18 Sacrifices in the Ceremonial Law
by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com , December 2013
For the law having a shadow
of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never
with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make
the comers thereunto perfect. Hebrews 10:1.
sanctuary services, priesthood, and other aspects of the “ceremonial
law” are intricately associated with the covenant of God. In working out
this relationship, one must recognize the different parts of the
“ceremonial law.” Some parts of this law were fulfilled and had no more
meaning after Calvary. Other parts continued as the priestly
ministration of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary. Still others are
practical matters of continued value for us today.
have looked on the ceremonial law as the old covenant.
Hebrews 9 and 10
may appear to support this view. However, there is no correlation
between the true sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus Christ and the human
priesthood of the Old Testament and the corrupted Jewish perceptions of
the ritual sacrifices, which were thought to appease God.
Functions of Mosaic Law
The types and functions of law in Old
Testament Israel requires careful evaluation. Is it one law, three laws,
or more? God gave the moral law, the Ten Commandments, to define sin.
These commandments were brief and comprehensive. They provided the
boundaries necessary for true liberty to exist and were a description of
how to show love to God and to our neighbors. The moral law is by nature
The civil law was an extension of the Ten Commandments
with applications for the nation of Israel. They did not add anything
that was new to the Ten Commandments. After Israel’s defeat in AD 70,
the civil law had no more function.
The ceremonial law was a
system of rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices to illustrate the covenant
and the people’s relationship with God. The ceremonial law is more
detailed than either the moral or civil law, and, to a large degree,
interacted with them.What Is the Ceremonial Law?
sacrifices and sanctuary services are the heart of that which we call
the ceremonial law. Animal sacrifice came into practice shortly after
sin. An animal took the place of the sinner and, in dying, represented
the prophesied Redeemer who would die for the sins of humanity. It was
an example of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ paying the
penalty for our sins.
During the patriarchal age, all sacrifices
were burnt offerings. The patriarch or firstborn son carried out the
priestly function. These offered sacrifices on an altar near their home.
However, there was no scheduled time for the sacrifices. Most sacrifices
were to atone for sin. Other sacrifices were for offerings of
thanksgiving or offerings for other purposes (Gen. 8:20, 21).
Sinai, Israel had become a nation, and God gave them laws, statutes,
ordinances, and judgments in a codified and written form (2 Kings
17:37). The ceremonial law was the most detailed part of the law. The
ceremonial law consisted of:
1. The system of sacrifices to
provide forgiveness for sin, devotion to God, and thanksgiving for God’s
providence. A sinner would take the appropriate animal to the door of
the tabernacle, lay his hand on its head to transfer his sin and then
slay the animal. If the sinner was the congregation or a priest, the
priest took the blood, sprinkled it before the vail; otherwise, he put
some of the animal’s blood on the horns of the altar and poured out the
rest at the bottom of the altar (Lev. 4:27-30). Transgression of the law
separated the sinner from God, and required death of the sinner (Gen.
2:16, 17; Rom. 6:23).The animal’s death was symbolic of the death of the
Redeemer, who took the place of the sinner. At Calvary, sacrifice and
oblation ceased as the “shadow” had now given birth in the true and real
sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
2. The human priesthood of the
sanctuary and the Temple symbolized the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The
perfection and beauty of the priestly robes symbolized Jesus’ sinless
life, and the “robe of righteousness” He provides to His people. Human
priests also had a healing ministry as did Jesus. They taught the
people, and received messages from God as did Jesus in the divine
insights of His teaching. The Urim and Thummim on the ephod of the
priests pointed forward to Jesus’ prophetic ministry. In this Jesus
continued the ceremonial law as the true High Priest for the human
family. Through His blood, mediated in the heavenly sanctuary, God gave
humankind pardon and atonement.1
3. The sanctuary that Moses
constructed, provided a place for God to dwell among His people. God’s
continued presence among His people was the most important issue in the
covenant. From the mercy seat God communed with His people.
Circumcision is a token of the covenant and of a man’s belonging to the
covenant people. It showed dedication to pure living in preparation for
the coming Messiah. After Jesus had come, the rite was no longer needed
for either Jews or Gentiles.
5. God established rituals for
holiness, clean meats, and healing. Repeatedly He commanded the people
to make a difference between what is holy and what is common, what is
clean and what is unclean. Some of these rituals make common sense and
are still useful today. God’s purpose has always been that Christians be
holy as He is holy.2 These ceremonies shaped Israel’s form of worship.
With constant repetition, the ceremonies became the focus of worship in
the minds of many, and they forgot the Redeemer to whom the ceremonies
The sacrificial system was closely related to the
covenant, for it illustrated Jesus’ taking our punishment for the broken
law of God. There is never any assertion that it was the covenant or
even a part of the covenant. In the extensive literature describing the
ceremonies and the sacrifices, neither God nor Moses ever employed
along with His resurrection and His ministry in heaven, Jesus’ sacrifice
on the cross is the heart of the everlasting (or new) covenant. As a
form of worship, animal sacrifice was temporary, coming to an end when
the true sacrificial lamb, Jesus Christ, died on the cross (Dan. 9:27;
Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1). At Calvary, Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial
law. He also became our true High Priest and mediated His blood in the
heavenly sanctuary to give pardon and atonement to the human family.
1.The Ceremonial Law and the Covenant
Animal sacrifices were no longer needed after Jesus made the true
and effective sacrifice on the cross.2.
Circumcision came to an
end, having fulfilled its purpose.3.
Jesus took over the
priestly mediation in the heavenly sanctuary as our heavenly High
Priest, carrying on the “continual” (or “daily”) services at first, and
later officiating in the true Day of Atonement service, which has to do
The spring festivals of Passover, firstfruits,
and Pentecost were fulfilled during Christ’s first advent (1 Cor. 5:7;
15:23; Acts 2:1).
The fall festival of the Day of Atonement is an
ongoing service for the latter time, carried out in the most holy place
of the heavenly sanctuary.5.
Festivals of thanksgiving and
memorials are still relevant, though the names and timing may be
8-10 speaks extensively of what is first, faulty, old, decayed, and
ready to vanish away. These chapters describe the animal sacrifices and
the human priesthood as being ineffective, temporary, and now fulfilled
with the true and effective sacrifice of Jesus and His mediation in the
The Old Testament never speaks of an old
covenant. We understand the concept of an old covenant by understanding
the new covenant (Jer. 31:31), which, by implication, contrasts with an
old one (see Heb. 8:13). In the New Testament, Hebrews 8 to 10 provides
a study of what is old, faulty, and ineffective.
The issue in
Israel at that time was their corrupted view of the covenant and the
ceremonial law. As the months and years passed, the people increasingly
looked upon the sacrifices and sanctuary services as their means of
salvation. In doing these things, they forgot the Redeemer to whom they
pointed, the one who would die that their sins might be pardoned.
Through the sacrifices and meticulous observance of the law of Moses and
their being from Abraham’s line, the people looked for salvation and
Were these sacrifices a part of the covenant of
God? It is true that they were related to the covenant, for they were a
provision for the forgiveness of sin. Yet, they were temporary. They
came to an end at Calvary. They functioned
solely as an illustration of
the covenant and could not forgive or cleanse our sins (Hebrews 8-10)
except in anticipation of Jesus’ true sacrifice (Heb. 9:15). In
addition, the Bible tells us that God was not pleased with sacrifices
unless they were accompanied by lives that were changed by grace.4
What God Intended for Israel
God gave the ceremonial law as
an illustration of the covenant. Through the ceremonial law, grace was
mediated, and sins were forgiven-by faith in the Redeemer to come. In
the historical old covenant, the people took upon themselves the work of
obedience of the law. They promised, “All that the Lord hath said, we
will do.” What they failed to realize was that human obedience can only
be superficial and mechanical. Only by grace can a person obey God from
the changed heart. In forty-six days, this covenant was broken,
abrogated, and never officially renewed. Though there is evidence that
the people looked on the covenant ratified at Sinai (Ex. 24:3-8) as
still being in force (Jer. 31:32).
There was no way that the
ceremonial law could be any part of the old covenant, historical or
experiential. The descriptions in Hebrews 8-10 are of the corrupted view
of the ceremonial law, which had become, for the people, an experiential
The new covenant describes what God will do by
putting the law into human hearts. Adam and Eve’s being created in the
image of God included the law of God as an integral part of their being.
After sin, God said, “I will put enmity between thee [Satan] and the
woman [mankind]” (Gen. 3:15). This was the new covenant of redemption,
and it pardoned people’s sin through Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary.
Through His close friendship with Abraham, God put what is described
as the new covenant into Abraham’s heart (Genesis 26:5). Abraham was the
“friend of God” (James 2:23; 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8); and, through
this close association, Abraham partook “of the divine nature” (2 Peter
1:4). When God gave Abraham the covenant in detail, He told him that he
was to be the “father of many nations” and that the covenant was to
reach “to thy seed after thee.5
It was the covenant for God’s people
God used the term “My covenant” eight times
in the covenant given to Abraham, pointing to a covenant uniquely
belonging to God.6
It was the covenant given by God at Sinai (Exod.
19:4-6). It was renewed after Moses’ intercessions (Exod. 34:9-11, 27,
28) and was to be the covenant for God’s people. As God said, it was
given “to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7).
The promise of the
gospel was given to Abraham (Gal. 3:14-16, 29). It was the new covenant,
which provided pardon for sins and was illustrated by the sacrifices of
the ceremonial law. After Jesus died on the cross, the sacrificial
system was fulfilled and no longer needed.Endnotes
Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:28;
Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:24-26; Heb. 9:15; 12:24; the word for “covenant,”
diathÄ“ke, is also translated “testament.”) The new covenant was first
named and described in Jer. 31:31-34. This is the covenant of grace in
which sinners depend upon God to change their life and to provide pardon
and salvation. Careful reading will show that God gave this covenant to
Adam and Eve and to Abraham. God’s people are Sacrifices in the
Ceremonial Law 101 saved throughout history under the Abrahamic
covenant. The new covenant was confirmed at Calvary but was first given
to Adam and Eve. The old covenant could not forgive sins through the
promises of the people. Sacrifices for sin illustrated the pardon given
through Christ in the new covenant!2.
There were laws regarding
diet, cleanliness, health, and sanitation. In Eden, Adam and Eve were
given a diet consisting of fruit, grains, and nuts. The health of humans
diminished after the fall, but they retained much of their early
strength and vigor. Is there anyone today who can make a wooden ship 450
or 320 feet long, using simple tools (Gen. 6:14-16)? (The length depends
on whether Moses used the 18-inch or 20.6-inch Egyptian standard.) Human
beings lived over 900 years and enjoyed health, strength, and mental
powers that we can only envy today. After the flood, there was a radical
change when men were allowed to eat flesh food. From that time on the
health of men deteriorated and the length of life decreased until it was
soon reduced to the “three score and ten” (Ps. 90:10) that we see today.
At Sinai, God gave laws governing cleanliness, health, and sanitation.
These were laws to make a “holy nation” of Israel and a beautiful land
of Canaan. God loves order and beauty. While these laws were given with
the ceremonial laws, they were common sense laws that would benefit
humankind for all time and eternity. They were not a part of the
covenant but were a “help” to make the people healthy and “an holy
nation” (Lev. 11:43-47). The distinction predates Sinai; the concept of
what constituted a “clean” animal was known at the time of the flood
Because God gave the ceremonial law, the people
reverently followed its rituals at first. As time went on, Jewish
religious leaders added hundreds of human ordinances to the law. The
services became corrupted with heathen practices. Sometimes the services
were neglected entirely as the people went into idolatry. At other
times, sacrifices were offered carelessly with blemished animals.
Eventually, the very meaning and purpose of the sacrifices were lost as
the people looked on these activities as the means of salvation. Because
of the corruption of the services many people did not recognize or
accept the Messiah and eventually called for Him to be crucified.
Sacrifices, without a change in the life and obedience, are not
pleasing to God. God calls them an abomination (1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:18;
The covenant given to Abraham was to extend to all
his “seed”-the Jews-and to all who are in Christ-the Christian church
(Gen. 17:1-10; Gal. 3:29).6.
God gave Abraham His “My Covenant,”
a covenant belonging uniquely to Him (Gen. 17:2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14,