For a long time I have viewed The atonement lamb through a fairly legal lens. It has caused a disconnect between the way I viewed God The Father, compared to God The Son. At times it even made it seem that salvation was simply a legality. However, the more I read The Scripture, the more it becomes apparent to me that the main motive around sacrifice is not substitution but rather covenant. Today I will look at another shadow from The Old Testament that I believe clearly shows that the blood was a sign of covenant. This is quite different to the predominant view in western Christianity so let’s take a deeper look.
A Covenantal History
In Ancient times there were numerous types of covenants. The type of covenant that God made with Noah, Abraham and then nearly with Moses was called a “Grant Covenant”. This type of covenant was made between two parties, one with greater power than the other. The greater of the two would make a promise to the lesser with no strings attached. Think of Noah, “I will never cause a flood like this again…” And Abram, “I will bless you to bless the Nations…”
After God delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt He offered them a Grant Covenant. If they would hear Him, and preserve the covenant He was to give them, He would make them a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation – His very own treasured possession! (Exodus 19:5-7) At first they were wrapped with the opportunity. But when they approached the Mountain to make a deal with God they got scared. They saw the Mountain was stormy and they realised they had heard the very voice of God and did not trust Him. Instead, they asked for a different deal.
Moses goes up the Mountain and completes what is known as a Kinship Covenant. This covenant was made between to parties who were more or less equals. They would each write a simple list of promises on a tablet and say, “If I break this may my God punish me.” Then they would take their tablet and place it inside their ark. It is quite obvious that if anyone from these Ancient times heard about God giving the 10 Commandments on two stones, would immediately understand what was going on here.
But there was a couple of issues. Firstly, God could not swear on someone greater than Himself so He swore on Himself. This is covered in Hebrews 6:13-18. The next problem was more telling. God had now taken up the job of having to punish Israel whenever they messed up their covenant. This was not what God had in mind when He offered them a Grant Covenant, however He decided to oblige. But He had a plan. As Galatians 3:24 says, “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” God used the law to bring people back to His original plan of relationship with Him based on nothing but God’s desire.
The Day of Atonement
One way God achieved this was through a ceremony known as The Day of Atonement. We can read about it in Leviticus 16. Here is a quick summary:
Before entering the tabernacle, the High Priest was to bathe and put on special garments (v4), then sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family (v6, 11). The blood of the bull was to be sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Then Aaron was to bring two goats, one to be sacrificed “because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been” (v16), and its blood was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. The other goat was used as a scapegoat. Aaron placed his hands on its head, confessed over it the rebellion and wickedness of the Israelites, and sent the goat out with an appointed man who released it into the wilderness (v21). The goat carried on itself all the sins of the people, which were forgiven for another year (v30).
God planned that the Priest would have to make this sacrifice once a year. Every year they had to approach God with the blood of a lamb to say, “We are sorry. We want to be in relationship with you.” At which stage God would say, “Yes, you are forgiven.” There was never to be any doubt that if someone approached God with faith, (and not fear like at the Mountain), that He would forgive them and accept them.
The Lamb was not punished in place of the disobedient Israelites. The Atonement Lamb did not take the punishment for anyones sins. Rather the Lamb was a sacrifice to show God that The Israelites still wanted relationship with Him despite their shortcomings. Therefore when Christ came as the High Priest He came as Humanity. As the Lamb, His blood is an eternal sign once and for all that we are forgiven, justified and sanctified. (Hebrews 10:10)
So we see that God The Father has never changed. His desire has always been that people approach Him with faith. Even when The Israelites wanted to relate to Him through The Law, He set up a way for them to approach Him through faith. The Day of Atonement finds it’s fulfilment in Jesus who shows once and for all that God is no longer counting mans sins against us. (2 Cor 5:19) The Lamb was not a substitute for our punishment, rather a sign of rededication on behalf of the people of God. But now God has stepped in and made an eternal sign for all to see that He forgives us. As He always has, God is searching for those with faith, and anyone that turns to Him He will never turn away.
Thanks for reading my blog. Do you still think Jesus took your punishment? Where do you see it in Scripture? How awesome is it, that the whole point of Jesus incarnation, life, death and resurrection was to reconcile us to a God who has never stopped loving you? Feel free to comment below and pease, if this helped you, share it with someone you think might appreciate it!