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The scapegoat atonement

Query for the Month

of November 2001


Next up-date: December 1st (God willing).

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How can God make an atonement with the scapegoat?


The word "atonement" is at issue here.  What does it mean?

Different words are used both in the Old Testament and New, to express the same idea as At-one-ment or "being in agreement".  The basic meaning of the Hebrew word is "a covering", normally used  in the plural as "coverings", and it is applied in the New Testament in connection with the forgiveness and cleansing given to Christians by the Son of God.

Romans  5:10-11  

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [the covering]

Examples.  - In the following texts the bold italicized words are synonymous with atone or atonement. 


Exodus 29:36; " You shall cleanse the altar when you have made an atonement for it." 


Leviticus 12:8; "The priest shall make an atonement for her and she shall be clean."


Leviticus 14:2; "This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing."


verse 21; "The priest shall make an atonement for him and he shall be clean."


Leviticus 16:18, 19; "And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the Lord, and make an atonement for it." "And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel." 


Leviticus 8:15;  "Moses took the blood, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about with his fingers and purified the altar, and poured the blood at the bottom of the altar, and sanctified it, to make reconciliation upon it."


2 Chronicles 29:24;  "And they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel."


Jeremiah 33:8; "I will cleanse them from all their iniquities," "and I will pardon all their iniquity."


Acts 3:19; "Be converted that your sins may be blotted out."


Romans 5:9-11; "Being now justified by his blood," "by whom we have now received the atonement."


2 Corinthians 5:17-19; "Who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ."


Ephesians  1:7; "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins."  


Ephesians  2:16; "And that he might reconcile both to God."


Hebrews 9:13, 14, 15; "The blood of bulls... sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh; but the blood of Christ shall purge your conscience from dead works." He is the Mediator for the "redemption of the transgressions."


Hebrews 10:14; "He has perfected forever them that are sanctified."


From these texts we learn that the words atone, cleanse, reconcile, purify, purge, pardon, sanctify, hallow, forgive, justify, redeem, blot out, and some others, are used to signify the same work, i.e. bringing into favour with God by cleansing or covering; and in all cases blood is the means, and sometimes blood and water.  Hebrews 9:7; 22.  Why?  Because the blood represented the fact that Someone had died to obtain cleansing for that sin. (We should note that in the type this cleansing applies to things as well as people.)


Of course, there was no cleansing power in the blood of the bulls or goats which were used on the Day of Atonement as the writer of the letter to Hebrew Christians makes plain.

Hebrews 10:4  

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. [So why do it?]  

Hebrews 10:3

But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. [It was an anniversary to bring to mind eternal realities.] 

All the power was concentrated in the death and life of the Son of God and it was only by faith in that life that anyone was cleansed during the yearly rituals. Faith such as Job had in the resurrection.  Job 19:25.


Did this happen with the scapegoat atonement?  No, for it was not killed but set free in the wilderness. So we must look elsewhere to find out what "atonement" was made with it.


The question concerns a transaction which took place in the Old Testament sanctuary/temple on one particular day in the year, and which is described in Leviticus chapter 16.  That day was known as the Day of Atonement (and the Day of Judgment) and it occurred near the end of the Jewish ceremonial year.  The actual date varied depending on the season and the moon, and it could be any day from our mid September to late October.  Leviticus 23:26-32.

The first special ceremony on that day Bull with hand
consisted of a bullock which was sacrificed for the entire congregation. 

Before it was killed a hand was laid on its head as a symbol of the transfer to it of the high priest's record of "death" for sin.  Leviticus 16:6. (The high priest of the time represented Jesus, our High Priest.  Hebrews 8:1.)

Dressed in special clothes (16:4), the high priest then took the bullock's blood into the second room of the building as a picture of the record of a recent death for the sins of the whole nation of Israel.  In this way they finally came into the immediate presence of God as in the judgment.  (See Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14.)  Note that all were judged at the same time.

The blood from the daily individual sin offerings had only ever been sprinkled on the horns of the brass altar which stood in the courtyard and therefore could not be said to be with God, although the guilt of the sins had been removed from the repentant sinner at the time of confession.  This was called the daily atonement.  See Leviticus 4:27-31.  In the daily the guilt was transferred to the officiating priest when he ate a portion of the animal.  Then, when he confessed his sins at the end of his shift, it was transferred into the building.  See Leviticus 4:1-7.

Thus for 364 days of the year the first room of the sanctuary was polluted by the continual or daily receiving of the records of death associated with confessed sins.  This pollution even continued on the evening and into the morning of the special day of atonement.  However, when the daily pollution ceased because there were no more offerers, the bullock's blood was used as a symbol of the pollution of death moving into the second room.

Just before the ceremony with the bullock, two goats had been brought to the high priest.  Verses 5, 8-9.  He (under the guidance of the Spirit) had chosen one as a sin offering, and this allowed the other to be removed in the custody of a "fit" man awaiting its banishment. Verses 10 and 21.

The chosen goat was then killed but no hand was laid on it as a symbol of transfer, so it was "clean" in the ceremonial sense.  Verse 9.  Its blood was taken and held while the "contaminated" bullock's blood "moved" the record of the death associated with the sins INTO the second apartment of the building, thus polluting it.  Verses 11-14. 

Now that the whole tabernacle was polluted in a special sense, another ceremony was required to "remove" the record of death.  This is where the sinless blood of the LORD's goat was used.  When it was sprinkled, it now "picked up" the "death" from the second and first rooms and in this way cleansed or atoned for them.  Verses 15-19.  This was a "shadow" of the truth set out below.

Romans 5:

8 But God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 MUCH MORE then, being now justified by His blood [through His death as a Saviour], we shall be saved from wrath [the judgment] through Him [through His life as a Redeemer].

10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, MUCH MORE, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. 

All the services of the sanctuary/temple were highly organised and picturesque ways of describing what happens to the sins which we, as Christians, confess to our Saviour.  He who is our burden-bearer takes the sins into Himself and the result was pictured at Calvary.  BUT THAT DID NOT REMOVE THE SINS FROM HIM, FOR THEY CAUSED HIM TO DIE as in Romans 6:23.  This is sometimes called an atonement in the Bible as in the verse above, but it is a temporary one.  The permanent cleansing or atonement has had to wait until the time of the end, and this is what the Day of Atonement typifies.

On that Day the blood of the sinless goat was used to pick up the record of the death caused by the confessed sins, and to  transfer that "death" onto the high priest.  He then transferred it to the live goat, the scapegoat.  This was  Hands on scapegoataccomplished by him coming to the front of the tabernacle and putting his hands out through the curtain.  Verse 21.  In the meantime the "fit" man brought the scapegoat within reach of his hands and so he was able to transfer the "death" onto its head. 

It is in this way that God makes an atonement with the scapegoat. It is in this way that God "cleanses" the high priest. 

The atonement is not for the goat, but for the high priest who represents Jesus.  In this manner, without the shedding of blood, (the scapegoat does not need to die for the "wages of sin" is already present), the "death" which belonged to the sinning Israelites becomes an added "death" for sin's originator, Satan. The two goats represent the ultimate in goodness and evil, Christ and Satan.

In strict justice, he who caused the Christians to sin must bear their penalty.  (You can see the principle in Habakkuk 2:15).  Christ, as our Saviour, continues to carry the old lives of all those who accepted the exchange of life (Ephesians 4:22-24), but the penalty for their subsequent actions is eventually to be returned to the great adversary who is to be "rewarded" double for his part in them. See Revelation 18:6 for the principle.  

The scapegoat did not die immediately, but was released in the wilderness.  Verse 22. So Satan will not die when this occurs to him, but will wait out his time during the 1,000 years of Revelation 20.


Thus the atonement that God makes by the scapegoat is NOT THE SAME as the ones made during the year, or on the Day of Atonement.  It is a cleansing and transfer, but one made of a death which has already occurred.  It is the reassigning of the ultimate wages of sin which belonged to the sinning Christians onto the originator of sin, Satan, through the mediation of Jesus Christ our High Priest.

Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Next thought. To be discussed from December 1st 2001.

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