When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30) on the cross, He used a merchant’s word that meant, “The debt is fully paid.” If one purchased something “on time,” when he made the last payment, the merchant would give him a receipt that read tetelestai. This meant, “The debt has been fully paid.”
Jesus fully paid the debt of sin during those six hours that Friday. We owed a debt we could not pay (Matthew 18:24–25); He paid a debt He did not owe. As the supreme sacrifice, “This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
Jesus fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17), which included all of its types and shadows (Hebrews 8:5; 9:9, 11; 10:1). The Levitical system was a picture gallery of the coming Savior. By saying, “It is finished,” Jesus was saying all the pictures of Him in the tabernacle furnishings, the priestly ministry, and the sacrificial system were completely fulfilled.
Of these, we focus on the sacrifices. Jesus was both the priest officiating and the sacrifice. The five primary offerings under Moses’ Law are explained in Leviticus 1–7, and should be studied in connection with the book of Hebrews. Each is a different pose of Jesus on the cross.
Christ is our burnt offering (Leviticus 1; 6:8–13; 8:18–21) (surrender).
This sacrifice focused on the perfection of God, and expressed adoration, devotion, commitment, and complete surrender to God. A bull, ram, or bird (dove or young pigeon) was accepted. It was a voluntary act of worship and served for atonement for unintentional sin in general (Leviticus 1:4).
The animal’s death typifies the death of Christ, the bloodshed points to the atonement, and the smoke ascending typifies the resurrection. (The burnt sacrifice is sometimes called “the ascending offering” because the word translated “burnt-offering” is holah, and means “that which ascends.”)
Jesus matched the qualifications.
Jesus fulfilled everything the burnt offering under Levi’s system was required to be:
He was a male (Leviticus 1:3; Matthew 1:21).
He was without blemish (Leviticus 1:3; 1 Peter 1:19, 22–23). In Jesus was “no sin” (1 John 3:5); He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21); He “did no sin” (1 Peter 2:22); He “was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
He offered Himself voluntarily (Leviticus 1:3; John 10:18).
His offering was substitutionary. The worshipper was to “put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Leviticus 1:4). He “leaned” (as the word signifies) upon its head as if to say, “I take this spotless victim to be my substitute; I lean my whole weight upon its merit.” Jesus’ death was substitutionary; we lean on Him (Romans 3:23–26).
He was killed “before the Lord” (Leviticus 1:5, 9, 13–14, 17; Matthew 27:46). Nothing short of death could satisfy the altar’s claims. Under Moses’ law, the offerer killed the animal (except with birds, Leviticus 1:15–17), and the priest caught the blood in a basin and sprinkled it on the sides of the altar (1:5, 11). The animal was dismembered, and its parts washed. Then all of it (except the skin1) was laid in order on the wood and burned. The transaction at the altar was not between the offerer and his conscience, the offerer and the nation, or even the offerer and the priest; it was between the offerer and the Lord.2 Today, as then, the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23). Christ died “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). He died before the Lord—He addressed God three times from the cross.
He was killed “northward” in respect to the altar. In the case of a sheep or goat, the animal had to be killed “northward before the Lord” (Leviticus 1:11). This means on the north side of the altar (cf. Leviticus 4:24, 29, 33; 7:2). While this was possibly just a matter of convenience since there was more room on that side of the altar, it is interesting that the site of Jesus’ crucifixion (Gordon’s Calvary) was north of the city of Jerusalem and of the temple with its altar.
He had His blood sprinkled upon the altar (Leviticus 1:5; 1 Peter 1:2).
Jesus was wholly consumed.
The primary point of the burnt offering is that it was completely consumed. No part was given back to the worshipper, as with other sacrifices. It was therefore sometimes called a “whole burnt offering” (Deuteronomy 33:10; Psalm 51:19; Mark 12:33). While Jesus’ body was not burned on the cross, He fulfilled this type because He was completely consumed in suffering. He did not just give an eye or a limb for us. He did not just take a whipping or suffer the crown or the nails. He gave His all—His back to the smiters, His cheeks to those that plucked off the hair, His face to the shame and spitting (Isaiah 50:6), His hands and feet to the nails, His side to the spear, His face to the slaps, His brow to the thorns, His ears to the cruel jests of his enemies, His heart to the forsakenness of His Father.
Jesus wants us to give ourselves to Him as a “burnt” offering.
A burnt offering expressed commitment to God. In a culture where livestock was one’s livelihood, a person did not part with a bullock, a ram, or even a bird3 lightly. It was the equivalent of a working class person burning a week’s paycheck or giving his car away. The application is that we are to give our all to God. Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:31). This thought is expressed in song. We sing “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee,” and
Consecrate me now to Thy service Lord,
By the power of grace divine;
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
And my will be lost in Thine.
Burnt offerings were daily sacrifices and therefore were the most common sacrifices in the ancient temple. Jesus perfectly submitted to God on a daily basis (John 10:17; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 10:10), and so should we (Luke 9:23; Acts 2:46; 5:42; 17:11; 2 Corinthians 11:28; Hebrews 3:13). Daily service qualifies us to worship when we come before God (1 Peter 1:16).
1 The hide was given to the priest (Leviticus 7:8).
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Holy (20). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
3 Since only the poor could offer a bird, it was the equivalent of a bullock for them.