Jesus and the Atonement Scapegoat

For some readers, the Old Testament (O.T.) contains wrath, wrath, and more wrath; therefore, they conclude that there is little to gain from reading and studying it.  In fact, these same readers view the O.T. narratives as highly problematic in their depictions of God and his character.  There are others who disagree with that view; consequently, these dissenters can be divided into two groups: one sees the O.T. as containing narratives resembling morality plays while the other sees the O.T. as a veiled story about Christ.  Which one is it?

Before proceeding any further, there is one more point to tackle.  Bear with me here as I saunter down this winding path.  The operative words are type, antitype and typology.  When it comes to reading, studying, and interpreting the bible, the word type refers to someone or something in the O.T. that prefigures the antitype or fulfillment in the New Testament (N.T.).  Typology refers to the analysis of the types and antitypes throughout both testaments.  What is the point of wading through this heavy and heady introduction?

At first glance, the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus comes off as nothing more than a tedious account of a sacrifice no longer applicable to Christ’s followers.  In fact, the entire book of Leviticus contains sacrifices no longer relevant to the church due to Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension.  That being said, the title of today’s blog post is not by accident.  Jesus and the Atonement Scapegoat might come off as a play on words; however, it really has to do with type and antiype.  For example, the scapegoat used in the day of atonement as covered in Leviticus chapter sixteen is a type of Christ in the Old, who is the antitype or fulfillment in the New.

From my perspective, Leviticus chapter sixteen is one such place in the O.T. that one may find a type of Christ.  When we speak of Christ’s death on the cross, we use the following descriptive phrases: substitutionary atonement or the atoning death of Christ.  In either case, those phrases refer back to the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, which discusses the sacrifices to be performed by the high priest on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16, ESV).  For the sake of time and space, I will not unpack the bull and ram sacrifices.  Those were performed by the high priest in order to atone for his sin (Lev. 16:1-14, ESV).  My main focus will be on the two goats described as sin offerings for the people (Lev. 16:7-10, 20-22, ESV).

Both of the goats must be male and without blemish, which allude to Christ’s sinless perfection as a man.  The high priest kills the first goat, and uses its blood on the altar in the most holy place (Lev. 16:6-8, 15-19, ESV).  This goat offers the blood of the atonement, which pictures Christ’s shed for his people.  The second goat is sometimes interpreted in various bible translations as the scapegoat.  It takes the place of the people in bearing their transgressions as it is sent out into the wilderness away from the camp (Lev. 16:10, 20-22, ESV).  The second goat serves as a substitute for the people of Israel just as Christ did on the cross outside of Jerusalem’s city walls.  When theologians and ministers use the terms substitutionary atonement, this Levitical sacrifice provides the basis for it.

When the scapegoat bears the iniquities of the Israelites, we have a foreshadowing of Christ’s death securing the complete removal of sin from his people.  Centuries after Moses wrote in Leviticus that the scapegoat would bear the iniquities of the Israelites, Isaiah prophesies to God’s people about a future, suffering servant who would “…make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11, ESV).  Every pastor-scholar and follower of Christ understands Isaiah’s words as referring to our Lord’s atoning death on the cross.  He bore all of the sins of the elect on the cross while making complete atonement for them in his blood.   What is even more astounding is how the Spirit of God reveals this wondrous work of Christ to Isaiah through a seemingly innocuous account of a sacrifice in Leviticus (Lev. 16:7-10, 20-22, ESV).

Before I bring this to a close, there is another O.T. text about God removing the sins of his people.  King David writes the following words: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, ESV).  Some may recognize this line from a hymn sung during worship service.  It is my humble opinion that King David has in mind the atonement scapegoat of Leviticus sixteen.  He sees this sacrifice illustrating the greater work of God atoning for and forgiving the sins of his people.    

Both Isaiah and King David see the atonement scapegoat of Leviticus pointing to something greater than at first glance.  Through the Spirit of God, these men see this sacrifice as pointing to the Messiah and his atoning death.  There are echoes of Psalm 103:10-12 within Isaiah 53:11-12.  No student of the bible should be surprised by this fact.  After all, Jesus explaines to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the entire O.T. reveals who he is and his purpose (Luke 24:27, ESV).  The next time my readers and followers find themselves working their way through Leviticus, ask the following questions: How do these sacrifices and their various elements point to Christ?  In what ways do these sacrifices point to different aspects of Christ’s life and death?                



One thought on “Jesus and the Atonement Scapegoat

  1. […] For more on the atonement as it relates to the Old Testament, feel free to check out my blog post from several weeks […]


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