LESSON 6 *November 1 - 7
Atonement in
Symbols: Part 1
Lesson graphic

Read for This Week's Study:

Gen. 3:21; 4:3–5; Lev. 17:11; Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:11–13; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19.

Memory Text:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18, 19, NIV).

Key Thought: 

  To show how the Old Testament sacrificial system pointed to the sacrifice of Christ.

In the Bible the sacrificial system was established in order to illustrate how God was going to solve the problem of sin. At the center of the service was the blood of the sacrificial animal. The life of the animal was poured out so that the life of the repentant sinner could be saved. The animal was a symbol of Jesus, who would give His life in place of ours.

When repentant sinners brought their sacrifices to the Lord, they were acknowledging that they were sinners who deserved death. But they also were manifesting faith, trusting that the Lord would grant them forgiveness by accepting the life of the sacrificial victim in their stead. Assuming responsibility for our sin is indispensable (this is known as repentance and confession). Only those who, in the light of the Cross, see themselves as sinners in need of forgiveness and humbly find in Christ the Lamb of God that takes away their sin, will experience cleansing.   

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 8.

SUNDAY November 2

Atonement and Animal Sacrifices

How far back can we trace the origin of animal sacrifice in the Bible? See Gen. 3:21, 4:3–5.  

In the Bible, the sacrificial victim and the repentant sinner who brought it were identified with each other so closely that the life of the animal stood for the life of the person, and the animal’s blood became a means of atonement (Lev. 17:11).

Read Leviticus 17:11. What is the important message of this text to us?  

A lot of symbolism is found in the biblical sacrificial system. First, because the death of an animal stood for the death of the individual, the sacrificial act was an act of salvation, a manifestation of God’s grace and love. He was willing to accept the death of another creature in order to preserve the life of humans and to continue fellowshiping with them. Second, according to the Bible, the life of an animal could not really atone for the life of a sinner; consequently, the death of sacrificial victims had a symbolic function only. It pointed beyond itself to the death of the Seed of the woman, Jesus, who would give His life as a ransom in place of many (Mark 10:45). Third, the killing of the sacrificial animal also illustrated the seriousness of sin and the costliness of forgiveness. Taking the life of an animal must have been very painful to Adam and Eve; probably to most Israelites, as well. The process helped them understand that sin is inseparable from death and that forgiveness is not the same as overlooking sin. The price God will pay for our redemption will be the “precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet. 1:19, NIV).

At the moment sin entered into the world, God instituted a sacrificial system that had these symbolic and teaching functions. The first sacrifice that Adam and Eve offered was a wonderful explosion of hope in the coming Redeemer, a hope offered in the midst of the pain of guilt and death.

How seriously do you take the problem of sin? The answer can be found by how you answer the next question: How much suffering do you put yourself through trying to overcome it? See 1 Pet. 4:1.  

MONDAY November 3

Sin and Impurity

The book of Leviticus deals, in detail, with the problem of sin and impurity, but it especially emphasizes the topic of purity/impurity or contamination/purification. Impurity is considered as damaging to the covenant relationship as a moral sin itself. The instructions concerning impurity have the purpose of motivating the Israelites to avoid anything that could contaminate them. The laws regarding purification instructed them concerning how they could be restored to a state of purity before the Lord.

There are several sources of impurity, some of which are unavoidable. For example, there is the contamination that a woman incurs during childbirth (Lev. 12). In this case the contamination is the result of the blood discharge that accompanies the childbirth (Lev. 12:4, 5, 7; see also Lev. 15:19–30 for another kind of uncleanliness). A man with a blood discharge was also considered unclean (Lev. 15:1–15; see also vss. 16–18).

In those cases the individual was a carrier, a contaminating agent; therefore, he or she was forbidden to contact anybody else or any holy thing. Obviously the emphasis on washing and quarantine suggests a hygienic concern. But there was also a theological interest. The impure person was not allowed to come into contact with other people and was excluded from the sanctuary. “Impurity” thus becomes a metaphor to express a person’s alienation from God and others. In fact, impurity is usually associated with death. It is connected with dead bodies (Num. 6:6, 7, 11), diseases (Lev. 13, 14), blood discharge (a way of letting life run away), and the emission of semen, which is the “seed” of life. The leper was totally impure and considered as dead (Num. 12:9–12).

The impure person was in the realm of death and could be removed from that place only through a cleansing ritual. Otherwise he or she would be permanently separated from God and the rest of the people of God (Lev. 15:31). The biblical concept of impurity indicates that humans are almost in a natural state of contamination existing in an environment that is fundamentally unclean. They need cleansing in order to be free to approach the Lord. This cleansing was primarily possible through the blood of the sacrificial victim (Lev. 12:8).  

Read Ephesians 2:11–13. Although the language of impurity is not used, how is the concept, as explained above, present in these texts? What kind of “impurity” do we face today? How can we be cleansed of it?    

TUESDAY November 4

The Sacrifices

Read Leviticus 4:3, 13, 22, 27. What do these verses tell us about sin, and about who needs atonement for their sin? See Rom. 3:23, 5:12.  

There are a number of lessons we can learn from these sin offerings.

First, the type of animal brought as a sin offering depended on the financial condition of the individual (Lev. 5:7–12), which showed that the Lord was sensitive to the financial situation of the people. For us, the point shouldn’t be missed: Salvation through Christ is for all people, regardless of their status in the world.

Second, the sacrificial victim was expected to be unblemished, healthy, and without physical defects (Lev. 4:3). The sinner was defective and morally blemished, but the sacrificial victim that represented the Lamb of God wasn’t.

Read 1 Peter 1:18, 19. What important aspect of Jesus was prefigured in those unblemished sacrifices, and why is that aspect so important to us and the plan of salvation? Rom. 5:19, 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15.  

Another important point to remember: The sin offering atones for both unintentional and intentional sin (Lev. 5:1–5) and ritual impurity (Lev. 12:6, 7). What’s the moral lesson for us? It’s that there was no sin that God could not forgive if the sinner repented from it. Moral and ritual impurity was symbolically removed from repentant sinners through the sacrificial blood. But in fact only the blood of Christ could cleanse from sin. The great news for us, prefigured in these sacrifices, is that no matter our past, no matter how badly we have fallen, we can through Jesus find restitution, healing, forgiveness, and cleansing.

It’s easy, at times, to doubt your salvation. Maybe at times it’s even good to question your standing before God. After all, there will be those who thought they were saved who, in the end, won’t be (Matt. 7:22, 23). How can you find the assurance you need while, at the same time, not be presumptuous?  

WEDNESDAY November 5

Removal of Sin/Impurity

What were the roles of the priest and the individual in the sacrifices depicted in the following verses? Lev. 4:5-7; 28-31.  

Several rituals are important when seeking to understand the sacrificial offerings. When the repentant sinner brought the sacrificial victim to the sanctuary, the sinner placed a hand on the head of the animal and leaned on it. In the daily sacrifices the laying on of hands was associated with the phrase “be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4, NIV), indicating that the sinner fully identified with the sacrificial victim. The sacrificial victim was at that moment standing for him or her before God, bearing the sin of the individual.

The sacrificial victim was commonly killed by the individual, although there were exceptions (Lev. 1:14, 15; 5:8). This sacrificial act is especially meaningful when placed in the context of the state of guilt and alienation in which repentant sinners found themselves. Because of the violation of the covenant, sinners were heading toward death, but that death was actualized in the sacrificial victim, not in the repentant sinner, whose life was then spared by God. Sin and penalty cannot be separated from each other. The transfer of the one implies the transfer of the other. This found its fulfillment in Christ’s death on the cross, where our sin was transferred to Him and where He died the death that should have been ours.

Besides the laying on of hands and the death of the animal, another ritual was the bringing of the blood into the sanctuary, the means by which sin was brought there. In some cases it was sprinkled inside the tabernacle (Lev. 4:6), and at other times it was applied to the horns of the altar of sacrifices (vs. 30). When sin was not taken inside the sanctuary in this manner, sin was transferred to it through the priest. In those occasions he had to eat the flesh of the sin offering, thus bearing the sin of the people in his own person (Lev. 10:17). God was assuming responsibility for the sin of repentant sinners. This pointed to Christ's high-priestly ministry on our behalf.

Think through the meaning of these sacrifices and what they were pointing to: Christ dying in our stead for our sins. How should the reality of His death impact our daily life? More important, how does that death impact it in your own case? 

THURSDAY November 6

Other Sacrifices

What was the function of the burnt offering? Lev. 1:3–9, 22:17–22.  

In Leviticus the burnt offering is an atoning sacrifice, but other functions predominate. Because the sacrifice was totally burned on the altar and was accepted for the person, it represented total consecration to the Lord. It also was offered as a votive or freewill offering (Lev. 22:17–22). The votive offering was brought after a vow was fulfilled to express gratitude to the Lord. The freewill offering was an expression of personal devotion, thanksgiving, and joy.

What was the function of the peace/fellowship offering? Lev. 7:12, 16.  

The peace offering could be offered as a thanksgiving offering, a votive offering, and a freewill offering (Lev. 7:12, 15, 16). This suggests that the sacrificial act was a joyful occasion (1 Sam. 11:14, 15; 1 Kings 8:62, 63). The fact that the Lord gave back the flesh of the sacrifice to the worshiper to eat it with relatives and friends in His presence (Deut. 12:17, 18) indicates that the sacrifice strengthened the covenant relation through communion with God and other Israelites (Deut. 27:7, 1 Kings 8:63).

What was the function of the meal offering? Lev. 2:1–10.  

The meal offering was from the fruits of the land and was a recognition of God’s gracious provision for His people. Everything belonged to God, but He requested that a small portion of it be brought by the people as an expression of gratitude (Deut. 26:9, 10). It was accompanied by the “salt of the covenant” (Lev. 2:13, NIV). Salt was used in the ancient Near East as a preservative and therefore was an appropriate symbol of the binding nature of the covenant (2 Chron. 13:5). The offering was an expression of the person’s willingness to preserve the covenant relationship with the Lord.

In the Old Testament we find so many different offerings with complementary functions, while in the New Testament we find only one single sacrifice. What does that suggest concerning the nature and efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice? What assurance can you take for yourself from this one sacrifice? 

FRIDAY November 7

Further Study:  

  “The very system of sacrifices was devised by Christ, and given to Adam as typifying a Saviour to come, who would bear the sins of the world, and die for its redemption. Through Moses, Christ gave definite directions to the children of Israel in regard to the sacrificial offerings. . . . Only clean and precious animals, those which would best symbolize Christ, were accepted as offerings to God. . . .”—Ellen G. White, Sons and Daughters of God, p. 225.

“To many it has been a mystery why so many sacrificial offerings were required in the old dispensation, why so many bleeding victims were led to the altar. But the great truth that was to be kept before men, and imprinted upon mind and heart, was this, ‘Without shedding of blood is no remission.’ In every bleeding sacrifice was typified ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ ”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 932.

“Since the announcement to the serpent in Eden, ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed’ (Gen. 3:15), Satan had known that he did not hold absolute sway over the world. . . . With intense interest he watched the sacrifices offered by Adam and his sons. In these ceremonies he discerned a symbol of communion between earth and heaven. He set himself to intercept this communion. He misrepresented God, and misinterpreted the rites that pointed to the Saviour. Men were led to fear God as one who delighted in their destruction. The sacrifices that should have revealed His love were offered only to appease His wrath.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 115

Discussion Questions:

     According to the Ellen White quote above, Satan perverted the meaning of the sacrifice. In what ways could we be in danger of perverting the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice? What are some views of the Cross that distort its meaning?  

   Unlike the Israelites, we don’t have daily physical reminders of the cost of sin; that is, we don’t live in the constant presence of sacrifice, as did the Israelites in the wilderness. What ways, however, can we help keep the amazing death of Jesus in our behalf always before us so that we never forget what Christ has done to give us the hope of eternal life?  

   Explain in practical terms how you can consecrate everything you have to the Lord. What does that mean, and how can you do it?  


God instituted the sacrificial system after the entrance of sin in order to remind people about the costliness of forgiveness and the future sacrifice of His Son. Different sacrifices were offered in order to expiate specific sins, to cleanse from impurity and to express the deepest feelings of humility and adoration of repentant sinners.

I N S I D E Story    
Faithful, No Matter What

Asish lives in eastern India. Asish, like everyone in his village, worshiped idols. For years Asish and his wife prayed for a child, but no child blessed their home. Asish began searching for the true God who could answer his prayer. He heard a lay evangelist talk about Jesus. He invited the evangelist to study the Bible with him. Asish accepted Jesus as his Savior and asked the evangelist to hold prayer meetings in his house.

Some of Asish's relatives saw the changes in him and asked him what had happened to him. Asish invited them to the prayer meetings, and many came. In time his brothers and sisters accepted Jesus as their Savior. Neighbors also came to hear about the true God, and some of them believed.

Asish's sister was married to a man who continued worshiping idols. There was no peace in their home. Then she became sick and was admitted to the hospital. The doctors gave her little hope of surviving and told the family to let her die. But Asish prayed for her, and within days she recovered. When her husband saw God's power, he gave up his idols and became a Christian.

But as more and more people accepted Christ and worshiped with the Christians, trouble brewed in the village. Some villagers complained to their leaders, and the leaders pressured the new believers to leave their new faith and return to idol worship. Some gave in, but Asish refused to renounce his faith, no matter what it might cost him.

Leaders from the surrounding area tried to force Asish to reconvert, but he refused. They beat him, and still he refused. Then they forced him to leave the village. The family was not allowed to have the village firewood or water from the village well; and they had to go to another village to buy their necessities.

Asish began having strange pains in his body and became convinced that devils had entered him. He asked the lay evangelist to pray for him, and soon he was feeling well again. Soon Asish and his wife had their longed-for child. Another Hindu couple who was childless came for prayer, and they also conceived.

Asish and his fellow Christians still are not allowed to enter the village. But Asish tells them he will die serving the true and living God. He invites those who want a powerful God to come and learn about Jesus.

Our mission offerings help provide lay evangelists tools to reach into remote areas such as Asish's village. Thank you for giving generously so that we can tell the world about our powerful God.

KIRAN KUMAR PANDA is a pastor in Sambalpur District in Orissa State, India.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Mission
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