In the case of the Old Testament, and Leviticus in particular, many Christians tend to think that it does not apply to them. These books are like that partial piece of paper. They don't make sense and they don't seem to match with the way we live life today. But a careful reading of the New Testament shows that those authors quoted the Old Testament quite often. Both Jesus and Paul were convinced that the basic principles of behavior in the Old Testament agreed with the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. For example, in Mark 12:30-31, Jesus quotes both Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 when He describes the way we should love God. Gordon Wenham said it this way, "With this double quotation from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, Jesus drew out the quintessence of Old Testament Law and gave it His own seal of approval."
So, to understand what Leviticus means to us today, we must first understand where it fits into Scripture as a whole. Leviticus, the third book in the Pentateuch (a fancy way to say the five books of Moses), is part of the Mosaic Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant was the binding agreement between Israel and the LORD (Yahweh in the Hebrew). The crux of this covenant was that Israel must be holy because the LORD was holy (Lev. 19:2). Did this command disappear in the New Testament? No. Peter draws his instructions in 1 Peter 1:13-16 directly from the book of Leviticus.
Likewise, the overall aspects of the Mosaic Covenant are reflected in the New Testament teaching on Law and grace. Consider these three points: 1) The OT Covenant was arranged by divine grace. For example, God called Abraham, rescued Israel from Egypt and chose David to be king. In each case the action was initiated by God. In the NT, it is the Lord who comes to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10) and calls sinners to repentance (Rom. 5:8); 2) The OT Covenant involved a command (Lev. 19:2) and created a means for fellowship between God and man (Ex. 29:10-13). The NT view of the Law is that it explains how man is to imitate God. The Law was not a means to salvation, but a response to salvation. The disciple is not merely to observe the letter of the commandments. Instead his/her righteousness is to exceed that of the experts of the law (Mt. 5:17-48); and 3) The OT Covenant involved blessing and curses (Dt. 27:1-30:20). This theme continued in the NT with commands to seek God’s kingdom (Mt. 6:33) and blessings for obedience (Mt. 5:1-12).
If we wish to walk in our Lord's steps and think His thoughts after Him, we must attempt to understand the sacrificial system of Leviticus. By discovering the underlying principles of the Law, which were established by the same God who sent His Son to die for us, we will learn something of the way we should approach a holy God and how He desires us to live and interact with the world we live in. The Law is now influenced by grace, but it has not lost its position as a teacher and we would do well to study and learn from it (Gal. 3:24).
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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