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THE DAY OF ATONEMENT


  • The Day of Atonement

We know that Christ made atonement for everyone through His death on the cross. This event, which Passover foreshadows, justifies us before God and delivers us from His judgment in this life and the next. However, justification is not the aspect of salvation that delivers us from the power of sin in this mortal, temporal, fleshly life. Both individually and corporately, we have yet to fully appropriate or “absorb” and then manifest the completed work of atonement. Theologians label this an “already but not yet” truth. It is legally established, but not fully consummated. The matter has been settled.  We have been cleared of all charges, while the convicted remain out on bail for a while longer.  We are fully entitled to possess what Christ has supplied, but we have not done so.  The convicted claim that we can’t.  But we can.

On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest made atonement for himself as well as for the people. Two goats were chosen for the atonement of the people. Lots were cast upon the goats.  One was destined for sacrifice on the altar, the other was declared the scapegoat. The scapegoat went into the wilderness with the sins imputed (ascribed or credited) to it by the Priest – the sins were carried away.  This symbolized a declaration that sin was no longer imputed to the People. They were freed from the sentence of sin and death.  They were acquitted.  As the scapegoat fled into the wilderness, there became a visible symbol that sin was disconnected and removed.

Lev 16:7-10 7“He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD [at] the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 8Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer it [as] a sin offering. 10But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, [and] to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.”

 Michael Heiser sheds light on the second goat (the scapegoat), so designated on the Day of Atonement. He explains that the Hebrew word, “Azazel” can be translated “the goat that goes away.” This translation says that the sins of the people are symbolically carried away from the camp and into the wilderness. Heiser goes on to say it isn’t that simple:

However, “Azazel” is really a proper name. In Lev 16:8 one goat is “for Yahweh,” while the other goat is “for Azazel.” Since Yahweh is a proper name and the goats are described in the same way, Hebrew parallelism informs us that Azazel is also a proper name. What needs resolution is what it means. Azazel is regarded as the name of a demon in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient Jewish books. In fact, in one scroll (4Q 180, 1:8) Azazel is the leader of the angels that sinned in Genesis 6:1–4. The same description appears in the book of 1 Enoch (8:1; 9:6; 10:4–8; 13:1; 54:5–6; 55:4; 69:2). [1]

Heiser points out that in the book of 1 Enoch and others, the rebellious sons of God from Genesis 6 were thrown into the pit or abyss as a prison. Azazel’s home was now in the desert or wilderness, away from holy ground – the realm of supernatural evil. He mentions Leviticus 17:7 in this regard: “So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore” (ESV), and points out the conceptual connection.  Heiser tells us that in the ritual of the Day of Atonement, Yahweh’s goat was the goat sacrificed.  The death of His goat “purges the impurities caused by the people of Israel and purifies the sanctuary. The goat for Azazel was sent away after the sins of the Israelites were symbolically placed on it.”  He goes on to assert, rightly we might add:

The point of the goat for Azazel was not that something was owed to the demonic realm, as though a ransom was being paid. The goat for Azazel banished the sins of the Israelites to the realm outside Israel. Why? Because the ground on which Yahweh had his dwelling was holy. Sin had to be “transported” to where evil belonged – the territory outside Israel, under the control of gods set over the pagan nations. The high priest was not sacrificing to Azazel. Rather, Azazel got what belonged to him:  sin.[2]

Just as the other feasts were fulfilled, the Day of Atonement must be fulfilled in the Church. Purity was emphasized on the Day of Atonement. The High Priest wore linen clothes – a symbol of purity and righteousness. It was a day of fasting, a most solemn day. The high priest’s clothing was changed several times, he bathed five times, and washed his hands and feet ten times. He went three times into the Holiest Place: to offer incense, the blood of a bull, and the blood of a goat. Here, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle and Temple are linked. This Day of Atonement comprises God’s solution to humanity’s universal problem of sin:

Rom 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Therefore, through the Day of Atonement, as it is being fulfilled in the Church, will see itself forsake or “put off” sin completely as it “puts on Christ.” It is the right sort of “put on.”  We enter the Holy of Holies “sprinkled” with the blood of Jesus and the high praises of God. Here the Church is filled with the manifest presence of God, His glory that is, because the Church no longer comes up short or misses the mark.  Sin is eliminated and no longer stands in the way of dwelling with God, that we might inherit the glory of God! (It is at this point that the “not yet” aspect of Atonement becomes the “already”, i.e., a reality) But make note: we will return for another look at the Day of Atonement later.

Gal 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Rom 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

Gal 4:19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.

[1] Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, (pp. 176-178) Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015

[2] Ibid.

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