Old Testament Sacrifice: The “Type” and “Shadow” of Jesus’ Death on the Cross…

“An archetype is an emotion, character type, or event that is notably recurrent across the human experience. In the arts, an archetype creates an immediate sense of familiarity, allowing an audience member to relate to an event or character without having to necessarily ponder why they relate. Thanks to our instincts and life experiences, we’re able to recognize archetypes without any need for explanation.”*

In college in the 70’s, I majored in English and I was taught to apply numerous theories to the meaning of literature in order to understand it better.  One of those interpretive theories centered on the use of archetypes.  We studied literary theorists who based their discussions on Carl Jung, the psychologist who advanced the idea that there are images and themes that derive for a “collective unconsciousness.”  Those images and themes were called archetypes.  They have universal meanings across cultures and may show up in dreams, literature, art or religion.  They are deeply felt ideas, so ingrained into human life that everyone knows of them whether they can explain them or not.

How does this relate to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?

Was it inevitable that Jesus go to the cross because of Old Testament need for sacrifice?  Does the Hebrew peoples’ use of animal sacrifice “predict” the cross?  Theologians like John Stott use words like “type” and “shadow” to connect the Old Testament to the New.  Is Jesus’ sacrifice archetypal in the Old Testament?  Is Jesus’ sacrifice foreshadowed by animal sacrifice in the Old Testament, humanity’s need for someone to take our place so they can be punished for our sinning?

The answers to both questions is yes.

In my previous post [“He Is The ‘Self-substitution’ Of God”*], I tried to reflect Stott’s concern that Christians just don’t understand the significance of a perfect God allowing His perfect Son to experience horrible punishment for sins He did not commit.  He went to the cross for the sins of humanity.  Since the Garden of Eden, humans have been far less than perfect.  Something had to be done to restore man’s relationship with God so He provided “a divine substitute for the sinner so that the substitute would receive the judgement and the sinner the pardon” [Stott, 134].

The question Stott is trying to answer follows: “How are we to understand and justify the notion of His substituting Himself for us?” [Stott, 134].  One way to do that is to look at the Old Testament notion of “sacrifice.”

The idea that there were priests with altars who offered up sacrifices to various gods is nothing new.  The ancient world has plenty of examples of this practice.  Stott says that anthropologists call this practice a “universal phenomenon.”  These sacrifices (other than those done by Hebrews) he refers to as “pagan.”  Hebrew sacrifice was another matter.  The Old Testament tells the story of a people who don’t keep their covenant relationship with God and their sacrifices were a direct response to their breaking of that covenant.  Their sacrifices were for two reasons: the expression that they belonged to God and when they felt the need to repent from sin, they sacrificed to erase their alienation from God due to their sinful acts.    Stott cites theologian B.B. Warfield who describes these sacrifices as human beings “claiming protection” and “sinners craving pardon” [in Stott, 136]. 

This still does not explain how Old Testament sacrificial acts foreshadowed the New Testament sacrifice of Jesus for humanity.  When one looks at Hebrew Old Testament society, they had an elaborate system of offerings which are detailed in the book of Leviticus.  These are characterized as burnt, cereal, peace, sin and guilt.  Besides the cereal offering (which consisted of grain) the rest of the offerings dealt with blood sacrifices of animals.  The worshipper brought the animal offering to the altar, he laid his hands on it and killed it on the altar. 

Stott writes that the laying on of hands is significant.  When a worshipper “laid hands” this symbolized that they were identifying with the animal; in other words, the animal was taking their place.  “The substitute animal was killed in recognition that the penalty for sin was death, its blood (symbolizing that the death had been accomplished) was sprinkled, and the offerer’s life was spared” [Stott, 137].

One can turn to Leviticus 17: 11 and read “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

It is very clear that the Hebrew notion of blood is that blood is the symbol of life.   This is an ancient idea that goes back to the days of Noah when God told him not to eat meat that had “lifeblood” still in it.    It is very clear that the ancient Hebrew culture felt that blood meant atonement:  the life of a creature is in the blood and that blood atones for the sins of the worshipping offerer.  “Life was given for life.”  It is also very clear that blood is given by God for the purpose of atonement.  The Hebrews believed their sacrificial system was given to them by God for them to appease a God who was disappointed in their behavior.  If this is what they believed, maybe it would not be such a mental “stretch” that God would give His Son for them to sacrifice because He wants to rid them of their sin.

Stott makes his Old to New Testament connection stronger with two Scriptures from Hebrews:  Hebrews 9: 22 “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” and Hebrews 10: 4 “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  Animals were just not good enough; humans needed to sacrifice a man and that man was Jesus Christ.

Stott summarizes the situation as the Hebrews grew to see that animal sacrifices could not atone for the sins of human beings because humans are much more valuable than sheep.   Atonement was achieved “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” [from First Peter 1: 19-20].

W.P. Paterson* is quoted in Stott saying “The interpretation of Christ’s death as a sacrifice is embedded in every important type of the New Testament teaching.”  Stott comments “the letter to the Hebrews [referenced above] portrays the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as having perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament “shadows.”  For He sacrificed Himself (not animals), once and for all (not repeatedly), and thus secured for us not only ceremonial cleansing and restoration to favor in the covenant community but the purification of our consciences and restoration of fellowship with the living God” [135].

It is so hard to comprehend the immensity of what Jesus did for us, what God did for us but here goes.  I have been reading a book by Pastor David Platt and in a hyper-exaggerated manner, he tries to picture what Jesus did with His sacrifice.  Read the word picture and just let the imagery affect you:  “You and I were standing a short hundred yards away from a dam of water ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide.  All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us.  Right before it reached our feet, the ground in front of us opened up and swallowed it all….The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in Him will be reconciled to God forever.”****

The result of the spilling of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

All forecast in Old Testament types and shadows …

*“Writing 101: The Twelve Literary Archtypes” accessed on 8/16/21.

**St. John Studies, August 12, 2021.

***W.P. Paterson in A Dictionary of the Bible, from his article “Sacrifice.”

****David Platt, Radical.

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