The Gospel in Leviticus

This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.

Natural and Difficult

On the one hand, it is very natural to think of Leviticus in terms of the grace of the gospel. This is because of the many ways it speaks of ideas and concepts that find their ultimate fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus—sacrificial atonement, for example, or the priesthood. The book of Hebrews makes much of these connections, emphasizing again and again that Jesus is the Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14; 10:21), the one without any sin (Heb. 9:14; cf. Heb. 9:7), who offers himself as the ultimate sacrifice that cleanses all our sin (Heb. 1:3; 7:26–27; 9:12, 14, 26, 28; 10:10, 12, 14; 13:11–12) and therefore gives us confidence to draw near to God ( Heb. 10:19–22).

On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to think of Leviticus in terms of the grace seen in the gospel. This is because Leviticus is primarily a collection of laws, and it is common to view these laws as being disconnected from grace. This is tremendously unfortunate and a very different view of the law than the Israelites held. For example, the longest psalm in the Bible—Psalm 119—is a celebration of the Lord’s law, something the psalmist longs for (Ps. 119:20, 40, 131) and delights in (Ps. 119:16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 143, 174). Significantly, the “law” he is speaking of included Leviticus!

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The psalmist’s love of the law should not surprise us. The law was given by the Lord to the Israelites in order to guide them in how to live as the “kingdom of priests and . . . holy nation” he had called them to be (Ex. 19:5–6). This in itself was actually an act of grace. In his kindness, the Lord gave his people these laws in order that they might know how to live properly in relationship with him, with one another, and with his world. No wonder the psalmist sings over it with joy! What is more, the law was given by the Lord after he had redeemed the Israelites, not before (cf. Ex. 1–19 with Ex. 20–24). As a result, they were not to follow these laws in order to earn salvation from the Lord, but as the appropriate response of reverential love and worship to the Lord who had already redeemed them. This should sound very familiar to Christians, who are exhorted to live lives of wholehearted obedience as the only appropriate response to the amazing mercies of God found in Jesus (cf. Rom. 12:1 with Rom. 9–11).

On Every Page

In order to read Leviticus well we must therefore remember these two things: (1) the many ways that Jesus has become the far greater priest who intercedes for us on the basis of his perfect and far greater atoning sacrifice; and (2) that obedience to God’s law is not meant to earn his salvation but to be an appropriate response to the salvation he has so richly provided.

Where is the gospel in Leviticus? On every page.

This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.

Old Testament

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New Testament

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