upon its head (4:4, 24, 29, 33) as a means of identifying with the sacrifice as his substitute. The animal was substituting its life for that of the priest. There is a double identification taking place – the sin of the priest was committed to the animal, and the acceptability of the offering was transmitted to the priest. The priest then killed his own offering before the Lord (4:4). The animal’s blood symbolically represented the offerer’s own life freely surrendered. Thus, the sacrifice was accepted by God as an atonement for the priest’s sin protecting him from divine wrath.

The blood had to be applied in three ways for the priest and congregation. First, the blood was sprinkled seven times in the holy place, toward the veil, in front of the holy of holies (4:6, 17). The sprinkled blood is a picture of Christ who shed His blood inaugurating a new and living way for believers to have access into the presence of God (Heb. 10:19-20). Second, the blood was smeared upon the horns of the golden altar of incense (4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34). The altar of incense is a place of prayer and fellowship with God. When blood from the sin offering was smeared upon the horns of the altar, it symbolized a prayer for the pardon of one’s sin before God. It was blood applied to the altar which gave the incense of prayer its value. This typified Christ’s blood which gives value to the believer’s prayer before God (Heb. 9:13-14; 12:24; 1 Tim. 1:5) and opens the way for him to come before the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in the time of need (Heb. 4:16). It also typified Christ as the believer’s intercessor (Heb. 7:25). Third, the remaining blood was poured out at the bottom of the brazen altar (4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34). In the days of the Temple, blood was funneled into the Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem. Remember, Christ’s blood was poured out as a sin offering for man!

The fat and kidneys of the bull were burned on the brazen altar as a peace offering unto the Lord (4:9-10, 19, 26, 31, 35). The peace offering represented the ministry of reconciliation which Christ provided between God and man (Col. 1:20).

The remainder of the bull was burned outside of the camp (4:11-12, 21) completing the expiation for sin. Therefore, the priests were allowed to partake from every offering presented on the altar except the sin offering, which was totally burned outside the camp. Why were the bodies of the sin offering burned outside the camp? Were they unfit for a holy camp? No! The opposite is true. An unholy camp was an unfit place for a holy sin offering.

The writer of Hebrews shows that this is a definite type of Christ’s sacrificial work on behalf of mankind. He writes, “We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate” (Heb. 13:10-12). Like the sin offering, Jesus was taken outside the Jerusalem gate and went through the fire of crucifixion sanctifying the people with His own blood, perfectly fulfilling the picture of the sin offering in the Old Testament.

There is an application to be made for the believer. He must be willing to identify with Christ “bearing his [Christ’s] reproach” (Heb. 13:13) outside the camp. When Christ died, the Jewish system – with all its laws, ceremonialism, and sacrificial system – was set aside. How true for the Jewish believer today who must go outside the camp of Judaism and identify with Christ’s suffering! Many who do leave Judaism for faith in Christ suffer persecution. Paul, the classic example of a Jew suffering outside the camp, has well stated, “. . . all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Although the priest could not eat from his or the congregation’s sin offering, every male priest (6:29) could eat of the sin offering prescribed for the ruler (4:22) and the common people (4:27). The priest was always to be rewarded for his ministry to others. He was able to eat of the sheep and goat, since they were not carried outside the camp to be burned, but never the bull. The offering could not be eaten if the blood had been sprinkled in the holy place of the Tabernacle (6:30). This applied to the offering of the priest (4:6) and congregation (4:17) which was burned outside the camp (4:11-12, 21), but not those from the ruler or common people. The priest ate the sin offering in the court of the Tabernacle (6:26).

By partaking of the offering, while separated from the people, the priests were reminded of their high and holy calling before the Lord (6:27). But centuries later the priests violated this commandment, polluting their holy office (Hos. 4:6-8).

The flesh and blood of the sin offering were considered holy and those touching them must be holy as well. If any of the blood splattered upon the priest’s garment, he must wash it in the holy place (6:27).

Special instructions were given concerning the pots in which the offerings were cooked (6:28). An earthen vessel (clay pot) had to be destroyed after one use, for it would be impossible to clean since the boiled flesh would penetrate the pot’s fiber. But the boiled flesh could be removed from a bronze pot after scouring, preserving it for future use.

The People

If the whole congregation sinned in ignorance against God, it was necessary that a sin offering be presented (4:13). The congregation must bring a bull before the Lord at the Tabernacle (4:14). The elders, representing the people, laid their hands upon the bull’s head, killed it, and offered its blood as a sin offering (4:15). The ritual for the congregation was exactly the same as for the priest (4:16-20). Here is a type of sin in the church. The church is to judge sin immediately, or it will penetrate the whole congregation weakening the fellowship and hold back the blessing of God (1 Cor. 5:1-8).

The Potentate

When a ruler sinned through ignorance he was to offer a he-goat (4:22-23). Notice, the offering was less than those of the priest or congregation, but greater than that of a commoner. The ritual for killing the goat was the same as for the burnt offering (4:24). The priest sprinkled blood upon the horns of the brazen altar (4:25), but none in the holy place. Then the fat was burned as a peace offering (4:26). The meat of the goat went to the priest only, not the people. Because the ruler brought a less valued offering does not lessen his offense compared to that of the priest or congregation. Rulers are set up by God (Rom. 13:1-7) and will some day give account for the way they function in their offices. God calls upon a people to pray for those who rule over them (1 Tim. 2:2).

The Person

When an individual sinned he was to bring a female goat or lamb without blemish (4:27-35) for a sin offering. The ritual of the offering is the same as for those mentioned above with one exception, the blood was not sprinkled in the holy place. If the Individual were too poor, he could bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons (5:7); one was for a sin offering (5:9) and the other was for a burnt offering (5:10). But if he were too poor for even that, he was allowed to bring a “tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering” (5:11).

The meal offering could be substituted for a blood sacrifice, but only under one condition. If the Israelite were too poor and could not afford the very inexpensive offering of two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then, and only then, he could offer a tenth part of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. But it must be offered without oil or frankincense showing it lacked the same character of other offerings.

The oil and frankincense were removed from the meal offering for the following reasons. First, this was a poor man’s offering. Oil and frankincense represented costly ingredients which must not be added. Second, this was a sin offering. Oil and frankincense, which represent fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit and prayer, must be omitted from the offering. Third, this was a sin offering and must not be embellished with the taste of oil nor the fragrance of frankincense. The bland flour would impress upon the offerer an aversion toward sin.

There were other occasions when a sin offering was to be presented and some of the details vary, but they do not affect the underlying concept of the sin offering. The sin offering was used in consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood (8:2,14-15); the ceremony of purification after childbirth (12:6-8); cleansing of a leper (14:12,14, 19); ceremony of the red heifer (Num.19); and on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16).

Since all sinned in Israel, the law stipulated that a sin offering be made. Yet animal blood, continually offered year after year, could not take away sin (Heb. 10:1-4). Why? Because the law, with all its demands, was weak through the flesh and incapable of taking away sin. For this reason God sent Christ in the likeness of sinful flesh to be an offering for sin, thus condemning sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3).

Paul succinctly shows how Christ is an antitype of the sin offering in Leviticus 4. He writes, “For he hath made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ fulfills the concept of a perfect sacrifice in a number of ways. First, He “knew no sin.” He was the Lamb “without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). Jesus did not think, speak, or commit any act of sin (1 Pet. 2:22; Jn. 8:46). Second, the sinless Christ was “made sin for us.” Not that Christ became a sinner, but He had all of mankind’s sin laid upon Him (Isa. 53:6), bearing them in His own body (1 Pet. 2:24), becoming a curse when He died upon the cross. It is almost beyond comprehension that God the Father would lay upon the sinless Son the world’s guilt and penalty of sin. Third, Christ became a sin offering so man could “be made the righteousness of God in him.” Here is set forth the great principle of justification. The sins of the individual are imputed to Christ, and His righteousness is imputed to the believer. The sin offering cannot be expressed in a more majestic way! Thus the believer walks away justified – declared righteous before a Holy God.

In 1865 Elvina Hall was sitting in the church choir with her head bowed as the pastor offered the morning prayer. During his prayer four little words lingered in her mind. Quickly she scribbled them down on the fly leaf of her hymnal, and one of the great invitational hymns of the church was born. The fourth stanza of her hymn beautifully sums up Christ’s ministry on behalf of the believer:

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain-
He washed it white as snow.

Yes, Jesus paid it all; all to Him we owe! But can you say, my friend, “He has washed me white as snow?”

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