The first chapters of the Book of Leviticus speak of the sacrifices and offerings God required of Israel. Because these offerings were part of the ceremonial law, they bear typological significance. That is, they point forward to Christ and His work on behalf of sinners. The first and most basic sacrifice is the whole burnt offering. Leviticus 1:4 says of the one bringing this offering, “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” The ceremony denotes the imputation of sins to the sacrifice or the placing of sins on the sacrifice. The sacrifice is then butchered and skinned. The priest then sprinkles the blood of the sacrifice around the altar of burnt offering. Then the priest places the animal on the altar. It is completely consumed by the fire except for the skin.
We should note at least three significant things about this sacrifice. The first is the matter of atonement. The idea here is that of propitiation. The sacrifice suffers the fiery wrath of God for sin in the place of the sinner. In this way there is covering of sin. The apostle John tells us the Jesus Christ is “Himself the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). Christ suffers the wrath of God for sin on the cross. This is why He cries out in agony, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:48). Christ bore this wrath for sin and the sting of being forsaken by His Father’s love for the likes of us. He did so in order that those of us who believe in Him would never bear such wrath and never be constrained to make such a cry.
Second, we see the idea of imputation is integral to the ceremony and integral to sacrifice it portrays. Sin is placed on the sacrifice. The sacrifice therefore bears the punishment due to the sinner for the sin. The apostle Peter shows us the similarity with Christ. “He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). This text tells us Christ took our sins to Himself. He bore those sins as a burden up to and on the cross. This is the idea of imputation. As a result, Christ suffers great agony and dies a terrible death for the likes of us. He takes what we deserve.
Third, imputation is double. Sin is placed upon the sacrifice. In the ceremony, the clothing of the sacrifice, the skin, goes to the priest. “The priest who presents any man’s burnt offering, that priest shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering which he has presented” (Leviticus 7:8). The skin is not burned but preserved and used. The apostle Paul gives us the lesson. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthian 5:21). The animal presented for sacrifice is without blemish. The skin is without blemish or perfect. This is the picture. The reality is that God clothes us with the unblemished righteousness of our sacrifice, Jesus Christ.
Leviticus presents the gospel. Hebrews 4:2 compares us to ancient Israel. “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” God forbid that we should not grasp in faith the glorious gospel proclaimed in both the Old and the New Testaments.