Christ’s death fulfills the figures of Israel’s sacrificial system (ST III, 48, 3). It exceeds them in being the sacrifice of human flesh for humanity. But it’s not just reality in relation to figure, but is itself a figure, a “sign for of something to be observed by us.” Thomas cites 1 Peter 4:1: “Christ, having suffered in the flesh . . . that now [you] may live the rest of your time in the flesh, not after the desires of men but according to the will of God.”
Two points: First, the quadriga is in Thomas’s bones. Figures are allegories of Christ, but Christ is a tropology of the church. As with the sacramental axiom – sacramentum tantum, res et sacramentum, res tantum - so with the sacrifice of Jesus: Levitical sacrifices are “signs only”; Christ’s own death is “reality and sign”; but it’s the church that is the Ding an sich.
Second, the force of 1 Peter 4 is worth noting. Christ suffered in flesh, died to flesh; according to Paul, God condemned sin in flesh at the cross (Romans 8). In Jesus’ death, we died to flesh, died to the desires and habits of fleshly life; in Jesus’ death, our flesh was condemned and judged, cast out with the prince of this world. The cross was a narrowly targeted condemnation: sin in the flesh. Until the resurrection, we live on “in the flesh,” but now that Jesus has died to the flesh, we no longer live according to flesh.
That is to say: During our life in the flesh, we no longer indulge any sense of ethnic, racial, or class superiority; no longer boast of heritage or achievement; no longer exclude those who don’t meet our fleshly standards; no longer give preference to the wealthy or well-born; no longer preen ourselves on our virility or sexual prowess; no longer divide the people of God according to marks in the flesh. All that was condemned, all that was killed, on the cross of Jesus.