“This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come” – Numbers 19:2
Recently, five red heifers were delivered from Texas to Israel. There is quite some excitement about this. Many believe that their arrival is prophetic and point to the return of the Messiah. Some rabbis believe the ashes of a red heifer are necessary for purifying priests to serve in a future Temple. Since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, religious Jews have expressed their desire to see a Third Temple built on the Temple Mount.
What is a red heifer? It is a young female cow offered as an occasional sacrifice as needed, to purify a person from ceremonial uncleanness for touching a dead body. The priest took the heifer outside of the camp and slaughtered it. He would take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle some of it seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. Then, the heifer was burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood and its offal were burned. The priest took cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer. The priest washed his clothes, bathe in water and afterward he went into the camp. He was unclean until evening.
The one who burned it washed his clothes in water, bathe in water, and was unclean until evening. A man who was clean gathered up the ashes of the heifer and stored them outside the camp in a clean place and they were kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification. It was is for purifying from sin. The person who gathered the ashes of the heifer washed his clothes and was unclean until evening. This was to be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwelt among them. The person who touched the dead body was unclean for seven days. Anyone who touched a dead body and didn’t purify himself, defiled the tabernacle of the LORD. That person would be cut off from Israel and be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness was still on him.
What does the arrival of the five red heifers in Israel have to do with Christ? First of all, let’s look at what the offering of the red heifer in the Bible means. The heifer was to be red, without spot, typifying the blood of Christ. It was to be without blemish, representing Christ in Whom there is no sin (1 John 3:5). The heifer had to be one that was never broken to bear yoke. In other words, it had to be free, never forced to do anything. This is symbolic of the willingness of the Son of God to come into the world and to lay down His life for us. No yoke was upon Him. He Himself said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17, 18).
The presence of red heifers in Israel isn’t the sign of the soon return of the Messiah. Matthew 24:29-31 tell us that, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Those who are still living will caught up together with the resurrected dead in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The red heifer was a type of Christ. It was offered outside of the camp, indicating that He died not only for the people of Israel but for the entire world (John 3:16; 11:49-52). Until the day Jesus comes, what are we advised to do? We should live each day as if it were the day of His return. We are to be prepared, ready. We are to be watchful as we wait (Matthew 24:42, 44; 25:13).