The first three chapters of Leviticus address various offerings within the Old Testament sacrificial system. The common refrain is, “a soothing aroma to the Lord.” It is not as though the offerings themselves smelled particularly sweet. Rather, the obedience rendered as His people come in obedience to His law makes the offerings pleasing.
In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives a way in which His people, as a church, may come together and celebrate His sacrifice in a visible manner. In the midst of great trial, He warns his disciples that they will be scattered and exhorts them to stay awake in prayer because of the great evil that is coming. Here we are given a vivid picture of the resolve of Jesus as He sees the painful end in sight and goes forward, committed to His purpose.
As the issue of sin and guilt offerings take up the following chapter, atonement becomes the central concept. Atonement (kipper) is the appeasement of divine wrath. Thus, God’s wrath upon sin is averted through the sacrifice (though at this point it should be recognized that these sacrifices are, in and of themselves, incapable of actually doing such, though they point to the ultimate atonement brought through Christ).
As we find Jesus deserted before wicked men, it is tempting to see this as a defeat. However, He predicts His victory saying, “you will wee the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64). We can place our confidence in this promise because Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial follows quickly on its heels. Our Lord was not a helpless victim; God was in control through this entire process.
At this point, God makes provisions for the priest in what they may eat of the offerings. However, one should note that there are specific guidelines in place because while the priests are set apart for the work of the temple, the Lord gives commands constraining them in the way that they carry out their work.
As Judas hangs himself, we find a sharp contrast with Peter. While Peter weeps bitterly, Judas gives up hope and ends his life. Peter found restoration through repentance; Judas does not.
God’s glory falls upon the tabernacle as Aaron offers the offerings “just as the Moses had commanded.” This event raises hopes about the coming of God’s rule among His people. But the sinful heart quickly draws us to reality as Nadab and Abihu offer “strange fire” before the Lord, thus treating His holiness and the tabernacle with contempt. Therefore, the Lord strikes them down in His holy wrath.
In some ways, Pilate finds himself in an unenviable situation. He is keenly aware that Jesus has done nothing deserving death, but he desires to keep the peace in the city. While he takes the water and washes his hands of the matter, he is unable to remove his guilt. The Jewish leaders may have pushed for the crucifixion, but Pilate is a willing, though reluctant, participant.
Having established the sacrificial system, the Lord sets about placing standards for ceremonial cleanness. Throughout the following section, the Lord commands cleanness to His people so that they can maintain fellowship with Him.
Verses 52-53 record the fascinating account of people rising from the dead. While some have tried to explain away this event, we must seek to understand its importance to the narrative. Matthew sees the resurrection of particular saints after the resurrection of Christ, as proof that Jesus has conquered death once for all.
While the section on tests for leprosy seems foreign and detached, we should bear in mind that it was not until relatively recent in human history that this disease ceased being a major health concern. While not widespread, it posed serious health risks. Therefore tests were necessary to identify leprosy. More importantly, it made one unclean and called for them to be set apart from the community.
Verses 11-15 explain an old Jewish lie seeking to claim that Jews did not rise from the dead. Unfortunately, some modern scholars have shied away from the resurrection, offering rationalistic explanations for the empty tomb. For the believer, either Christ has been raised, or our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:16-17).
Once one has been cured of leprosy, God provides a means by which they may be brought back into fellowship with the community through the process of cleansing for this and other forms of unhealthiness. We should also keep in mind that just because one was separated from the community, they were cut off from the grace of God to His people.
Mark begins his account of the Gospel not with the birth but with the coming of John the Baptist. Consistent with the other Gospel writers, Mark identifies John as the one who is sent ahead of the Lord to prepare the way of the Lord. The Lord had not spoken to His people in this way since the days of the Old Testament prophets, and John stands as the last prophet to testify as the Lord comes onto the scene.