Look closely at Numbers and you will see a beautiful portrait of Jesus Christ! In Chapter 19, we read:
Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.
Adapted from a sermon by J. Ligon Duncan III, “The Red Heifer”–
1 Peter 1:18-19….. you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
And so even as this red heifer is required (like all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament) to be without blemish, an absolutely spotless sacrifice, so also Christ is without spot or blemish. He is without defect or sin. Christ himself fulfills the symbolism of this red heifer.
2. Notice in Num.19:19…. a death in the past continues to effect cleansing later.
The red heifer is sacrificed, but the ashes go on as long as they last serving the function of ritually cleansing someone who has become defiled. So a death in the past effects a cleansing later.
Hebrews 7:27, we read that Jesus
“…does not need daily, like those high priests, who offer up sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered Himself.”
Hebrews 9:12, 26
“…not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood He entered the Holy Place once for all, so that His one-time sacrifice availed for sins for all time, for all His people.”
“Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
3. Notice that the only person who can administer the ashes, who can sprinkle the blood, who can deliver the cleansing potency and effect of this sacrifice, the only person who can administer it is a clean person?
In Hebrews 4:15, we read: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness. He was tempted in all things as we are…yet without sin.”
He was clean.
Again in Hebrews 7:26: “It was fitting that we should have a high priest“…holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”
He was clean.
I John 3:5: “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins;…and in Him there is no sin.”
Jesus Christ is the only one who is truly clean.
4. Notice that everyone involved in this ritual designed to cleanse those who have come into contact with death becomes unclean themselves, as if they “absorb” the impurity in the process of “decontamination.”
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
5. BUT Jesus is radically different…Though He absorbs our sin, though He bears our sin, though He bearsour punishment and our guilt….He is clean, unblemished.
In the Gospel of Luke we see Jesus being touched by a woman with a bodily discharge of blood and doesn’t become unclean….she becomes clean! And then He touches a leper, and He doesn’t become unclean; the leper becomes clean! And then He stretches His body over a dead little girl, and He doesn’t become unclean; she lives! Jesus Christ is radically different– everything He touches becomes clean, and He does not become unclean.
6. Separation from God is costly.
In the very process of making the unclean clean, the priests and others become unclean, and for a time they cannot go into the presence of God.
“My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” God pours out His wrath on His Son, Jesus. This is a cost that we will never ever fathom, even in eternity.
6. Notice that the red heifer is slain outside the camp; not at the altar, but outside the camp.
Hebrews 13:12-13 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
VII. The red heifer points to Christ, but Christ is MUCH MORE
Hebrews 9:13-14 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
The red heifer could make you ritually clean. But that heifer couldn’t clean your conscience, “nor all the blood of bulls and goats” sacrificed for thousands of years. But Jesus’ blood cleanses from all sin and gives us a clean conscience!