At Issue Index    Salvation Index    Altar Call Contents

by Roy Gane

Overview of the Book

Part I: Face in the Dirt

The cross is Christ's altar, to which He calls us. We come because the cross gives us hope of rescue. Although Christ has ascended to heaven and we are trying to survive in a hostile world, we can get in touch with Him where He is. According to the books of Hebrews and Revelation, Christ is in God's sanctuary, the control center of the universe, where God is working to save us. Although the human race has been separated from God since the sin of Adam and Eve, God has reassured us of His presence, especially through Christ coming to earth as a human being. One of the most striking ways in which God has demonstrated His presence was His residence in the ancient Israelite sanctuary.

Part II: The Model and the Messiah

The rituals of the Israelite sanctuary served as a dynamic model, or "prototype" of God's plan to save human beings. It is worthwhile to study this earthly prototype for a number of reasons, including the facts that it illustrates spiritual and heavenly realities, demonstrates the richness of Christ's sacrifice, shows how parts of salvation history fit together, and guides our understanding of salvation by grace through faith. Christ connects the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries in that features of the Israelite sanctuary represented aspects of Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Although the Israelite sanctuary was a teaching model, it could not save anyone by itself and was limited by the fact that its rituals were earthbound activities officiated by faulty, human priests. Deciphering God's plan of salvation as revealed through rituals in the book of Leviticus is challenging, but by understanding the nature of the text and the rituals reflected there, we can grasp their meaning. By means of ritual activity systems, the Israelites could have access to God and interact with Him.

Part III: The Rich Splendor of Christ's Sacrifice

The different Israelite sacrifices revealed the glory of Christ's sacrifice by emphasizing various aspects of its meaning. Burnt offerings, which were wholly consumed, pointed to the fact that Christ's offering of Himself completely consumed Him. Grain offerings were sacrifices of basic food that acknowledged the benefit of Christ's life-giving power for His people. Well-being offerings foreshadowed the benefit of Christ's life for those who accept it into their own lives. Sin offerings elevated the importance of blood, emphasizing that Christ's blood ransoms our lives. Guilt offerings showed that sin creates debt, which must be paid by Christ's sacrifice even when we take care of our responsibility to make wrongs right as best we can.

Part IV: Divine Obsession

The Old Testament ritual system demonstrated how God saves people by grace through faith. God used sacrifices for forgiveness in order to illustrate how He bore the cost of forgiveness in the sacrifice of Christ. The rituals through which the Israelites received purification from ritual impurities, which represented aspects of mortality, pointed to the way in which we receive life through Christ and His sacrifice. Israelite sacrifices showed that atonement is a process that takes place in stages. While Christ's death on the cross was the one and only atoning sacrificial death and all atonement flows from the cross, atonement is relational and continues as long as we are being reconciled to God. Just as there were degrees of holiness in the sanctuary, defined in relation to God's holy presence, we can grow in holiness as we come closer to God's holy moral character of love. We can have assurance of salvation as long as we accept Christ, whose sacrifice is the only thing that stands between us and eternal death. Today we can interact with God through prayer even though we do not have access to Him through the physical symbolism of sacrifices, which were prayers made visible. Through the ritual of Communion (or "Lord's Supper"), Christians can interact with God by symbolically expressing acceptance of Christ.

Part V: Jesus Isn't Finished With Me Yet

Following His death on the cross, Christ has continued His work of saving us through reconciling us to God. Not only did Christ become a human being in order to sympathize with our weaknesses and die for us; He has carried His sympathy and the cross event with Him into the heavenly sanctuary, where He mediates for us so that our sins can be forgiven. But atonement goes beyond forgiveness, as shown by the Israelite sanctuary rituals. Atonement for the Israelites had to be brought to completion by the cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. Through the cleansing of the sanctuary, Israelites who had been forgiven and remained loyal to God were also made "clean," that is, free from impediments to their relationship with Him. The special rituals of the Day of Atonement coordinated to cleanse the sanctuary. Whereas atonement during the year freed individuals from sins and impurities by leaving them with God in His sanctuary, the Day of Atonement reversed the movement of sins and impurities into the sanctuary by cleansing them out. Unlike movements of material objects, movements of evils into and then out of the sanctuary were not limited by constraints operating in the material world. Just as a whole unit of the sanctuary was impacted by defilement or cleansing of part of it, the "part for all" principle is found in various aspects of salvation, including the way Christ's single sacrifice provides redemption for all who accept it.

Part VI: Relationships at Stake

Underlying the rituals of the Israelite Day of Atonement were dynamic kinds of relationships between God and His people that still operate today. Just as the Day of Atonement completed the Israelites' unity with God and involved judgment of their loyalty to Him, so Christ's "wedding" with His people involves judgment of their loyalty. Because God's sanctuary in heaven represents His reputation, as did His earthly headquarters, the cleansing of His sanctuary involves the vindication of His reputation through the judgment. The judgment shows that in the process of extending mercy by granting forgiveness, God has fully maintained His justice along with His mercy. This understanding of God's judgment is supported by Daniel 7 and 8, where an end-time judgment is the same event as the cleansing of God's sanctuary. Like Leviticus, Daniel indicates that for God's true people, the purpose of the judgment is to reaffirm their forgiveness and assurance. By judging works, God answers a challenge to His justice put forth by Satan, His enemy, who was represented by "Azazel" in the ancient Day of Atonement service. As a last argument in His strategy to counter God and undermine His justice, Satan says that forgiven people should not be saved because the works that should provide evidence for their faith are faulty. A crucial element of God's plan to wipe out sin and save us at the same time, with our free choice intact, is the process by which He patiently educates the universe with regard to the nature and effects of sin.

Part VII: Appointment With God

Just as the Israelites had an appointment with God on the Day of Atonement, He indicates to us the timing of His end-time judgment so that we can participate in this event. Surprisingly, time prophecies in the book of Daniel indicate that the date of the beginning of the judgment is already in the past. The reliability of Daniel's prophecies is confirmed by the way in which they have been fulfilled in world history with remarkable accuracy.

Part VIII: Altar Call

Although the judgment began in the past, comparison with the book of Revelation indicates that it is still going on today and is moving toward a climax in which the allegiance of God's people to Him will be tested as they face threats from another power that claims their loyalty. During the time of the judgment, we can participate with Christ as He cleanses the sanctuary from our sins by humbling ourselves, as did the Israelites on the Day of Atonement and as Christ did on earth. Through humility, we allow God to bring our lives into harmony with His law, which is based on unselfish love that expresses itself in service to others. By the end of the judgment, people will have had sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept salvation, and those who are loyal to God will be fully committed to Him. While the judgment and its consequences are awesome, we can have confidence that answers our fears, including confidence that God is fair, confidence of our access to God, and confidence that we are in a covenant relationship with God. In conclusion, what will we do now that we have encountered the cross and heard Christ's call to a new and better world?