In the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus contains the ordinances for Israel’s Aaronic priesthood. The Lord said, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).
That is a tremendous prophetic statement that was fulfilled fourteen centuries later in Jesus. The word that is translated life is the Hebrew word for soul (nephesh). It is not just the life of a human being that is in the blood, but it is also the soul. We all know that when the blood ceases to circulate, the life has gone. In a certain sense, life depends on the blood.
In the previous chapter of Leviticus, in the ordinances for the Day of Atonement, Moses told his brother, Aaron, the high priest, that he could go only once every year into the Most Holy Place, into the immediate presence of God. He had to enter holding in one hand a censer full of burning coals with incense on them to send up a cloud of fragrant smoke; in the other hand he had to hold the blood of the sin offering that had been slain in front of the tabernacle. If he did not have both the censer of fragrant incense and the blood of the sacrificial animal, death would be the consequence. There was no access to the presence of God without those two things.
The censer, with its fragrant incense, is a beautiful type that symbolizes worship. We never come into the immediate presence of God without worship. But we never come without blood, either, which speaks of atonement for our sins. These pictures in the Old Testament were prophetic types—previews of what would actually be fulfilled in the New Testament.