The whole point of the guilt offering is found in Leviticus 5:17. “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible.” This is an introduction to the long debated issue of atonement. In what way are we atoned, and were the sacrifices in the Old Testament truly atoning? Some theologians have said that in the Old Testament times the people of God looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice, and now that Christ as been sacrificed, we look back to His atoning work on the cross. I tend to disagree with this, slightly.
I don’t think that God is mocking here when He says to sacrifice certain things in order to be forgiven. I think that the sin was truly transferred from the person into the animal when they laid hands. I think that the burnt offering truly was the accepted sacrifice for forgiveness, and that this guilt offering is also truly accepted before God. I don’t think that God had to “look forward” to Christ, although there may be some legitimacy to that. God prescribed the sacrifices necessary for atonement. The animal chosen, the way it is offered, and the other regulations regarding the sacrifice speak directly to the issue being atoned.
With that being said, I do agree that the work of Christ Jesus on the cross fulfills all of these sacrifices. This is why God would allow there to be no temple for almost 2000 years. Without a temple, there are no sacrifices. Either we are all under judgment, or God has provided another option.
Romans 3:21-26 reads, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
The sacrificial system was established by the word of God to Moses. We read in Hebrews 8:5 that the priests on earth “serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven”, but our High Priest, Jesus, “serves in… the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” We see here a pattern. While the sacrifices offered on the earthly altar are being accepted to God, it is not by the sacrifice in itself that it is being accepted. It has ever and always been that God accepts it by faith. The reason that we no longer consult the earthly tabernacle and priesthood to be atoned is because we have atonement from the heavenly tabernacle, which is superior founded on better promises.
When we come to the guilt offering, and the issue of the atonement in the New Testament, what we’re looking at is the issue of the two covenants. By what means were they atoned in the Old Testament? And by what means are we atoned? Let’s look at one more Scripture example before coming to concrete conclusions. Abel’s offering was accepted, but Cain’s was not. Many have looked and said that it is because Abel offered from the flock that his sacrifice was accepted. Yet, this cannot be, because the Hebrew word was minchah and not corban. The minchah was a tribute – a gift. The corban was the sacrifice mentioned in Leviticus. In Leviticus, the minchah is specifically bloodless sacrifices, although Abel would have had to offer some sort of blood offering. So it cannot be that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because of the blood. Rather, the author of Hebrews answers for us, “By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did.”
The whole point is faith. It has never been that our offerings are accepted because we brought what is appropriate. So, in the issue of atonement, we cannot say that our atonement was brought about through faith in the New Testament, but by the law in the Old Testament. That simply isn’t the case. Going back to Romans, we see that the point being made isn’t simply that we find the righteousness of God because we have faith, but because we have faith in Jesus. This is where the righteousness of God is revealed. While in the Old Testament the law prescribed forgiveness, that forgiveness was established upon regulation and sacrifice. Now the atonement and forgiveness is based solely upon faith in Jesus. There were Israelites that would be able to offer sacrifices according to the prescribed fashion without even believing – God forbid. But in the New Testament we find examples of people who attempt to make offerings and are rejected (Acts 5 has a great example).
So, yes, even according to Leviticus 5 all have fallen short. All have sinned. It is impossible to keep the whole of the Law without sin. Yet, through the New Covenant, we are no longer held accountable to the letter of the law, but rather to the Law of the Spirit (Romans 8:2). It is through the Spirit that we are set free, and for freedom’s sake at that. While in Leviticus 5 we se the guilt offering being a ram from the flock, and with it a certain value in silver, we find in the New Covenant that our guilt offering is found in Christ. As John wrote, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the sacrifice of atonement for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Our guilt offering is found in Christ, and our freedom is in His resurrection. As Paul writes in Romans 6, “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” How is it that this resurrection comes to the believer? As I already pointed out, in Romans 8:2 Paul answers, “The Law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
We can continue in Romans 8. We find that “what the law was powerless to do”, “God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” “You are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you,” and I have added to the end of that, “at all”. We read that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
Do you see how in Romans 8, and I’m not even halfway through the chapter, it continues to show the connection between the atonement of Christ and the Spirit being in you? Christ is the sin offering. The Spirit then comes and fills us that we might walk according to it instead of the sinful nature. In this, I see Christ as the sin offering, and even the guilt offering, but the Spirit as the agent in which we find atonement. They who are of the Spirit, therefore, walk by the Spirit, and are not condemned.
Though we may continue to commit a sin unintentionally, we know that there is one who mediates between us and God – Jesus Christ the righteous one – and by His wounds we are healed. He is our guilt offering, for we are guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord. The difference between the Old Testament when we read Leviticus and the New Testament is that Leviticus simply says that God will accept the sacrifice on our behalf. In the New Testament, we see that God accepts Christ as our sacrifice, but then fills us with the Spirit – raising us up in Him unto newness of life – so that we might be dead to sin and alive to God. This is the difference between the old and new covenant. This is the glory that surpasses the letter of the law. We are offered freedom in Christ, and that freedom really is freedom.