Grace 101: Vicarious Atonement – Leviticus 1:3-4

“If the animal you present as a burnt offering is from the herd, it must be a male with no defects. Bring it to the entrance of the Tabernacle so you may be accepted by the Lord. Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him.” ( Leviticus 1:3-4, NLT)

The Hebrew word for “burnt offering” means “what goes up” and refers to the ascent of the animal in flames and smoke (to the Lord).

The burnt offering was an offering for atonement.

An atonement offering required a male animal without defect, which meant the sacrifice was an animal of great value. The animal represented the worshiper in the ceremony.

The act of laying hands on the animal signified the substitutionary nature of the animal’s death (for its owner) and possibly that the sins of the owner were transferred to the animal as in the ritual for the Day of Atonement.

The vicarious death of the animal sacrifice–“in your place“–meant either expiation, in payment for sin, or propitiation, as a substitute for the sinner’s death.

To purify you” and “making you right with Him” involved satisfying the wrath of God by blotting out or cleansing from sin and restoring to fellowship with God in the community of God’s people.

So, the purpose of the burnt offering was to satisfy God’s wrath against sin by ceremonially cleansing the worshiper and restoring him to a right relationship with God.

Under the new covenant Christ’s vicarious atoning sacrifice for our sins did not require repetition like burnt offerings but was once and for all time: “With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12).

What was due to us, because of our sinfulness, is what fell upon Christ. Our sin was transferred to Christ and He made us right with God: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25, NLT).

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