We saw in my previous article about the serpent and pigeon “sign” that it doesn’t have any biblical support. Now we have a Red Cow to talk about. Anyone can attach end-time significance to an event when it doesn’t have a biblical reference point. For example, best-selling books by Michael Drosnin touting a “Bible Code” were popular some years ago. Bible codes were said to be in the Hebrew text, hidden among a certain alignment of the Hebrew characters. The author claimed that the Code was written by extraterrestrials and “that the alien who brought the code left the key to the code in a steel obelisk. Drosnin attempted to find this obelisk, which he believes is buried near the Dead Sea.” That fad quickly passed into speculative oblivion.
Something not so new is the claim that the birth of an unblemished red cow signals the last days and the rebuilding of a third sacrificial temple in Jerusalem:
Last week in Jerusalem a baby cow was born. Watch the adorable infant scamper around her mother in a short video released on YouTube by the Temple of Israel, below. Why is this worth your attention? Because – according to some Jewish and Christian scholars – this tiny red calf may be ushering in the end of the world.
The reddish-colored female calf was reportedly born in Israel on August 28 and is being raised in accordance with the Jewish laws of the Torah, according to the Temple Institute.
I find this topic interesting considering that it’s more about Jewish mythology than biblical theology. The sacrifice of the red heifer doesn’t have anything to do with the temple.
Even CBN News, a network that is heavily invested in end-time speculation, ended its article on the topic with this comment: “Meanwhile, there’s a verse about that heifer and purification in the New Testament of the Bible, and it’s all about salvation.” The author then quotes Hebrews 9:13-14. The sacrifice of the red heifer is about Jesus, and Jesus is the end-point of its fulfillment.
The Red Heifer
Compared to the article about the snake and the pigeon, at least with the red heifer, we have some biblical sources to reference.
The Bible mentions the details of the red heifer in Numbers 19. An “unblemished” red heifer, that is, a cow of a reddish color, with “no defect” that had never worn a yoke was to be taken outside the camp and sacrificed. Water was added to the ashes and applied to anyone who had contact with a dead body. This particular sacrifice required a cow, a female, to point out the life-giving element in the sacrifice.
The red heifer sacrifice is similar to one of the oldest food laws in the Bible, the command against boiling “a kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 14:21). A kid could be boiled in the milk of another mother but not in its own mother’s milk. This is not a health regulation or a food regulation whereby meat and dairy can’t be mixed. It has deep theological significance. James B. Jordan writes:
How awful if the mother uses her own milk to destroy her own seed!… Jerusalem is the mother of the seed (Ps. 87:5; Gal. 4:26ff.). When Jerusalem crucified Jesus Christ, her Seed, she was boiling her kid in her own milk. In Revelation 17, the apostate Jerusalem has been devouring her faithful children: “And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” Her punishment, under the Law of Equivalence, is to be devoured by the gentile kings who supported her (v. 17).1
Don Preston makes an interesting observation of some of the other elements related to the red heifer sacrifice and how they point directly to Jesus and not to some end-time temple:
Jesus’ passion prayer occurred in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30) [where the red heifer sacrifice took place]. The entire heifer was to be consumed. Jesus gave himself completely in sacrifice. The ashes of the heifer were to be collected by one that was clean and stored in a clean place. Joseph of Arimathea, a devout man, collected Jesus’ body and placed it in a new tomb, one that had never been defiled (John 19:41). The heifer’s ashes were to be stored outside the city; Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb outside the city [where there had never been a dead body].
There are other elements involved in the sacrifice, but nothing is said about the red heifer being a prophecy about the return of the Messiah. The sacrifice of the red heifer, like all the animal sacrifices, point to Jesus as their fulfillment. It’s not a prophecy; it’s a “type of Christ” with Jesus as the “antitype,” the fulfillment.
I suggest you read Numbers 19 if you want all the details of the red heifer sacrifice. In doing so you will find that it does not make a prediction.
Here’s the most important part for how the sacrifice of the red heifer points to Jesus: It is the only sacrifice that took place “outside the camp” (Num. 19:3, 9). Like the red heifer, Jesus was slain “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12), that is, “outside the camp” (13:13).
They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha (John 19:17).
Consider how the book of Hebrews relates all animal sacrifices, including that of the red heifer, to the finished work of Jesus as the Messiah:
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:13-15).
The Bible couldn’t be any clearer. Jesus is the fulfillment of the red heifer sacrifice. In fact, all the Old Covenant is in anticipation of Jesus as He Himself stated:
- Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
- Now [Jesus] said to His disciples], “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44; cp. 21:22).
Notice that all sacrificial animals were to be “unblemished” and “without defect.” This requirement is not unique to the red heifer sacrifice:
Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you. When a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a special vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it (Lev. 22:20-21; also, Deut. 15:21; 17:1; Mal. 1:8, 14; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:19).
Like so much of rabbinic oral tradition (Mark 7:1-13), a number of additional requirements have been added to the red heifer inspection:
- The heifer must be three years old and perfect in its redness. Even its hooves must be red.
- The presence of even two hairs of any other color will render it invalid.
These requirements are not found in Numbers 19.
There’s a legend that only “nine red heifers had been slain between the time of Moses and the destruction of the Temple” in AD 70.2 It’s a legend. What many people don’t know is that today’s red heifer breeding is artificial “using imported frozen embryos of red Angus cows implanted into … domestic cows.” This artificial procedure negates the entire sacrificial history of Israel prior to the coming of Jesus as the Christ. The red heifer sacrifice was common in Israel as were the other sacrifices that required the same sacrificial scrutiny.
Given the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the sacrifices required under the Old Covenant, there is no need for a red heifer sacrifice today. For any Christian to suggest that there is significance to a red heifer today is to deny the “it is finished” (John 19:30) sacrifice of Jesus and the purpose of the book of Hebrews.
For a study of Bible prophecy, see the following books that can be ordered from AmericanVision.org:
- Last Days Madness.
- Is Jesus Coming Soon?
- Wars and Rumors of Wars.
- The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance.
- Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers.
- 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered
- Prophecy Wars
- A Beginner’s Guide to Interpreting Bible Prophecy.
- Left Behind: Separating Fact From Fiction.
- Something Greater Is Here.
- Jesus v. Jerusalem
- The Day and the Hour
- Revelation and the First Century
- The Early Church and the End of the World.
- James B. Jordan, The Law and the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21–23 (1984), 192, 272–277. Jordan has developed his thesis more fully in his unpublished work Studies in Food and Faith. [↩]
- Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. [↩]