Uncleanness? God’s dwelling place, the dwelling place of a holy and sinless God, becomes unclean!
How could that be?
The word uncleanness in Hebrew – tumot – appears in various forms hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible, and it often describes the sinful actions of people in violation of God’s law. And this gets to the heart of the gospel message as revealed in the sacrificial system.
The sins and evil of the people, the things that made them tumot, were ultimately brought into the house of God, which itself became tumot. In a sense, the sanctuary – God’s house – ultimately carried the sins and evil of the people, and it was through this process, and this process alone, that the people were forgiven those sins.
It was the system of animal sacrifices that represented this transfer of sin. When people were convicted of their sin, they would bring an animal for sacrifice – a lamb, a goat, a ram, a bull – to the sanctuary, confess their sin over the animal, symbolising the transference of their sin to the innocent animal. In that sense, their sin was transferred from themselves and placed on the innocent animal, which symbolised the sinless Jesus.
The animal was killed and its blood was poured out beside the alter symbolising Christ’s blood poured out for us at the cross. Some of the flesh of the animal sacrifice was eaten by the priest (see Leviticus 6:26), who symbolically became the sin bearer for the sinner as he came before God in the sanctuary.
Though the people themselves, because of their sin, deserved death, the animal was slain in their stead, symbolic of the death of Jesus. Every single one of those sacrifices had one main purpose – to point the sinner to the substitute who would die in their stead.
And that substitute was Jesus, God in the flesh.
When Jesus began His ministry, John the Baptist pointed to Him and said: