by Roy Gane
Part V: Jesus Isn't Finished With Me Yet
C H A P T E R 25
In May of 1992, two days after I graduated with a Ph.D. in Hebrew language and literature, I was digging a post hole at a construction job. The idea that Ph.D. stands for "Post hole Digger" came to mind with new force.
During the summer of 1992, I did construction work, yard work, and telephone marketing for a utility bill auditing service. As usual, I was grateful for the work because it paid the bills. But I was ready to use my education and no teaching job was in sight.
August came. The school year was approaching. Still no teaching job. I refused to worry because God had provided for my family in the past. But time was running out.
On August 31, my birthday, I received a phone call from the chairman of the Religion Department at Pacific Union College. A member of the department had just left to take another position. The autumn quarter would begin in a few weeks. Would I be interested in a job immediately?
Job! Immediately! Would I be interested? What a birthday present!
The chairman of the department had never met me, but he offered me a job over the phone. How did he know about me? I had a friend in the department, who knew me. So when the department needed someone, he encouraged the department and its chairman to contact me.
Without my friend to tell about my existence, qualifications, and availability, I might not have gotten the job. I needed someone who knew me and believed in me to speak up on my behalf. In other words, I needed a mediator.
Christ is the ultimate mediator. He can properly represent me because He has become a human being (Heb 4:15). He believes in me because He knows what I can become through Him. He can bring me to God. "For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human" (1 Tim 2:5).
Christ, the God-man, is the bridge between God and man. He is the ladder between heaven and earth (Jn 1:51).
Why do we need Christ to mediate between us and God? God loved the human race and communicated with people in Old Testament times, long before He sent Christ into the world. It is because God loves us that He gave His only Son (Jn 3:16).
Christ's sacrifice and mediation do not make God love us; they result from God loving us. God does not need a mediator in order to reach out to us. We need a mediator so that we might come to God (Heb 4:15-16; 10:19-22).
Sin has separated human beings from God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were afraid of God and hid in the garden (Gen 3:8). Then God had to drive them out of Eden, away from the tree of life, so that they would not perpetuate sin by living forever (verses 22-24). From this point on, sinful, mortal human beings could not see the unveiled glory of God and live (Exod 33:20).
It is Christ who can take away our fear and bring us to God because He can separate us from the sin that separates us from God. He can do this because He died to pay the price of our forgiveness and full restoration. "For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant" (Heb 9:15).
The new covenant mediated by Christ is a heart relationship between human beings and their God, based on forgiveness (Jer 31:34) through Christ's sacrifice.
Israelites received forgiveness when they brought their sacrifices to the sanctuary and priests, acting as mediators with God, put their sacrifices on the altar. This forgiveness was provisional, contingent upon the future sacrifice of Christ. Although human priests did not forgive anyone themselves, people could not approach God for forgiveness without priests. Even though God resided among the Israelites, their sinfulness was a barrier to the divine-human encounter.
When Christ was sacrificed for us, rose, and ascended to heaven, a lot changed for the better. The main purpose of the book of Hebrews is to tell us what has changed. No longer do we need a human priest in an earthly temple because Christ serves as our High Priest in the heavenly temple (Heb 8-9). No longer do we need to bring animal sacrifices repeatedly because Christ has died as our Sacrifice once and for all (9:25-28). Christ as our divine priest can give us forgiveness for which He has already paid (9:11-14).
When Christ ascended to heaven, He consecrated the heavenly sanctuary and inaugurated His priestly ministry. This inauguration was such an important event that several books of the Bible speak of it.
Daniel 9:24 prophesies: "Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place." During the last of the "seventy weeks," "an anointed one" would come and be "cut off" (Dan 9:26). The Hebrew word translated "an anointed one" is mashiach, from which we get the word "Messiah." The Greek word for "anointed one," which appears in the New Testament, is christos, "Christ." It is true that ancient priests and kings could also be called mashiach (Lev 4:3; 2 Sam 22:51), but the "anointed one" in Daniel 9 can only be Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who was "cut off" when He died the equivalent of the second death for our sins, and it was Jesus who atoned for iniquity and brought in everlasting righteousness through His sacrifice. Because of His sacrifice, He could "anoint a most holy place," that is, consecrate the sanctuary in heaven. This must be the heavenly sanctuary because He makes the "sacrifice and offering" in the earthly temple to "cease" (verse 27) and the earthly temple itself is destroyed (verse 26).
Matthew 27:51 indicates in what sense Christ made the earthly ritual system "cease." When He died on the cross, "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split" (NASB). The veil of the temple was a colossal piece of fabric. It was tall, wide, thick, and heavy. There was no human way to tear it in two from top to bottom like this. Even if a person could have escaped the notice of the temple guards in order to set up a ladder in front of the veil, he could not have torn or cut the curtain from this position without a modern tool such as a chain saw. So who tore the curtain? Apparently the same power that split the rocks: God.
Tearing the curtain desecrated the temple by exposing its most holy interior to public view. It was no longer sacred because God had left it. As Jesus had announced: "See, your house is left to you, desolate" (Matt 23:38). It was their house, no longer God's house.
For the next few decades until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., people continued to bring sacrifices to the temple, thinking that God was receiving them. But He was not. When Jesus died as the real sacrifice and ascended to heaven to anoint the heavenly sanctuary and to be our High Priest there (Heb 7-10), He moved the focus of true worship from a place on earth to God's temple in heaven.
Revelation 5 dramatically describes the beginning of Christ's heavenly ministry. A Lamb that appears to have just been slaughtered (verse 6) is worthy to open a scroll sealed with seven seals because He was slaughtered and ransomed people by His blood (verse 9), making them a kingdom and priests serving God (verse 10). Opening the scroll has to do with Christ's unique ability to save people by virtue of His sacrifice.
The book of Hebrews speaks of Christ beginning His ministry in heaven: "When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb 1:3). See also Hebrews 8:1: "... we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." These verses indicate that Christ was reunited with His Father and resumed the status that He had before He took on human form (compare Phil 2:5-11). It appears that in addition to becoming His Father's "right hand man" in terms of status, Christ literally sat down in a particular location, namely, next to His Father. The idea that this is a physical expression is confirmed by comparison with Acts 7:55, where Stephen saw Jesus standing at God's right hand.
When Christ went to sit down next to His Father, it would appear that He went into the heavenly equivalent of the most holy place. In the Israelite sanctuary the Lord was enthroned in the most holy place above the ark (Exod 25:22; Num 7:89; 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Ki 19:15). Hebrews 6:19-20 strengthens the idea that Christ entered the most holy place at His ascension: "We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."
In the Old Testament, the expression "inside the curtain" always means "inside the inner veil," that is, inside the most holy place (Exod 26:33; Lev 16:2, 12, 15; Num 18:7). In fact, Hebrews 6:19-20 uses the same Greek expression for location inside/behind the curtain that is found in Exodus 26:33 and Leviticus 16:2, 12, 15 in the ancient Septuagint Greek translation, which was available to the writers of the New Testament.
It is true that in the Septuagint the Greek word for "curtain" by itself could also be used for the outer screen that separated the holy place from the courtyard (Exod 26:37) and for the screen that served as the gate into the courtyard (37:16 [= 38:18]). However, the combination "inside the curtain" always translates a Hebrew phrase in which the word for "curtain" is paroket, meaning "inner curtain." This Hebrew word is never used in the Bible with reference to the outer screen of the sanctuary or the screen that formed the gate of the courtyard.
The hope that Christians have as a result of Christ going within the veil is based on the fact that He is ministering as our High Priest in the presence of God at the place where God is enthroned in heaven (see Heb 4:14-16). But just because Christ entered the heavenly equivalent of the most holy place at His ascension does not automatically mean that He began to cleanse the heavenly sanctuary then, as the Israelite high priest did on the Day of Atonement when he entered the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary (Lev 16:14-16). It was not the cleansing of the Israelite sanctuary on the Day of Atonement that pointed forward to the beginning of Christ's "new covenant" heavenly ministry, but rather the covenant sacrifices (Exod 24:3-8) and the services that consecrated the sanctuary (Lev 8), as the writer of Hebrews makes clear:
For when every commandment had been told to all the people by Moses in accordance with the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the scroll itself and all the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you." And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship (Heb 9:19-21).
What rules out a sanctuary cleansing ministry for Christ at His ascension is the fact that He did not begin a work of judgment at that time. We will find in the next chapter of the present book that the cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement was Israel's time of judgment, when God separated those who were disloyal to Him from those who were loyal. From the perspective of the book of Hebrews, which was written after Christ's ascension, He intercedes/mediates (Heb 7:25), but judgment is still in the future: "For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries" (Heb 10:26-27; compare 9:27-28).
It is true that Christ judged the world at the cross in the sense that He delivered us from Satan as our ultimate ruler (Jn 12:31). But judgment involving investigation and punishment of those found guilty was still future when the book of Hebrews was written:
Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy "on the testimony of two or three witnesses." How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people" (Heb 10:28-30).
At first glance Hebrews 9:6-12 seems to indicate that Christ did begin Day of Atonement ministry at His ascension. This passage draws a special kind of parallel between the movement of the Israelite high priest into the most holy place on the Day of Atonement and Christ's entrance into the heavenly sanctuary. After a brief description of the Israelite sanctuary in verses 1-5, verses 6-7 read:
Such preparations having been made, the priests go continually into the first tent to carry out their ritual duties; but only the high priest goes into the second, and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people.
Here the ministry of the high priest in the second tent/apartment once a year clearly refers to ministry in the most holy place on the Day of Atonement (compare Lev 16).
Verses 8-10 go on to interpret the two phases of priestly ministry in the Israelite sanctuary:
By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right.
Notice what the writer is doing here. He interprets the relationship between the two apartments of the earthly sanctuary as a symbol/parable of the relationship between the earthly sanctuary and the heavenly sanctuary. Just as the way into the most holy place of the Israelite sanctuary was not accessible throughout the year while priests ministered in the holy place (compare Lev 16:17), so "the way into the sanctuary (= heavenly sanctuary) has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent (= earthly sanctuary) is still standing."
Here in Hebrews 9:8, the word "sanctuary" must refer to the heavenly sanctuary and "first tent" must represent the earthly sanctuary . Nothing else makes sense. If we were to take "sanctuary" and "first tent" to mean the inner and outer apartments of the earthly sanctuary, we could not explain the words "as long as the first tent is still standing." The "sanctuary" clearly comes after the "first tent." This is confirmed by the following words, which take the "first tent" as "a symbol of the present time." But in the ancient sanctuary, the two apartments were standing together, at the same time. The first apartment was not taken down physically, nor did it lose its significance, when the high priest entered the most holy place on the Day of Atonement. On the other hand, if we were to take "sanctuary" and "first tent" to refer to the inner and outer apartments of the heavenly sanctuary, we would be forced to conclude that the first/outer apartment of the heavenly sanctuary would somehow cease to stand/function when Christ would enter the most holy place.
Verses 11-12 of Hebrews 9 go on to describe Christ's entrance into the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension:
But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
In light of the preceding verses, it is clear that whereas the Israelite high priest entered "once a year" into the second apartment of the earthly sanctuary (verse 7), Christ entered "once for all" into the second sanctuary, that is, the heavenly sanctuary. Here "the Holy Place," literally "the holies" in Greek, speaks of the sanctuary as a whole. Compare passages such as Exodus 36:1 and Numbers 4:15, where the Septuagint uses the same Greek expression ("the holies") with reference to the entire Israelite sanctuary, which was called simply "the holy" in the original Hebrew text.
From the perspective of the writer of Hebrews, earthly temple rituals were still being performed in "the present time" (9:9-10), but Christ had already come (9:11). In terms of physical "standing," there was some overlap between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries because Christ ascended to heaven several decades before the temple in Jerusalem ceased to function and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Hebrews 9 was written after Christ's ascension, but before the destruction of the temple. But verse 8 says: "the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing." There is no overlap here. So "standing" in this context must refer to "retaining significance." The significance of the first tent stood only as long as it continued to function as a "prototype" that pointed forward to Christ's ministry. When Christ's actual atonement began, the prototype was no longer needed, as shown by the fact that when Christ died on the cross the veil of the temple in Jerusalem was torn from top to bottom (Matt 27:50-51).
The point of Hebrews 9:6-12 is to show the greatness of Christ's ministry by comparison with that of the Israelite priests. Whereas the Israelite high priest took animal blood "once a year" before God into the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary, Christ took His own blood "once for all" into the better heavenly sanctuary. Every part of Christ's ministry is greater than the special rituals of the Israelite Day of Atonement, which comprised the most awesome, climactic part of the services in the earthly sanctuary (see Heb 9:23-28).
The bottom line of our discussion regarding Hebrews 9 is that this chapter describes the beginning of Christ's high priestly ministry in heaven, but it does not indicate that He began to cleanse the sanctuary there when He ascended. It is true that Christ's death on the cross made it possible for the sanctuary to be cleansed, just as the deaths of sacrificial animals on the Day of Atonement provided the blood by which the Israelite sanctuary was cleansed (Lev 16:11, 15). In this sense Christ's death began the Day of Atonement process leading to the cleansing of the sanctuary. But the cleansing itself is a work of judgment and this was still in the future when the book of Hebrews was written.
In the Israelite sanctuary, priestly intercession/mediation throughout the year was located in the holy place, where the incense altar, lamps, and table stood (for example Exod 30:7-8; Lev 24:5-9). So it would appear that Christ's intercession after His ascension and before the judgment should take place in the heavenly equivalent of the holy place. But how do we reconcile this with Christ's entrance into the most holy place at His ascension (Heb 6:19-20; see above)? Having begun His ministry in the most holy place, was He later excluded from that apartment during the time of His intercession, just as the high priest was forbidden to enter the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary before the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:2)?
The movements of Israelite high priests were restricted because these individuals were sinful and mortal. Even on the Day of Atonement the high priest could not come into the most holy place without a smoke screen to protect him from God's glory (Lev 16:12-13). But Christ is sinless and immortal. Because He is divine, He needs no veil or smoke screen to protect Him from divine glory. There is no reason why Christ and His Father cannot move around freely. The fact that the Bible speaks of their royal status in terms of enthronement does not mean that they are confined to their thrones, just as King Solomon was not permanently seatbelted when he "sat on the throne of his father David" (1 Kings 2:12).
Since His ascension, Christ has been victorious and free to sit down with His Father (Heb 1:3). He could stand up if the situation called for it (Acts 7:56). He could walk around as Mediator, meeting the needs of churches on earth (Rev 1:12-20). And He could come to His Father in a grand coronation procession at the time of the judgment (Dan 7:13-14).
Christ could have His main center of operations in the holy place during intercession and then move His functional center to the most holy place during judgment, without confining Himself to either location at any time. We can learn from the Israelite sanctuary about the basic phases of holy place mediatorial ministry and most holy place judgment ministry, but the distinction in function is more important than the distinction in location and Christ is more free to move around than the Israelite priests were.
Totally restricting Christ to one part of the sanctuary does not work, especially after the beginning of the judgment. During the judgment He continues to intercede for us, as shown by the fact that God still appeals to people after the judgment has begun (Rev 14:6-12). So during the judgment, Christ carries out holy place and most holy place functions during the same period of time. Compare the fact that on the Day of Atonement the Israelite priests performed regular rituals of intercession, including the morning and evening burnt offerings, just as they did on other days (Num 29:11; compare 28:1-8).
The idea that Christ has carried on intercession in the holy place following His ascension does not contradict the fact that He has been ministering in the presence of God. In John's vision of the heavenly sanctuary, the holy place is in the presence of God. His gaze takes in the throne of God (Rev 4:2-3), in front of which there are seven flaming torches (verse 5). These are the heavenly equivalent of the seven lamps in the holy place of the earthly sanctuary (Exod 25:37). So John is looking through the holy place directly to the throne of God. If there is a veil in the heavenly sanctuary, as Hebrews 6:19 suggests (if "veil" here is to be taken literally), it must be open because it does not obstruct John's view.
Because Christ "offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins" and "sat down at the right hand of God," (Heb 10:12), the book of Hebrews calls us to come to the sanctuary through the new way of direct access to God that Christ has opened for us:
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:19-22).
Since His inauguration as our High Priest in heaven, Christ has appeared "in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb 9:24). Because of His sacrifice, He functions as our Advocate/Mediator (1 Jn 2:1).
The idea that Christ is our Advocate puzzled me for a long time. Is God the Father so ancient of days that He is becoming forgetful and needs to be reminded of Christ's sacrifice every time we sin? Or does the Father become so angry that He needs to see Christ's blood again in order to calm down? Are the Father's wishes concerning us so antagonistic to the desires of Christ that He must plead: "Please, please, Father, forgive them because of my sacrifice"? These scenarios do not fit well with what we know of God from the rest of the Bible.
Christ does not "plead" in the sense of begging or nagging. He pleads in the sense that an advocate or defense attorney pleads in a court of law: by making cases through presentation of evidence. Our cases involve requests for forgiveness and cleansing. That which proves God's right to forgive us is the fact of Christ's sacrifice (Rom 3:24-26), as evidenced by the scars of His crucifixion (compare Jn 20:26-28). John, the beloved disciple, saw Christ in heaven as a Lamb having been slaughtered (Rev 5:6) because Christ continually carries the cross event with Him.
A crucial component of Christ's pleading is His acknowledgment that we accept Him. Jesus said: "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven" (Matt 10:32-33). In the book of Revelation, Christ promises one of the seven churches: "If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels" (Rev 3:5).
Notice that because Christ confesses/acknowledges those who are His, their names will not be blotted out of the book of life. Why not? Because Christ has put His life on the line for us as Moses did when he interceded for his people before the Lord (Exod 32:32). This kind of intercession goes way beyond an ordinary defense attorney's call of duty.
Christ does not need to change His Father's mind in the sense of persuading Him to love us. The Father has loved us all along, which is why He gave His only Son to save us (Jn 3:16). But the Father must maintain His justice when He grants mercy. If He does not, He will violate His own moral character of love (1 Jn 4:8), which includes both justice and mercy. Christ's sacrifice, which paid the penalty for our sin, makes it possible for God to be both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:26; NASB). This is the reason for Christ's sacrifice. If God could forgive without justice, there would have been no reason for this sacrifice or the Israelite animal sacrifices that pointed forward to it.
Because Christ carries the cross event with Him, He can reconcile us to God (Rom 5:1) by forgiving and cleansing us when we confess our sins (1 Jn 1:9). As our Advocate, Christ changes our standing before God, transforming us from rebels to loyal servants.
Having obtained eternal redemption for us by His own blood (Heb 9:12), Christ uses His blood to "purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God" (verse 14). Just as animal sacrifices purified the Israelites, Christ's sacrifice purifies us from moral impurity, removing our sin (compare verse 26). The purpose of removing guilt from our consciences is to enable us to worship God instead of rebelling against Him. So Christ not only uses His blood to pay a debt resulting from sin, He is transforming us from the inside out. He is effective in working with us because His cross draws us, He is human like us, and He can help us with the vast resources of heaven, including angels and the Holy Spirit.
If it were not for Christ, I would cherish sin in my heart and God would not listen to my prayers (compare Ps 66:18). But the incense of Christ's sacrifice, cleansing my heart, sweetens my prayers to God (Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).
Not only does Christ mediate the prayers of human beings, He prays for us. I realized this for the first time when I was twenty years old and in the process of making a difficult decision. While reading the Bible, I happened to come across a conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter. Jesus said: "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:31-32).
This passage had a profound effect on me. I realized that even if nobody in the world knew my situation in order to pray for me, I was not alone because Jesus was praying for me as He prayed for Peter! Now that Christ is in heaven, His wishes for me are just as sure to be effective.
Jeff and I were earning money by cutting firewood. He found a dead Ponderosa Pine tree and obtained permission to cut it down. There was a lot of wood in that tree. It was about five feet in diameter and about 120 feet tall.
The problem was that our chain saws weren't long enough. Jeff had a Homelite saw with a 24 inch bar and my Husqvarna was 28 inches. So we took turns cutting around the tree, but we couldn't quite reach the middle from the outside.
We heard a cracking sound and jumped away. The tree started to fall. But then it stopped, leaning at a weird angle. The middle of the tree was still there, preventing it from falling all the way.
We couldn't leave the tree there like that. For one thing, it could come down without warning and kill someone. Also, we wanted the wood. We had to finish the job. But how?
Jeff was much more experienced than I, so he went to the tree and stuck his saw in the gaping notch that had opened up. He was able to break through the middle, so the tree fell the rest of the way.
What Jeff did was very dangerous. The root system on which he was standing could have been uprooted. The tree could have kicked back and squashed him like a fly. But he was determined to complete the job. "It ain't over until it's over!"
God wants to finish His job. An Israelite who had sinned or who had a severe ritual impurity received through sacrifice the atonement of forgiveness or purification (Lev 4-5, 12, 14-15). But there was a further stage of atonement once a year on the Day of Atonement (16; 23:27-32). Without this stage, a person's oneness with God would not be complete.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest used special sacrifices to cleanse the sanctuary from the sins and impurities of the people (Lev 16:16,33). He did this because once a year God's sanctuary needed "housecleaning." Sins and impurities could remain in the sanctuary only for so long. If God's house became too polluted, He would not remain there (compare Ezek 9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:22-23).
Through the cleansing of the sanctuary, the people were also cleansed: "For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord" (Lev 16:30). All persons who had already been forgiven for sins at various times earlier in the year now received cleansing from all of them at once: "from all your sins you shall be clean."
We are talking about spiritual "housecleaning" here rather than physical cleaning which the priests must have performed at other times. As an example of physical cleaning, it seems safe to assume that the priests must have periodically removed blood that had been applied to the two altars. However, aside from instructions regarding daily removal of accumulated ashes from the outer altar (Lev 6:10-11; Hebrew verses 3-4), the Bible does not tell us about this kind of janitorial work in the sanctuary. Such practical details are addressed in later rabbinic writings, but in the Bible the focus is on removal of sins and ritual impurities.
The two stages of atonement for sin are clear:
The first stage of atonement for sin is forgiveness. The second stage is cleansing.
The two stages of atonement for sin correspond to a promise in the New Testament: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn 1:9; NASB). We will see that through Christ's sacrifice He not only forgives us, He cleanses us as well.
What if an Israelite had rejected God's offer of forgiveness during the year? Could that person receive cleansing on the Day of Atonement? Earlier we saw what happened to a person who willfully neglected purification from corpse contamination. Such a person was condemned to be "cut off" (Num 19:13, 20). There was no sacrificial remedy for this punishment. A person who willfully neglected to receive forgiveness for sin by bringing a sacrifice would also receive punishment (compare Lev 5:1). This punishment was inevitable because the required sacrifice was the only way in which the punishment could have been removed (Lev 5:6). It could not be removed later by the cleansing sacrifices performed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement for the whole community.
The ceremonies of the Day of Atonement resulted in the cleansing of people who had already received forgiveness. Because forgiveness was the first stage of a process, you could not have the second stage without it. By comparison, if O'Grady had not gotten in the helicopter to begin with, the next step of flying him out of Bosnia could not have occurred.
In order for an Israelite to be cleansed on the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to cleanse the sanctuary on behalf of the entire community. In addition, the individual had to show loyalty to God by practicing self-denial, including fasting, and by resting from work (Lev 16:29).
The beginning of the next verse gives the reason for self-denial and doing no work:
"For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord" (Lev 16:30). If you were an Israelite, something crucially important was happening on your behalf, so you needed to show your involvement even though you could not go into the sanctuary.
What if an Israelite had been forgiven during the year and the high priest cleansed the sanctuary, but that Israelite ate and worked on the Day of Atonement as usual? Lev 23:29-30 tells us: "For anyone who does not practice self-denial during that entire day shall be cut off from the people. And anyone who does any work during that entire day, such a one I will destroy from the midst of the people."
A person who did not show loyalty to God on the Day of Atonement was rebelling against Him, and God would "cut off" or destroy that person. Such an individual would be no better off than if he/she had openly defied God earlier in the year (compare Num 15:30-31). Atonement had to be finished or it was invalidated, just as a baby cannot survive unless it is born completely, or as a criminal who commits another crime while on parole goes back to jail. An incomplete atonement would end up being no atonement.
By the end of the Day of Atonement, there were only two groups of Israelites: loyal Israelites who were "clean" and fully reconciled to God, and disloyal Israelites who bore their own sin and were rejected by God.
God's rejection was not arbitrary. He offered full atonement freely. The choice to accept or reject Him was up to the people. If they rejected Him, He accepted their decision and they bore the consequences.
We can see that the Day of Atonement was a day of judgment, when God separated disloyal Israelites from those who were loyal. Some people had been condemned already, before the Day of Atonement, because they had not received forgiveness through sacrifice. But the Day of Atonement judged between those who had been forgiven. Some held on to their forgiveness and some threw it away.
If you get on a helicopter that has come to rescue you, but then throw away your rescue by jumping off before you get to safety, you're on your own. You may feel free on the way down, but there's a big jolt at the bottom.
My family and I visited Yosemite National Park when Sarah, my daughter, was two years old. As we were driving along, we saw several coyotes. They were in good condition, well fed and with beautiful bushy tails. Sarah exclaimed: "I want a Coyote!" So when my wife and I gave her a puppy for her third birthday, she named him "Coyote."
Coyote was a terrier with mixed ancestry and a foxy appearance. Although he was small, even when fully grown, he was difficult to manage because he had more energy than he could handle. When we made the mistake of leaving him in the bathroom while we went to church, we found that he had chewed the wood trim on the bathroom doors. Even when he was running around in his acre of yard, I have never seen a more wound-up animal.
To keep Coyote in the yard, my wife and I installed an underground wire and put a special collar on the dog that would give him an electric shock if he crossed the line. It worked for awhile until he learned that he could get a running head start and cross the line at 30 m.p.h. to minimize the pain. His acceleration was phenomenal, especially if the UPS truck came by. For some reason that vehicle made him crazy with excitement. We wondered what he would do with the UPS truck if he ever caught it. We found out one day when he jumped on the back of the truck and went for a short ride.
Coyote had imperfections, but he was loyal. When my wife had to rest in bed all of one day after minor surgery, Coyote knew something was not normal. He kept vigil by her bed all day, without eating or drinking. When she dozed off, he would occasionally nudge her face with his nose to make sure she was O.K.
Unfortunately, Coyote's obsession with chasing trucks caught up with him. He ran in front of a garbage truck and that was it.
We buried Coyote by the garden and decorated his grave with flowers. When we sold the house a few months later, the hardest thing to leave was Coyote's grave. We mourned him for months. We had forgiven him for his imperfections because he was loyal. He loved us and we loved him.
God also values loyalty. In fact, for Him loyalty is the bottom line. This was true in His relationship with the ancient Israelites. They were imperfect people, who had sins and ritual impurities. God did not demand absolute perfection from a people unable to give it, but He did require loyalty. At His sanctuary He provided remedies for their imperfections as long as they were loyal to Him. But we have found that if they defied Him or disregarded His remedies, they were already condemned before the Day of Atonement (Num 15:30-31; 19:13, 20). If they failed to show loyalty to Him on the Day of Atonement by practicing self-denial and abstaining from work, they were "cut off" or destroyed (Lev 23:29-30).
Relationships between the Israelites and their divine king enthroned in His sanctuary were similar to relationships between a human king and his subjects. For example, consider the variety of relationships that individuals had with David and then Solomon.
Just before he died, David gave Solomon his last will and testament, including the following:
"Moreover you know also what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether, whom he murdered, retaliating in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist, and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. Deal loyally, however, with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table; for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from your brother Absalom. There is also with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, 'I will not put you to death with the sword.' Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol" (1 Ki 2:5-9).
Joab was already condemned for murder and his execution was inevitable in spite of the fact that it had been delayed by David's political situation. On the other hand, Barzillai and his family had been loyal (2 Sam 17:27-29; 19:31-32) and were to be treated as such. Then there was the difficult case of Shimei. David had pardoned Shimei (2 Sam 19:18-23) for cursing him (16:5-13), but now he did not regard him as worthy of pardon.
After David died, we are told how Solomon carried out his father's wishes with regard to Joab and Shimei, and we assume that he provided for the sons of Barzillai. Because Joab had supported the ill-fated attempt of Adonijah to take the throne while David was still alive (1 Ki 1:5-10, 18-19, 24-26) his fate was linked to that of Adonijah.
When Solomon was acclaimed king by shouting and trumpet blasts (1 Ki 1:39-40), he became judge over Adonijah and granted him a conditional pardon: "If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die" (1 Ki 1:52). In this context it is clear Solomon defined worthiness or wickedness in terms of loyalty or disloyalty to himself. For Solomon, loyalty was the bottom line.
After David died, Adonijah asked Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, to request for him permission to marry Abishag, who had belonged to David. Since having a woman belonging to a previous king was a royal privilege (compare 2 Ki 16:21-22), Solomon ordered that Adonijah be executed for attempting to regain his claim to the throne.
Because Abiathar the priest and Joab had supported Adonijah, Solomon punished them too by banishing Abiathar and executing Joab. When Joab fled to the sanctuary, refused to come out, and said he would die there (1 Ki 2:30), Solomon told Benaiah:
"Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father's house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever; but to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne, there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore" (1 Ki 2:31-33).
By putting Joab to death, Solomon "killed two birds with one stone": He eliminated a dangerous threat to his throne and at the same time he honored David's wish to have Joab executed for murder. Solomon's speech to Benaiah explains why David wanted Joab executed in spite of Joab's long and distinguished service as his army commander. It was not simply a matter of revenge or punishment for killing generals who were militarily and/or politically important to David. Because David was Joab's superior and therefore his judge, he had the responsibility to execute Joab. If he did not, he would bear Joab's bloodguilt, and if Solomon did not, he would also bear this guilt.
Solomon's speech to Benaiah regarding Joab illustrates an important aspect of the Day of Atonement. A judge has the responsibility to condemn a guilty person. This is why the sins of the Israelites affected God, the Judge of Israel, in His sanctuary. But on the Day of Atonement the Lord had His sanctuary cleansed, thereby repudiating further responsibility.
On what basis could God repudiate further responsibility and claim to be just? On the basis of the fact that He had given the benefits of sacrifice, which freed those who were forgiven from condemnation, only to those who were truly loyal. Loyal ones were those who, unlike Adonijah and Joab, showed true repentance that indicated their intention not to repeat their sin. Disloyal ones were condemned.
Then there was Shimei. Because David had forgiven him, Solomon could not simply execute him. So he put him on probation as he had Adonijah.
Then the king sent and summoned Shimei, and said to him, "Build yourself a house in Jerusalem, and live there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. For on the day you go out, and cross the Wadi Kidron, know for certain that you shall die; your blood shall be on your own head." And Shimei said to the king, "The sentence is fair; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do." So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days (1 Ki 2:36-38).
Solomon's stipulation was not simply arbitrary. Across the Wadi (brook) Kidron was the territory of Benjamin, Shimei's tribe. If Shimei returned home, he could work with his kinsmen to carry out his curse against David by restoring the family of Saul to the throne.
After three years, Shimei did leave Jerusalem. He went west rather than across the Kidron and he was pursuing his slaves rather than plotting with his Saulide kinsmen, but he had disobeyed the letter of Solomon's command by leaving Jerusalem. So Solomon had him executed for this. But in so doing, he carried out his father's wish. Again, Solomon killed "two birds with one stone." Just before the execution, Solomon said to Shimei: "You know in your own heart all the evil that you did to my father David; so the Lord will bring back your evil on your own head" (1 Ki 2:44).
David had pardoned Shimei. He could have lived. But his later disobedience nullified the forgiveness that he had received. The evil for which he had been forgiven came back on his own head.
For David and Solomon, the bottom line was loyalty. We have found the same to be true for the Lord. Punishment for condemned sinners may be delayed. Persons who are only nominally loyal may escape condemnation for awhile, but ultimately only the loyal will remain.
One of my most embarrassing moments happened while I was playing the piano. I was accompanying a trombone player named Art in his senior recital. At the end of a furiously fast and complicated piece by Serocki, a modern composer, there was a black key glissando. I was supposed to hit a high E flat and then sweep my fingers over all the black keys down to a low note.
Art's teacher insisted that I play on a new Baldwin grand that was not broken in. It had a mellow tone that was ideal for accompanying, but the keys were still stiff. Before the recital I practiced the glissando, but try as I might, I could not get it to work. While attempting to stiffen my grip, I ripped the high E flat off my mother's Knabe grand and had to glue it back on with contact cement. However, some experimenting produced a satisfactory solution: an elbow glissando. I figured out how to plant my elbow on the E flat and drag it at high speed over the black keys.
The recital was a formal affair, with parents, friends, and music faculty. For the event I enlisted the help of a classmate to turn pages for me.
When Art and I plowed into the Serocki piece, all went as planned. We got to the end, I plunked down my elbow on the E flat and whizzed it over the keys. It sounded great. But I had not practiced this with my page turner. She was sitting close to the left side of the keyboard and was not prepared to duck my follow-through. So I got her in the mouth with my hand. It wasn't a hard blow and didn't hurt her, but she reeled back in astonishment. Everyone gasped. I felt like crawling under the Baldwin, somewhere behind the pedals. But that was the end of the piece. I had to stand up and acknowledge applause.
My problem was that I was not coordinated with my page turner. We had not practiced my elbow glissando together. She didn't know what to expect.
Coordination can be crucial. Rescuing O'Grady from Bosnia required coordinated teamwork by dozens of men. Each man had a task that contributed to the goal of rescue. Each task was essential, but nobody was working independently of the others.
The special rituals of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) were coordinated to cleanse the Israelite sanctuary and camp. Each ritual was essential and worked with the other rituals.
Two special sin offerings functioned together to cleanse the sanctuary from impurities and sins: a bull for the priests, consisting of the high priest and his family (Lev 16:11 and following), and a goat for the rest of the people (verses 15 and following). Each of these sacrifices was supplemented by a burnt offering: a ram for the priests and another ram for the non-priestly community (verses 3, 5, 24).
Cleansing the sanctuary was not enough. When the sins were removed from the sanctuary, they had to be sent away from the camp of the community. So a ritual using a live goat, the so-called "scapegoat," expelled the sins of the entire community, including priests and lay people, into the wilderness (Lev 16:20-22).
There were a total of five special cleansing rituals on the Day of Atonement, all of which were officiated by the high priest. The rituals were: two sin offerings (bull and goat), two burnt offerings (rams), and the "scapegoat." As a result of this system of rituals, which cleansed the sanctuary and the camp, the people themselves were cleansed (Lev 16:30).
Now let's look at the rituals more closely. Only during the special sin offerings was the high priest, and no other, permitted to enter the awesome most holy place of the sanctuary to apply blood there (Lev 16:2, 12-16). This fact alone made the Day of Atonement the most important day of the year.
In preparation for special interaction with God in the most holy place, the high priest did not simply wash his hands and feet as he did when he entered the holy place or officiated at the outer altar (compare Exod 30:19-21). He bathed his whole body with water. Then he put on sacred garments, including a linen tunic that he wore only on this occasion (Lev 16:4). He did not wear his fancy tunic, ephod, and breastplate until later in the service.
With a cloud of incense shielding him from God's glory, the high priest took the blood of his bull behind the inner veil into the most holy place, which is referred to in Leviticus 16 as the "holy place." There he sprinkled the blood once on the lid of the ark of the covenant (so-called "mercy seat") and seven times in front of the ark's lid.
The high priest slaughtered the goat for the people and did with its blood as he had done with the bull's blood. Thus he began the sacrifice of the goat before he finished applying the blood of his bull to other parts of the sanctuary. From this point on he was working with both sacrifices.
The first part of Leviticus 16:16 tells us what the high priest accomplished by sprinkling the blood of the bull and the goat in the most holy place: "Thus he shall make atonement for the (most) holy place from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions as well as all their sins..." (my translation).
To "make atonement for" the most holy place "from" evils meant to cleanse that area from those evils, namely, ritual impurities and two kinds of sins. By sprinkling blood on the ark's lid, the high priest purified the ark. By sprinkling seven times in front of the ark, letting the blood fall on the floor of the sanctuary, he purified the area of the most holy place.
Having cleansed the most holy place, the high priest came out and cleansed the holy place, which is referred to here as the "tent of meeting" (Lev 16:16b). The instructions for the high priest are abbreviated at this point. He is told simply to do in the holy place what he did in the most holy place. What was that? He cleansed the most holy place by applying the blood of the bull and of the goat one time to the central object there (the ark) and seven times in front of that object. So he must do something equivalent in the holy place: one time to a central object and seven times in front of that object.
The holy place object in the center of the width of the sanctuary was the altar of incense. Exodus 30:10 confirms that the blood was to be applied to the horns of this object once a year. Because the incense altar had horns, the high priest daubed the blood once on each of them. Earlier, when he had applied blood once to the ark in the most holy place, he had simply sprinkled the blood on its lid, the highest part of the sacred chest. The ark had no horns and sprinkling enabled him to avoid touching this, the holiest of objects.
As in the most holy place, where the high priest sprinkled seven times in front of the ark, he must have cleansed the area of the holy place by sprinkling seven times in front of the altar of incense. Then he went outside to the courtyard, where he put the mixed blood of the bull and the goat on the horns of the outer altar and sprinkled it with the blood seven times (Lev 16:18-19). The sevenfold sprinkling was applied directly to the altar itself in order to reconsecrate it (verse 19). Apparently it needed this extra application of blood because it was the place that had the closest contact with the Israelites and their impurities.
The high priest did not sprinkle seven times in front of the outer altar because the courtyard area was not most holy like the outer altar itself and the two apartments of the sacred tent. This is shown by the fact that the courtyard had not been included in the consecration of the sanctuary with anointing oil (Lev 8).
The sanctuary was now cleansed from impurities and sins. To send the sins away from the community and its camp, the high priest took the live goat that had been standing in the sanctuary courtyard throughout the cleansing of the sanctuary. Leviticus 16:21-22 tells what he did with the goat:
Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.
Notice that the impurities had disappeared as a result of the sin offerings that cleansed the sanctuary, but the sins remained to be carried away on the live goat. Sins were harder to kill than ritual impurities, which represented mortality/death. Impurity and mortality are physical states that God can undo in a moment by giving purity and immortality, but sins are historical events that can live on in the memory of an individual and the collective memory of a community to generate more sins.
Sins are like computer viruses. Not long ago a friend warned me that if I received an E-mail message labeled "Pen Pal Greetings," it would carry a computer virus that would destroy all my software and my hard drive as well. If I then replaced my hard drive, the virus would still be there to wipe everything out again!
God allows sinners to die so that they will not make sin immortal. This is why God drove Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24). The fact that sin produces death (Rom 6:23) explains why the one who led the scapegoat into the wilderness had to purify himself (Lev 16:26). By touching the goat, which bore sins, the man contracted ritual impurity, which represented death.
The live goat belonged to Azazel and was sent to Azazel (Lev 16:8-10). We do not know exactly what "Azazel" means. Some interpreters have understood it to refer to the goat that goes away, that is, the "escape goat." This has been shortened to "scapegoat."
Although we do not know the meaning of the word "Azazel," we know that it must refer to a being who can own something. Leviticus 16:8 indicates that as a result of casting lots at the beginning of the Day of Atonement ceremonies, one goat belonged to the Lord and the other belonged to Azazel.
Azazel's goat was not slain as a sacrifice to the Lord as the Lord's goat was. Azazel's goat functioned as a ritual "garbage truck" to carry away sins. We could call it the "tote-goat."
The fact that Azazel's goat was set free in the wilderness implies that it was left to die there. Why didn't the Lord have the Israelites kill the goat? Perhaps because He wanted to make sure that they didn't regard it as a sacrifice.
Having finished with Azazel's goat, the high priest took off his linen "cleaning clothes" and bathed his whole body again with water (Lev 16:24). Why did the high priest need to bathe a second time? Because he interrupted sacrificial activity when he performed the ritual with Azazel's goat, which was not a sacrifice. Before going back to sacrifices he had to bathe, just as a physician must scrub again if he takes a break from surgery.
After bathing, the high priest put on his ornate vestments, including the ephod and breastplate (Lev 16:23-24). Then he went to the outer altar and performed burnt offerings with rams, one for the priests and the other for the rest of the people (verse 24). These offerings supplemented the sin offerings on behalf of the same offerers: priests and people.
The last ritual action the high priest performed was to burn the fat of the sin offerings on the altar (verse 25). This explains why the high priest had needed to bathe his whole body a second time, instead of the usual hands and feet (verse 24; compare Exod 30:19-21). The sin offerings were special sacrifices even at the outer altar because they had earlier involved interaction with God in the most holy place.
Leviticus 16:25 says: "He shall turn the fat of the sin offering into smoke on the altar" (my translation). "Sin offering," singular, refers here to the combination of two sin offerings, the bull for the priests and the goat for the people, that functioned together to cleanse the sanctuary.
The two sin offerings were tightly knit together by the fact that the high priest had alternated between the blood of the bull and of the goat when he cleansed the most holy place and holy place (verses 14-16). Then he had mixed the blood of both animals and applied this mixture to the outer altar (verses 18-19). With the blood mixed, the two rituals were fused together at this point. The interweaving and fusion of the sin offerings emphasizes that they worked together rather than independently.
To cleanse the sanctuary and the camp of the community, the high priest began with the sin offerings and he ended with the same offerings when he burned their fat. So the sin offerings provided a "frame" around the other rituals that came in between: the ritual of Azazel's goat and the two burnt offerings. This frame held the five special rituals of the Day of Atonement together and made them a unified group that functioned together to provide cleansing. The rituals worked together as a team.
Grethe, our landlady, called my wife and me outside to help her find Mykiko, a Siamese kitten. She could hear him mewing plaintively near the wood pile, but she could not see him. Thinking he had gotten stuck somewhere between the pieces of wood, we dismantled the pile. But Mykiko was not there. Then he mewed again. I looked up and saw the pathetic puss way up in the pine tree over the wood pile.
Mykiko's cries were weak because he had been through a dreadful ordeal. A dog had chased him up the tree and he had spent the night there through a rainstorm.
I brought a long ladder, put on thick leather gloves to protect myself from claws, and went up the tree. Sure enough, when I reached for Mykiko, the frantic feline flailed his claws, but I grabbed him and brought him down. He purred in gratitude and when I put him down he kept following me around to show his affection. Even though I was allergic to cats and tended to avoid them, Mykiko was bonded to me. He was sure I had saved his life.
What goes up must come down. Even if you are a cat.
Sometimes what goes in must come out. During O'Grady's rescue operation, planes moved in two basic directions. They went into Bosnia to get O'Grady, and then they reversed their direction to carry him out. These were the overall stages: in and then out.
At the Israelite sanctuary, the two basic stages were similar: Evils came into the Israelite sanctuary throughout the year and left it on the Day of Atonement. What goes in must come out, even if it is a sin or a ritual impurity.
The fact that the two stages moved in opposite directions is indicated by the fact that the cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement removed sins and ritual impurities that had been removed from persons who offered sacrifices for them throughout the year. Notice the wording of Leviticus 16:16, describing the evils that the high priest cleaned out of the sanctuary: "Thus he shall make atonement for the (most) holy place from the impurities of the Israelites and from their transgressions as well as all their sins..." (my translation). "All their sins" covered the sins for which they had already received forgiveness through sacrifices that removed the sins from them. So it is clear that on the Day of Atonement forgiven sins were treated a second time, this time to remove them from the sanctuary rather than from the sinners.
The two stages are confirmed by what happened in the rituals themselves. First, careful comparison between Leviticus 4 and 16 shows that there was a reversal in the order of blood applications performed in the holy place. When blood was applied in the holy place during the year (Lev 4), it moved toward the ark, indicating that the sin carried by the blood was moving into the sanctuary. But on the Day of Atonement, the blood moved away from the ark, showing that the sin was moving out of the sanctuary (Lev 16).
Here is what happened, according to Leviticus 4. For sins of the high priest or the community, the high priest applied blood at two locations inside the holy place (Lev 4:6-7, 17-18), moving toward the ark of the Covenant, where God's Presence was located. The two blood applications were:
The high priest then poured out the remaining blood at the base of the outer altar (verses 7, 18) simply to dispose of it. This disposal was not an application of blood to the altar.
By contrast to the movement toward the ark in Leviticus 4, Leviticus 16 shows that in the special sin offerings on the Day of Atonement, the sanctuary was cleansed from the inside out: most holy place to holy place to outer altar. Within each of these areas, we have found that blood was applied in locations that moved progressively away from the ark of the Covenant (16:14-16, 18-19).
The fact that the sanctuary was cleansed from the inside out agrees with what we would expect for a "house-cleaning job." When you want to sweep out the rooms of a house, you begin from the innermost part of the house and sweep the dirt toward the door that leads to outside.
This order for the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) reverses the direction of movement that occurred on other days (Lev 4). See especially the way in which the blood applications in the holy place on the Day of Atonement (above diagram, 3 and 4) reverse the order and direction of the blood applications there during the year (previous diagram, 1 and 2). Throughout the year blood carried sins into the sanctuary and on the Day of Atonement blood carried sins out of the sanctuary.
We have found that the blood of sacrificial animals carried defilement into the sanctuary throughout the year. This idea is supported by Leviticus 6:27-29, which instructs priests regarding sin offerings:
Whatever touches its flesh shall become holy; and when any of its blood is spattered on a garment, you shall wash the bespattered part in a holy place. An earthen vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken; but if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests shall eat of it; it is most holy.
The sacrifice was "most holy," but its blood and flesh were treated as if they were impure. A garment spattered with the blood had to be washed. An earthen vessel in which the flesh was boiled had to be broken. This was similar to the treatment of objects that came in contact with carcasses of unclean animals (Lev 11:32-33). A sin offering was holy because it was offered to the holy God, but there is a sense in which it was also impure. Why? Because it was the means by which sin or ritual impurity was removed from the offerer.
Sacrificial blood itself was not impure, but it was a "carrier" agent, a means of transfer, just as blood in a human or animal body has the function of carrying away waste products. Sin or ritual impurity would go from the person being purified through the blood to the altar. Similarly, bath water by itself is clean, but when you contact it with your dirty body, the water carries the dirt. If that dirty water gets on something, it will make that object dirty.
The whole point of the ritual impurity laws was to keep impure people and things from coming in contact with holy things connected with the sanctuary (see Lev 7:20; 15:31). But here in the sin offering we see holiness and impurity together. In this sacrifice God allowed holiness and impurity to mix in order to make atonement for His people.
By transferring a sacrificial animal to God, an Israelite transferred sin or ritual impurity from himself/herself to God at His sanctuary. The person was freed from the problem because God took it. It was now in God's "ball park," that is, His sanctuary.
When an Israelite laid one hand on the head of an animal in a sin offering, whether it dealt with a case of sin or with ritual impurity, this gesture played an important role in the transfer of evil to the sanctuary because it identified the offerer as the one whose evil was transferred to the sanctuary by means of the animal.
Since the location of the sevenfold sprinkling in front of the incense altar is important for understanding the reversal of blood applications in the holy place, some additional explanation will be helpful. Remember that the instructions regarding what the high priest is to do in the holy place (= "tent of meeting") on the Day of Atonement are abbreviated: "and so he shall do for the tent of meeting..." (Lev 16:16b). These words indicate that he is to follow the pattern set in the most holy place, where he applies blood once to an object (the ark) and seven times in front of that object (verses 14-15). In the holy place, the object to which the high priest applies the blood once (on each of the horns) is the altar of incense (Exod 30:10). Therefore, the sevenfold application of blood by sprinkling in the holy place must be in front (east) of the altar of incense.
In Leviticus 4:6, 17, on a day other than the Day of Atonement, the high priest also sprinkles blood seven times in the holy place. This is the same action as on the Day of Atonement, and it is in the same area. Other applications of blood during the year are performed at the same locations as on the Day of Atonement: on the altar of incense (Lev 4:7, 18; Exod 30:10) and on the outer altar in the courtyard (Lev 4:25, 30, 34; 16:18-19). Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that the sevenfold sprinkling during the year would be performed at the same location within the holy place as on the Day of Atonement, namely, in front of the altar of incense.
Location of the sevenfold sprinkling in front of the incense altar on days other than the Day of Atonement is not contradicted by Leviticus 4:6, 17, where the sevenfold sprinkling is "in front of the curtain". The Hebrew expression "in front of" in Leviticus 4:6, 17 refers to location in one area that is "in front of" another area (compare Gen 33:18; Lev 10:4; 2 Ki 16:14). While the inner curtain/veil of the sanctuary is not itself an area, by stretching across the interior width of the sanctuary it defines the area of the most holy place. So in Leviticus 4:6, 17, sprinkling in front of the veil means sprinkling in the area of the holy place, which is in front of the area of the most holy place. The sevenfold sprinkling is both in front of the veil and in front of the incense altar. The fact that the incense altar is located between the sprinkling and the veil does not contradict the fact that the sprinkling is in front of the veil.
It is the area of the holy place that is affected by defilement during the year and cleansing on the Day of Atonement. Therefore it makes sense that the sevenfold sprinkling of blood would be in the main, central part of the holy place, in front (east) of the incense altar, rather than at the edge of the holy place between the altar and the veil.
Thus far we have found that a reversal of blood applications in the holy place provides evidence for two stages of atonement. A second piece of evidence is found in connection with the purification of one or more assistants, probably not priests, who dispose of the sin offering carcasses on the Day of Atonement. This activity makes such an assistant impure so that he is required to purify himself (Lev 16:28). Why does he become impure? Because the carcasses function as ritual "sponges" that absorb the impurities and sins removed from the sanctuary.
Disposing of the carcasses of sin offerings for the sins of the high priest or the community on other days of the year does not defile assistants, as shown by the fact that they are not required to purify themselves (Lev 4:11-12, 21). Why do they not become impure? Because these carcasses are not functioning as ritual sponges to remove defilement from the sanctuary. The sins are moving into the sanctuary, not out of the sanctuary.
We have found that sacrifices during the year moved sins and impurities into the sanctuary and sacrifices on the Day of Atonement moved the same evils out of the sanctuary. Each evil was handled twice by sacrifice, in two stages of atonement. Later we will ponder the meaning of this, but for now it is enough to remember: What goes in must come out!
In the last chapter we discussed two stages of atonement at the Israelite sanctuary. But some sinners could not receive atonement through sacrifice:
But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts the Lord, and shall be cut off from among the people. Because of having despised the word of the Lord and broken his commandment, such a person shall be utterly cut off and bear the guilt (Num 15:30-31).
A person who sinned defiantly forfeited the privilege of offering a sacrifice (contrast verses 22-29). He/she was "cut off." This was condemnation with no possibility for parole. It was final punishment, the end of the road.
Some sins affected the sanctuary in spite of the fact that those who committed them could not receive atonement through sacrifice. Leviticus 20:3 states God's reaction to an Israelite or non-Israelite residing in the land of Israel who sacrificed any of his children to the god Molech: "I myself will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name" (RSV). Notice the connection here between defiling the Lord's sanctuary and profaning His name, which involved His reputation (compare Ezek 20:9).
Numbers 19:13 gives the penalty for disobeying God's command to have oneself purified from corpse contamination:
Whoever touches a dead person, the body of any man who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him... (see also verse 20).
How did sinners in these cases defile the sanctuary? Simply by committing the sins, which showed defiance against God and His system of worship either by wanton neglect of the purity rules that kept impurity from the holy realm (compare Lev 15:31) or by participation in an alternate worship system that was cruel and honored a false god.
Ezekiel 23:37-39 refers to defilement of the temple when wanton sinners came there to worship YHWH, thereby adding hypocrisy and direct pollution of the sanctuary to their sins (compare Jer 7:9-11, 30-31). But there is no indication in Leviticus 20:3 or Numbers 19:13, 20 that divine punishment for defiling the sanctuary in this way was to occur only if the sinners physically came to the sanctuary. A Molech worshiper or willfully corpse contaminated individual was not "let off the hook" if he/she simply refrained from going to the sanctuary to contaminate it directly. By committing the offense, such a person inevitably defiled the sanctuary and thus inevitably received punishment.
How did simply committing a flagrant sin defile the sanctuary? We are not told how the sin got to the sanctuary. This gap in our knowledge need not trouble us because we are dealing here with the world of ritual, which was not limited by constraints that operate in the material world. In the world of ritual, things do not need to move from point A to point B to point C as physical objects and persons do.
The sins we have been talking about did not come into the sanctuary through sacrifice. They "short-circuited" the sacrificial process that was the legitimate way to bring sins to the Lord. God was pleased when a repentant person brought his/her sin to Him so that He could forgive and cleanse that individual through sacrifice. But when a person "threw" a sin at God so that its defilement invaded His sanctuary in an illegitimate way, God was not pleased. The difference in the attitude of God is understandable. Do you mind if your child brings some dirt into the house on the way to the bath? But what if he/she flings dirt through the window?
An Israelite who defiled the sanctuary illegitimately, rather than through sacrifice, was condemned by God and there was no animal sacrifice that could remove this condemnation. This makes good sense. For a divine or human leader to maintain his integrity when a subordinate does something wrong and thereby misrepresents him, he must reject the wrongdoing and the one who committed it.
When the Lord forgave King Manasseh for his openly defiant sins (2 Chron 33:13), there was no animal sacrifice that Manasseh could bring to the temple to receive atonement for what he had done. Just for his sin of performing child sacrifice (2 Ki 21:6; 2 Chron 33:6), he was condemned as "cut off" (compare Lev 20:3). So it appears that God forgave Manasseh directly, without an animal sacrifice as a prerequisite to forgiveness (compare Lev 4:26), on the basis of the coming sacrifice of Christ, which is the only basis on which anyone is saved. John 3:16 says: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" "Everyone who believes" means everyone who believes!
While Manasseh finally believed in God and could be forgiven, there is no guarantee that a person who rejects God will return to Him. Stubbornly going down the slippery slope of apostasy does not make it easier to get back up again. It does not soften the heart, increase the likelihood of faith, or amplify the voice of God speaking through conscience.
Rejecting God is a dangerous thing for anyone, but especially for one who has enjoyed the benefits of God's covenant. This applies to Christians today. In Hebrews 6:4-6 those who have belonged to Christ and then apostatized bear special guilt because they shame Him as though they are crucifying Him all over again. Just as ancient Israelites who defied God and disregarded His worship forfeited their right to sacrificial atonement, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" for those who "willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth" (Heb 10:26). Those who give up Christ throw away His blood, which He shed for them through excruciating suffering. They "have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace" (verse 29). Therefore they are condemned when the Lord will judge His people (verses 27-31). Christ's blood is a terrible thing to waste.
Animal sacrifices on the Day of Atonement did not provide persons who had illegitimately defiled the sanctuary with the benefit of cleansing atonement in spite of the fact that they had been ineligible for forgiveness at the first stage of atonement. A person who was not eligible for one stage was certainly not eligible for the next stage, just as you can't get accepted into graduate school to do an M.A. if you don't even qualify for admission into an undergraduate college to do a B.A.
So how was the sanctuary cleansed from illegitimate defilement? Some kinds of serious sins that defiled the land or the community were purged out by the deaths of the sinners themselves (Num 35:33; Deut 17:7). Removal of the sinners cleansed the land or community because these persons were living in the land and community and they were bearing their own sins. So at first glance it appears that sins of illegitimate defilement could be cleansed from the sanctuary by divine punishment on the sinners themselves. But there is no evidence that the sanctuary was cleansed in this way or that Molech worshipers and corpse contaminated persons lived in the sanctuary so that their removal could cleanse it.
Even if illegitimate defilement was cleansed from the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement, the important thing for us here is the fact that the only sinners who had a part in the services of the Day of Atonement in the sense that they received the benefit of the cleansing of the sanctuary were those who had already received forgiveness through sacrifices that they had offered. Those who had not brought sacrifices for their sins during the year, including those who had not been eligible to bring sacrifices because their sins were those of illegitimate defilement, were already condemned before the Day of Atonement and their cases were not under consideration for redemption by cleansing on that day.
Some have argued that all sins affected the sanctuary when they were committed as the sins of illegitimate defilement did. If all sins affected the sanctuary in this way, the purpose of sacrifices throughout the year would be to cleanse the sanctuary from sins that had already arrived there. The Day of Atonement would not need to cleanse the sanctuary from these sins because they would already be cleaned out. Rather than sacrificial rituals taking sins into the sanctuary during the year and out of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement, the rituals during the year and on the Day of Atonement would all be concerned with cleansing the sanctuary. Sacrificial treatment of a given sin would occur in only one stage.
The one-stage theory of atonement just described does not work because the evidence for this kind of defilement is restricted to certain cases in which a person could not receive atonement through sacrifice. Illegitimate defilement of the sanctuary and atonement for the sinner were mutually exclusive. A person could not bring a sacrifice to cleanse the sanctuary from sin that had arrived there illegitimately because such a person was not allowed to offer a sacrifice at all. If you are stuck on death row, you can't make amends for your crime by cleaning up garbage from the community.
There is ample proof that forgiven sins moved into the sanctuary through sacrifices rather than by persons simply committing improper actions:
God's people could accept and cherish the sacrificial blood provided for them so that they could be forgiven and cleansed. Or they could throw it away. But the blood was a terrible thing to waste.
When Scott O'Grady was shot down, his whole family was affected. They waited anxiously all week, hoping he was still alive. As he was being flown out of Bosnia, the colonel in charge of his squadron called his father to tell him that his son was alive. He ran and shouted to his other two children, waking them up. Then the family jumped around the room for joy (Time, June 19, 1995, p. 26).
Scott is only one member of his family, but his well-being has an impact on everyone else. The family is a unit.
When part of the Israelite sanctuary was touched by sin, impurity, or cleansing, the whole sanctuary was affected. The sanctuary was a unit. This answers a number of questions regarding the way in which the sanctuary and salvation work.
How did the most holy place and holy place become defiled by ritual impurities so that they needed cleansing? Sacrifices for ritual impurities (Lev 12:6-8; 15:13-15) only involved the outer altar; they never included application of blood inside the sacred tent. But on the Day of Atonement, ritual impurities had to be removed from the most holy place and the holy place (16:16) as well as from the outer altar (verses 18-19).
The fact that the most holy place and holy place were defiled by the altar being defiled would be like having a bath result in the dirtying of two other bathrooms! A housekeeper's nightmare!
We must remember that we are talking about ritual. Ritual is not bound by rules of physical cause and effect that operate in the material world. In our material realm, an object or person necessarily moves from point A to point B and then from point B to point C, and so on. Scott O'Grady had to go from Bosnia to a helicopter carrier sailing in the Adriatic Sea before he could get to the United States. Even if he could fly directly from Bosnia to the United States he would still need to take time crossing an ocean, most likely the Atlantic. He could not be in Bosnia one minute and in the United States the next, the way Jesus immediately took His disciples to their destination on the Sea of Galilee (Jn 6:21). Rituals are like miracles in that they are not limited the way ordinary activities are.
The answer to the question of how the most holy place and holy place could become defiled when blood was only applied at the outer altar is found in the "part for all" principle. The sanctuary was a unit, so defilement of part of it had an impact on the entire sanctuary. The impurity did not need to be physically transferred from the outer altar to the holy place and from there to the most holy place. The outer altar was an integral part of the sanctuary, so when it was affected, the whole sanctuary was affected.
For example, at the inauguration of the sanctuary, Aaron and his sons performed a sin offering on behalf of themselves at the outer altar (Lev 9:8-10). Because the sacrifice was on their behalf, they could not eat the remainder of the meat. So they incinerated it outside the camp (verse 11). This sin offering contacted only the outer altar. Nevertheless, the whole sanctuary was affected because the altar was affected.
We have found that the whole sanctuary was affected by defilement of part of it. The "part for all" principle also worked on a smaller scale. Exodus 30:10 says with regard to the altar of incense: "Once a year Aaron shall perform the rite of atonement on its horns. Throughout your generations he shall perform the atonement for it once a year with the blood of the atoning sin offering. It is most holy to the Lord" (my translation). The "atonement for it once a year" is that of the Day of Atonement. By putting blood on the horns of the altar, the high priest (Aaron) made atonement for the altar. That is, by applying blood to part of the altar, he cleansed the whole altar. The same is true of the way in which the altar had become defiled. By putting blood on the horns of the altar when he or the whole community sinned (Lev 4:7, 18), the high priest transferred sin to the entire altar.
If the high priest or the whole community sinned during the year, the high priest also sprinkled blood seven times in the holy place (Lev 4:6, 17). The blood fell to part of the floor. In light of what we have learned about blood on part of the altar, we can see that blood on part of the floor must have affected the entire area of the holy place. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest performed the same action to remove the sin from that area (16:16; compare verse 14).
Now it is easy to recognize other examples of the "part for all" principle. When the high priest sprinkled blood on the lid of the ark and seven times in front of the ark (Lev 16:14-15), he cleansed the whole ark and the entire area of the most holy place. When he put blood on the horns of the outer altar and sprinkled on the altar seven times (verses 18-19), he cleansed and reconsecrated the entire altar.
A less obvious case of the "part for all" principle involves the bull and goat used to cleanse the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. Only their blood was applied to the defiled parts of the sanctuary. The bodies of the animals were not taken inside the sacred tent. But the animals were regarded as units. When their blood was defiled by contacting the defiled sanctuary, the bodies outside also became defiled because they belonged to the same animal. Part was affected, so all was affected. As a result, an assistant who contacted the carcasses by disposing of them outside the camp became impure (Lev 16:28).
The "part for all" principle also applied to persons. When Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons as priests, he put sacrificial blood "on the lobe of Aaron's right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot" (Lev 8:23). Then he did the same thing to Aaron's sons (verse 24). Blood only touched the extremities of a priest, but it consecrated the whole priest. Compare the fact that blood on the horns/extremities of an altar affected the whole altar.
Why was blood put on the ears, thumbs, and big toes of the priests? Apparently because they were the Lord's servants, who would hear/obey Him (compare Exod 21:5-6), do His will with their hands, and go with their feet where He commanded.
Before the priests could enter the sacred tent or officiate sacrifices at the outer altar, they were required to wash their hands and feet with water drawn from the sacred basin/laver (Exod 30:17-21). Water on part of the priest purified the whole priest for ritual interaction with the Lord. The same principle applies to the foot washing that is connected to the Christian Communion service. Jesus said to Peter: "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean" (Jn 13:10). This washing has significance that goes beyond physical cleansing of the feet. The symbolic impact affects the whole person.
The fact that the "part for all" principle was so prominent in the sanctuary and was recognized by Christ suggests that it may be important in the dynamics of salvation. Romans 5:12-17 confirms this: Sin by Adam had a global impact, spreading to the whole human race. But the sacrifice of one man, Jesus Christ, provides redemption for all who accept it.
"Part for all" operates in our individual lives. James says:
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty (Jas 2:10-12).
Breaking any divine law affects our relationship with God. It is the relationship that is the point of the law. So the law that protects the relationship is a unit. The law is "the law of liberty" because we are truly free when we keep it and preserve our relationship with God.
The way in which one offense can hurt our relationship with God can be illustrated from marriage. You can hurt your marriage relationship in a wide variety of ways: shouting, hitting, neglect, adultery, and so on. There is no question that doing two or more of these can be worse than doing only one. But one may be enough to destroy the relationship.
God reverses the power of sin in our lives by pouring His love "into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). In this verse the word "hearts" represents our minds. By putting love into this part of us, God affects our whole lives, "part for all." Love is the basic relational principle that unites the whole of God's law (Matt 22:36-40). So the gift of love empowers us to live in harmony with God, who is love (1 Jn 4:8).
Just as the Israelite priests were shown to be totally consecrated by sacrificial blood on certain parts of their bodies (Lev 8:23-24), so the holiness of God's end-time people is symbolically represented in the book of Revelation as a seal of divine ownership on their foreheads (Rev 7:3; 9:4). According to Ephesians 1:13, the way in which Christians are sealed is by the Holy Spirit. This makes sense because it is the Holy Spirit who pours love into our hearts, bringing us into harmony with God's character.
By contrast with those whom God seals, those who follow organized rebellion against God are symbolically represented as receiving a mark on their right hands or foreheads (Rev 13:16-17). Such a mark is on part of a person, but it signifies the allegiance of the whole person to a rebel power.
The "part for all" principle operates in our lives one way or another. But we have some choice as to which way it works. Do we want to spread evil? Or do we want the impact of love through the Holy Spirit to fill us and reach out to those around us?
When God rescues you, it affects those around you. If they truly comprehend what has happened, they may jump for joy!