Leviticus talks about sacrifices, priests, foods that are clean, and foods that are unclean. Leviticus talks about dealing with leprosy and impurities from bodily discharges. Leviticus talks about festival days, feasts, articles of the tabernacle, and much more. But these things are merely shadows of a greater reality. They may look like sacrifices and priests and ceremonial days—and indeed they are—but the apostle Paul tells us that they are shadows. Consider Colossians 2:16, 17.
By these words, Paul is simply saying that the things in the Levitical law (like food and drink and feasts and festivals) are simply shadows upon the wall of a cave, which are being cast from the original form of Jesus Himself.
On several other occasions, the New Testament uses similar language (Hebrews 8:4, 5 and 10:1). When you put these passages together, you begin to see that the book of Leviticus has an ultimate reality which is not contained in the book of Leviticus. The reality behind the book of Leviticus is Jesus Christ. These things in Leviticus are shadows of Jesus.
Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” There are two points: (1) God is Holy, and (2) you need to be holy.
I. GOD IS HOLY
We see this fact affirmed in other texts (Lev. 11:44, 45; 20:26; 21:8). This is repeated throughout the Scriptures. Throughout biblical history, men and women alike affirmed that the Lord was holy. From Job (Job 6:10) to Joshua (Joshua 24:19) to Jeremiah (Jer. 50:29); from Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:2), to the whole city of Bethshemesh (1 Sam. 6:20); from King David (Psalm 22:3) to the psalmist Asaph (Ps. 78:41) to the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 1:4)—all made explicit statements affirming the holiness of God. God’s holiness is also proclaimed in heaven. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” is what the angelic beings never cease to say (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).
The word “holy” in the Hebrew text is the word Qadosh, which means to be separated or apart or sacred or consecrated. Something that is set apart and dedicated for use in the service of the Lord is considered to be holy. Throughout the book of Leviticus, many things are described as being “holy.” The priests were a group of people who were “set apart” to serve the Lord in the temple. The garments of the priests were “set apart” for only the priests to wear. Certain places in the temple were designated as “holy places” (Lev. 6:26; 16:2). What made them holy is that they were “set apart” for specific duties that the priests would perform.
But when you apply the word “holy” to God, the word gets a whole new meaning. In this context, we aren’t talking about things being “set apart” for the use in the service of God; rather, we are talking about God Himself being set apart from us. The character of God is so high above us and so far beyond us that we can’t quite fully grasp it.
R. C. Sproul said, “When the word holy is applied to God, it does not signify one single attribute [of God]. The word is used as a synonym for His deity. That is, the word holy calls attention to all that God is.” In other words, God’s holiness is His essence. God is entirely different than we are, especially in His purity. Whenever there are encounters between a man and God, we find the man on his face, bowing to the holy Lord, entirely aware of his own sin. This was the case with Isaiah the prophet, a righteous man.
There is a great illustration of this in Leviticus 10:1-3. In the first three verses of this chapter, we read about two men who had just been ordained to the priesthood. They were Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. Read and consider the text.
This is what it means for God to be holy (Lev. 19:2). It means that He is so different than we are that we must approach Him as His holiness deserves. We need to tremble before the enthroned one (Ps. 99:1). We are to exalt Him as great and exalted in Zion (Ps. 99:2). We need to worship at His footstool (verse 3). It’s at the feet of God that we belong, bowed prostrate before Him, knowing our sinfulness and knowing His holiness. Nadab and Abihu learned this lesson the hard way. They died before the presence of the Lord because they weren’t approaching Him as His holiness deserved. May we learn from their example.
II. YOU NEED TO BE HOLY
This is what the book of Leviticus is all about. If you learn anything from the book of Leviticus, you learn that nothing unclean can enter into the presence of God. The first 10 chapters of the book of Leviticus give highly detailed instructions regarding the sacrifices that were to be offered up to the Lord. The sacrifices had to be done exactly as the Lord had commanded. The priests had to do exactly as the Lord had commanded. The reason for doing so was to obtain forgiveness from the Lord for sins that had been committed. Only when the people obtained forgiveness were they acceptable before the Lord.
We need to be cleansed from all our impurities. We need to be forgiven for all our sins. We need to be freed from all our guilt. As we come to God, we will be clean in His sight.
When your sins are forgiven by God, your life will change. God will transform you to walk in a holy manner. God works in you to bring about a practical holiness that pleases Him.
You need to be holy. I need to be holy. The writer to the Hebrews says it clearly: “Pursue peace with all men, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
Read and consider 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10. These verses clearly identify some behaviors that will disqualify you from the kingdom of God. Should you prove to be a fornicator or an idolater or an adulterer, you will not inherit the kingdom. We aren’t talking about earning anything. We aren’t talking about meriting the kingdom. We are talking about sons and daughters submitting themselves to the will of their Father. The good news is that there are many who used to be like this and who have been transformed by the power of the gospel to inherit the kingdom. We know this because of the very next verse that Paul writes: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). When we come to Christ, God will transform us and change us. Are you holy?
General Conference Ministerial Association