by Rayola Kelley
The natural tendency for people when it comes to Jesus’ death on the cross is to think of His great suffering. No one will debate that Jesus suffered, but His sufferings do not make up the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation. Jesus’ suffering was a preparation for His death. Therefore, His suffering must be kept in that context or Jesus will simply serve as a noble martyr who will be glorified in His suffering, rather than a victorious Savior who now sits on the right hand of the Father.
Jesus’ main reason for coming was not to suffer, but to become a sacrifice. The problem with viewing Jesus in terms of His suffering is that we have a tendency to think that He suffered because we have value or worth. The Word of God is clear that man’s best is filthy rags, and that there is no good thing in the flesh (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 7:18). This reality is brought to the forefront if we view Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. Such a sacrifice can only be understood in light of the Old Testament.
Jesus’ sacrifice can only be realized when you examine the five major sacrifices found in Leviticus 1-5. Three of these sacrifices were voluntary, while the last two were involuntary, for they addressed sin. The first three sacrifices addressed what it would mean to have a relationship with God, while the last two types of offerings, the sin and trespass offerings, dealt with our sinful disposition and actions. However, all five sacrifices pointed to our need to be reconciled with God. Each offering brings us to a point of devotion and reconciliation for the purpose of restoration and service. Jesus actually allowed Himself to be clothed in flesh to fulfill all five offerings.
The first three offerings were the voluntary offerings. They were the burnt offering, meal offering and peace offering. These offerings were consumed by fire. They would emit smoke or a fragrance that would be accepted by God. The burnt offering was an offering that represented total consecration or self dedication towards God (Leviticus 1). The Apostle Paul points to this offering in regards to the Christian when he gave this instruction in Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
In what way did Jesus present Himself as a burnt offering? As you study His life, He was an ongoing burnt offering as He submitted to the will of the Father. This was culminated in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here that He once again submitted to the will of God in regards to Golgotha. It was also here that He submitted to those who came for Him. Like a Lamb, He was bound and led away to the slaughter (John 18:12). In reference to Jesus’ sacrifice, the prophet, Isaiah made this statement: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
The Apostle Paul summarizes the climax of Jesus’ obedience as a burnt offering in Philippians 2:8: “And, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
The meal offering was considered the most holy of all offerings to God (Leviticus 2). This offering had to do with the harvest, which included the first fruits of the harvest. Flour, along with oil and frankincense, was burned on the altar. This was the most holy offering because it represented a memorial to God as to His blessings and intervention on behalf of man. It was the fragrance from the frankincense that served as a sweet savor to God. The Word of God describes Jesus as the Bread of Life that came down from heaven (John 6:35) We know that He not only was the meal offering as the bread from God, but He was the first fruits of the harvest of souls in regards to God’s unseen kingdom. The Apostle Paul brings this out in his writings: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Every offering had to be brought to the priest for examination. As the first fruits and the offering of God, the priest examined Jesus after He was arrested. The priests determined that He was worthy of death. In fact, they would be willing to present Him as their scapegoat.
The term “scapegoat” came from Leviticus 16. Once a year, the High Priest would take two goats to offer up on behalf of the people of Israel for their atonement. One goat was offered up as a sin offering. The second goat was taken aside, and the priest would lay his hands on the goat’s head and place all of the sins of Israel on the goat. The goat was then taken to the wilderness and left to wander in the wilderness, far from the people until its death.
When Jesus was standing before the Pharisees, John reminds us of what the High Priest, Caiaphas, said about Jesus in John 18:14: “Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” Jesus would not just become the scapegoat for the Jews. All the sins of the world would be laid on Him, and they would be cast as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He would be led to the cross, and upon His death, He would be taken to the barren wilderness of the grave. It is Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection that not only serve as our hope, but they are memorialized in our ordinance of communion. Once again, this points to Jesus being God’s meal offering. It was during His examination before the priests and Pharisees that He was struck with hands. No doubt this was the beginning of Him being bruised. Isaiah reminds us that as our offering: “…he was bruised for our iniquities…”(Isaiah 53:5).
For the Christian, the meal offering has a couple of representations to it. It points to a new life that can only come forth when a person is born again (John 3:3, 5). This new life will be the life of Jesus. It is the life of Christ in us that will attract and produce fruits in the harvest field (John 15:1-8). It is also the life of Christ that serves as a fragrance in the Christian’s life. Such a fragrance is what serves as a sweet savour to God, an edifying fragrance in the Church, and a harsh reality to the unsaved (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
There is another aspect to the meal offering: that of salt (Leviticus 2:13). This offering was seasoned with salt. Apparently, this salt pointed to the covenant. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we have entered into a covenant with God. In this offering, Jesus serves as the flour and the firstfruits, but the Christian is to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). The only way Christians can be the salt is if Jesus’ life is evident in them.
The third type of voluntary offering was the peace offering (Leviticus 3). Apparently, the burnt offering was offered first. Commitment is the first step to ensuring the unveiling of the new life and peace with God. Therefore, it was only after the burnt offering was offered that the meal offering and the peace offering could be placed on top of the altar. In fact, these offerings were placed on top of the burnt offering as it was being consumed by fire.
The burnt offering pointed to self-dedication. As stated before, the meal offering was considered the most holy offering because it was void of man. The meal offering was without the shedding of blood, which always pointed to the harsh reality of sin. However, the peace offering was considered the bloody offering. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin. Without pardon of sin, there can be no reconciliation with God. Reconciliation points to peace and restoration with God. The Apostle Paul brings this harsh reality out in his epistles.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7a). “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…And that he might reconcile both in one body by the cross… and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and them that were nigh (Ephesians 2:13-14a, 16:a, 17). And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven (Colossians 1:20).
How did Jesus become a peace offering? Amazingly enough, it was Pilate who offered Jesus as a peace offering. Pilate knew Jesus was without fault. He had no desire to see Jesus die, but he was afraid of the influence of the Jews. In his attempts to appease the Jews, as well as spare Jesus’ life, he had the whip laid to Jesus’ back. Whipping was a form of chastisement. It is no wonder Isaiah declared this about Jesus’ offering: “…the chastisement of our peace was upon him…” (Isaiah 53:5). No doubt this whipping caused the blood to flow from Jesus stripes on His body. Jesus’ body was torn open, so we could experience spiritual healing through peace and reconciliation with God. The words of Isaiah echo down through the years: “…and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The fat is what was burned on the altar in the peace offering. Fat points to anointing. Jesus was the Anointed One, the Messiah, who would be totally consumed as the sacrifice to bring about peace between man and God. We take this peace for granted because we do not understand what it meant for Jesus to be our peace offering. We cannot see the cost that it incurred for God.
The beauty about the peace offering is that believers can become peacemakers as the children of God (Matthew 5:9). Possessing the peace of God is one of the greatest attractions to those who are afraid and uncertain about the world they live in. To see the peace of God, which passes all understanding, in operation during challenging times is a great witness of the faithfulness of our unseen God to keep His people.
This brings us to Jesus as the involuntary offering. He was God’s sin offering for us. Man could not make himself acceptable to God. He was doomed in his present state. Only God could solve the problem. Since there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, God had to provide the appropriate offering. It was already established that the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sins. Mere man could never become such an offering because he possesses a disposition that contaminates even his best. Therefore, God prepared and provided His Son to become the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 10:4-12).
John the Baptist stated that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Prophet Isaiah clearly established that Jesus was God’s offering on our behalf: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted: (Isaiah 53:4)
Jesus was a voluntary offering in the sense that He gave up His life as a sacrifice, but He was a required offering that would once and for all address the issue of sin. Where the Levitical priests once endeavored to keep up with the sacrifices on people’s behalf, Jesus would offer the perfect sacrifice that would cease all such work and sit down on the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:10-14). In every way, Jesus was an offering that was complete. His offering addressed every aspect and area of man’s disposition, actions and relationship with God. As the Apostle Paul stated, Jesus became our sin offering, so that we could be made in the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 2:21).
As the sin offering, Jesus would die for our trespasses. The sin offering mainly addressed the selfish disposition that operates in unseen sins such as pride, fear and opposition against God’s authority, while the trespass offerings addressed outward sins that broke the Law or covenant of God. In fact, the breaking of the Law broke the tablets in the wilderness, and the result of man’s disregard for God’s heart towards him broke Jesus’ heart on the cross. Jesus’ broken heart was evident when the soldier pierced His side, and blood and water came forth (John 19:34). Blood points to our New Testament covenant and water symbolizes the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 9:11-22; John 3:5 refer to 1 Peter 1:23). The blood and water coming from Jesus’ side confirmed to the soldier that Jesus was who He said He was (John 19:35). The Apostle John made reference to these elements along with the Holy Spirit. He stated that all three are what bear witness in earth: “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one” (1 John 5:8).
Jesus’ blood is capable of cleansing us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7, 9). The harsh reality is that His blood had to be shed to accomplish such a feat. He died for our trespasses. However, to give up His life for our sins, He had to be wounded to allow His blood to flow. As the prophet stated: “But he was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5).
It is important to see that Jesus’ suffering was a preparation for Him to be offered up as the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus’ main reason for coming was not to be regarded in light of His sufferings, but in light of His offering (John 10:18). His cry is not that of a suffering martyr, but as a victorious Redeemer: “It is finished” (John 19:30b). The next time you want to stop at His suffering for sentimental reasons, push past it to the end of the Gospel. It is not one of sentimentality, but one of victory. For our Redeemer not only completed the task of redeeming us, but He rose from the grave to prove victory over death, and now resides in the courts of heaven where He serves as our High Priest who continues to make intercession for us. To me, that is something to rejoice in, knowing my expectation of His complete work on my behalf and in my life will be totally realized in glory.