In the aforementioned article in JETS , Blocher notes that the New Testament treats Levitical sacrifices as types of Christ’s redemption, but adds that there is also a discontinuity: The intimate and essential bond between Christ’s death and his resurrection does not receive a clear préfiguration.” Yet he sees some glimmer of resurrection in the actions of the priests, who approaches Yahweh’s presence in sacrifice yet survives: “it may be suggested that the high priest’s surviving his encounter with the Lord’s Most Holy Presence typologically represents a kind of resurrection.”

The gymnastics that follow are convoluted and unnecessary. For starters, while the priest does approach the altar in sacrifice (something prohibited to lay Israelites), he doesn’t normally enter the tabernacle much less the Most Holy Place. He offers the animal with a buffer of space and curtains between himself and God. It’s not un-dangerous, but it’s a stretch to think that this would be understood as a near-death experience.

More importantly, the sacrificial procedure itself includes a prefiguration of resurrection.

After the animal is slaughtered, the parts are placed on the altar and turned to smoke that ascends to God. The slaughtered and dismembered animal gains a new life as a “spiritual body” that can be incorporated into the cloudy presence of Yahweh Himself. The animal parts constitute God’s “bread” (Leviticus 21-22), Yahweh’s portion of the communion meal that is sacrificed. As Yahweh’s fire “eats” the sacrificial food, it becomes one body with Him.

This is the basis for Jesus’ statements, recorded by John, to the effect that His death on the cross is a lifting up. For John, the whole life of Jesus is a sacrificial movement. Sent by the Father to be the Lamb of God, He lives in obedience and at the last returns sacrificially to the Father. He is the Bread of God, the Bread offered for His Father’s delight and the sacrificial Bread shared by His disciples.

Blocher’s claim that sacrifice doesn’t prefigure resurrection is based on a truncated view of the rite, which focuses on the slaughter as the key moment of sacrifice. That has been a common assumption in much Christian reflection on sacrifice, but it doesn’t fit the Levitical rites. To get a clear grasp of what the NT writers mean when they describe Jesus as a sacrifice, we have to camp out in Leviticus a lot longer than the church has generally done.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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