Leviticus 1 deals with the `olah or ascension offering, which is usually translated “burnt offering”. Different animals could be offered depending on who was bringing the offering. A ruler of the people, such as the king or high priest, would need to bring a bull, a male from the herd. Regular citizens would bring a male from the flock, a sheep or goat. Provision was also made for the poor, who could bring a pigeon or turtledove.
The fire of God is not a picture of judgment, but rather of His presence. It is the point of contact between heaven and earth. He is seen as a pillar of fire and cloud between heaven and earth with Israel, leading them through the wilderness. Jesus is seen in the prophetic visions of Ezekiel, Daniel, and John with legs of fiery bronze, standing on the earth. This is also why the Spirit is poured out as flaming tongues of fire on the church at Pentecost. The church is now the meeting place of heaven and earth. It is important to recognize that though the animal is burned on the altar, it is not judgment but ascension, ascending into the presence of God, that is pictured. “It is the killing of the animal that is the substitutionary death of the animal for the sinner. The fire represents God’s presence, and the animal is given to God, and then ascends into heaven.”*
The order of sacrifice starts with the worshiper identifying himself with the animal by laying his hands on it. “The animal is slain and its blood displayed before God. This atones for sin. The animal is cut up, and the clean head and inner parts ascend to God. This foreshadows the ascension of Christ. The unclean feet and inner parts are washed. This points to our baptism. The baptized parts are sent up to God. This points to our ascension into the heavenlies in union with Christ, our Head.”*
This ascension with Christ is certainly a major theme in Hebrews 9. The old covenant was becoming obsolete and growing old and ready to vanish away. All these offerings, the whole order of the priests and Levites, the tabernacle and temple, were all shadows – copies of the heavenly reality. The old covenant altogether was a shadowy copy of the new covenant. Christ did not minister in the copy, but ascended into heaven, into the presence of God, to offer His own blood. We who are in Christ ascend in Him and sit with Him at the right hand of the Father.
*James Jordan, Biblical Horizons No. 78