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'And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.'--Hebrews 10:11, 12
The Idea of Substitution
The question whether or not sacrifices were to cease after the coming of the Messiah is differently answered in the Jewish synagogue, some arguing that only thank- and peace-offerings would then be brought, while the majority expect a revival of the regular sacrificial worship. *
*It has been matter of controversy whether or not, in the first years after the destruction of the Temple, solitary attempts were made by enthusiasts to offer sacrifices. My own conviction is, that no such instance can be historically established.
But on one point the authorities of the old synagogue, previous to their controversy with Christianity, are agreed. As the Old Testament and Jewish tradition taught that the object of a sacrifice was its substitution for the offender, so Scripture and the Jewish fathers also teach that the substitute to whom all these types pointed was none other than the Messiah.
It has been well remarked, that the difficulties of modern interpreters of the Messianic prophecies arise chiefly from their not perceiving the unity of the Old Testament in its progressive unfolding of the plan of salvation. Moses must not be read independently of the Psalms, nor yet the Psalms independently of the Prophets. Theirs are not so many unconnected writings of different authorship and age, only held together by the boards of one volume. They form integral parts of one whole, the object of which is to point to the goal of all revelation in the appearing of the Christ. Accordingly, we recognize in the prophetic word, not a change nor a difference, but three well-marked progressive stages, leading up to the sufferings and the glory of Messiah. In the Proto-Evangel, as Genesis 3:15 has been called, and in what follows it, we have as yet only the grand general outlines of the figure. Thus we see a Person in the Seed of the woman; suffering, in the prediction that His heel would be bruised; and victory, in that He would bruise the serpent's head. These merely general outlines are wonderfully filled up in the Book of Psalms. The 'Person' is now 'the Son of David'; while alike the sufferings and the victory are sketched in vivid detail in such Psalms as 22, 35, 49, and 102; or else in Psalms 2, 72, 89, 110, and 118--not to speak of other almost innumerable allusions.
Christ our Substitute
One element only was still wanting--that this Son of David, this Sufferer and Conqueror, should be shown to be our Substitute, to whom also the sacrificial types had pointed. This is added in the writings of the prophets, especially in those of Isaiah, culminating, as it were, in Isaiah 53, around which the details furnished by the other prophets naturally group themselves. The picture is now completed, and so true to the original that, when compared with the reality in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can have no difficulty in recognising it; and this not so much from one or other outline in prophecy or type, as from their combination and progressive development throughout the Scriptures of the Old Testament, considered as a connected whole.
As already stated, such early works as the Targum Jonathan and the Jerusalem Targum frankly adopt the Messianic interpretation of these prophecies. The later Rabbis also admit that this had been the common view of the Jewish fathers; but, on account of 'the sages of the Nazarenes, who apply it to that man whom they hanged in Jerusalem towards the close of the second Temple, and who, according to their opinion, was the Son of the Most Blessed, and had taken human nature in the womb of the Virgin,' they reject that interpretation, and refer the prediction of suffering either to some individual, or mostly to Israel as a nation. But so difficult is it to weaken the language in which the Messiah's vicarious sufferings are described--not less than twelve times in Isaiah 52:13 to 53--that some of their commentators have been forced to admit it, sometimes almost unconsciously. The language of Isaiah has even crept into the following Messianic hymnal prayer for the Passover:
'Haste, my Beloved; come, ere ends the vision's day; Make haste, and chase Thyself the shadows all away! "Despised" is He, but yet "extolled" and "high" shall be; "Deal prudently,"sprinkle nations," and "judge" shall He.' Thus, if by the universal consent of all who are unprejudiced sacrifices point to substitution, substitution in its turn points to the Person and Work of the Messiah.
It has already been explained that all sacrifices were either such as were offered on the ground of communion with God--the burnt- and the peace-offering; or else such as were intended to restore that communion when it had been dimmed or disturbed--the sin- and the trespass-offering. Each of these four kinds of sacrifices will now have to be separately considered.
Symbolism of the Burnt-offering
I. The burnt-offering--Olah, or also Chalil (Deut 33:10; in Psalm 51:19 literally rendered 'whole burnt-offering).--The derivation of the term Olah, as wholly 'ascending' unto God, indicates alike the mode of the sacrifice and its meaning. It symbolised the entire surrender unto God, whether of the individual or of the congregation, and His acceptance thereof. Hence, also, it could not be offered 'without shedding of blood.' Where other sacrifices were brought, it followed the sin- but preceded the peace-offering. In fact, it meant general acceptance on the ground of previous special acceptance, and it has rightly been called the sacrificium latreuticum, or sacrifice of devotion and service. *
* In the historical books the term Olah is, however, used in a more general sense to denote other sacrifices also.
Thus day by day it formed the regular morning and evening service in the Temple, while on sabbaths, new moons, and festivals additional burnt-offerings followed the ordinary worship. There the covenant-people brought the covenant-sacrifice, and the multitude of offerings indicated, as it were, the fulness, richness, and joyousness of their self-surrender. Accordingly, although we can understand how this sacrifice might be said to 'make atonement' for an individual in the sense of assuring him of his acceptance, we cannot agree with the Rabbis that it was intended to atone for evil thoughts and purposes, and for breaches of positive commands, or of such negative as involved also a positive command.
The burnt-offering was always to be a male animal, as the more noble, and as indicating strength and energy. The blood was thrown on the angles of the altar below the red line that ran round it. Then 'the sinew of the thigh' (Gen 32:32), * the stomach and the entrails, etc., having been removed (in the case of birds also the feathers and the wings), and the sacrifice having been duly salted, it was wholly burned.
* The 'sinew of the thigh' was neither allowed to be eaten nor to be sacrificed.
* If they brought a 'peace-offering,' it was to be treated as a burnt-offering, and that for the obvious reason that there was no one to eat the sacrificial meal. Of course, there was no imposition of hands in that case.
The Emperor Augustus had a daily burnt-offering brought for him of two lambs and a bullock; and ever afterwards this sacrifice was regarded as indicating that the Jewish nation recognised the Roman emperor as their ruler. Hence at the commencement of the Jewish war Eleazar carried its rejection, and this became, as it were, the open mark of the rebellion.
Symbolism of the Sin-offering
II. The sin-offering.--This is the most important of all sacrifices. It made atonement for the person of the offender, whereas the trespass-offering only atoned for one special offence. Hence sin- offerings were brought on festive occasions for the whole people, but never trespass-offerings (comp. Num 28, 29). In fact, the trespass-offering may be regarded as representing ransom for a special wrong, while the sin-offering symbolised general redemption. Both sacrifices applied only to sins 'through ignorance,' in opposition to those done 'presumptuously' (or 'with a high hand'). For the latter the law provided no atonement, but held out 'a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.' By sins 'through ignorance,' however, we are to understand, according to the Rabbis, not only such as were committed strictly through want of knowledge, but also those which had been unintentional, or through weakness, or where the offender at the time realised not his guilt. The fundamental difference between the two sacrifices appears also in this--that sin-offerings, having a retrospective effect on the worshippers, were brought at the various festivals, and also for purification in such defilements of the body as symbolically pointed to the sinfulness of our nature (sexual defilement, those connected with leprosy, and with death). On the other hand, the animal brought for a trespass-offering was to be always a male (generally a ram, which was never used as a sin-offering); nor was it lawful, as in the sin-offering, to make substitution of something else in case of poverty. These two particulars indicate that the trespass-offering contemplated chiefly a wrong, for which decided satisfaction was to be made by offering a male animal, and for which a definite, unvarying ransom was to be given.