Christ, Our Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1)

I’ve been watching two competition reality shows—The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown and The Great British Menu. Both challenge the contestants to perform in their area of expertise according to very high standards, with a specific goal in mind. In the first one, the team members have to complete a particular task in a trial, usually to finish in the least time. In the second, the chef has to choose the best menu item for each of four courses to meet the specific banquet “brief” for the season, with excellent gastronomy that will please both the veteran competition evaluator and four judges at the end of the week. In both cases, the more experience each person has in the competition, as the week goes on, the higher their marks, with increasing chances of success in winning. Those who focus on their own ideas of what is required or will be acceptable don’t win for lack of focus on the clearly stated brief. In the Christian life, the longer our experience with Christ, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, with a focus on God, the more we can appreciate and apply the benefits of our atonement. The more we live by God’s precepts and reflect his holiness. The more we are living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, as he created us to be. God has given us his Word to instruct, guide, and correct our understanding, to serve as our brief or goal for life. We need to be accountable to his Word to refocus on his priorities, which he has clearly set before us. We win when we are fully prepared for eternity, and others notice that we are not living for ourselves and want to taste what God has “cooked” in us. God’s cowboys aren’t prideful, prejudiced, or passive—we go after the blessings of Christ with bold enthusiasm. But instead of proving ourselves with physical endurance, speed, or strength, we prove our spiritual growth with greater understanding, appreciation, and application of Christ’s atonement as taught in the Old and New Testaments.

Why study Leviticus?

“It is important to try to understand the rituals in Leviticus for two reasons. First, rituals enshrine, express, and teach those values and ideas that a society holds most dear. By analyzing the ceremonies described in Leviticus, we can learn about what was most important to the OT Israelites. Second, these same ideas are foundational for the NT writers. The concepts of holiness, cleanness and uncleanness found in Leviticus shed important light on how NT writers interpret the death of Christ…Certain themes are especially prominent in Leviticus. First, God is present with His people, a direct result of the tabernacle having been constructed. Second, because God is holy, His people must also be holy (11:45). Third, since people are sinful and ritually unclean, they cannot expect to come close to or dwell near the holy God. Contact between a sinner and divine holiness will result in death. Hence, atonement for sin through the offering of sacrifice is of paramount importance.” (1) In Leviticus Chapter 1, we find these ideas stressed: burnt offerings made to the Lord, a pleasing aroma to him, and the sprinkling of blood—all for the atonement of God’s people. God commanded Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:2-3) “The word translated ‘bring’ in verse 2 is the causative form of the verb that means ‘draw near.’ God was telling His people to draw near to Him and to bring offerings to Him. Even when we turn our backs on God and break His laws, He loves us and pursues us to reconcile us to Himself. That’s the way the book of Leviticus opens. God provides guidelines for sinful people to come into His holy presence. The sacrificial system is God’s invitation for people to meet with Him. The one true and holy God is an inviting God.” (2) The Lord gave his chosen people, called Israel, God’s own son, specific instructions for bringing burnt offerings of atonement to the priest at the tabernacle. Do we highly esteem Christ’s offering of himself for atonement? How do we demonstrate our regard for Christ? Will we die to ourselves to live for him and his goals for us—to enjoy and glorify him forever?

God’s Brief For His People

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting…And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:4-9) “‘Make atonement’ is of fundamental importance for what the ritual achieves by the shedding of blood, burning of the flesh, etc. While some take this Hebrew term as referring to expiation (the removal of sin) as opposed to propitiation (the appeasement of wrath), both realities seem to be involved. On the one hand, sin calls forth God’s wrath and results in the offerer’s needing to be ransomed so that the Lord’s wrath is appeased (propitiation). In this way, the sacrificial animal dies instead of the offerer. On the other hand, sin is also defiling and must be removed (expiation). The offerings that ‘make atonement’ are the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, but not the grain offering or the peace offering.” (3) “When the NT writers sought to expound the significance of Golgotha, they most often did so in sacrificial terms derived from Leviticus and related priestly material…Whereas those animal offerings’ could not perfect the conscience of the worshipper’ (Heb. 9:9), Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary through His own blood ‘thus securing an eternal redemption’ (Heb. 9:12). (Indeed, it is only by depicting our Lord as both sacrifice and sacrificing high priest that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews can take account of the full implications of His death.)” (4) [The Lord] gives covenant laws to his covenant people so that they can be faithful members of his covenant kingdom. These laws helped them to manifest faithfulness in two ways. First, they let the Israelites know how to maintain covenant fellowship with the King now dwelling in their midst…Second, they let the Israelites know how to reflect the holiness of their covenant King, so that they could fulfill their covenant mission: being ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ to ‘all the earth’ (Exodus 19:4–6). In both instances, the goal was relational: to guide the Israelites in their relationship with their covenant King, as well as with those who live in his world. As Jesus would later affirm, the Lord’s laws always have this dual goal in mind (Matthew 22:37-40).” (5)

Jesus—Utterly Devoted and Consumed by God’s Wrath

Moses writes, “And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord…And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” (Lev. 1:9, 13) “The burnt offering was the most costly sacrifice: it had to be burned up completely on the altar. Unlike grain, purification and reparation offerings (of which the priests ate), and unlike fellowship offerings (of which the priest and the offeror ate), no one ate any of the burnt offering: it was all given to the Lord. The reason becomes clear once we understand the burnt offering’s purposes. At least two may be identified. The first is atonement…By giving the whole animal to the Lord, offenders acknowledged that their sinfulness before a holy God was so great that only a full and costly ransom payment would suffice. This in fact explains why the death of Jesus on behalf of sinners is described with the language of the burnt offering. Jesus is the ultimate burnt offering that ransoms guilty sinners (Heb. 10:1–10). (6) In his commentary, John Gill comments on how the burnt offerings specifically point to Christ. “Offer a male; and not a female, pointing at the Messiah’s sex, and his strength and excellency…the Son to be given…without blemish…denoting the perfection of Christ as man, being in all things made like unto his brethren, and his having not the least stain or blemish of sin upon him…The flaying of the burnt offering may denote the very great sufferings of Christ, when he was stripped of his clothes, and his back was given to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; and the skin of the sacrifice, which belonged to the priest, may be an emblem of the righteousness of Christ…… that robe of righteousness, and garments of salvation, which all that are made kings and priests to God are clothed with.” (7)

Our Living Sacrifice

“The burnt offering’s second purpose was to underscore the offenders’ prayers, a type of exclamation point to what they were saying. In either case – whether petition or praise – the burnt offering served as an exclamation point. Paul picks up on this idea in the context of praise when he exhorts Christians: ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ (Rom. 12:1).” (8) “We were buried therefore with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) “‘Living’ means that [we] will not be put to death as OT animal sacrifices were, for Christ has fulfilled what was predicted by those sacrifices. Whereas OT worship focused on offering animal sacrifices in the temple, Paul says that spiritual worship in a broad sense now includes offering one’s whole life to God.” (9) The Lord gave Israel specific instructions for bringing burnt offerings of atonement for sin to the priest at the tabernacle because they belonged to God. We who belong to Christ are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. It’s our ‘brief’ from him, not just for a day or a week, but from now until eternity. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Related Scripture: Genesis 8:21-22; Exodus 12:5; Numbers 15:22-26; Leviticus 4:26;5:15; 6:12; 9:22-24; 17:11; 2 Chronicles 29:23-24; Isaiah 56:6-7; Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 2:22-24; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 5:1; 10:19-22; 12:18-24; 13:15-16; 1 Peter 1:2


1. The Reformation Study Bible, Introduction to Leviticus, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

2. Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.

3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Leviticus 1:3, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.Zondervan, Intro to Leviticus

4. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, The Offerings, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP Academic, 2014.

5. Sklar, Ibid.

6. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 1:2-17,

7. Sklar, Ibid.

8. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Romans 12:1-2.

January 26, 2023

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