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The Substitute Atonement of the Torah, Foreshadow of New Covenant Baptism.

By F. M. Perry, July 5, 2002.



Some time ago while perusing the "Jews for Jesus" web site I found an article by Dr. Louis Goldberg entitled "Whatever Happened to the Substitute Atonement of the Torah?" In this article Dr. Goldberg, a Jewish Christian, pointed out the erroneous thinking of the many present day religious Jews who have rejected the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah, to which the Old Covenant animal sacrifices of the ancient Temple worship so clearly pointed. Dr. Goldberg's article presents an excellent study in itself and I recommend it be read, perhaps even before delving further into my article below. It sets the stage for important points I want to make concerning the place of baptism in the lives of God's New Covenant people. Although I briefly review Dr. Goldberg's article below, if the reader wishes to read it now, please click here.

Dr. Goldberg based his article on Leviticus chapters four and five where Moses laid down specific steps to be taken by an Israelite to be forgiven by God for a specific sin he had committed. This section of Leviticus is often referred to as the Law of Sin Offerings. Several variations of the Law of Sin Offerings were enumerated by Moses to accommodate the sinner according to his economic status,, the type of his sin, etc. However, regardless of who brought which offering there was a certain common procedure to be followed. This procedure is illustrated in the following excerpt from Leviticus four.


In his article Dr. Goldberg points out "Four Major Principles" derived from the procedures required by the Law of Sin Offerings. I quote the "Four Major Principles" as identified and explained by Dr. Goldberg in his article:

"1) SUBSTITUTION. God's specific instruction to Moses was that as each Israelite came to present the offering in accordance with his station in life, he was to regard this animal as his personal substitute.

"2) IDENTIFICATION. The Israelite next placed his hand upon the head of the animal and confessed his sins which were then, in a symbolic sense, imputed or transferred to the animal. The animal-substitute became identified with the sin of the offerer.

"3) THE DEATH OF THE ANIMAL. God wanted the offerer to kill the animal so that he would be reminded that the penalty of sin is death. The prophet so aptly comments, '...The soul who sins will die.' (Ezekiel 18:4). God extended His mercy by providing the substitute to die in place of the offerer.

"4) EXCHANGE OF LIFE. While the passages in Leviticus chapter four do not explicitly say so, I (Dr. Goldberg) do suggest that a fourth principle is present. When the animal died because the sin of the offerer was upon it, its life was then transferred to him. There is the hint of an exchange, for the sins of the offerer were placed upon the animal, causing it to die; thus, when the animal died, it gave its life up to the one who stood in need of it."

Dr. Goldberg explained in his article that all this which took place under God's Mosaic covenant with Israel was symbolic fore-shadowing of that which took place when God later fulfilled the expectations of these Principles by giving the "Lamb of God", the Messiah, to be the final, all inclusive "substitution", "to identify" Himself with the offerer, "to die in place of" the offerer, and to die so that "in exchange for His life" the offerer might have a death to, and forgiveness for, sin and a new eternal life in the Messiah.

A major point to me, as I read Dr. Goldberg's article, was that God, through Moses and the Prophets, called upon the Israelites not only to carry out many invisible spiritual actions inwardly in their souls and spirits, but also to carry out certain outward physical actions which were intended to be symbolic of future spiritual truths. For instance, the Israelites were called upon to literally take an animal to the Temple altar and to literally kill it under the auspices of the priests, and to engage in certain physical acts with the sacrifice while they discerned the spiritual significance of the symbolism of the acts. Dr. Goldberg pointed out that, historically, some Israelites refused altogether to obey the physical acts, others refused to give them any symbolic spiritual significance but observed them only ritualistically, while only a remnant practiced them seeing symbolic spiritual significance in them as God intended.

A conclusion was drawn in the article that the failure of the Jews to recognize the symbolic spiritual significance of the animal sacrifices as sin offerings was responsible for their rejection of the crucified Jesus as the promised Messiah. And then, especially after the destruction of the Temple in the year AD 70 and the impossibility of further offering of animal sacrifices there, even most religiously inclined Jews abandoned entirely that part of Mosaic Law that called for animal sacrifices as sin offerings, substituting what they call spiritual sacrifice through prayer in synagogue worship. Dr. Goldberg points out that the failure of modern day Jews to realize the significance of the "substitute atonement of the Torah" (taught in Leviticus four) still prevents them from recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah.

It occurred to me as I considered the "Four Major Principles" involved in the sin offerings of the Old Mosaic Covenant that the same principles apply also to baptism (immersion in water) involved in the obedience of faith of the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant a believer was to "act out" in a symbolic way (through sacrifice of an animal as a sin offering) the coming sacrifice of the Son of God for the believer's sins. Under the New Covenant today a believer is to "act out" in a symbolic way (through baptism, or immersion in water) the completed sacrifice of the Son of God for the believer's sins. The Apostle Paul made very clear the symbolism and meaning of the baptism which characterized the conversion of people to Christianity. He said in his letter to the Romans, chapter six:


Although all of the symbolism of baptism may not be fully known to every person when he is baptized into Christ, he is equipped to grow in understanding of the symbolism of his baptism as he matures in Christ.
The "Four Major Principles" enumerated and defined in Dr. Goldberg's article as applicable to the physical offering of animal sacrifices under God's Old Mosaic Covenant with the Israelites seem clearly to apply also to the physical act of baptism under God's New Covenant with the people of the earth.

1) SUBSTITUTION. One's submission to baptism clearly identifies one who regards Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, his substitute.

2) IDENTIFICATION. In the symbolic act of baptism, Jesus, the Son of God, becomes identified with the sin (He took upon Himself the sin) of the one being baptized.

3) DEATH OF THE ANIMAL (God's perfect Lamb). God extended His mercy by providing an aspect of Himself, the only possible substitute to effect a "once for all" propitiation of the sins of the believer.

4) EXCHANGE OF LIFE. As the Christ died, was buried, and was resurrected, so the one who is baptized symbolically dies with Him to sin and to the world and is symbolically buried and raised with Him to walk in a new life no longer under the condemnation of God's judgement for sin.
In contemplation of these four major principles it becomes clear that, although animal sacrifice is quite a different action from baptism, there is much similarity in the symbolic meaning of the two actions. The main difference in the meanings of the two actions was that the animal sacrifice of the Old Covenant sin offering was looking to future promises of God whereas New Covenant baptism looks back on fulfilled promises of God. In both cases the person performing the symbolic action publicly was (or is) confessing sin, repenting, and rendering obedience of faith in action specified by God. Moreover, he was (or is) immediately giving himself to God's service and receiving the spiritual blessing of a good conscience toward God and God's gift of hope for things not seen. All this suggests that the animal sacrifice sin offering was an Old Covenant type of which New Covenant baptism is an antitype.

Dr. Goldberg pointed out in his article that many Jews today, although professing to be religious, reject the thought that actual physical observance to the Law of the Sin Offering calling for animal sacrifice was ever necessary even in ancient times. Instead, they hold that all that was and is required is spiritual sacrifice through the avenue of prayer in synagogue worship. This attitude has its evil counterpart in the denominations of Christianity which hold that only inward submission of one's soul to God is necessary and the practice of the physical symbolic act of baptism is not necessary. This cannot be true when God's Word in both the Old and New Testaments calls for submission of both body and soul, and obedience in both outward and inward actions.

As a part of the gospel message, baptism was preached to the entire world immediately after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The resurrected Messiah Himself declared to the whole world just before He ascended to Heaven, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned." (Mark 16:16). In obedience to this commission, the Lord's apostle Peter declared in the first gospel sermon delivered on the Day of Pentecost immediately after the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38). From then on there is clear implication, as one reads the book of the Acts of the Apostles, that no gospel sermon was preached that omitted the requirement not only of belief and repentance but also baptism as necessary in one's response to the Lord's offer of forgiveness of sins. And in this new baptismal birth of water, the Holy Spirit of Jesus the Christ was given to impart new and eternal spiritual life to the convert. It was only after one's belief, repentance, and baptism that it was reported that the Lord added anyone to His spiritual body, the church. (Acts 2:41). It became so clearly understood that one's conversion to Christ included belief, repentance, and baptism, that converts were often simply called "believers" with the understanding that all true believers had also repented and been baptized. (Acts 11:26, Romans 6:3).

True New Covenant baptism which occurs at the time of one's conversion to Christ should not be subject to the debate that often occurs concerning salvation by grace versus salvation by works of merit. The argument that baptism is a work of merit, and therefore not legitimate, can no more be allowed than the same argument against the practice of animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Covenant. Baptism is simply not a work of merit but is a passive submission to a requirement of the Lord. The Apostle Peter said of baptism in submission to the Lord's direction, "Baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ". (1st Peter 3:21). Baptism takes its place in the New Covenant as a part of man's wholehearted "obedience of faith" response to God's gracious offer of salvation. (Romans 1: 5; 16:26). It's place in the New Covenant appears to be much like the place of the animal sacrifices God required in the "obedience of faith" under God's Old Mosaic Covenant with the Israelites.

With love.

© F. M. Perry, 2002




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