A Three-dimensional view of the Cross in the Foundations of the Priesthood


ladder 2The First five books of the Bible are collectively referred to as the Torah by Jewish communities and as the Pentateuch by the Christian church since the term was first coined by Tertullian in the third century AD.

Traditionally they are ascribed to Moses even though they show clear signs of later editors and compilers, (it is unlikely Moses described his own death for instance) but it is not unreasonable to trace the roots of the Pentateuch back to the period and events they record and with that to Moses himself, who would have been one of a very few people alive in his day capable of recording in writing the events of his life and the thoughts and messages he was preaching. Many secular scholars will still concede that the Torah books contain texts that are among the oldest written material still extant today even if they only reached their final form around the time of the second Temple.

So I always find it a thrill to find suprisingly modern references to Jesus buried in the text of the Torah. In future posts we explore some of these, but for today’s post I want to highlight a reflection of 2000 years of meditation and thinking on the effects of the Cross, or the Atonement, addressed in the meta-narrative of the last four books of Moses.

It shouldn’t surprise us… the First five books of the Bible are dominated by the original Priestly family, Moses, his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam where all Levites and their lives defined the atoning work of priests.. atonement is quite literally At-One-Ment, it is the process and goal of  joining fractured parties and elements into a whole. The name Levi actually comes from the Hebrew verb “Lava”< which means “join” or “joined”, (for more see http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Levi.html#.VY1a54WuL_4). The Priestly role made peace and connection between Creator and Creation and provided the social glue that held the community of God together, sacrifice and reparation, feasts, festivals and life defining rituals. The Priests role is the first “annointed” office to be described in the Bible… “The Messiah” or “The Annointed” one was the promised hero who would draw all three anointed roles together into one person. They would be a Priest, a King and a Prophet. The Old Testament describes the development first of Priests in the books from Genesis to Deuteronomy, it continues from Joshua to Chronicles detailing the rise, acme and decline of Kingship and finishes with Major and Minor Prophets. So to make the point I said at the beginning of this post I would make..lets think quickly about the Atonement in the broad terms Christian theologians have explored and expressed their thought and then seeing that pattern in the Penteteuch. We tend to be born into a context in which the work of Jesus his life, death, resurrection and ascension are described by a dominant formula…which we assume is everything there is to say on the subject. Not realising that our favorite model is just the latest description in a long chain of similar theories that themselves reflect just one of three broader strands connect the work of atonement to the three parties it effects. Namely God, the Devil and Humankind. cross 3d In the modern world the dominant God-focussed theory, Substitutionary Atonement is sometimes now referred to as Christus Vicarious to deliberately mimic the resurgent early Church, Devil-focussed theory, Christus Victor, which was about Jesus total victory of the demonic and the settling of all debt based bondage. Go back a century and the dominant theory. in Europe at least, was Humanity-focussed and love based, God expresses his love for humanity as an inspiration and motivation to love each other and him. There iss no natty Latin title for this view, thought it is sometimes referred to as Moral Influence theory, so perhaps I can coin Christus Valentinus for it. Many holiness denominations have Humanity focused descriptions of the atonement as do the Eastern Orthodox Churches.


In Exodus we see the atoning, priestly work dealing with the demonic, each of the 10 plagues of Egypt is a deliberate humiliation of very specific deity, so note Heket had a frog head and Kephri a flys head etc etc. It’s Christus Victor.

Then in Leviticus we read time and again how the sacrifices “soothe” God, they are satisfactional.. Christus Vicarious is a legal theory in the satisfactional family of atonement models, it has been most popular for the last 400 years, but a thousand years ago it wasn’t God’s need for justice being balanced, it was His honor being satisfied by a worthy champion… the model has changed, but something is still being “soothed” in God.

Finally Numbers and Deuteronomy are all about the people, and here we see the transformational work of Atonement creating a loving, compassionate people with social services and laws that are millenia ahead of their time. It is Christus Valentinus.

Actually you can find all three perspectives in each book… but it is helpful to highlight the emphasis like this.

Now this may not  seem the most astounding revelation of Jesus in the Old Testament but if you take time to meditate on the atonement you will find a rich theme in this connection that will go deeper in you than some of the jaw-dropping surprises, and you will find material in the Pentateuch that stretches and colours your understanding of Jesus’ accomplishment.

Christen Forster

Christen Forster is widely recognised as an original Bible teacher who brings people into a love of and confidence in scripture.

Christen has planted churches, been a youth worker, mission administrator and church leaders. The author of several books, Christen is now an itinerant minister, helping churches to step into a more deliberately spiritual experience of the Christian life while at the same time firmly rooting their practice in scripture.

© 2000 - 2024 Christen Forster
Christen Forster

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