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Messianic Pictures in the Temple Sacrificial System

Burnt Offerings

“The substitutionary sacrifice of animals was instituted by the Judge of all the earth so that sinful man could ‘draw near,’ and enter into relationship with Him.”

The first sacrifice we encounter in Leviticus is often translated as “burnt offering.” Once again, the English fails us. Certainly it is burnt. In fact, it is completely consumed in fire. The Hebrew, however, is olah and literally means, “going up.” The implication is that the smoke, the pleasing aroma, is “going up” to the throne of the Most High. Some versions translate olah as “elevation offering,” which is somewhat more accurate, but still does not quite capture the essence of the Hebrew.

The olah offering was purely a voluntary offering, out of the convictions of one’s heart. Many renowned Jewish rabbis teach that if one entertained impure thoughts, the olah offering afforded him the opportunity to repent privately, and give this free-will offering to signify his “newness of life.”

Jesus addresses this same human tendency in Matthew 5:22, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty… and whoever shall say ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

Matthew 5:27, 28 is likewise well known in regard to the sins of the imagination: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” These are the types of sins where the olah offering would be appropriate. “Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.”2

The olah offering was indicative of “newness of life” in another unique way. In Exodus 18:12, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, makes an elevation offering unto the Lord. Many rabbis teach that this was done because Jethro became a Jewish “convert,” and until the destruction of the second Temple, the olah offering became the required sacrifice for all Gentile conversions (for this sacrifice was voluntary and it indicated “newness of life”).

This is the teaching of the Levitical sacrifice. Does it speak of Messiah? Of course!

The olah offering is voluntary. This characteristic is seen in Jesus in John 10:17, 18, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away form Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative.”

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away form Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative.”

—John 10:17, 18

Jesus’ crucifixion was a voluntary act. When we identify with Him as our olah offering, He takes those sinful thoughts and covers them with His own blood. As new creations, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Similarly,  the olah offering is an “elevation” offering, it is literally lifted up. Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He,” (John 8:28) “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32). He is the only true sacrifice suitable for Gentile conversions into the faith.

Meal Offerings

The second chapter of Leviticus addresses the meal offering, or grain offering; minchah in the Hebrew. There are many unique characteristics about the minchah offerings. First, they were baked into ten loaves, the symbolic number of completeness. The “loaves” were baked without yeast, leaven being symbolic of sin. The finished dough was then “anointed” with pure olive oil.

“The ‘peace,’ or Sabbath rest, is to be a part of our new nature, an evidence and testimony of our joy and salvation in Jesus.”

It should be obvious, as represented in the Last Supper, that Jesus is the unleavened bread, “broken for us.” Just as the ten minchah loaves represented completeness, “in Him you have been made complete,” (Colossians 2:10). And as the offerings were anointed with olive oil. The term messiah in the Hebrew, or christ in the Greek, both mean “Anointed One.” Our Lord and Savior was anointed to kingship, to priesthood, and yes, to sacrifice.

Finally, the minchah, or meal offering, was just that—an offering. It was not required. It did not atone for any sins. It was a gift or a tribute from the conscientious Jewish citizen. In this way, it parallels the admonition of Paul, “God bids us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice which is our reasonable service of worship” (Romans 12:12).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 1999

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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