Leviticus 6:9-11 “This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.”
We’ve all heard the saying “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” In just a few words this saying sums up life and death. The Bible tells us that we were made from the dust of the earth. That’s all we are except for the breath of life that God has breathed into us. The first man was told, because of his sin, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).” Animated dust – that’s all we are. And inanimate dust is what we’ll end up as, eventually.
In the verses above, we learn some of the Old Testament laws regarding the burnt offering that God had established for Israel. Specifically, we are told that the ashes (dust) that was left after the offering had been made was to be given special treatment. The ashes were to be removed from the altar by specially dressed priests – dressed all in linen. But then, strangely, they were to then change their garments to move the ashes to a “clean place.” And that’s where this Old Testament shadow becomes so interesting and rich.
You see, Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of every offering of the Old Testament sacrificial system, including the burnt offering. He is the Lamb of God that was slain as a sacrifice for our sins, for “He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).” But not only is Jesus the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices, He is also the fulfillment of the shadow of the Old Testament priests, for He is indeed “our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).”
Jesus willingly gave His life as a sacrifice and He willingly offered His life to God as a priest offering sacrifices on our behalf. Just as the Old Testament priest was dressed in linen from head to toe as He did the work of the burnt offering, Jesus was in sovereign and complete control as His dead body (symbolized by ashes in the Old Testament) was wrapped in white linen to be buried in a new tomb (Luke 19:40-42). And just as the priest then changed his garments to carry the ashes to a clean place outside the camp, Jesus exchanged his linen burial clothes for new garments as He rose from the grave, now dressed with the eternal robes of the risen King, never to be robed in burial clothes again. His body now rests in a “clean place,” i.e., a holy place, a pure place, in fact the most clean, holy, and pure place that exists, for His body is now in Heaven, where he dwells at the right hand of the Father. John saw Him there, “clothed with a long robe with a golden sash around His chest . . . and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” And when John saw Him in all His magnificent glory, his reaction was to “fall at His feet as though dead.” Then Jesus, the One Who was crucified and buried for our sins but then rose again, said this to John: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:13-18).”
But then one other aspect of the “ashes in a clean place.” If this points to the resurrected Christ, why ashes – symbolizing death. Perhaps this points to the fact that this forevermore characterizes the One Who died for us. Even in His resurrection, He bears the marks of His suffering and death by the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. Forevermore Jesus will be known as “the Lamb who was slain” and because of it, the One Who should forever receive “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12)!”
What a sight to see our glorious Lord, glorious in life, glorious in death, and glorious as He lives again for all eternity. Do you know Him? Have you met the Risen One? You can, for He has promised “Whoever comes to me, I will never cast out (John 6:37).” But oh, He has the power to do just that for He alone controls both death (and our return to ashes) and Hades, the eternity for those Who have rejected His love. However, because “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8),” He has become the One and only Way for us to escape them both.