How were animals sacrificed in the sanctuary?

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“And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” “And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward” (Leviticus 1:4, 11).

When a sinner brought a sacrificial animal to the door of the courtyard of the sanctuary, a priest handed him a knife and a basin. The sinner laid his hands on the animal’s head and confessed his sins. This symbolized the transfer of sin from the sinner to the animal. “The laying of hands upon the victim’s head is an ordinary rite by which the substitution and the transfer of sins are effected.” “In every sacrifice there is the idea of substitution; the victim takes the place of the human sinner” (Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 286, art. “Atonement, Day of”).

Inasmuch as Christians now by faith lay their sins on Jesus, the Lamb of God, it seems fitting to find in the sacrificial service of the sanctuary a ceremony typifying this. In the ritual of the burnt offering we find this mirrored; in fact, the laying on of the hand was required in all cases where sin was involved. The Christian sees in the ceremony of the laying on of the hand and leaning on the victim a type of his own dependence upon Christ for salvation. In so leaning we place our sins upon Christ, and He takes our place on the altar, a sacrifice “holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom. 12:1).

At that point, the sinner was considered innocent and the animal guilty. Since the animal was now symbolically guilty, it had to pay sin’s wage–death. By killing the animal with his own hand, the sinner was thus symbolically taught that sin caused the innocent animal’s death and that his sin would cause the death of the pure and innocent lamb of God.

Having followed the directions God gave in the sanctuary service, the repentant sinner could be sure that the victim was accepted in his stead. Even so, we too may be assured that as we follow God’s directions we may be accepted in Christ, our Substitute, knowing that He takes our place on the altar—that He has, in truth, already done so on the cross. He died for us, instead of us, and because He died we shall live.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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