Christians, including Messianics and Hebrew Roots folks, seem to have a million different opinions about the role of the Levitical system, with its rituals, sacrifices, temple, and regulations, in the future of God’s kingdom. The prevailing theme among them is that something, if not everything about these things has been abolished or changed for eternity as a result of the work of Christ. It is always the book of Hebrews that they point to for this claim. I have yet to find a resource that addresses the issue in a way I find satisfactory, so I have taken it upon myself to create one using Scripture and logic in accordance with its proper language, history, and context. I think you’ll find it’s not as complicated as everybody likes to turn it into.
In order to prevent reader confusion, I think it is best for me to lay out all my main points in advance, and then explain and expound upon them afterward. Otherwise it seems to be far too easy to assume I’m trying to say something that I am not while I am explaining my points.
- The prophets have indicated that the temple and corresponding Levitical system will be re-established in the end days, and carry into the “world to come” (Messianic Era).
- Messiah’s work changed absolutely nothing about the Levitical system (or any other part of the Torah). The Levitical system is part of the “jots and tittles” Messiah said would not pass away until heaven and earth are destroyed.
- The Levitical system is merely a shadow of what goes on in heaven (the “Melchizedek” system, if you will). It is designed to help illustrate God’s plans and process for redemption to us.
- Levitical sacrifices only cover sin for ritual purposes, to remind us of our role in our walk with God. That role is faith, obedience, and repentance.
- The Levitical system is not and has never been an engine of salvation. Animal sacrifices never forgave sin, and were never intended to do so.
- Our roles have not changed, and thus neither has the role of the Levitical system.
- Ritual cleanliness is only relevant in the context of temple activities; there’s no need to worry about it outside of that context. This is often misunderstood.
- Sacrifices will not be reinstated until God’s Levitical system and the temple are reestablished.
- Paul participated in the Levitical system, including animal sacrifice, after the death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah.
Note: In this study I use The Institute for Scriptural Research “The Scriptures”translation because I like the way it leaves God’s name in tact rather than rendering it as “LORD”, in addition to a few other simple changes in name rendering and the way it renders a few key theological terms to be more literal. If you take issue with the nature of this translation, you can look these passages up in just about any English translation and find they say the same things.
The prophets have indicated that the temple and corresponding Levitical system will be re-established in the end days, and carry into the “world to come” (Messianic Era).
Isaiah 66 is an example of this. The full local context is Is 66:8-24. Here is an excerpt:
(18) “And I, because of their works and their imaginations, am coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My esteem.
(19) “And I shall set a sign among them, and shall send some of those who escape to the nations – Tarshish and Pul and Luḏ, who draw the bow, and Tuḇal and Yawan, the coastlands afar off who have not heard My report nor seen My esteem. And they shall declare My esteem among the gentiles.
(20) “And they shall bring all your brothers as an offering to יהוה out of all the gentiles, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My set-apart mountain Yerushalayim,” declares יהוה, “as the children of Yisra’ĕl bring an offering in a clean vessel into the House of יהוה.
(21) “And from them too I shall take for priests – for Lĕwites,” declares יהוה.
(22) “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make stand before Me,” declares יהוה, “so your seed and your name shall stand.
(23) “And it shall be that from New Moon to New Moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,” declares יהוה.
So not only is the Levitical system being re-established, but He is taking obedient gentiles to become Levites! You may think that this passage contradicts my point, but it does not. He could have said, “priests,” and left it at that. But He said “Levites.” If the Levitical system is gone forever, why would God be taking gentiles “for Levites”? And what exactly would a priest’s function be without a Levitical system? There would essentially be no previously defined purpose for them! Sacrifices are what biblical priests do!
Zechariah 14 is another example. I recommend reading chapters 8-14 for context. Here is an excerpt:
(16) And it shall be that all who are left from all the gentiles which came up against Yerushalayim, shall go up from year to year to bow themselves to the Sovereign,יהוה of hosts, and to observe the Festival of Booths.
(17) And it shall be, that if anyone of the clans of the earth does not come up to Yerushalayim to bow himself to the Sovereign, יהוה of hosts, on them there is to be no rain.
(18) And if the clan of Mitsrayim does not come up and enter in, then there is no rain. On them is the plague with which יהוה plagues the gentiles who do not come up to observe the Festival of Booths.
(19) This is the punishment of Mitsrayim and the punishment of all the gentiles that do not come up to observe the Festival of Booths.
(20) In that day “SET-APART TO יהוה” shall be engraved on the bells of the horses. And the pots in the House of יהוה shall be like the bowls before the altar.
(21) And every pot in Yerushalayim and Yehuḏah shall be set-apart to יהוה of hosts. And all those who slaughter shall come and take them and cook in them. And there shall no longer be a merchant in the House of יהוה of hosts, in that day.
So if God in the Messianic Era is requiring the nations to observe the Festival of Booths (or “Tabernacles”, “Sukkot” or סכות in Hebrew), how is one to do that without Levitical priests, a temple in Jerusalem, and animal sacrifices? Look at Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29. Numbers 29 in particular has a long list of what sacrifices are to be offered on each day of the festival. There clearly is no separating them from the festival.
The Zechariah passage (above) even speaks of the altar and “those who sacrifice.” Friends, He’s not talking about the “altar” at the front of your local church. The only times the Scriptures ever speak of an altar is when speaking of the tabernacle/temple, or of the pagan “high places.” In both circumstances, the whole purpose of the altar is for animal sacrifice. There’s simply no way around it in this passage.
Messiah’s work changed absolutely nothing about the Levitical system (or any other part of Torah). The Levitical system is part of the “jots and tittles” Messiah said would not pass until heaven and earth are destroyed.
(17) “Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to complete.
(18) “For truly, I say to you, till the heaven and the earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall by no means pass from the Torah till all be done.
(19) “Whoever, then, breaks one of the least of these commands, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the reign of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the reign of the heavens.
“But see in my translation He said, ‘fulfill’! The Levitical system has been fulfilled, so it no longer applies!”
Since when is fulfilling something the equivalent to destroying it, or making it irrelevant? If your wife asks you not to leave the toilet seat up, and you fulfill her request once, does that mean she will never expect that of you again? I wouldn’t bet on it! Her request was her “Torah”, or “instruction” just as God has His Torah.
Let’s think about this, folks. Even if “fulfill” did imply something being done away with, all has not been fulfilled! Thus, not one jot or tittle has passed! There is no escaping the fact that the Levitical system, with all its ins and outs and little bitty details, is an integral part of the Torah. And thus it must be included amongst the other “jots and tittles.”
(Deu 29:29) “The secret matters belong to יהוה our Elohim, but what is revealed belongs to us and to our children forever, to do all the Words of this Torah.”
Go ahead and do a quick search or concordance look-up in the KJV for “for ever”, and notice how many times it is speaking directly of a Levitical sacrificial ordinance! The Hebrew term is לעולם (“l’olam”), Strong’s #5769. If God says something is forever, does He mean what He says?
The Levitical system is merely a shadow of what goes on in heaven (the “Melchizedek” system, if you will). It is designed to help illustrate God’s plans and process for redemption to us.
This is where people get hung up in Hebrews, but if you reexamine the text in light of my points, I think you’ll see how it all fits together.
(3) For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and slaughters. So it was also necessary for this One to have somewhat to offer.
(4) For if indeed He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the Torah,
(5) who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly, as Mosheh was warned when he was about to make the Tent. For He said, “See that you make all according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
There are several things to notice about what the author is saying here. He is saying that Messiah is not a priest on earth, and the reason given is because there are alreadypriests who offer gifts in accordance with Torah. He’s talking about the Levitical priests. And he’s saying that Yeshua (Jesus) does not qualify as one. What qualifies someone as a priest? Ex 28:1-3 says that one must be of the sons of Aaron (Moses’s brother, both of the tribe of Levi.) Yeshua (Jesus) is from an entirely different tribe, namely Judah.
Therefore, He does not replace the Levitical high priest; His place is within an entirely different “order” (i.e. Melchizedek. For more info on that, please see The Mystery of Melchizedek @ Psalm11918.org. It is crucial to understanding the issue at large). He makes the point that the Levitical priests serve “a copy and shadow of the heavenly”, and then quotes Exodus:
(8) “And they shall make Me a Set-apart Place, and I shall dwell in their midst.
(9) “According to all that I show you – the pattern of the Dwelling Place and the pattern of all its furnishings – make it exactly so.
According to the author of Hebrews, that “pattern” was a shadow of a heavenly tabernacle, which is the one where the real atonement and forgiveness take place. This is further reinforced in chapter 10:
(1) For the Torah, having a shadow of the good matters to come, and not the image itself of the matters, was never able to make perfect those who draw near with the same slaughter offerings which they offer continually year by year.
(2) Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? Because those who served, once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins.
(3) But in those offerings is a reminder of sins year by year.
(4) For it is impossible for blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Before I get ahead of myself, I’d better get to the next points.
Levitical sacrifices only cover sin for ritual purposes, to remind us of our role in our walk with God. That role is faith, obedience, and repentance.
Read verse 3 above again. A reminder of sins year by year. Is this not what Scripture is all about? Reminding us of our sins, so that we can turn and repent from them, and move forward in our walk with our Creator?
The Levitical system is not and has never been an engine of salvation. Animal sacrifices never forgave sin, and were never intended to do so.
Read verse 4 above again. Blood of animals cannot take away sin. So why would God have instituted this system in the first place? It certainly wasn’t to forgive sin, because it is impossible for it to forgive sin! Just as verse 3 said, it was created to remind us of our sins, and what we should do about them.
To emphasize the last several points, let me add an excerpt from the Yom Kippur article @ TheMoedim.com:
Atonement should not be equated with the payment for the penalty of sin but it, instead, relates to the cleansing of the spiritual uncleanness that is the consequence of sin and death. Consider these verses:
“For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy, and whatever touches the altar shall be holy.”
He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities.
In these passages the altar and the tabernacle are receiving atonement.
Did the altar sin? No.
Did the tabernacle sin? No.
They are, however, unclean as a result of the spiritual impurity associated with sin and death.
The blood of atonement was used to cover and cleanse the spiritual uncleanness of Israel.
Please note that uncleanness does not equal sin. A woman who gives birth is considered unclean and requires atonement (Leviticus 12:7).
Did she sin by giving birth? No.
There is, however, uncleanness associated with both birth and death (e.g. Leviticus 11:31, 12:7).
The Hebrew word kippur comes from the word kaphar which means “to cover” 1. Consider a pair of pants that has become especially dirty. You would immerse them (cover them) in soap and water in order to remove the stains and the dirt. In a similar way, the blood of atonement was used to cover and cleanse the spiritual uncleanness of Israel.
Hebrews 10:4 tells us that the blood of bulls and goats will not take away sins. Numerous passages in the Torah, however, tell us that the blood of bulls and goats will make atonement. Hebrews 9:22 confirms that almost all things are cleansed with blood (other things are cleansed by immersing them in water or fire). We should not fall into the trap of equating the removal of the penalty of sin with the removal of the uncleanness that results from sin.
Our roles have not changed, and thus neither has the role of the Levitical system.
As long as we continue to lose focus on God, and slip away from His commandments, there is no less use for a reminder of our sins than there ever was in history, and thus no less use for the Levitical system. And even on the day the Messianic Era begins, and we are all keeping God’s instructions for the first time in human history, we will still need to be reminded of the tribulations of eras past. We will need a memorial of what we all went through, to remember why we can’t go through it again. We also need memorials of God’s wisdom, righteousness, and holiness. In addition to all this, not all sacrifices are for the purpose of sin and death!
Ritual cleanliness is only relevant in the context of temple activities; there’s no need to worry about it outside of that context. This is often misunderstood.
People like to gawk at the concept of having to worry about sitting in the same chair as a woman who is enduring her monthly cycle, and other such seemingly trivial regulations about “cleanliness.” But this is a misapprehension; they are not rules for normal living, but only for approaching the holy objects and rituals. It is only a requirement to interact with the holy things three times a year when all the men of Israel are gathered in Jerusalem for the high holy days. At any other time, it’s optional. Seeing as we don’t have Levitical priests or a temple in Jerusalem, we can’t do this anyway, no matter how much we may want to.
To be clear, there are issues of cleanliness that do not pertain to the ritual system, such as what kinds of animal we eat and not having relations with ones wife during her monthly cycle, both of which are considered to be abominations. We must still abide by these statutes regardless of the availability of the Levitical system and holy setup.
Sacrifices will not be reinstated until God’s Levitical system and the temple are reestablished.
That’s right, no wacky backyard rituals, or any sort of strange cult sacrificing.
(13) “Guard yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see,
(14) except in the place which יהוה chooses, in one of your tribes, there you are to offer your burnt offerings, and there you are to do all that I command you.
Part of what “I command you” is the entirety of the regulations surrounding the Levitical system. Sacrifices, the Levitical system, and the temple location are all totally inseparable. This has been a huge issue throughout the history of Israel. Just do a quick study on the “high places” and you’ll see what I mean.
Can there be a temple somewhere other than Jerusalem?
No. Remember Deu 12:13-14 above. Also:
(1) “These are the laws and right-rulings which you guard to do in the land which יהוהElohim of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the soil.
(2) “Completely destroy all the places where the nations which you are dispossessing served their mighty ones, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree.
(3) “And you shall break down their altars, and smash their pillars, and burn their Ashĕrim with fire. And you shall cut down the carved images of their mighty ones and shall destroy their name out of that place.
(4) “Do not do so to יהוה your Elohim,
(5) but seek the place which יהוה your Elohim chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His Name there, for His Dwelling Place, and there you shall enter.
(6) “And there you shall take your burnt offerings, and your offerings, and your tithes, and the contributions of your hand, and your vowed offerings, and your voluntary offerings, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock.
(7) “And there you shall eat before יהוה your Elohim, and shall rejoice in all that you put your hand to, you and your households, in which יהוה your Elohim has blessed you.
(1) And it came to be, when Shelomoh had finished building the House of יהוה and the house of the sovereign, and all the desire of Shelomoh which he was pleased to do,
(2) that יהוה appeared to Shelomoh the second time, as He had appeared to him at Gibʽon.
(3) And יהוה said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me. I have set this house apart which you have built to put My Name there forever, and My eyes and My heart shall always be there.
Paul participated in the Levitical system, including animal sacrifice, after the death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah.
Also note that he didn’t even convert until after the resurrection. But yes folks, check it out:
(23) “So do this, what we say to you: We have four men who have taken a vow.
(24) “Take them and be cleansed with them, and pay their expenses so that they shave their heads. And all shall know that what they have been informed about you is not so, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Torah.
(25) “But concerning the gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should keep themselves from what is offered to idols, and blood, and what is strangled, and whoring.”
(26) Then Sha’ul took the men on the next day, and having been cleansed with them, went into the Set-apart Place to announce the completion of the days of separation – until the offering should be presented for each one of them.
This is describing a Nazirite vow, as seen in Numbers 6. The end of this vow is a sacrifice. Though Paul was prevented from carrying it out thanks to rabble-rousers, he clearly intended to do so along with his companions. He was doing it to prove that he still kept Torah and was in no way teaching against it, sacrifices and all.
(18) And Sha’ul, having stayed several days more, having taken leave of the brothers, was sailing for Syria, and Priscilla and Aqulas were with him, having shaved his hair at Kenḥrea, for he had taken a vow.
(19) And he came to Ephesos, and left them there, but he himself went into the congregation and reasoned with the Yehuḏim.
(20) And when they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he declined,
(21) but took leave of them, saying, “I have to keep this coming festival in Yerushalayim by all means, but I shall come back to you, Elohim desiring so.” And he sailed from Ephesos.
(16) For Sha’ul had decided to sail past Ephesos, so that he might lose no time in Asia, for he was hurrying to be at Yerushalayim, if possible, on the Day of the Festival of Weeks.
So Paul was adamant about keeping the Feast of Weeks (“shavuot”, שבעת in Hebrew). In Greek this is referred to as “pentecost.” What’s involved at Shavuot? You guessed it– sacrifices! Go back to Lev 23:10-21 and read for yourself!
Hopefully this study shed some light on the subject, and hopefully you found it to be accurate and helpful. Don’t take my word for anything, search the scriptures out for yourself!