Recently, a friend asked, “What is a red heifer? What is the big deal? Does it have anything to do with Bible prophecy?”
For starters: 1) That innocent looking young female animal could be the last thing that is needed for the Jews to rebuild the Temple. 2) It could trigger a major religious war between Israel and the Muslims. 3) It could be the first qualified red heifer since the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. 4) It could be a unique sign that the Second Coming of Jesus is very close.
The Scriptures are found in Numbers 19:1-22. They refer to an ordinance of the law that was commanded by the Lord (vs. 2). They involve the cleansing of defiled people; especially those who had anything to do with the tabernacle (setting it up, taking it down, carrying it in the wilderness, carrying the furniture or vessels, serving there, etc.); and those who had anything to do with a deceased person (caring for them, being with them at the time of their death, preparing their body for burial, burying it, etc.; Num. 19:4, 11, and 14).
God told the Jews to slay a red heifer without spot and blemish and upon which never came a yoke (vs. 2), outside the camp (vs. 3), to sprinkle its blood before the tabernacle seven times (vs. 4), to totally burn its body (vs. 5), to burn cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet with it (vs. 7), to gather the ashes and place them in a clean place outside the camp (vs. 9), to save the ashes for making a water of separation (vs. 9), to take a portion of the ashes and mix it with running water (vs. 17), to sprinkle the mixture of ashes and water upon unclean people and the tabernacle, all who served there and everything in it (vs. 18), on the third day and on the seventh day and they will be clean (vs. 19).
Why God chose a heifer (young female cow) for this sacrifice is a mystery. The Bible doesn’t say, but according to some Jewish sages the heifer is a reminder that the Hebrews in the wilderness defiled themselves by making a golden calf (Ex. 32:4, 7). Moses took their golden calf, ground it into powder, put the powder in their water and made some of them drink it (Ex. 32:20).
The heifer had to be red (the color of sin): “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). Jesus was made sin for us and our sins were laid on Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21a; Isa. 53:6).
The absence of blemishes and spots means the red heifer was required to be perfect (Num. 19:2). Just two hairs that were not red disqualified it. Jesus qualified as a sin sacrifice because He was without blemish and spot (1 Pet. 1:19). He knew no sin, did no sin, and had no sin in Him (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). He was perfect.
A yoke was put on work animals in Old Testament times to pull a plow, cart, etc. A red heifer that has never been yoked is an animal that has never worked (Num. 19:2). God was saying works have nothing to do with cleansing or salvation. We are saved by grace not by works (Eph. 2:8-9).
Slaying the red heifer outside the camp (Num. 19:3) pointed to Jesus who died outside the gate (Heb. 13:12).
The blood of the red heifer had to be sprinkled seven times in front of the Tabernacle to cleanse it (Num. 19:4). Sprinkling the blood seven times signifies complete cleansing. Blood symbolizes the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 1:7-9). We are cleansed by the blood (1 Jn. 1:7); have access to God by the blood (Heb. 10:19-20); overcome Satan by the blood (Rev. 12:11); have been purchased with the blood (Acts 20:28); are justified through faith in the blood (Rom. 3:25); are redeemed through the blood (Eph. 1:7) and more. Since God required the sprinkling of the blood of a red heifer in front of the Tabernacle in the past, it is believed that He requires the sprinkling of the blood of a red heifer in front of any Temple is built in the future.
Completely burning the red heifer so that nothing remained but a pile of ashes signifies that the sacrifice was finished. “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (Jn. 19:30).
Three things (Cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet) were burned with the red heifer. Cedar was considered an incorruptible wood. It was used by royalty in their palaces (II Sam. 5:11, 7:2) and in the Temple ((I Kings 6:18; Ezra 3:7). Jesus was incorruptible royalty (Psa. 16:10; Luke 1:31-33; Matt. 27:38; Rev. 19:16) and He will be our Temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22). Hyssop was used to sprinkle the blood on the lintel and side posts of the houses in Egypt before the death angel passed over (Ex. 12:22). It was used to lift the vinegar-filled sponge to the mouth of Jesus when He died on the cross (Jn. 19:29). And following his sin David said, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psa. 51:7). For those who apply the blood, Jesus is our Passover and His death on the cross will make us clean (I Cor. 5:7). Scarlet symbolizes sin (Isa. 1:18) and Jesus was made sin for us (II Cor. 5:21).
The ashes were placed in a clean place outside the camp (Num. 19:9). There is a little debate about where Jesus was buried, but most say it was in a new tomb that had never been used outside the city (Luke 23:53).
According to some Jews (not the Bible), the ashes were ground up (like the golden calf in the wilderness), pulverized, beaten with rods and sifted. Jesus was severely beaten and His visage was marred more than any man (Mk. 15:15; Isa. 52:14). After the red heifer was burned and sifted some say the ashes were. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow(Isa. 1:18a).
The person who gathered the ashes saved them to use in the water of separation (Num. 19:9). This solution was prepared by mixing a small portion of the ashes with running water (a pinch of ashes with lots of clean water from a natural source such as a spring; Num. 19:17). Then, the water of separation was sprinkled upon the Tabernacle, everything in it (the vessels, music instruments, etc.), everyone there (the priests, musicians, etc.) and anyone who had anything to do with the dead (Num. 19:18).
The Jews say the heifer must be three years old before it is sacrificed. As far as I know, the Bible doesn’t say this, but I found three possible reasons in my studies: 1) Some suggest that God was revealing that Jesus would die after three years of ministry. 2) Others suggest that a three year old animal is in the prime of his life and Jesus died in the prime of His life. 3) Still others suggest that the Jews require it to be three years old because Abraham wanted a sign that God would give him the Promised Land and God told him to prepare a sacrifice with a heifer, she goat and a ram that were three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon (Gen. 15:7-10). Sacrificing a three year old heifer was part of God’s sign to Abraham.
Some say the ashes of the tenth red heifer must be mixed with the ashes of the previous nine sacrificed red heifers. That is tradition not what the Bible says. For whatever it is worth, I have read that some Jewish rabbis say the old ashes that have been hid for 2,000 years have probably been contaminated and are most likely unfit for use.
Some Jews say the tenth red heifer will be sacrificed by the Messiah. That comes from the Mishna, not the Bible.
Some Jews say the tenth red heifer will be in use when the Messiah returns. They will probably use some ashes from the next red heifer in the first half of the Tribulation period before the Second Coming of Jesus.
Anyway, the Temple will be rebuilt before the middle of the Tribulation Period (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15-21; 2 Thess. 2:4 and Rev. 11:1). And the Temple, plus everyone who builds it, everyone who serves in it and everything that is used in it must be cleansed with the water of separation made with the ashes of a red heifer without spot and blemish (Num. 19:17-19).
A red heifer was born in January 2014 that may qualify if it remains perfect until January 2017. Not everyone agrees, but I am convinced that the Rapture is before the Tribulation period. The existence of a red heifer without blemish and spot is significant, but it only points to Jesus. He is a better sacrifice (Heb. 9:13-14).
Prophecy Plus Ministries
Daymond & Rachel Duck