Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was based on a spiritual principle that was established when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. It states in Numbers 3:11-13:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.”
The LORD told Moses that he had taken the Levites instead of the firstborn of the people of Israel who had been consecrated to him when he spared them from the plague that killed every firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 11:7).
The process of consecration enabled people and things that were unholy to become holy. “The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they become holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)” (H6942). The first occurrence in the Bible of God making something holy was the seventh day. It says in Genesis 2:3, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The King James Version of the Bible uses the word sanctified to describe what God did to make the seventh day holy. God told the Israelites, “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).
Sanctification is the ultimate goal and ideal state of everyone and everything that is connected with God. The problem is that it is not the natural state of human beings because of their sin nature. Paul dealt with this problem in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul stated:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
The Greek word that is translated reconcile in this passage, apokatallasso (ap-ok-at-al-lasˊ-so) means to reconcile fully. “This word means to change from one condition to another so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace and is used in Ephesians 2:16, of the ‘reconciliation’ of believing Jew and Gentile in one body unto God through the cross” (G604).
Spiritual rebirth involves two actions that work together to produce a single effect. “The new birth and regeneration do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience, they refer to the same event but view it in different aspects. The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old…Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparations for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainosis, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824). “Palingenesis (G3824) stresses the new birth; whereas, anakainosis stresses the process of sanctification” (G342).
Both aspects of spiritual rebirth were demonstrated through the Levites substitution for the firstborn of the people of Israel. The LORD instructed Moses, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:6-7). Bringing the tribe of Levi near and setting them before Aaron was similar to the paliggenesia in that the Levites had nothing to do with God selecting them from among the other tribes to be his servants. The Hebrew word that is translated set, amad (aw-madˊ) means to stand. “Such standing is not just standing still doing nothing but includes all that one does in ministering before God (Numbers 16:9)…The verb can suggest ‘immovable,’ or not being able to be moved…This is not the changelessness of doing nothing or standing physically upright, but the changelessness of ever-existing being, a quality that only God has in himself” (H5975). When the Levites were set before Aaron, they were to a certain extent translated into God’s eternal kingdom and became his spiritual agents among the other tribes of Israel. Anakainosis or regeneration has to do with an individual becoming adapted to God’s spiritual kingdom. The Levites demonstrated this through their ministry of guarding over Aaron and the whole congregation which required them to focus their attention on the well-being of others rather than themselves.
The Hebrew words that are translated minister in Numbers 3:6-7, ʿabad (aw-badˊ) and abodah (ab-o-dawˊ) refer to work of any kind. The LORD assigned the Levites specific duties. (Numbers 3-4). It was the Levites’ job to take care of all of the furnishings of the tabernacle and to move them from place to place as the people of Israel traveled through the desert. The Levites’ responsibility of keeping guarding over Aaron and the whole congregation meant that they had to act as sentries and had to maintain the security of the camp. If there was an attack, the Levites’ were expected to warn others and to potentially put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the tabernacle’s valuable furnishings. The Levites’ service wasn’t voluntary and so to a certain extent they were like slaves, but there is no indication that they resented or rebelled against their substitution for the firstborn among the people of Israel.
The Levites’ were numbered according to a different standard than the rest of the tribes of Israel. Moses was instructed, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers’ houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list” (Numbers 3:15). The other tribes of Israel were listed according to the number of men “from twenty years old and upward” who were able to go to war (Numbers 1:3). The reason for this distinction was because the Levites were exempt from military service. It was determined that “all those listed among the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the LORD, by clans, all males from a month old and upward, were 22,000” (Numbers 3:39). “And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273” (Numbers 3:43). The excess of 273 persons was dealt with through the process of redemption. Numbers 3:44-49 states:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekelsper head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs), and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.” So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites.
The 273 firstborn of the people of Israel who were over and above those that were redeemed by the Israelites’ through substitution still had to be accounted for. A redemption price had to be paid for them in order for them to be excused from service. The Hebrew word that is translated redemption price, paduwy (paw-dooˊ-ee) is derived from the word padah (paw-dawˊ) which means “’to redeem, ransom.’ Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…The word is connected with the laws of the firstborn. As a reminder of slaying all the Egyptian firstborn but sparing the Israelites, God retained an eternal claim on the life of all Israelite firstborn males, both of men and cattle. The latter were often sacrificed, ‘but all the firstborn of my children I redeem’ (Exodus 13:15). God accepted the separation of the tribe of Levi for liturgical service in lieu of all Israelite firstborn (Numbers 3:40ff.). However, the Israelite males still had to be ‘redeemed’ (padah) from this service by payment of specified ‘redemption money’ (Numbers 3:44-51)” (H6299).
“In the time of the patriarchs, the firstborn son had a position of special honor and responsibility in the family structure. God proclaimed Israel to be his firstborn (Exodus 4:22). All the firstborn sons of the Israelites were to be sanctified unto the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 11-16; 22:29)” (note on Numbers 3:12, 13). Jesus’ high priestly prayer shortly before his death included a section that addressed the sanctification of his followers. Jesus told his Father:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify themin the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself,that they also may be sanctifiedin truth. (John 17:14-19)
The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated consecrate, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to consecrate, devote, set apart from a common use to a sacred use since in the Jewish ritual, this was one great objective of the purifications…Spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will (John 10:36, ‘whom the father consecrated and sent into the world’ [ESV]; 17:17, ‘Sanctify them in [or in the promulgation of] thy truth’ [cf. John 17:18, 19])” (G37). Jesus indicated that believers are sanctified in truth. According to the definition of hagiazo, that meant that sanctification was a direct result of preaching the gospel.
Drawing on the parallel of Jesus’ death on the cross to the animal sacrifices that were made for the Israelites, the book of Hebrews points out that the only way sanctification can occur is through the shedding of blood. Hebrews 13:10-16 states:
We have an altar from which those who serve the tenthave no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 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. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The connection between sanctification and the offering up of a sacrifice of praise to God is evident in the definition of the Hebrew word ʿabad (aw-badˊ) which is translated as service in Numbers chapters three and four. “When the focus of the labour is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him. Moreover, in these cases, the word does not have the connotations of toilsome labour but instead of a joyful experience of liberation (Exodus 3:12; 4:23; 7:16; Joshua 24:15, 18)” (H5647).
Psalm 134 reflects this kind of experience and is identified as a psalm of ascents indicating that it was sung at the beginning of the worship services at the temple. It states:
Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
The reference to standing by night in the house of the LORD was most likely associated with the Levites’ service of guarding the tabernacle. The Hebrew word that is translated stand in Psalm 134:1 is the same word that was used in Numbers 3:6 to indicate that the tribe of Levi was set before or designated to minister before God (H5975). The exchange of blessings in verses two and three of Psalm 134 suggests that there was a reciprocal action going on between those who blessed the LORD and those who were blessed by the LORD. We know from the prophecy of Micah that Zion will be the location of Jesus’ headquarters during his millennial reign (Micah 4:7-8). Therefore, it seems likely that the LORD’s servants will be rewarded for their service during that time period.
Jesus told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). A short while later, James and John asked for the privilege of sitting one at Jesus’ right hand and the other at his left in his kingdom (Matthew 20:21). The other ten disciples were indignant and so “Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The Greek word that is translated ransom, lutron (looˊ-tron) refers to a redemption price and literally means “‘loosing money,’ i.e. price paid for redeeming captives” (G3083). Jesus gave his life in exchange for our freedom from the bondage of sin and death. The substitution that was made had to do with “the soul, the immaterial part of man held in common with animals…his spiritual and immortal nature with its higher and lower powers, its rational and natural faculties…that which strictly belongs to the person himself” (G5590).
Paul’s letter to the Romans explains how the substitutionary death of Jesus makes us free from sin and death. Paul wrote:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old selfwas crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11).
Paul indicated that the substitutionary process that resulted in believers being baptized into Christ’s death in order to be redeemed by his blood also produced a reciprocal result of them being able to walk in newness of life. Paul explained this transaction further in his second letter to the Corinthians and in his letter to the Galatians. Paul said, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).