JESUS AND THE RED HEIFER SACRIFICE
With all of the excitement generated by the latest (April, 2014) claims that a qualified red heifer has been borne– ostensibly clearing the way for the dedication of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, I think it would be good to a look at the Red Heifer Ceremony as described in Scripture. It is imperative that we realize that the OT sacrifices were mere shadows of the better sacrifice of Jesus. Thus, all claims about this current red heifer logically cast aspersion on the sacrifice of Jesus. With that in mind, take a look at some of the connections between the original sacrifice and that of Jesus, as he fulfilled the typology of that original sacrifice.
Jesus’ passion fulfills the typological (prophetic) elements of the red heifer sacrifice. Some of the following thoughts– with additions and edits– were offered by Allyn Morton in private correspondence. My appreciation for his insights.
The heifer was to be slain outside the city; Jesus was slain “outside the gate,” (Hebrews 13:12).
Historically the heifer was taken to the Mount of Olives and slain (Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969)50).
Jesus’ passion prayer occurred in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, (Matthew 26:30).
The entire heifer was to be consumed. Jesus gave himself completely in sacrifice.
The ashes of the heifer were to be collected by one that was clean and stored in a clean place. Joseph of Arimathea, a devout man, collected Jesus’ body and placed it in a new tomb, one that had never been defiled (John 19:41).
The heifer’s ashes were to be stored outside the city; Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb outside the city.
During the sacrifice of the heifer, hyssop, cedar and scarlet was to be added. While on trial Jesus had a scarlet robe placed on him, (Matthew 27:28). As he hung on the cross he asked for a drink. The soldiers dipped hyssop in vinegar and gave it to him (John 19:29; I have thus far been unable to find the “cedar” that would correspond to the red heifer sacrifice. Some have suggested that the cedar was the cross, the inscription on the cross, or even the cedar of the Temple. Any help from the readers would be appreciated).
The red heifer ashes were applied to the defiled person in two stages, on the third day and on the seventh (Numbers 19:12). There was an “already-but-not-yet” process of cleansing from the defilement of death. It is this aspect of the Red Heifer sacrifice that should be examined very closely.
Kurtz, (J. H. Kurtz, Sacrificial Worship of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1980) p. 426+) says the Red Heifer sacrifice was particularly related to the cleansing from the defilement of death: “This idea of an anti-dote against the defilement of death was the regulating principle of the whole institution, determining not only the choice of the sacrificial animal, but what should be added to it, and all that should be done to it.”
Likewise, the New Testament affirms that Jesus destroyed death through the power of his death (2 Timothy 1:9-10; Hebrews 2:14), but would destroy death at his parousia (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). The same word (katargeo) for “abolish” and “destroy” is used in both Timothy and Corinthians.
The “process” of “the death of death” cannot be denied. Scripture affirms that by means of his death Jesus destroyed death (Hebrews 2:14; 2 Timothy 1:9-10). Yet scripture also says that death would be destroyed at the parousia (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). These are not two different kinds of death, spiritual and physical, but a process initiated and consummated. The consummation was empowered by the initiation. This was the “already-but-not-yet” of resurrection.
Jesus’ sacrifice fulfills the prophetic significance of the red heifer sacrifice. The book of Hebrews especially sets forth Jesus’ sacrifice in the imagery of the Red Heifer sacrifice (See especially Hebrews 9:12f; 13:12).
It is fascinating– and I think significant– that according to Jewish sources, there had been a grand total of nine pure red heifers in the entirety of Israel’s history, leading up to the first century. Moses offered the very first one, and then, until AD 70 there were a total of 9 red heifers. (http://www.templeinstitute.org/red_heifer/tenth_red_heifer.htm). According to Maimonides (a great Jewish commentator of the 12th century) the Messiah would anoint the 10th Heifer.
So, according to Jewish tradition and belief, there had been a total of nine pure red heifers in the entirety of Israel’s history. Messiah himself would offer and consecrate the tenth Heifer in the last days.
What these Jewish sources conveniently ignore is the fact that the NT posits Jesus as that “tenth” heifer, who offered himself, one time for all time, “without spot or blemish” (Hebrews 9:12). The previous 9 heifers were mere types and shadows of the “real” true sacrifice. Jesus is the “reality” and through his blood, true cleansing and deliverance from death is found.
Of course, to accept Jesus as the tenth heifer, the true sacrifice, totally destroys all of the current speculation about the birth of a red heifer. Jesus as the true sacrifice, nullifies all claims about a literal rebuilt temple, a restored physical priesthood, a restored national Israel! Jesus, as the fulfillment of the typological Red Heifer, totally falsifies Dispensationalism and Zionism.
Let me close with a quote from Edershiem about the significance of the Red Heifer sacrifice:
Edersheim– Temple and Ministr: Citation from:
“These particulars symbolically point to life in its freshness, fulness, and fruitfulness—that is, the fullest life and the spring of life. But what distinguished it even more from all others was, that it was a sacrifice offered once for all (at least so long as its ashes lasted); that its blood was sprinkled, not on the altar, but outside the camp towards the sanctuary; and that it was wholly burnt, along with cedarwood, as the symbol of imperishable existence, hyssop, as that of purification from corruption, and ‘scarlet,’ which from its colour was the emblem of life. Thus the sacrifice of highest life, brought as a sin-offering, and, so far as possible, once for all, was in its turn accompanied by the symbols of imperishable existence, freedom from corruption, and fulness of life, so as yet more to intensify its significance. But even this is not all. The gathered ashes with running water were sprinkled on the third and seventh days on that which was to be purified. Assuredly, if death meant ‘the wages of sin,’ this purification pointed, in all its details, to ‘the gift of God,’ which is ‘eternal life,’ through the sacrifice of Him in whom is the fulness of life.”
More to come on this fascinating topic.