The Sacrificial System is outlined, in detail, in the first 7 chapters of Vayikra (Leviticus.) In those chapters, we learn about the sin, guilt, peace, thanksgiving, and burnt offerings; what animals are to be used and what condition they must be in, how they are to be treated, what to do with the different parts of the animals, and finally how the ones presenting them must act.
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The next couple of chapters deal with the consecration of the Cohanim (Aaron and his sons) and the general rules for what the people are to do when they sin.
In Chapter 9, when God tells Moses that he will appear before the people, there isn’t just a single sacrifice to be made in preparation for that event; God commands that the Cohen must make three separate sacrifices for the assembly before God can appear to them.
The first sacrifice is a sin sacrifice, followed by a burnt offering, and the third sacrifice is a peace offering, also called a friendship or thanksgiving sacrifice.
Why three sacrifices? If I sacrifice for my sin, why do I need to do more? Doesn’t God promise that we will be forgiven when we confess our sins and sacrifice, asking for forgiveness by means of the innocent blood (of the sacrifice) that was shed on our behalf? If that’s true, why do more?
That’s a good question, and it has a good answer.
The sin sacrifice is the innocent blood to be shed by which we are forgiven- we all know that. And when we ask for forgiveness, it is assumed that the sin we committed is one we don’t want to commit again. In fact, when we are forgiven, we want to remain “clean” for as long as we can. Asking to be forgiven with the attitude that once forgiven, I am free to sin again is a wrong attitude (although many times this has been part of the traditional Christian doctrine of “once saved, always saved”, which isn’t true.)
The burnt offering, which comes next, represents a total commitment to God, which translates into one word: obedience. We sacrifice something valuable to us without giving up any of its parts- the whole thing gets the altar treatment. It is burned up completely to demonstrate that we not only atoned for the sin we committed but that we are recommitting ourselves to obey God’s instructions going forward. It is our T’shuvah, our turning from sin that the burnt sacrifice represents.
The last sacrifice, the peace or friendship offering, is what now completes the cycle, bringing us into communion with God because having been cleansed of our sin and recommitted to him, we can now come into his presence.
The three sacrifices do this:
- Cleanse us of our sin;
- Renew our commitment to stay in covenant with God; and
- By reason of our cleansing and recommitment, allow us to be in the presence of the Almighty.
The question now is, with the temple in Jerusalem gone, is the sacrificial system gone, as well? God said the only place we can sacrifice is where he put his name (Exodus 20:24 and Deuteronomy 12:11), which was the temple in Jerusalem, so without a temple how can we sacrifice and be cleansed of our sins?
The answer to that question is the sacrificial system is NOT gone, but it has been changed somewhat: the need to bring your sacrifice to the temple has been replaced by Yeshua. We still need to recognize, own up to, confess, and want to atone for the sins we commit. We still need to ask for forgiveness, but bringing a sheep or a goat to the temple has been replaced by the sacrifice of Yeshua.
Although the burnt and peace offerings cannot be performed, through our union with Yeshua we can come into God’s presence.
There is a constant debate about whether or not the sacrificial system will be reinstituted in the Olam Haba, the World to Come. Personally, I believe it will be, but not for sin or guilt sacrifices. The burnt and peace offerings will continue because they are designed to strengthen our relationship with God. I believe the Olam Haba will be a world returned to the peaceful way of life that is found in an agricultural economy; especially when the world we live in will be like Eden, with no bad weather or drought or famine.
The ancient sacrificial system, realistically, couldn’t work in our current service economy and has little chance to exist in the technological world we all live in today. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t perform the steps that the system is founded on: recognize and accept our sins, atone and ask for forgiveness, and recommit to God to sin less in the future so that we can continue to come closer to him.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch Ha Shem!