Leviticus 16 deals with two young goats whose significance has intrigued, baffled, confused, or assured many Bible students, as the case may be. This chapter goes into some detail about two young goats which God commanded the children of Israel to bring to Aaron on the Day of Atonement (the 10th day of the 7th month, Tishri, in the Hebrew or Sacred calendar). The Jews call this holy day Yom Kippur — a day of reconciliation. On this day one goat was chosen by lot to be for the LORD, and the other for the “scapegoat” (Hebrew, Azazel).
Why are two goats needed in the atonement for our sin, and our reconciliation with God?
For most Bible students there is no question that the first goat — which was slain (Leviticus 16:15-19) — pictures Jesus, who was sacrificed on Calvary as “the Lamb of God” who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Some, however, have wondered about the second goat, the one for the “Azazel,” which was loosed or let escape into the wilderness (thus the name “scapegoat”). Did this second goat, the Azazel, represent Christ also — or did it picture the devil?
The argument, accepted by many, for the Azazel supposedly picturing the devil goes something like this:
Satan is the author of sin. Jesus called him the “father” of murderers and liars (John 8:44). The Day of Atonement ceremony, where Aaron or the high priest lays his hands on the Azazel and confesses the people’s sins upon its head (Leviticus 16:20-22), pictures God justly putting back the blame for sin on the head of its originator, Satan. The Azazel being carried away to, then let loose in, a wilderness uninhabited by humans pictures Satan (an immortal spirit being) being locked up in an abyss or bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3). The “fit man” who takes the Azazel to the wilderness pictures that angel who lays hold on Satan, binds him and places him in a bottomless pit, a place of restraint where Satan can no longer influence mankind to sin. The fit man washing his clothes and bathing his body shows that he had had contact with an unclean spirit and needed to wash himself.
Re-examining the roots of our beliefs
The late founder and pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God [WCG], Herbert W. Armstrong, had quite a following from those who took his challenge — as I did [see: About the Author] — to “test [or ‘prove,’ KJV] all things” and “hold fast” what one has proven to be “good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). And the basis for such a test or proof is the Word of God — the Bible — especially where it says: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light [truth] in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
Mr. Armstrong strongly urged everyone to not simply believe what he or any other preacher said, but to prove it from the Bible, and believe what one reads there.
Based on his study of the Bible and other literature, Mr. Armstrong taught that the Azazel goat symbolized Satan the devil, and that the Day of Atonement pictures the time when Jesus will bind Satan and his demons. [You can read about this by clicking on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklet titled “Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days — Which?” — read, particularly, the section on the Day of Atonement. For a more detailed explanation of the WCG’s teaching on the significance of the Day of Atonement, stay on this link, choose “Correspondence Courses,” click on “50-Lesson” and scroll down to Lesson 37. ]
Thus many members of the WCG have accepted this teaching and have stuck to it. Some have even placed all the writings and sermons or messages of Mr. Armstrong on a par with Scripture, and have zealously defended them against any attempts to correct or change them in any way.
Others, however, have taken Mr. Armstrong’s example and legacy of “proving all things” by the Bible, to modify some — or even completely reverse just about everything — of what Mr. Armstrong taught.
Amidst the confusion and disunity that have come to the Church of God today, God’s truth has to be heard and understood rightly! I believe it will take the Spirit of true humility for this to happen, and thereby bring unity to a divided community of believers in Christ.
I had not had much personal contact with Mr. Armstrong except for the several times he visited the Philippines. I had known him mostly through reading his writings and listening to him through “The World Tomorrow” radio and TV broadcast and his sermons on tape or via satellite feed during the WCG’s annual festivals.
However, there was one particular time I heard Mr. Armstrong, in person, say something that tells what was really in his heart when it comes to being true to the Bible and to facts. This happened, as much as I can recall, sometime in 1984 — less than two years before Mr. Armstrong died (1986). I was then with my wife and several other WCG pastors and wives attending the church’s “MRP” — Ministerial Refreshing Program — held at the then WCG world headquarters on the lovely award-winning campus of Ambassador College [later renamed Ambassador University] in Pasadena, California, U.S.A.
Mr. Armstrong took over one of the class sessions in that refresher. I distinctly remember him describing how he had to humbly admit to having been in error in saying that the Hebrew word Elohim was a “uni-plural” word. A Hebrew scholar had pointed out to him that there is no such thing in the Hebrew language — that Elohim is, in fact, a plural word. Mr. Armstrong then concluded his talk by admonishing us ministers to let him know whenever we found that what he spoke or wrote did not line up with the Bible or with the facts. He even told us that if we failed to do that, we were going to hear from him.
Mr. Armstrong had a humbler attitude toward God’s Word than many people give him credit for. Although he finally (with some hesitation for a time) accepted the title “apostle” that some in the WCG ministry were ascribing to him, Mr. Armstrong — as I vividly recall it — did not claim to be an apostle on the same “level” as the original apostles of Christ who directly received revelation from God which has now been incorporated in the Holy Scriptures.
If there was any “revelation” that Mr. Armstrong claimed to have received, it was nothing outside of, or of apart from, the Bible.
To say that God has revealed to Mr. Armstrong everything there is to know about God is to limit the Holy One (Psalm 78:41) — to shorten His hand (Isaiah 50:2; 59:1). To say that all we need to know and understand of God’s Word that has been “closed up and sealed till the time of the end” [of this present age] (Daniel 12:9) had been given to Mr. Armstrong alone — and no one else after his death in 1986 — is to preempt God’s sovereign will!
We humans are way, way, way behind God in knowledge. God has way, way, way much more to reveal to us than we already know! 2 Peter 3:18 tells us to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” God does not want us to stop growing in His vast, vast knowledge!
Israel’s King David, a man after God’s own heart, considered the knowledge of God “…too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). There is just awesomely too much knowledge of God for us to attain to! But by His grace God gives knowledge and understanding of His ways and truth to those who humble themselves before Him and fear Him (Psalm 25:4-5, 8-14).
To say, at any time, that we have everything we need to know about God is actually to bear the same attitude as that of the Laodicean church! Christ rebuked this self-satisfied church for smugly saying, “I am rich, have become wealthy [both in material wealth and spiritual knowledge], and have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). In reality, Jesus sees this church as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” [spiritually speaking] (same verse).
This church has actually thrown Jesus out from its house — and doesn’t know it! Jesus finds Himself outside — knocking on this church’s door (Verse 20)! He tells this church to “be zealous and repent” (Verse 19), and let Him back in to share with them His spiritual meat.
Otherwise, Jesus tells this church: “I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Verse 16). This is a church in grave danger of being severed from the Body of Christ — His spiritual Church — unless it repents of its lukewarm, dense attitude! [See: Laodicean Christians.]
It is up to God to reveal how much understanding of the meaning of the words He has kept “closed up and sealed” — when to reveal it, to whom, and from where. The end of the present age — though hastening on — has not yet come! We cannot presume that God has stopped giving further — and clearer — understanding of obscure and disputable matters in His Word during these end-times since Mr. Armstrong’s death.
We should understand God’s divine prerogative when we look at the story of Jesus healing a blind man, as recorded in Mark 8:22-26. The first time Jesus put His hands on the blind man’s eyes, the man did not see everything clearly all at once. He saw “men like trees, walking.” Jesus then placed His hands on the man’s eyes again, and this second time the man “was restored and saw everyone clearly.” It was not because Jesus did not have enough “power” to heal the blind man the first time He placed His hands on the man’s eyes. It was Jesus’ choice to heal the man’s sight only after the second time Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. [See: The Divine Prerogatives.]
Is Jesus perhaps teaching us a lesson here about how He chooses to open the spiritual eyes of those whom Satan has blinded? Or is Jesus telling us that it is His call as to how much He wants to reveal of His “secret things” (Deuteronomy 29:29) — and when?
Daniel wanted to know the meaning of the words that God revealed to him about the time of the end. God told him: “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Daniel 12:8-9). Daniel was completely in the dark about those things, yet God assured him that he will rise in the resurrection (Verse 13) — at Christ’s return.
While God has, undeniably, revealed a lot of truth in His Word through Mr. Armstrong’s teachings, there are some things that, apparently, Mr. Armstrong could see only vaguely. This not through any fault on Mr. Armstrong’s part, but by God’s choice. Like the blind man who at first mistook the people around for “trees walking,” Mr. Armstrong, for example, mistook the Azazel for Satan the devil.
On what basis did Mr. Armstrong teach that the Azazel represents the devil?
Discussing the Day of Atonement, in his booklet “Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days — Which?” [referred to above], Mr. Armstrong cites the Comprehensive Commentary [on the Bible] and says, “Spencer, after the oldest opinions of the Hebrews and Christians, thinks Azazel is the name of the Devil” [emphasis mine].
Without really looking deeply into the ramifications of the view that the Azazel pictures Satan the devil, Mr. Armstrong unquestioningly used the “lens” which Mr. Spencer offered. Mr. Armstrong thus saw Bible passages about the devil, and related scriptures, as supporting this view. As we will see, that lens has given a blurry image of what or who the Azazel really represents.
Other Bible commentaries have a different view, which I and others share [see the other box below]. In this article on the “Two Goats” I present ample evidence from the Scriptures, and from sound reason (God invites us to engage in it, Isaiah 1:18), to support this alternative view.
Were Mr. Armstrong still alive today, and were he presented this evidence in a calm, humble, and respectful manner, I believe that he would have listened well, checked the evidence in the Bible, and — as he had taught his readers and listeners — he would have believed, not what mere humans say, but what he would read in that Book. And he would have changed the church’s doctrine accordingly, as he did with certain doctrines after sound evidence was presented to him.
The fact that God has not revealed some obscure things until the very end of this age shows them to be non-essential to our salvation. It has been said that “The plain things are the main things; the main things are the plain things.” However, people can be quite belligerent in their defense of what, to them, is plain and what is main. Nevertheless, Jesus promised that, in His own time, “I will tell you plainly about the Father” (John 16:25). Jesus is in full control!
Jesus chooses whom He will send, in His name, to tell those whom God is calling to salvation in this age, more plainly about the Father. It is up to everyone to prove — by their fruits — that those who claim to have been sent by God indeed are genuine and true! [See: Beware of False Prophets and About Pool of Siloam.]
Daniel did not understand those things God had hidden from his knowledge, yet God has assured him of his salvation. Mr. Armstrong based some of his views of those things, on human opinion or speculation, and — like the blind man who mistook men for trees walking — Mr. Armstrong spoke and taught as he saw some things: “darkly” or “dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Jesus did not rebuke that blind man for his fuzzy view of the people before him the first time. Jesus placed His hands, compassionately, on the man’s eyes the second time, and the man saw the people clearly — “in high definition!”
God will judge people on the basis of what He has given them — not what He has not given them — to know, understand, and put into action in life (Luke 12:47-48). God, I am sure, will show more mercy to Mr. Armstrong than a lot of people think he deserves!
But once God has removed the lid from His words which He has “closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9), it is up to the hearer or reader to accept that uncovered knowledge. Otherwise, God warns us: “Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you…” (Hosea 4:6)! How reminiscent of Christ’s words to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:16)!
Mr. Armstrong set the example of being willing to change when God’s truth was clearly proven to him. Psalm 55:19 says, “Because they [David’s enemies — like God’s enemies as well] do not change, therefore they do not fear God.” God might well withhold His mercy from those who do not fear Him (Psalm 103:11). [See: Can We Fear and Love God at the Same Time?]
Jesus told Pilate that He had come to “…bear witness to the truth. [Jesus said that God’s word is truth, John 17:17.] Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37).
While the symbolism of the Azazel seems to fit the devil to a T, it is time we explored another angle in understanding this enigmatic Azazel. As I will explain, several scriptures show that it is more appropriate that the Azazel should rather picture another aspect in the atoning work of Christ.
Here, among others, is why, and how this is so:
1. The man who lay hold on the Azazel and let it loose into the wilderness, and the other man who carried the slain goat to a place outside the camp and burned it there — both these men had to wash their clothes and bathe their bodies afterwards, as the high priest did (Leviticus 16:26-28, 23-24). All these three men were dealing with the same “contaminant” — sin, or uncleanness because of it — which both goats carried.
We cannot just jump to the conclusion that the man who handled the Azazel goat had to wash because he had symbolically touched the devil. This conclusion simply stems from the presumption that the Azazel pictures Satan the devil. It does not necessarily follow that the Azazel represents Satan, a spirit being that could not die like mortal men, just because the goat was not slain.
As I will explain, this goat let loose would better represent the resurrected Christ as the Son of God.
2. Isaiah 53:4-12 shows that Jesus — not Satan — has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Verse 4)… the LORD has laid on Him [not on Satan!] the iniquity of us all (Verse 6)… He [not Satan!] shall bear our iniquities (Verse 11)… He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Verse 12).” These verses can well be pictured by the Azazel, upon whose head the high priest confessed all the people’s sins and which would “… bear on itself all their [Israel’s] iniquities to an uninhabited land…” (Leviticus 16:21-22).
The passage in Isaiah 53 also pictures Christ, the Son of Man, as symbolized by the slain goat: He was “… stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Verse 4) … wounded for our transgressions … bruised for our iniquities (Verse 5) … led as a lamb to the slaughter (Verse 7) … cut off from the land of the living (Verse 8)… poured out His soul unto death (Verse 12).
3. 1 Corinthians 15:17 says, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile, you are still in your sin.” Here the apostle Paul is boldly saying that Christ’s death alone does not fully atone for the sin of all mankind! Christ’s resurrection is necessary for the full forgiveness of our sins!
If Christ had not resurrected from the dead, He would have been merely the Son of Man and could not have been the Savior of all men. If Jesus had been merely a human being, His death would have paid for the sin of only one other man, much like the story of the innocent man, in Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, who volunteered to be hanged instead of the convict.
Jesus was resurrected to prove that He was not just an ordinary man but in truth the very Son of God. As Paul wrote: “…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).
Paul also wrote: “It [righteousness] shall be imputed to us who believe in Him [God the Father] who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up [to be crucified] because of our offenses, and was raised [resurrected] because of [or for] our justification [being made “just” or righteous, cleansed of sin]” (Romans 4:24-25).
The apostle Peter affirms this where he writes that we Christians have “…the answer of a good conscience toward God [because now cleansed of sin], through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Christ’s resurrection completes our atonement for sin!
4. Leviticus 16:5 gives God’s command to take “two kids of the goats as a sin offering” — one seamless offering — not two disparate offerings! It cannot be that one kid would represent Christ and the other kid another Savior. There is only one offering and one Savior from sin! The two goats represent the dual nature of Christ — He was both the Son of Man and the Son of God. As the Son of Man, Jesus was the Lamb slain for the forgiveness of all the sins of mankind.
As the Son of God, Jesus could not be kept by the grave (Acts 2:23-24, 27, 31)! God purposely prepared Jesus’ body (Hebrews 10:5) so that Christ being the “Holy One,” His body would not suffer “corruption” or decomposition. He was resurrected precisely to prove He was the Son of God, and through His resurrection, as 1 Corinthians 15:17 shows, His atonement for our sin is complete!
5. The Azazel goat was let loose into the wilderness. Satan, however, is going to be chained (“bound”) and imprisoned — locked up (“shut up”) in an abyss (Revelation 20:1-3). These are two opposite situations!
We should know this distinction from Jesus’ words to Peter, in Matthew 16:19 — “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” To “bind” is not the same as to “loose.” And Jesus did not say, “What you loose on earth [such as the Azazel goat] will be bound in heaven” [as Satan, who will be bound in an abyss, a non-physical place of restraint not on this earth]!
As an immortal spirit being, Satan will continue to exist — whether he is bound or loosed. To say that the Azazel’s being “loosed” into the wilderness pictures Satan being led to live forever where no man lives, is to deny the plain testimony of Scripture — that Satan will be bound for a thousand years until he is released [“loosed”] for a season or “a little while” (Revelation 20:3, NKJV). Let us not confuse the two pictures!
If Satan is going to be shut up, who then is the one pictured by the Azazel goat that is “released” into the wilderness, an “uninhabited land” (Leviticus 16:22)?
As “Sin-bearer,” our resurrected Savior has “removed our transgressions from us” — to where? “… as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). How far is the east from the west? No one can really know. As the saying goes about the east and the west, “… neither shall the twain meet.” Who knows where the east or the west begins and ends? Anywhere on the globe there is an east and a west. The east-west configuration is infinite. By contrast, the north and south poles are definite, permanent points (the word “polarize” means to split into two different, opposite segments or camps).
Christ removes and carries away our sins to an uninhabited place like a wilderness — a kind of “no man’s land” (Job 38:26), like the non-locatable distance between the east and the west!
God asked Job if he knew “Where is the way to the dwelling of light [where the sun rises — in the east]? And darkness [where the sun sets and night begins — in the west], where is its place, that you may take it to its territory, that you may know the paths to its home” (Job 38:19-20)? Of course, Job didn’t know, and this made him speechless before God (Job 40:4-5).
Micah 7:19 puts a different spin on where our Savior takes our sins away to: “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Like the wilderness, the depths of the sea are also no place for us humans, in our natural air-breathing state, to live in or inhabit.
Once Jesus has borne away our sins, the devil’s work as “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10) is finished (Romans 8:1, 33-34).
If, then, the resurrected Jesus is symbolized by the Azazel, which is sent off into a wilderness where no humans live, some have asked: wouldn’t this contradict the purpose of Christ being the “Immanuel” — “God with us?”
The Azazel goat remaining in the wilderness primarily pictures the resurrected Christ taking away mankind’s sin to where no man or devil can find the sin anymore. The Azazel does not picture where the resurrected Christ went afterwards. However, in Leviticus 14 we find a parallel to the Azazel in the clean bird which is also let loose to fly up to the sky, picturing Christ’s ascension to heaven. [See more on this below, under the headings “A forerunner,” “Water and blood,” and “The sprinkling.”]
After Christ had bodily ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-11), He fulfilled His promise to His disciples to imbue them with power through His Spirit (John 16:7 Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). Acts 2 shows how Christ fulfilled this promise. His Spirit being now with and in His disciples, Jesus is “God with us” to them, in Spirit. This way Jesus is able to fulfill His promise to them: “… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Christ’s victorious return (pictured by the Feast of Trumpets, which precedes the Day of Atonement) brings Jesus’ personal, bodily presence before and among mankind. He will be “God with us” to the glorified saints and to the mortal human subjects in the kingdom of God which He will bring to earth — and that forevermore! The Day of Atonement need not picture this again. [See: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 3, the box on “Watch the time lines!”]
Neither does the Day of Atonement picture Jesus being offered again for the atonement of the rest of mankind. The day merely gives a flashback on what Christ had already done — once for all — His death as pictured by the Passover, and His resurrection as pictured by the wave-sheaf offering, for the complete atonement for the sin of all of mankind [see: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1 and God’s Feast and the Jews — Part 3 ]. Also, see more explanation on Christ’s sacrifice once for all, below, under the heading “Jesus rightfully honored as the Way of our Atonement.”
6. The Jews have traditionally taken the Azazel to represent a malevolent or evil spirit. And most Bible students have unquestioningly followed that tradition, heedless to what God tells us, through the apostle Paul, that we be “… not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth” (Titus 1:14).
This tradition most likely stemmed from the “Book of Enoch,” which is an “apocryphal” book that has circulated among the Jews and other religious communities. “Apocrypha” means “hidden writing” and refers to books not inspired by the Holy Spirit and are therefore not a part of the authorized Scriptures. The Book of Enoch declares the Azazel to be the fallen angel Lucifer. This perception has been carried over to later times, as when the English poet John Milton makes a similar reference, in his “Paradise Lost,” to Azazel as a fallen spirit.
A notable exception
Most Bible commentaries believe that the Azazel represents Satan. One notable exception, however, is Adam Clarke’s Commentary, which says this of Leviticus 16:7:
The two goats made only one sacrifice, yet only one of them was slain. One animal could not point out both the divine and human nature of Christ, nor show both His death and resurrection, for the goat that was killed could not be made alive. The divine and human natures in Christ were essential to the grand expiation; yet the human nature alone suffered, for the divine nature could not suffer; but its presence in the human nature, while agonizing unto death, stamped those agonies, and the consequent death, with infinite merit. The goat therefore that was slain prefigured His human nature and its death; the goat that escaped pointed out His resurrection. The one shows the atonement for sin, as the ground of justification; the other Christ’s victory, and the total removal of sin in the sanctification of the soul. [Emphasis mine.]
This impression of the Jews about the Azazel representing the devil may have, in fact, foreshadowed their attitude toward Christ and the Source of the power which He manifested in the miracles He did. The Jews did not understand, much less believe, that Jesus had come from the Father and that He spoke as the Father taught and commanded Him (John 8:23, 28).
After Jesus told the Jews that they were not of God but rather of their father, the devil (John 8:42-47), they retorted: “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon” (John 8:48; see also Verse 53)? When the Pharisees heard about the miracles of healing done by Jesus, they remarked: “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24).
Interestingly, the Jews for some time had kept a Day of Atonement tradition of having the Azazel goat taken by an assigned man (usually a priest) to a steep mountain and, instead of letting the goat loose into the wilderness as God commanded, the man pushed the goat down the cliff “… so high and rugged that before the goat had traversed half the distance to the plain below, its limbs were utterly shattered” (from The Jewish Encyclopedia, article “Azazel”).
Is it merely a coincidence that the Jews in Nazareth tried to do this very thing to Jesus? After hearing what could be taken as His “inaugural speech” as the prophesied Messiah, the Jews “were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him [Jesus] out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff” (Luke 4:29). Since it was not yet His time then to die, Jesus escaped from their midst (Verse 30).
Some Bible students believe that this incident occurred during the Day of Atonement, in a year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-10), when “liberty throughout all the land” is proclaimed to all its inhabitants — just as Jesus proclaimed that day (Luke 4:18-21). Thus, the Day of Atonement also pictures the liberty that Christ will afford to the rest of unsaved mankind from their bondage to sin and Satan’s sway.
7. Because the unbelieving Jews looked on Christ as a mere human being — and an evil and demonic one at that — they have also disbelieved that Jesus as the Son of God was indeed resurrected from the dead. Notice this account in Matthew 28:1-7, 11-15 —
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb [where Jesus’ body had been laid]. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay…. Now while they were going, behold, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the [Jewish] elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them [the Jews], ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
It is no great wonder that the disciples made the resurrection of Jesus Christ a vital part in their preaching of the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2:30-36; 3:14-15, 26; 4:10; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 1 Peter 1:3, 21; 3:21-22, etc.).
8. The Jewish view of the Azazel as representing an “evil spirit” — or Satan the devil himself — would perhaps make some sense when we consider the Biblical testimony that Jesus, as our Savior, took our sins upon Himself through His death on the cross.
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 — “For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
This is a profound mystery, the full meaning of which God will surely reveal more clearly in the future. It shows, however, how our God indeed loves sinful mankind so much that He was willing for His only begotten Son to become sin for us so that — as we believe in Him — we can be forgiven of our sins, become righteous, and have everlasting life (John 3:16). Grateful hymns describe such love of God for sinners as “amazing” and “wondrous” — simply awesome, beyond words and human comprehension!
- Galatians 3:13-14 — “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law [the curse of death because of our sin or disobedience to God’s law that defines righteousness], having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,’ [quoted from Deuteronomy 21:23] that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
- John 3:14 — “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
The references here, to Christ being cursed by hanging on a tree and being “lifted up” like that enigmatic bronze serpent which God instructed Moses to cast and suspend on a wooden pole, deserve a closer look. John 12:32-33 explains that by being “lifted up from the earth” Jesus meant “by what death He would die.” All four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) narrate about Jesus’ death by crucifixion, as most of the world knows. The cross on which Jesus died was made of wood, which of course was from a tree.
The story about the serpent being lifted up by Moses in the wilderness goes back to the time when the children of Israel complained about their lack of food and water as they wandered in the outskirts of the land of Edom (Numbers 21:4-5). “So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died” (Verse 6). The Israelites who survived the plague confessed their sin and asked Moses to pray that God would take away the venomous snakes from their midst.
After this, the LORD told Moses: “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” Moses made such a serpent of bronze, “and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Verses 8-9).
The Bible pictures Satan as “that serpent of old” (Revelation 12:9; Genesis 3:1-15). He is the “father” of sin who has led his human “children” (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10) into a life of sin and disobedience resulting in their death (Ephesians 2:1-3). It is therefore mighty baffling that Jesus would claim Himself to be represented by that bronze serpent on the pole!
In light of the preceding scriptures, it makes sense that Jesus as the Son of Man being “lifted up” [that is, hung on a tree or stake] is pictured by that bronze serpent hung on a pole. He hung on the cross in order to heal and keep alive those “bitten” by “that serpent of old,” Satan. Jesus — not Satan — is our Healer!
By becoming “sin for us” as pictured by that serpent on a pole, Jesus has taken the blame that should be Satan’s, so that we who look to Jesus and come to faith in Him can be healed of sin’s deadly sting (1 Corinthians 15:56; Hebrews 12:1-2), and live forever. As the apostle Peter said: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed [bitten or stung!] by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).
So enigmatic had the bronze serpent been that it became a snare to Israel. By the time of their King Hezekiah, the Jews had misused the image for idolatrous worship, offering incense to it and calling it “nihushtan” [a “bronze thing”]. The righteous king had it broken in pieces (2 Kings 18:4).
This, perhaps, is why the identity of the Azazel goat has also been so enigmatic! Does the Azazel represent the devil, or Christ? Hopefully the preceding, and the following, explanations make it abundantly clear that the Azazel pictures none other than the resurrected Jesus Christ Himself!
9. That the Azazel was represented by a goat and thus had to be wicked and cursed has been deduced by some from what Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-33, 41 —
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory, all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left …. Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Here Jesus pictures the “cursed,” those who will be cast into “the everlasting fire” with the devil and his angels, as goats. The suggestion that since the Azazel is a goat, and therefore pictures the wicked Satan, however, forgets the fact that the other beast that was killed [whose lot was “for the LORD”] was also a goat! The book of Numbers, Chapters 28 and 29, consistently stipulates that “one kid of the goats” is to be offered, during the new moons and the annual feasts of God, as a “sin offering, to make atonement” for the sins of the children of Israel.
Both the slain goat and the Azazel goat picture Jesus as becoming “sin for us” whom God wants to save from death. God was with Jesus even in His death so that His body would not suffer corruption (Acts 2:27, 31), and He rose from the dead to prove His being indeed the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4) and Captain of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10).
10. Some have based their conclusion (that the Azazel goat has to represent Satan the devil) on the statement in Leviticus 16:8 — “Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat.” The thinking is: if one lot fell on the goat “for the LORD,” who could “the other lot for the scapegoat” be but for the devil? And that is because, based on unexamined Jewish tradition, the Azazel has been presumed — without solid support of the Scriptures — to be representative of Satan.
When we understand the preceding explanations, in numbers 8 and 9 above, we will see that the lots were to determine, simply, which of the two goats would be slain, and which one would be let go alive. This shows the distinctness of the two phases of Christ’s atoning work through this one sacrifice.
The goat chosen to be “for the LORD” represents Christ sacrificing Himself by the wounds inflicted on His body and by the blood He shed on Calvary in order to ransom sinners from death. The goat chosen “for the scapegoat” [Azazel], to be let loose, thus represents the resurrected Christ, who has taken to and upon Himself the sin of the entire world — sin which Satan has stirred up in all of mankind, but which now Christ bears away and removes to “an uninhabited place,” as explained in number 5, above. [See: The Ransomed of the LORD.]
The following discussions will explain further about God’s true intent for the Azazel goat.
Two chapters ahead of Leviticus 16, in Leviticus 14, a quaint ceremony is described in connection with “the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing” (Leviticus 14:1-2) as well as the cleansing of a house with a “leprous plague” (Verses 33-34, 48). This ceremony is obviously a precursor, and very much related, to the ceremony concerning the two goats. It, in fact, clarifies God’s intent for the Azazel goat!
In both leprous cases, a similar ceremony is undertaken by the priest on behalf of the healed leper and the owner of the house healed of a leprous plague. Here the priest required both to take “two living [and] clean birds…” (Leviticus 14:4, 49). Presumably those clean birds would be turtledoves or similar sacrificial birds (Leviticus 5:7, etc.).
Like the two goats of Leviticus 16, the two birds undergo a similar ceremony: one bird is killed, the other is let loose (Leviticus 14:5-7, 50-53). There are, however, different details in the ceremony with the birds that are very much descriptive of Christ’s sacrifice and Christ’s role as our High Priest who has gone on to heaven as our Intercessor with God the Father. As mentioned earlier, Isaiah 53:12 describes Jesus as our Sin-bearer who is able to “make intercession for transgressors.”
Water and blood
In both ceremonies with the birds, the first bird is “killed in an earthen vessel over running water” (Leviticus 14:5, 50). As the bird is killed, its blood joins with the water in the earthen vessel. It is interesting that John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, wrote this about our Savior: “This is He who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood” (1 John 5:6).
Jesus came as both the Son of God [begotten by the Holy Spirit and power of “the Highest” (Luke 1:35; John 3:16) — God the Father, whose Spirit is symbolized by water, John 7:38-39] and the Son of man [who had blood, like all mortal, air-breathing men] in “an earthen vessel” — a mortal body and therefore subject to death. It is also interesting that, when one of the soldiers pierced the crucified Christ’s side with a spear, “…immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34). Although begotten by the Holy Spirit, Jesus as the Son of Man poured out His life at death, as evidenced by the “blood and water” that flowed from His side.
The Protestant hymn “Rock of Ages” celebrates this wondrous event for mankind’s salvation from sin:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Now, notice this curious detail about the other bird: “As for the living bird, he [the priest] shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it [the blood with the water] seven times on him who is to be cleansed from leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field (Leviticus 14:6-7).
A similar ceremony is prescribed for the house cleansed of a leprous plague, to “make atonement for the house” (Leviticus 14:51-53). This ceremony, in both cases, is picturing the work of the risen Christ as the Son of God who has now ascended, like that loosed bird, to heaven with His own shed blood, to resume His office as the eternal High Priest in God’s heavenly sanctuary.
As sinners, all human beings have become in a sense spiritually “leprous” — spiritually unclean — in the eyes of God. We need Jesus, now back in heaven as our High Priest, who takes His own blood to sprinkle on us sinners and on our household — the Church of God — in order to make us spiritually clean, cleansed of our guilty consciences (Hebrews 7:23-25).
Christ’s work as High Priest who sprinkles His own blood to cleanse sinners as well as God’s heavenly sanctuary is described in Hebrews 9:11-14, 23 —
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect [heavenly] tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? …. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens [the earthly tabernacle and the services therein as copies of the heavenly] should be purified with these [the blood of calves and goats, Verse 19], but the heavenly things themselves [the heavenly sanctuary and its appointments (are purified)] with better sacrifices [that is, Christ’s] than these.
This work of Christ, now done in the heavenly sanctuary, is pictured by the high priest who took the live bird, dipped it (together with the scarlet, hyssop and cedar wood) in the blood of the slain bird, and sprinkled it on the leprous person or house to be cleansed. [We will come up later with an article concerning the meaning of the scarlet, hyssop and cedar wood in this ritual.]
Through this sprinkling of our hearts by Christ’s blood, we are cleansed from “an evil conscience” and, our sins being atoned for, we can approach God’s heavenly throne boldly, in prayer, and have full assurance that we are heard (Hebrews 10:19-22).
The apostle Peter understood that God’s people have been elected “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2).
It would indeed be strange (even weird!) if the live bird — as the parallel to the Azazel goat — were to symbolize or represent the devil. Would God take the devil, dip him in Christ’s blood and use him to sprinkle Christ’s blood on sinners or on a sinful community of believers — and then let him loose? No way!
All the more there is reason to believe that the live bird which is dipped in the blood of the slain bird pictures the resurrected Christ, who brings with Him back to His Father’s heavenly throne His own “blood” [more in the symbolic rather than literal sense] and, as eternal High Priest, to sprinkle that blood upon sinners in atonement for their sin.
Did the high priest picture the resurrected Christ?
Another aspect in the celebration of the Day of Atonement is the role of the high priest. As a sinful human, the high priest (of Aaron’s line) had to offer a bull as a sin offering to atone for himself (Leviticus 16:11). He also killed the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell as a sin offering for the congregation of Israel to atone for their sins (Verses 9, 15, 16). The high priest then laid hands on the live goat on which the Azazel’s lot fell, confessing on it all the sins of the children of Israel before the goat was let loose in a wilderness (Verses 21-11).
In the case of a healed leprous person or a leprous house, the high priest did a similar thing with the two clean birds (Leviticus 14) as he did with the two goats as atonement for their uncleanness. The difference, besides the kind of animal offered, in this case is that the live bird is dipped in the slain bird’s blood and the blood is thus sprinkled on the leprous person or leprous house (Verses 5-7, 50-53) before the live bird is let loose — and it flies away into the sky.
A distinction, then, needs to be made between the sacrifice and the priest who administers the sacrifice. While He walked this earth as the Son of Man, Jesus did not take the office of a priest — let alone a high priest. Jesus came as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Notice Hebrews 8:3-6 —
For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One [Jesus Christ] also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests [of the order of Aaron] who offer gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as when Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. [For] He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
Later, in Hebrews 9:11, we read (in the NKJV): “But Jesus came as High Priest of the good things to come…” The word “came” is from the Greek paragenemenos, which is better translated as “having become.” Through His sacrifice and resurrection, Jesus has become the High Priest that He has always been — with a difference: He now has with Him His shed blood as the slain Lamb of God, and is now back in the heavenly sanctuary to be our Intercessor with the Father with regard to our sins.
It should be made clear that the High Priest Melchizedek who ministered to Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20) was the LORD of the Old Testament before He became the human Jesus of the New Testament. [See: The Mystery of Melchizedek Unlocked.] Since God established the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood in Israel, Melchizedek’s being High Priest on earth was temporarily set aside, although Melchizedek remained as the High Priest in God’s heavenly sanctuary or temple. [See The True Christ.]
Hebrews 7:24 says of Christ: “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood” — the priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, who continues forever as High Priest (Verses 11, 21) by “the power of an endless life” (Verse 16) — and who ministers, not in an earthly sanctuary (as the Levitical priests did), but in “the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Hebrews 8:2) — the heavenly sanctuary or tabernacle.
The Levitical priesthood was merely “a copy and shadow” of Christ’s everlasting priesthood. Because Christ was sacrificing Himself as “the Lamb of God,” it had to be another — and human — high priest to administer His sacrifice. And so we read, in John 11:49-52 —
And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man [referring to Jesus] should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
Not only did the high priest that year prophesy Jesus’ death; he also presided, as high priest, over Jesus’ death! He plotted Jesus’ death by using a mob of Jews to cause the Roman authorities to execute Jesus by crucifixion (John 18:14, 28 – 19:16, etc.). Thus, Jesus died as a Son of Man and was resurrected as a Son of God — not as a High Priest! Jesus never vacated that heavenly office of High Priest (“a priest forever,” says Hebrews 7:21, quoting Psalm 110:4) according to the order of Melchizedek who has “the power of an endless life,” who did not die, and who therefore needed not be resurrected!
The goat that was slain and the goat that was let loose [the Azazel] more appropriately picture the death and resurrection of Jesus as God’s means of atonement for mankind’s sin.
When will Satan be bound?
There’s no question at all that Satan will be bound with a great chain in the “bottomless pit” or “abyss” (Revelation 20:1-3). And once he and his demons are put away (Jude 6), along with all the wicked people on earth (Satan’s “sons of disobedience,” Ephesians 2:2), there will be great peace and joy on earth. As Proverbs 11:10 says, “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.”
When spiritual Babylon — Satan’s greatest “agent” on earth today — is finally judged at Christ’s return, God’s people will rejoice! God commands them: “Rejoice over her [Babylon], O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her” (Revelation 18:20)! [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
But when will Satan be put away?
Christ’s return to “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18) is pictured by the Feast of Trumpets. Jesus’ coming again will be heralded by the seven trumpets detailed in Revelation 8 through 11. The seventh, and last, trumpet will unleash the “seven last plagues” that will completely subdue all of the enemies of God — chief of whom is Satan (whose name means “Adversary”). Revelation 18 and 19 describes Christ’s victory over Satan’s earthly sway through Babylon the Great.
Because Satan’s being bound is described in the next chapter (Revelation 20:1-3), many have easily concluded — and thus have based on this their firm belief — that that binding of Satan has to take place after the event pictured by the Feast of Trumpets. That is, partly, how Satan has become a major figure in the celebration of the Day of Atonement in many, if not most, churches.
Is this what God intended the Day of Atonement to commemorate? Had we remembered what Jesus said about how to plunder a house, we would have gotten our timing straight! Notice what He said, in Matthew 12:29 —
Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. [See also Mark 3:27 and Luke 11:21, etc.]
In context, Jesus was here talking about how Satan’s kingdom [over the earth now] will no longer stand. Jesus will first bind Satan before He “plunders” Satan’s house — Babylon the Great. [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”] In actual fulfillment, then, Revelation 20:1-3 will precede the events in Revelation 18 and 19. While the book of Revelation, in general, follows a chronological order of events, it has a number of inserts and flashbacks such as this one in Revelation 20.
For example, the “two witnesses” are mentioned in Revelation 11, as though their ministry will take place after the seven trumpets, with their plagues, are blown (Revelation 8:7-13, etc.). It is the more likely situation that these witnesses will begin their 3-1/2 years of prophetic ministry during the “Great Tribulation” (referred to in Revelation 12:12 as the devil’s “great wrath”) and will extend their ministry all through the blowing of the six trumpets (almost fully comprising the “seventh seal,” Revelation 11:15, etc.; 15:1-16:21), until they are killed by the “Beast” just 3-1/2 days before Jesus appears as the seventh and last trumpet is sounded, to resurrect or change His saints to glory and to take over the kingdoms of this world to Himself (Revelation 11:11-15, etc.).
There are 10 days between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:24, 27). If, as believed by many, the ceremony of the high priest laying hands on the Azazel goat and the “fit [or suitable] man” bringing the live goat into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement pictures Satan having the sins of mankind confessed on his head and afterwards being bound by an angel in a “bottomless pit,” why would it take God 10 days to do this? What would God be waiting for? Does He not have enough power to subdue His enemies even in just one day?
In fact, Revelation 18:9, 19 says that Babylon — symbolic of all the wicked human systems of this present world, under Satan’s sway — will be made desolate “in one hour!” That means desolation in short order! Romans 9:28 assures us that “… the Lord will make a short work upon the earth!” As explained earlier, Jesus will need to bind Satan first before He will “plunder” — destroy — Satan’s “house,” his kingdom!
There are those who propose that the “Day of Trumpets” may not be one literal day but one year in fulfillment. They base this on the Biblical prophetic principle of “one day for a year” (Numbers 14:34). Would it, then, actually take God 10 years after Christ returns before He will bind Satan? That would simply be ridiculous!
Why would Jesus allow Satan and his demons to still run loose for 10 years while He is beginning to set up God’s kingdom on earth? This wouldn’t make sense at all! Besides, if Satan would still be around for 10 years before he is bound, that would mean that he would be bound for only 990 years — not a full 1,000 years — as Revelation 20:2 plainly states!
An interim period
If indeed there will be 10 years between the time Christ returns and the actual event pictured by the Day of Atonement, it would appear more reasonable to suppose that that length of time would be devoted to “mopping up” a horribly devastated earth. After the great tribulation that a wrathful Satan brings upon the earth’s inhabitants (Revelation 12:12; 7:14; Matthew 24:21) and the seven last plagues of God, Jesus and His glorified saints will need to build new houses for the human survivors, build new — and sounder, non-earth-destroying — infrastructures to make life more pleasant, productive and secure for all as Christ begins His initial 1,000-year rule. Isaiah 58:12; Ezekiel 36:10 and other scriptures foretell about the great restoration that Christ’s government on earth will effect immediately.
There won’t be any Satan and his cohorts to disturb that restoration work. There won’t be a repeat of what happened to Zerubbabel when he was restoring the ruined temple at Jerusalem while the enemies of the Jews did all they could to stop the work (see story in Ezra 4).
Nor will Satan and his demons lurk around while Christ is restoring the earth, beginning at Jerusalem, as the enemies of the Jews kept hindering the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership (see story in Nehemiah 4-6).
Quite possibly, it would be during the initial years of Christ’s reign that a new temple will be built in Jerusalem, as prophesied in Ezekiel 40-46. Then, as true worship is restored in Jerusalem, Jesus can begin in earnest the work of atoning for the sin of the rest of mankind that have not been given their chance to be saved. [See: Predestination, and The Temple in Ezekiel 40 – 48.]
Atonement not dependent on Satan being put away
If God has to wait until Satan is put away in order for the sins of mankind to be totally atoned for, one has to ask: “Are not true Christians already at one with God now, in our time — while Satan is still around?” The apostle Paul said that a true member of the Church of God becomes “… joined to the Lord [and] is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17) — that is, now — not at some yet future time!
Yes, Satan and his demons will be put away, and the whole earth will experience peace, joy and abundance as never before. But Satan’s being bound is not the basis for the sins of all mankind becoming “atoned for.” Only the shed blood of Christ and His resurrection can make possible that atonement, as we have explained earlier, concerning the two goats.
Let’s not give Satan more credit than he deserves!
When all human beings during and after Christ’s 1,000-year reign will have truly accepted Jesus as their Savior, they will receive the same Spirit of Christ that will unite them with God and with His glorified children, with other human beings, and with the whole of creation. God’s Spirit will then have been poured out fully on all flesh, as Joel 2:28-29 prophesies. When all will have received God’s Spirit, they will all finally become “at one” with God!
With Satan’s momentary release — what happens to our atonement?
If, as has been assumed by many without serious proof from the Bible, mankind’s full atonement for sin depends on Satan being put away, what then becomes of this atonement when, as Revelation 20:3 prophesies, Satan will be “released for a little while” at or towards the end of the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign on earth with His saints?
With Satan’s release, will the atonement for the sins of those saints who will rule with Christ, and of those millions of converted human beings all through the millennium of Christ’s reign, somehow receive a sudden break? Will the atonement suffer some setback? Will the atonement somehow unravel? Will the atonement somehow even become abrogated? Certainly not!
Like with the other arguments involving Satan in our atonement for sin, building a doctrine on assumptions without genuine proof from the whole counsel of God’s Word and from facts will end up in absurdity! As a Bible teacher quipped, when we assume things without solid proof, they will — sooner or later — make an ass of u and me!
If there is going to be a break in mankind’s being “at one” with God when Satan is released at the end of the 1,000 years of Jesus’ reign on earth, it will be in the relationship between the last generation of human beings at that time, and God. But this will have happened well before Satan is released. This is how it may happen.
A possible scenario
This last generation of mortal human beings will have experienced the culmination of a wonderful millennium of Christ’s reign that is going to bring about such unimaginable peace, joy, and prosperity on earth as mankind has never experienced before. A “utopia” that has eluded mankind for the past millennia of human history will then have come true! [See: “The Next Chapter of History.”]
That generation will have enjoyed a near-perfect environment, with virtually no concept of Satan and his demons as real spirit beings. With Satan and his minions securely locked up in some dark prison, this last generation of human beings will have only heard about Satan as some shadowy character in Bible narratives or from personal accounts of experiences with Satan and his demons by the children of God who will be resurrected or changed to glory at the time of Christ’s return and shortly thereafter. These last-generation humans will not have had any personal and actual experience with Satan and his demons who, during the entire 1,000-year reign of Christ, will be “grounded” — unable to influence mankind as before.
We might compare the condition of these last-generation humans to that of Lucifer as, originally, one of the covering cherubs at the heavenly throne of God (Ezekiel 28:12-17, compared with Isaiah 14:12-15). Lucifer was perfect in wisdom and beauty while serving God in that perfect heavenly realm. But being “lifted up” because of his beauty, Lucifer thought to unseat God from His throne. But Lucifer underestimated the supreme power of God. Because of Lucifer’s “iniquity” God removed Lucifer from his exalted position and cast him down to earth. Lucifer has then become God’s enemy — now called “Satan” the devil. [See: Where Did Satan Come From?]
At the end of the 1,000 years of Christ’s rule, these last-generation humans — numbering in the multiple millions (“whose number is as the sand of the sea,” Revelation 20:8) — will think to overthrow Christ from His earthly throne, as Lucifer and his angels had attempted to unseat God from his heavenly throne eons before. Satan’s brief release at the end of the millennium to deceive these humans will, conceivably, give them the mistaken notion that they can succeed in their rebellion. But their idea will not go far! This horde of human rebels will instead be devoured by fire which will quickly come “down from God out of heaven” (Revelation 20:9).
The Bible does not reveal the ultimate fate of that generation. But we would hope that, in His abundant mercy — and through an indelible show of His sovereign power to humble them — God will bring these rebels up in the resurrection after those 1,000 years, along with all the dead people who had never received the saving knowledge of Christ in their lifetime (Revelation 20:5). This latter group of human beings will be comprised of those who, in their previous lifetime before Christ’s reign, had lived in a world ruled by Satan and his demons. After they are resurrected, they will be able to give further personal witness as to what damage Satan had done in their lifetime. [See: Predestination. and This Is not the Only Day of Salvation.]
After that brief time given to Satan to deceive the last of the millennial generation of human beings, it would seem that God will quickly return Satan and his demons to their spiritual prison house. Many millions of those in the resurrection after the 1,000 years will have seen how Jesus, at His return with His Spirit-army, will mightily destroy Satan and his wicked “children,” among whom they were or will have been numbered.
Thus humbled, these human beings will receive God’s Spirit so they can understand and accept the true gospel of Christ, repent, be baptized for the remission of sins, receive God’s Holy Spirit to beget them as God’s spiritual children. During that undefined period of judgment for all these human beings (Revelation 20:5, 11-12) it would seem that Satan will be returned to his place of restraint. These human beings will have had Satan’s influence in their previous lifetimes. In this judgment period, without Satan to hinder them, God will mercifully make it easier for these human beings to accept the true gospel and be saved — as it will have been all through the millennium of Christ’s rule. In God’s time they will also receive everlasting life. And so God’s will that not “any should perish but that all should come to repentance and be saved (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4) will be completely fulfilled.
We would hope that, after every single human being will have received his or her fair chance to truly know God through Jesus Christ, only a very, very small minority of incorrigibly wicked humans will be thrown into the lake of fire, to be condemned to the “second death” (Revelation 20:13-15; 21:8).
Is Satan author — or father — of sin?
As mentioned at the start of this article, the belief of many is that the high priest’s laying hands on the Azazel goat and confessing on it all the sins of Israel supposedly justly puts back the blame for all the sins of mankind on the head of Satan as the supposed originator or “author” of sin.
But, just what do we mean by Satan being the “author” of sin?
Did Satan somehow cook up “sin” by himself, as though he were the “inventor” of the concept or idea of “sin” — without God knowing anything about it? Was God totally clueless about there being an opposite of His perfect, righteous, and holy way? Was God so completely naive about what evil Lucifer was hatching in his mind and heart that God was totally “floored” when Lucifer attempted a “coup” against God’s rule? Did Lucifer, now Satan, put one over God — leaving God stunned and wondering how all this could have happened?
To even suggest this is to make God out to be less than all-knowing and less than sovereign and all-powerful! Not even Satan would suggest that! In fact, he enticed our first mother, Eve, into eating the fruit of the forbidden tree at Eden, by saying that by doing the act God had forbidden, she would have her eyes opened and she would “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
As sovereign Law-Giver, God has the absolute prerogative to decide or define what is good and what is evil, and to require that all of His creation follow and live by that standard — or else reap the consequence of disobedience, or receive the reward for obedience. How did God find “iniquity” in the “king of Tyre” [symbolic of the archangel or cherub Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:11-15)] if God had not had a prior standard by which to judge that He found iniquity in that previously “perfect” cherub? Wouldn’t God have had “iniquity” already defined way back then? [See: No Walls, No Ceiling? The Great Wall, and The Divine Prerogatives.]
If, as assumed by many, Lucifer and his angels were created as “free moral agents” [that is, beings with free moral choice], they had to have a choice between two opposite standards: the way of good and the way of evil. Otherwise, if there was only the way of good and no other choice, why even call Satan and his angels “free moral agents?” They would be no better than automatons or robots that could only do what their maker bids them to, and nothing else.
The same can be said of man being created as a free moral agent. The one big difference between God, on the one hand, and Satan and his demons and mankind, on the other, is that God has not ever violated His own standard of good and evil. God does not do so, will never do so, and can never do so (Titus 1:2; 1 Peter 2:21-22; Isaiah 54:9)! That is why God is holy. He is set apart as different from any and all there is. As the theologian Paul Tillich put it, God is the “Utterly Other.” And we are to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16). [See: “Be Holy, for I Am Holy.”]
As a free moral agent, Satan chose the way of evil instead of God’s righteous way. He was the first, in all of creation, to follow the way of evil — the way of sin. Herbert W. Armstrong simplified those two ways as “the way of get” versus “the way of give.” Satan led a third of God’s angels in that path of “get” — disobedience to and rebellion against God’s way of “give” (Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9). Satan also succeeded in getting our first parents to sin by disobeying God’s then one prohibition at Eden.
Paul says that “…through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Thus all human beings have become Satan’s “sons of disobedience” — “children of the devil” (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 3:10) — until God brought many of them out of that bondage. Jesus called Satan the “father” of all murderers, liars (John 8:44) — and all manner of sinners, we might add. [See: Are We All God’s Children?]
God consistent with His principles
Since God calls Satan the “father” of sinners, God is going to judge Satan the way God has shown in His Word. In both Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 we see that God will not punish the fathers for the sins of their children, and vice-versa:
The soul [mortal man] who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
Satan will suffer judgment for his own sin or guilt. God will not lay on him the guilt of Satan’s “children” — the entire sins of mankind, Satan’s children. Yes, Satan will have to answer for his own sin and for having enticed mankind to sin. On the other hand, as a free moral agent man cannot put the blame for his own sinful decisions and behavior on Satan. Man will have to answer for his own choice to sin. Man cannot forever hide under the excuse, “The devil made me do it!”
Thus, it is contrary to the testimony of Scripture to assert that God will place on Satan’s head the blame for the sins of the whole of mankind. As our Savior, Jesus has taken that blame upon Himself. This might seem “unfair” to God and to Jesus, but it is this very “unfairness” that saves us from sin! No one else but Jesus is worthy to pay the ransom for our sin and thus free us from the penalty of death that our sin requires (Revelation 5:12-13, 9). [See: The Ransomed of the LORD.]
Besides being bound or chained in an abyss for a thousand years, afterwards Satan will be released for a little while, as we have mentioned earlier. Revelation 21:8 also says that after that release, Satan will be cast into a “lake of fire” where the “beast” and the “false prophet” had been cast. [See also Matthew 25:41.] Will this fire “destroy” Satan, who is an immortal spirit? God does not tell us how He is going to destroy Satan. Beyond that, the Bible tells little else about Satan’s fate.
We cannot presume what the ultimate judgment on Satan — and on his demons — will be. But this one thing we should be clear about: Satan’s being bound belongs, deservedly, with the Feast of Trumpets — the day of Satan’s defeat! — and not with the Day of Atonement. God will not drag Satan into a prominent place in the worship by God’s people on the Day of Atonement all through the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign, and beyond!
The apostle Paul, under inspiration of the Spirit and by revelation of Jesus, says about the future work of the saints of God: “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3) — a yet future event. Together with God, the glorified saints — collectively (en banc!) — will decide, at the end of the ages, what to do with Satan and his demons. Till then, it is prudent that we not presume to judge what Satan’s ultimate fate will be. Any judgment we propose today would not only be premature — it would be pure speculation and could even be damnable heresies!
Paul exhorts us, rather, to judge ourselves now so we won’t be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31)! Paul also tells us: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness…” (1 Corinthians 4:5). [See: Why Is the “Unpardonable Sin” Unpardonable?]
Jesus rightly honored as the Way to Atonement
Jesus — not Satan — is our Savior from sin, having worked our full atonement for sin through His shed blood and His resurrection. Jesus alone deserves this honor and glory! He is not going to share that honor and that glory with anyone who claims to be another “god” (Isaiah 42:8) — as Satan has been considered the “god of this age [or world]” (2 Corinthians 4:3). The LORD of the Old Testament, who later became the Jesus of the New Testament [see: The True Christ and Peter Knew “The Holy One“], says: “I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11; see also Isaiah 45:21-22).
As mentioned earlier, the Day of Atonement does not picture Jesus being offered again as a sacrifice for sin after He returns to earth (which latter event is pictured by the Feast of Trumpets). Hebrews 9:28 (as do Hebrews 7:27; 10:10, 12, 14; Romans 6:10; and 1 Peter 3:18) assures us: “… Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.” And that took place during the Passover day in the year that Jesus was crucified, back in 31 A.D.
As the Passover is a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel and the Church of God in this age (Exodus 12:9), the Day of Atonement is also a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and Christ’s resurrection from the dead in order to atone for the sins of the rest of mankind.
This act of God through Jesus Christ is forever to be remembered as the way God has shown His infinite love for all of mankind. Jesus will use this love as a “banner” (compare with Song of Solomon 2:4) to invite the human beings during His 1,000-year reign and afterwards, to the banquet or supper celebrating His marriage as the Lamb of God to His “bride” — Israel and the Church of God (Revelation 19:6-9). Jesus spoke about this “wedding” in His parable in Matthew 22:1-14. [See: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1 , the section on “The Passover and the Jews” and The Four Dimensions of Christ’s Love.]
This invitation to that marriage feast, then, is what the Day of Atonement truly pictures — not the putting away of Satan! What a happier and more savory picture as a call to reconciliation — oneness — with God!
Proper wedding attire
In that parable about the “wedding feast” (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus shows that His invited guests should come in proper “wedding garment” (Verses 11-12) or else they would be turned away. What could that garment symbolize?
Revelation 19:8 says that to Christ’s bride or wife is “granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (NKJV). “Righteous acts of the saints” is a misleading translation from the Greek original, “dikaiomata…ton hagion” — which is better translated as “righteousnesses of the Holy One” (as in Acts 3:27). The people of God are not cleansed or justified from sin through their “righteous acts” but by faith in Christ’s sacrifice, whereby the righteousness of Christ is thus imputed on the forgiven sinner (Romans 4:1-12) [also see: God’s Spirit and Obedience and Law Added to Law Transgressed].
When we are clothed with the righteousness of the Holy One — Jesus Christ — it will be as if Jesus Christ Himself has clothed us, and God the Father sees Jesus as that righteousness in us. Thus Paul tells Christians: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 13:14). Jesus calls everyone who is weary and heavily-laden with sin to come to Him and : “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle [KJV, “meek”] and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
“Putting on Jesus” thus also means being “clothed with humility” (1 Peter 5:5-6), just as Jesus was “lowly of heart” — humble. Jesus said: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted [changed!] and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, 4).
By His purpose and design, God has commanded that His people fast — do without food and drink — on the Day of Atonement to demonstrate this attitude of humility before God (Leviticus 23:27, 29, 32). Like a child who is completely dependent on his or her parents, we are to humbly realize our complete dependence on God the Father for our life in this world — and in His kingdom.
Interestingly, the Jews have the custom — fittingly — of reading the book of Jonah on the Day of Atonement. This book tells the story of the reluctant prophet who finally preached repentance to the Assyrian city of Nineveh or else its citizens would suffer God’s dire punishment. The city’s leader heeded the message and called on everyone to put on sackcloth and fast — including their livestock. God looked favorably on their humility and repentance, and spared the city.
Does fasting on this day picture everlasting life?
Some have suggested that fasting on the Day of Atonement pictures the immortal state of the saved, since then they will no longer need food and drink to survive.
This may sound like a fitting depiction, but when we consider that the festivals of God picture God’s step-by-step plan of salvation, we will see that the timing of the above view is off! When we consider that the resurrection to immortality occurs at Christ’s return, we will understand that this is pictured by the earlier Feast of Trumpets — not the Day of Atonement! 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 declare that this momentous event will take place at the sounding of the “last trumpet” — not 10 days later, on the Day of Atonement!
The Day of Atonement, rather, pictures God’s work of saving more human beings after Christ will have set up God’s kingdom on earth. All through the first 1,000 years of that reign, and after that period, all “unsaved” people will be given their chance to receive the saving knowledge of Christ and His Spirit. [See: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.] But, as explained in the above section on “Proper wedding attire,” they would need a child-like, humble attitude in order to avail themselves of that grace. That is what fasting on the Day of Atonement pictures.
The Feast of Tabernacles and The Last Great Day picture the bountiful “harvest” of souls saved during that period. It is then, after they will have shown spiritual fruit ready for harvest, as God will judge, that they will be changed to immortality — much like true Christians remaining alive at Christ’s return will be so changed (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
After the worldwide devastation brought by the Day of God’s Wrath, the show of God’s awesome power would produce a humble heart in those whom God will preserve as mortals who will become subjects of Jesus as He begins His reign on earth. The many who will harden their hearts at this show of God’s power, even blaspheming God and not repenting of their sins (Revelation 16:8-9, 10-11, 17-21) will be destroyed and will await their chance of salvation after the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign (Revelation 20:5) [see: Predestination].
Nothing could be more appropriate to picture that “at-one-ment” — the unity or oneness — between God and regenerated mankind than the marriage relationship of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His “Wife” (the Church of God, the true “Israel of God,” Galatians 6:16; Genesis 2:24). And the “gate pass” or “ticket” to the “wedding banquet” is a humble heart, made possible by Christ through the power of His Spirit.
That atonement can only happen because Jesus Christ has come to cleanse sinners of sin, which has separated mankind from God (Isaiah 59:2). Through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection — and God’s imparting Christ’s Spirit on them — all of mankind [by a broad majority] can and will finally be fully reconciled — and at one — with God!
Two goats together!
Thus it should be evident that, as the death of Christ and His resurrection go together in order to atone fully for the sins of mankind, so both the goat that was slain and the goat that was let loose (the Azazel) go together to complete the picture of Christ’s saving work!
Let us thank God for His wondrous love for all of mankind through His Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God and our Risen Savior! And let us strive, with “all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love… to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace …. till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature and fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:2-3, 13)!
God help us!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.