Progressive Revelation

Saint John the Evangelist on Patmos (1547) by Titan

Parasha Shemini


Good morning, and shabbat shalom! Today’s parahsa covers Leviticus 9-11 and is titled Shemini, which translates to the “eighth day”.

Today’s passage is a striking picture of progressive revelation, the idea that the later Scriptures are fuller revelations of earlier ones. We might think of earlier passages (such as today’s) as the scaffolding necessary for the construction of New Testament doctrines. Specifically, this Shabbat’s text is helping us erect a full-bodied understanding of the two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as the priesthood that administers them.

Chapter nine picks up right after the glorious completion of the Tabernacle. Naturally, the first point of business is to make various sacrifices to the Lord. Moses commands Aaron to make atoning sacrifices for himself first and then for the Israeli people. Interestingly, a sin offering was made for the people before a peace offering was made on their behalf. The ultimate purpose behind these sacrifices is plain, “… that the glory of the Lord may appear to you”. In what form did this glory present itself? In an all-consuming fire which brought the people to their knees in terror.

If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then we might rightly conclude that Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, did not have it. For, at the start of the very next chapter, these newly appointed priests had the audacity to offer an unauthorized, unsolicited, incense fire to Adonai. The glory of the Lord reappeared in full, fiery force to show that every coin has two sides. Hearing of his sons’ deaths, Aaron, Israel’s great orator, was reduced to silence. He and his other sons were not even allowed to grieve their deaths outwardly. A new law was made by Moses that Aaron and his remaining sons were never to drink alcohol before entering the Tent of Meeting, their sacred place of worship, perhaps to keep their inhibitions high.

This new law was evidently not enough to provoke obedience because Aaron’s remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, consumed the aforementioned sin offering outside of the designated place, the Sanctuary. For this offense, the two received a harsh rebuke from Moses. Aaron appealed to Moses that all other duties were performed properly and that he did not eat with his sons because his sorrow exempted him from such a solemn, sacrificial meal. Despite his consternation, Moses accepted this justification.

Chapter eleven brings our parasha to a close with a long list of kosher and non-kosher creatures. Among those acceptable to God included mammals who chew the cud and have cloven hooves and fish with both scales and fins. Unclean creatures included those that swarmed on the ground as well as certain flying animals like eagles and bats—in case you needed two more reasons why you should be grateful to live in America and not China. We are even told that anyone or anything that came in contact with impure things needed to be cleansed, either through washing in water or isolation until evening.

So, what does all this have to do with priestly ordination, communion, and baptism?

Well, chapter nine is explicitly about the new priesthood of Aaron and his sons. Aaron is told to make a sacrifice on behalf of his people. A priest, pastor, or rabbi is a bidirectional representative. That is, with his back to the altar, he represents God to us, and turning himself round, he represents us to God—one reason why the priesthood is a strictly patriarchal vocation. Additionally, the sacrifices Aaron offered were a sin sacrifice and a peace sacrifice… in that order! Pastors know that, as with the order of our prayers, the obligations they have to their flock concern first their sin and second their peace.

The pastorate is an honorable vocation, but a dangerous one. Pastors will either receive strict judgment (James 3:1) or the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4). Like Aaron’s sons, pastors inevitably get a front row seat to God’s glory. The question is whether that glory will consume them or their sacrifice.

Moving on to chapter ten, we see that Aaron and his sons are responsible for properly consuming the meat of the sin offering so that they, “… may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord.” Today, you and I also partake of a sin offering—the final one, Yeshua—not to bear our iniquity but to share in the divine nature of the one who did (1 Peter 1:4). What a beautiful reversal! God, as Master Architect, actually inverted the Old Testament scaffolding to build up the New Testament sacrament of Communion. Furthermore, the physical system has been replaced with a spiritual one; the regenerate heart has replaced the holy Tent of Meeting. Like Aaron and his sons, we must not eat of the sacrificial meal unless we legitimately reside therein, lest we eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:29).

Lastly, chapter eleven talks about holiness and uncleanness. Two facts are immediately apparent. The first is that unclean things are as ubiquitous in our lives as the creatures listed are on the earth. In short, God demands holiness in every area of our lives. The second fact is that uncleanness was not a sin and did not mean spiritual or physical death; it was temporary and almost routine. Instead, kosher impurity was a symbol of sin and death, a symbol which God forbade to enter His presence. He is teaching us something about the actually deadening nature of sin. In the same way, immersion in water was merely for outward purification, whereas baptism actually demonstrates inward transformation, all by the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (1 Peter 3:21). Big score for progressive revelation! Like children, God explained his holy ordinances by way of physical analogs before exposing us to the fuller spiritual reality.

For 2,000 years now, God has been faithfully revealing what is expected of us in the areas of the priesthood, communion, and baptism. Are we, on our part, being faithful? Are we holding our pastorate to the high standard of bidirectional representatives? Are we eating the Lord’s Supper in the sanctuary of a regenerate heart? Are we seeking holiness in all areas of life and baptizing new covenant members with all the confidence of Messiah’s resurrection? To answer those questions, we must explore ourselves and the Scriptures in earnest, rejoicing in progressive revelation all along the way.

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