|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
The death of Christ on the Cross did what the type and shadow of the Old Testament brazen altar could never do. Jesus provided double imputation - our sins laid on Him, His robe of perfect righteousness laid on us.
Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock - of the herd and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting." (Leviticus 1:1-5)
A Type and Shadow of the Cross
The brazen altar of the Old Testament tabernacle is a type and shadow of the Cross of Christ. An Israelite who had sinned would bring an offering to the Lord - an animal without blemish.
We are told that the Israelite was to come of his own free will. This was not a matter of compulsion. This was not forced religion. This was not a matter of simply entering into a religious practice because of tradition, because "this is just what we do." The Israelite was coming in order for God to deal with his sins. We are told that he was to put his hand on the head of the live animal, so that it would be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him, for his sin.
And we are told that the Israelite, the sinner, was to kill the animal himself before the Lord. The priests did not kill the animal. The sinner killed the animal. It was our sin that necessitated the death of our Lord. Our sins put the stripes of the soldier's lash on His back. Our sins drove a thorny crown into His head. Our sins drove the nails into His hands and a spear into His side. Our sins caused the Father to forsake the Son as he hung there. Our sin offends God that much.
Six Great Truths of the Brazen Altar
Please note six vital truths about the Cross of Christ that are before us in the type and shadow of the brazen altar.
First, this sacrifice for sin at the brazen altar implements the principle of substitutionary atonement. The sinner brought an innocent animal. He placed his hand upon the head of that animal, signifying the placement of his sin upon this innocent victim. This is substitutionary atonement - an innocent being is taking the punishment that another being deserves. This is also imputation - the sins of the Israelite were symbolically placed upon the animal that was sacrificed.
Secondly, we see in the instructions regarding the sacrifices at the brazen altar that all sinners are equal in God's sight. We find this further emphasized in Leviticus chapter 4:
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them, if the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord for his sin which he has sinned a young bull without blemish as a sin offering.' " (Leviticus 4:1-3)
"Now if the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally, and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done something against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which should not be done, and are guilty; when the sin which they have committed becomes known, then the assembly shall offer a young bull for the sin, and bring it before the tabernacle of meeting. And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord. Then the bull shall be killed before the Lord." (Leviticus 4:13-15)
"When a ruler has sinned, and done something unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord his God in anything which should not be done, and is guilty, or if his sin which he has committed comes to his knowledge, he shall bring as his offering a kid of the goats, a male without blemish." (Leviticus 4:22-23)
"If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally by doing something against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which ought not to be done, and is guilty, or if his sin which he has committed comes to his knowledge, then he shall bring as his offering a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill the sin offering at the place of the burnt offering." (Leviticus 4:27-29)
Any priest, any ruler of the people, any one of the common people, or even the entire congregation - it does not matter who you are, you are equally a sinner in the sight of God. The ground at the altar is level ground. That was a great difference, a key distinction, between the true religion of Israel and the false pagan religions of the surrounding nations. Those religions had different classes of sinners. Roman Catholicism likewise claims that there are different classes of sinners. But that is not what God says. The ground at the altar, and the ground at the Cross, is level ground. "For there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23).
Thirdly, notice that not only are all sinners equal, but all kinds of sin are equal. In Leviticus chapters 5 and 6 we find that sins committed unintentionally or unknowingly are as much sin in the eyes of God as sins that are committed intentionally and deliberately. Secret sins. Open sins. Sins of omission. Sins of commission. All sin is sin. All sin is an offense against God.
Fourthly, notice that all kinds of sin require equal atonement. The remedy for sin is the same no matter who you are, or what you have done. We find the same words repeated over and over again in the early chapters of Leviticus, for each kind of sin and for each class of sinner - all sins and all sinners required the shedding of the blood of an innocent substitute in order to be forgiven. Without the shedding of blood, there was, and is, no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22).
Number five, notice that the atonement that takes place at the brazen altar is definite atonement for the specific sins of specific people. This is not a potential atonement for someone who might sin, for someone who might confess, for someone who might repent. This is definite atonement for the one who has come to God in repentance and faith.
And number six, notice also the continual nature of this sacrifice for sin. Notice what we find in Leviticus chapter 6, beginning at verse 12:
And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out. (Leviticus 6:12-13)
Day and night the fire burned. Day and night the sacrifices were being consumed by the flames. God's wrath is never satisfied except by blood atonement. The reason that unbelievers will spend eternity in the fires of God's wrath in Hell is because their sins remain un-atoned for. But, God's altar was always ready for the repentant sinner. God never turned anyone away who freely came. God was always ready to receive those who would come to Him in repentance and faith, confessing their sins. As it was at the brazen altar, so it is at the Cross.
Justification By Faith - The Great Exchange Completed
All of this which we see at the brazen altar speaks to us of the grace of justification by faith. It speaks of the grace of God in declaring a sinner righteous because his sins have been imputed to Another who has atoned for them. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in the familiar words of 2 Corinthians 5:21 - "He who knew no sin" - Jesus Christ - "became sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." The great exchange. Our sins for Christ's righteousness. Our filthy rags for Christ's royal robe.
Sinners are only declared forgiven because their sins have been imputed to the perfect substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. But the imputation of sin to a substitute is only one side of the transaction. The brazen altar of the Old Testament tabernacle could not provide the other side of the transaction. The brazen altar could not provide double imputation. The earthly priest had no righteousness to impart to the sinner. The animal sacrificed possessed no righteousness to impart to the sinner.
But in the perfection of the fulfillment of the type of the brazen altar, at the Cross, we have that second part of the transaction. We have the great exchange completed. Not only are our sins imputed to the perfect Lamb of God. The righteousness of the perfect High Priest is also imputed to us. This is the great truth of double imputation. Our burden of sin is imputed to Christ, His perfect righteousness is imputed to us, so that we stand before God the Father, as Isaiah 61:10 tells us, clothed in the robe of the righteousness of Christ.
It is a righteousness that is not our own (Philippians 3:9). It is the righteousness of Another. It is not a righteousness that we have in any way earned or deserved, but a righteousness that is freely imputed to us, once for all, by a gracious and merciful God. This is the significance of the brazen altar. This is the shadow that is fulfilled by the substance of Christ on the Cross.
And thus He cried out from the Cross - that great triumphal cry - "It is finished!" In the Greek, tetelestai - "It is paid in full!"
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