The book of Leviticus is the heart and center of the Pentateuch. The theological heart of Leviticus is the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). On this most sacred day, the high priest of Israel would bring the blood of sacrifice into the Holy of Holies to cleanse both the tabernacle dwelling of God and the camp of Israel. Ultimately, every other sacrifice and ritual in Israel’s cult derived its meaning and significance from this annual entrance into the earthly throne room of God. Worship in ancient Israel was through the chosen and anointed mediator, the high priest. Significantly, then, in the Pentateuch, “messiah” refers exclusively to Aaron the high priest—he is the one anointed with oil, whose mediation allows God’s people to draw near in worship.

In the wilderness era, God’s people challenged Aaron’s prerogative as high priest three times (Num. 16:1–40, 41–50; 17:1–13). The last rebellion was resolved by depositing twelve rods or staffs representing the twelve tribes of Israel by the ark in the tabernacle. On the next day, Aaron’s rod had budded with blossoms and ripe almonds, while the other rods remained dry wood. This life-out-of-death symbol served as God’s justification of Aaron as the designated mediator. Drawing near to God through Aaron would lead to life. Doing so apart from this messiah would lead to death: “Surely we die, we perish, we all perish” (17:12, NKJV).

With the advent of Jesus Christ, the symbolic worship of the tabernacle has given way to the reality: we draw near to God through the rent flesh and shed blood of the Messiah. His resurrection is God’s justification of His mediatorial work (see Acts 17:31). Thus, any approach to God apart from Christ is rebellion and must end in death. However, to forsake the assembly of God’s people in worship is also to slight Christ’s atonement and His role as High Priest: He died and lives for the sake of bringing us near to God. Indeed, having such a High Priest — One who endured God’s wrath that we might dwell amid the consuming fire — lets us draw near and worship our triune God with full assurance and abundant joy, with reverence and with awe.

For Further Study