Category Archives: Theology

Substitutionary Atonement: A Response, Part 2

Before I post the long overdue part 2 on the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus, I want to continue to address some comments that I’ve received, along with their responses.  I’m not doing so as a way to attack the comments, but instead as a teaching moment.  It often takes a lot of effort to counter every point of an objection in a biblical way and in a way that answers it thoroughly, so instead of it being in the comments, it seems more edifying to devote entire posts so as to make it more readily available.  In doing so, both you as a reader and I as the blogger, can work through the arguments and objections that are often presented when dealing with the substitutionary death of Christ.  Before reading, it may be helpful to review A Survey of the Cross: The Atonement, Part 1 and also Substitutionary Atonement: A Response to gain a background for the discussion below.  I’ve filtered through some of the personal shots to present only the relevant portions of the comment and again the commenter is anonymous.  Below are the comments directly related to the post Substitutionary Atonement: A Response.

You have just written a book. It would take a book to respond to that. Allow me to refer you to one–the Holy Bible. As far as quoting verses, don’t be tedious; my response was between me and you, and you know what I am referring to, and you know I am speaking from the Bible.

Really, it all comes down to the definition of the word “for.” You assume it means “in the place of.” If I say “she sang for me,” does that mean I was suppose to sing, but she took my place, or does it mean that I needed to hear a song and she sang it to meet that need? The Bible reveals which “for” is used. We still die spiritually and physically. No substitution there. What we do not have to do if we receive Christ is face the Great White throne judgment and be cast away into the lake of fire. Penal substitution would have had Christ face final judgment and be cast into the lake of fire. He was not; therefore, no substitution there.

The Bible’s “for” is the later “for” in the analogy. We are unrighteous and unworthy of resurrection. Jesus is the resurrection–the the righteousness and the justification. There is the substitution. There is no justification for our resurrection except that we who believe belong to Christ, and God righteously restored us to Jesus for His sake. We are the subjects of His kingdom. This is not the moral influence theory. This is no theory at all. It is simply the story in the Bible.

Thanks again for the comment. Let me see if I understand what you’re saying.  The heart of your argument is that Jesus did not suffer the punishment that sinners deserved and in that respect He was not a substitute, i.e. substitution, penal, or otherwise.  Instead, because of His sinless perfection He obeyed the law where we could not and solved the unrighteousness problem that sinners have.  When we trust in Jesus we are given His righteousness, which allows us to escape judgment and punishment.  Is that an accurate summary of what you’re saying?

A few points of clarification, first the reason that I made the comment in my last response about a lack of biblical references is because that is the sole basis from which one’s theology should flow.  And by doing so it allows Scripture to simply speak for itself in an applicable manner.  Without Scripture references, it becomes nothing more than an opinion or feeling.  Tedious?  No, it’s necessary.  As for posting the response, it was submitted in the comments section of the blog, not via personal communication.  If I were to allow the comment to be published it would’ve been in the public domain anyway, so as such I’ve chosen to devote more space and attention to it for the sake of learning and teaching.

To the reply, at issue is the use of “for” in your analogy, “she sang for me”.  It absolutely could mean that she sang as your substitute.  “She sang for me…because I was unable to sing.”  Do you see how the meaning of “for” changed given additional context?  This is why context in the Bible is so critically important and as we’ve seen in the passages I’ve cited it is precisely this substitutionary context that is provided.  More to come on the use of “for” in response to other comments. 

You said “We still die spiritually and physically.”

I don’t understand what you’re saying here.  Believers in Christ do not die spiritually.  Though prior to Christ they spiritually dead because of their sin (Ephesians 2, they are made alive through the regeneration or rebirth of the Holy Spirit (See Ezekiel 36, John 3, Titus 2). The Sinner’s Conversion: Regeneration for a more thorough discussion.

Having said that, let’s again review some verses from Scripture rather than make assumptions or come to conclusions on our own. 

Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”

What was this curse that Christ became?  If He was only a righteous substitute then surely there would be no need for Him to be cursed, right?  The Apostle Paul is stating clearly here that we, i.e. believers, were cursed because of our failure to meet the requirements of the law.  Elsewhere in Colossians 2:13-14 he states, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  Then he concludes back in Galatians 3:13 that Christ has redeemed us from the curse [of the law] that we were destined to by becoming a curse for us.  If I am sentenced to a punishment of death and someone takes that sentence for me, then they have become my substitute.  This is precisely what Jesus did on the cross!  He took the punishment deserving of sinners upon Himself, thus satisfying the justice of God and upholding His righteousness.  For God to leave sin unpunished is for Him to disregard His own justice and holiness, a blasphemous statement indeed!

Secondly, let’s look again at Romans 3:25 “Whom God put forward as a propitiation by blood, to be received by faith….”  This passage I used in context to relate to the Levitical Atonement.  Note that propitiation here is the Greek word hilasterion agreeing with its use in Hebrews 9:5 and likewise relating to the mercy seat as seen in Leviticus 16.

1 John 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sin and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

2 more verses each using the word propitiation, but what does this word mean?  I omitted some of the comments recommending I use a good dictionary, so as requested, from Easton’s Bible dictionary we learn the following:

“In 1 John 2:2 & 1 John 4:10 Christ is called the “propitiation for our sins.”  Here a different Greek word is used (hilasmos).  Christ is “the propitiation,” because by his becoming our substitute and assuming our obligations He expiated our guilt, covered it, by the vicarious punishment which He endured.”

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Word’s rightly takes it one step further by saying the believer’s sin and guilt was not merely covered, but removed. 

[Propitiation] is never used of any act whereby man brings God into a favorable attitude or gracious disposition.  It is God who is “propitiated” by the vindication of His holy and righteous character, whereby, through the provision He has made in the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice of Christ, He has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins.  Man has forfeited his life on account of sin and God has provided the one and only way whereby eternal life could be bestowed, namely, by the voluntary laying down of His life by His Son, under Divine retribution.  Of this the former sacrifices appointed by God were foreshadowings.

The Blue Letter Bible Lexicon notes that hilasmos (propitiation) is an appeasing.  What could there possibly be to appease other than the justice, or better stated, the wrath of God?  God’s wrath towards sinners who place their faith in His Son has been satisfied through the propitiatory death of Jesus, thus making Him both just AND the justifier of those who believe. (Romans 3:26)

But note what the dictionary is saying regarding the definition of propitiation.  We must understand that even by definition the word propitiation is two-fold, one removing the guilt from our sin, i.e. expiation, and two a substitutionary sacrifice by which He suffered the punishment due to sinners who believe in Him thus appeasing God’s wrath. 

If I ever make it to part 2 of this study, part 3 will be fully dedicated to understanding the propitiation of Christ, and then specifically how this all connects back to the introductory lesson from Leviticus.  In the next response post, we’ll look at the suffering servant passage from Isaiah 53.

To God be the glory.

Substitionary Atonement: A Response

And here I thought a discussion on Limited Atonement would spark objections.  Apparently any discussion on the nature of Christ’s atonement, specifically as it pertains to His substitutionary atonement is sure to bring out the objectors.  Since it required a lengthy response that was related to part 2 of the post, I decided to publish the comment anonymously with the response.  It’s significant to note that not 1 Scripture reference is made to support any of the claims.

From the comments on A Survey of the Cross: The Atonement , Part 1:

It seems rather obvious that the atonement was not substitutionary in the sense that Jesus took our punishment in our place. He was not our penal substitute, but our righteousness substitute, if you will. Hebrews seems to make it clear that, in the ceremony, Jesus is represented by both the priest (Son of God; mediator) and the goat (Son of Man; likeness of sinful flesh) that is slain. The goats in general represent man.

Jesus offered the sacrifice on behalf of the people–all of them. The atonement was for everyone. Only those, however, who identified with the slain goat, go into the presence of God with the priest. Those who do not are identified with the goat that bears the sins and is sent off into the wilderness. The Jews identified their salvation in the goat that carried the sins into the wilderness. They were wrong, as evidenced by the fact that they did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

The Passover is the image of our escape from judgment. It is from man’s perspective, and we see Jesus as a lamb going to slaughter. The Atonement is our reconciliation with God. It is from God’s perspective. The only people (goats) he sees is the goat he chose–Jesus Christ. Our only access to heaven is that goat; our identity in him. He sees the priest and the sacrificed goat. Jesus was not our substitute in punishment. He was our substitute in righteousness. We must be sacrificed with Christ (the image of baptism–buried and raised with him). The deal was we sin, we die. That happens. The deal with Jesus is not that we don’t die, but that we avoid the “but after this, the judgment.” Jesus died the “first death” so that we could avoid the “second death” that comes with judgment. That is the Passover. Jesus’ righteous, sacrificial life along with the sacrificial death is the atonement; it is the justification the Father needed to resurrect man. He is justified resurrecting perfect Jesus, and he is justified raising those who belong to Jesus (those who surrendered their lives to him and made him their Savior and Lord) and restoring them and the rest of the kingdom to Jesus, just as he restored everything to Job, who is the picture of that.

I am hoping this truth is reflected in your “Part 2.” It really is disturbing reading all the messed up theories on line. The Bible is pretty self-explanatory.

Thanks for the comment.   Though you point out some truths, they seem intermingled with a lot of confusion or at best an incomplete view of the atonement.  It would seem that the majority of your response is a product of eisegesis, or reading into Scripture.  Hebrews does not infer that the goats from Leviticus 16 represent man nor is there any suggestion in the Levitical atonement that it was for everyone.  In fact, just the opposite, clearly stating that it was for “the people of Israel”, not any other nations (Leviticus 16:16, 21, 34).  The definite article “the” in front of “people” denotes it is a specific group of people, i.e. Israel.  One can’t create a parallel for universal atonement where it doesn’t exist in the passage.  I would argue on this basis that the parallel to the atonement of Jesus would likewise be “limited”, but that discussion for another day.    Additionally, there is no need to make distinctions between 2 groups of Jewish people who’ve identified with a particular goat offering as this destroys the definition of a propitiatory, atoning sacrifice, but more on that in a minute.

I don’t mean to be rude or overly disparaging, but I must take issue with your response for several reasons, primarily being because it is a blatant denial of the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ.  This is unsurprising, given the nature of this belief particularly within liberal theological streams, but likewise because the post to which you are replying has not yet made the connection between the Old Testament atonement as outlined in Leviticus and Christ, other than a brief look at the definition of atonement as provided by multiple sources.  So you’ve made a quantum leap in your assumptions from the very start and provided your own interpretation as to what “Part 2” of the atonement discussion should say.  But to the point, a denial of Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement is quite simply a smack in the face of the orthodox Christian belief, but more importantly it is a failure to recognize the central truths of the Gospel.   It would seem (though I am open to correction) that your belief draws in part from the “Moral Influence of Atonement Theory” that would align itself as a polar opposite of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

That aside, let’s look briefly at what the Bible has to say about Christ’s substitution beginning with John 11:50 as Caiaphas, the high priest, prophesies of Jesus’ death, “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  Note he says here, “for the people”, which is nothing if not substitutionary language.  Even if we were to examine the Greek word “for”, hyper, we would still see the definition as being “for the sake of” or “on behalf of”, which would do little to alter the substitutionary meaning.  Another such passage that speaks to the substitutionary nature of atonement is Romans 5:8, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Again we see the same language of dying in place of or as a substitute.  Why would there be any need for Christ to die “for us” if death were not the requisite punishment for sin?   The Apostle Paul gives a gospel summary for us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 utilizing again this same language , “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried , that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

I suspect your objection has less to do with the word “substitution”, as indicated in your statement of Christ as a “righteous substitute”, and more to do with what kind of substitution Christ made.  To answer this we need look no further than Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”  Here we see that Christ redeemed His people from the curse due to them because of their disobedience to the law and became a curse Himself.  Again note this is substitutionary language, “becoming a curse for us”.  But what of this curse?  Is this some sort of voodoo witchcraft curse that was due believers?  Not all, the curse is none other than the justice of God poured out through His wrath as the eternal punishment due to sinners.  The infinitely worthy Son of God endured the wrath of God due to His people and by His blood satisfied or appeased the wrath of God towards all those who have ever or will ever believe.  This we see as typified in the slain goat of Leviticus whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat as a propitiation or “atoning sacrifice” to appease the wrath of God (more on propitiation in upcoming posts).  In actuality the blood of this goat did nothing to remove or atone for sinners, but instead was a typification or foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice of Christ which was to come (Hebrews 10:4).    

Secondly from our levitical system outlined in the post, we see a “scapegoat” being mentioned.  While you seem to make an eisegetical mistake by reading in a distinction made between the Jewish people who identified with one “goat” or the other, the passage from Leviticus is quite clear, that BOTH goats were required for the people of Israel.  One group did not pick a goat to be slain for them while another group picked a goat to take away sin.  No both are necessary, the satisfaction of God’s wrath and the expiation or removal of sin, thus the definition of propitiation. I will grant that the Bible does not tell us what becomes of this scapegoat, other than it is set free, so my “implication” that it too would die goes too far in its inference, as we are only told it is lead to the wilderness (Leviticus 16:22).  As Charles Spurgeon asserts , the death of the first goat represents the substitutionary death of Christ and upon completion of that, the effect was the removal of sin, which we see typified in the scapegoat.   As a side note it should be mentioned that nobody other than the high priest entered into the “presence of God” as you say.  As part of his priestly duties he made intercession to God for the people.  Likewise, as we’ll look at in upcoming posts Jesus fulfills the role of High Priestly intercession by not only prayer, but through the mediation of the new covenant.  It may sound like semantics but it is not with Christ that believers enter the presence of God, but through Christ.

If Jesus was only a righteous substitute then there would have been no need for His death.  He simply could’ve lived perfect and imputed that sinless nature to believers.  Instead His life of perfect obedience was necessary as well as His substitutionary death.  If as a substitute Jesus did not pay the penalty that was owed to sinners, then that debt is left to be paid and we’ve not only assaulted the meaning of atonement, but subsequently Christ the Redeemer and the ransom paid, .  The sins of believers do not magically disappear without a just payment, namely death, and in the believers case that was fully satisfied in the death of Christ.  As Hebrews 9:22 emphatically states, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.”  Jesus’ atonement, as a blood sacrifice, had to both satisfy God’s wrath AND remove sin, thus completely reconciling the sinner by faith to God.  In doing this, God was able to be both “just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” Romans 3:26  There is a penalty to be paid for sin and we can either pay it ourselves or look to the One who paid it for us.  We cannot simply pick and choose which parts of the atonement appeal to us because we like or dislike various aspects and then use other typifications of Christ’s death (i.e. Passover) to prop up our views.  Although the atonement will never be fully understood this side of heaven, rest assured “Christ died for sinners, of whom I am chief.”

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18

A Survey of the Cross: The Atonement, Part 1

Recently I finished a book written by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence entitled, It is Well – Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement.  This book peaked my interest because nearly a year ago I began to think deeply about what the Bible has to say regarding Christ’s accomplishments on the cross, namely the work of Christ.  This interest came about as I wrestled with what many call the Doctrine of Limited Atonement, or perhaps more accurately described as Definite Atonement/Particular Redemption. 

Maybe you, like me, have always been taught a summarized version of what Jesus did on the cross, that He died for “our” sins and maybe even a common verse like Romans 5:8 or John 3:16 was used to express that idea.  While these passages are absolutely true in their assertions, we must remember their context and realize that there is more to the story.  To our discredit, many of us have developed what I call a “tract-theology”, sadly resulting in a truncated Gospel as well as a misunderstanding and misapplication of Scripture.    

Because of this, it seems to me that very few of us professing Christians are able to articulate the Gospel, much less talk intelligently about the cross of Christ, and I count myself among that number.  Since it is the central tenet of our faith, it seems reasonable to me that we should all be aware, at least on an introductory level, of what the Bible has to say about this.  When we biblically examine the nature, intent, and actuality of the work of Christ it magnifies God in our lives and opens up His glory to be put on display through us, essentially making Jesus a forethought instead of an afterthought.  Perhaps one reason why so many professing Christians have been classified as “nominal” is because they lack knowledge concerning the foundation of their faith and have become too comfortable worshipping a small God who saves through an even smaller cross than the ones most wear around their neck.

That being said, I’d like to devote several posts to these thoughts as we search through Scripture, to unfold the glorious nature of the cross.  Instead of just hearing “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” a saying most of us have heard since childhood and are likely numb to, maybe if we actually took the time to understand what the Bible said it would not only humble us, but magnify the Lord in our lives.

For today, let’s simply begin with the word Atonement.  The Oxford English dictionary defines it as, “as the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ.”  In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, he prefers to define it as including the “life and death” of Jesus, which alludes to His obedience in life as well as on the cross.  Sufficient for our discussion today will be the ESV Study Bible definition of, “The making of enemies into friends by averting the punishment that their sin would otherwise incur.”  The Bible defines this punishment in a two-fold manner: 1) The wages of sin is death, primarily in an eternally spiritual sense (Romans 6:23), but also physical death as a consequence of the Fall. Genesis 2-3. 2) The wrath of God.  The Bible makes clear that unrepentant sinners will suffer in Hell under God’s wrath for all eternity. (Romans 2:5, Revelation 6:10-11, 14:10).  So there is something that Jesus did on the cross which provided an “atonement” or a turning away of the punishment, namely death and God’s wrath in hell for eternity, that somebody deserved.

No true biblical study of the atonement of Jesus would be complete without looking at the historical nature of this action, particularly as God defined for the Israelites in Leviticus 16.  As we’ll see, this liturgical practice was actually a foreshadowing of Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  The following passage is long, but take the time to read it carefully:

The Day of Atonement

 1 The LORD spoke to Moses after(A) the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died, 2 and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments.  He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

 6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel.  9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

 11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

 15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

 20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

 23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

 29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the LORD commanded him.”

If you’re like me, you may have either never read that passage before or never realized its significance, which is too often the case with Old Testament passages.  Nevertheless, there is a ton of information packed into this chapter.  First, let’s note that atonement shows up in verse 6, as Moses is instructed to tell the High Priest, Aaron (his brother) the very precise nature of his duties, beginning with the sacrifice of a bull for his own sins.  Next Moses is to tell Aaron to cast lots over 2 goats, essentially flip a coin, resulting in one being the sin offering and the other for Azazel, an unusual Hebrew word that can be thought of best as referring to the “scapegoat”.  The Oxford Dictionary defines this familiar term as, “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.”  In short, Aaron has two goats, one for a sin sacrifice and the other to be released upon the “transfer of sin” to it as the “scapegoat”.

While there is a lot of significance in verses 11-14, let’s skip ahead to verse 15-16 where we see Aaron’s duty was to sprinkle the blood of the bull (his offering) and the blood of the goat (sin offering for the people) on the mercy seat.  It’s likely this looked something like the picture to the right and we first learn of what the mercy seat is in the following passage from Exodus 25:17-22

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”

Returning to our passage in Leviticus, we’ll next look at verses 20-22 as we see the fate of the second goat, which we’ve already identified as the “scapegoat”.  Here Aaron is instructed to lay his hands on the live goat in order to transfer or “impute” the sins of the people of Israel onto it.  Then the goat is sent off into the wilderness with the idea being that it has taken away the sins of the people to an area outside of the camp of Israel with the implication that it too will die.

Summarizing the biblical historicity which we’ve looked at so far we see that the atonement contains several components.  First, Aaron, the high priest, made atonement for himself and his house through the blood of a bull.  Next, he made atonement for the people of Israel through the blood of a goat sprinkled on the mercy seat.  Finally, we read of Aaron placing his hands on the scapegoat as a transfer or imputation of the sins of Israel onto the goat as it was lead outside of the camp into the wilderness.

Lord willing, next time we’ll look at how all of this relates to Christ’s own atonement.