by David C. Grabbe
So far, this series of articles has contended that identifying Satan as the fulfillment of the goat of departure originates with extra-biblical sources, overlooks Scripture’s consistent statements about the responsibility for sin, discounts the principles and requirements of the sacrificial system, and ignores the finished expiatory work of Jesus Christ. Leaping over these foundational planks, some conclude that the azazel and the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3) are linked.
However, as shown previously, the stated purpose of Satan’s binding is to curtail his deception of the nations throughout the Millennium. It will be a temporary—albeit lengthy—measure, but it will not be final justice or the true solution to mankind’s estrangement from God. Nothing in Revelation connects Satan’s binding with any sort of expiation of sin.
Not a single scripture shows that Satan is the author of all human sins, an idea based on the “Book of Enoch” and human reasoning. In spite of Satan’s influence, each person is still responsible for his own sins. Satan will pay the penalty for the sins he has committed, and with His own life, Christ has already paid for the sins of those who accept His sacrifice. As Hebrews 10:18 declares, there is “no longer an offering for sin” (emphasis ours throughout). The role of the azazel—the second part of the Atonement sin offering—has already been fulfilled!
Asserting that Satan is the author of humanity’s sins gives rise to the claim that mankind cannot be “at one” with God until Satan is out of the way. Part of the confusion has arisen because the word “atonement” can be separated out into “at-one-ment.” Regrettably, this linguistic feature often leads to a wrong conclusion about the meaning of the word.
The primary meaning of atonement is “expiation”: “to provide legal satisfaction, such that guilt is removed, and the obligation of punishment is paid.” It can include cleansing, forgiving, pardoning, purging, and covering. The effect of atonement is that two formerly estranged parties are brought back into agreement—they are “at one”—because the controversy between them has been legally satisfied.
The focus on the Day of Atonement is the means of atonement, which Satan’s binding cannot legally achieve. It will neither remove mankind’s guilt, nor lift the curse of the law. Regarding the separation between God and man, that gulf can only be bridged through the atonement God provides through Christ.
The idea of man and God becoming reconciled through Satan’s binding also overlooks the fact that during the Millennium, the Devil will be unable to influence anyone—yet people will still be sinning. Will the defanged Satan still be the cause of their sins? Will humanity be unified with God just because Satan’s broadcast stops?
On the contrary, during Jesus’ final Passover, He repeatedly returned to the themes of peace, unity, and oneness with God, all of which are possible with Satan still on the loose. All this occurs through Christ’s work, mainly through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Humanity can become “at one” with God only through the Son, not merely by keeping the evil one at bay.
Also, if Satan’s binding were the actual solution to human sin, then all sins committed after he is loosed would remain unatoned. Will the people who arise in the second resurrection put their faith in Satan’s prior binding—trusting that it would provide expiation for their sins, too—or will their object of faith be Jesus Christ?
Satan, however, is not the factor keeping us separate from God—our sins are (see Isaiah 59:1-2), which Satan cannot cause us to commit. What hinders mankind from being unified with God is the presence of sin rather than the presence of Satan. Jesus Christ alone supplies the solution to sin.
Atonement for the Nation
If Satan’s removal is not what the Day of Atonement pictures, is there still a future fulfillment, something that relates to the plan of God? These articles have shown that Christ’s work of paying for and removing sin is already complete—as Scripture puts it, He “sat down” after finishing the work of expiation. For those who have received His atonement, then, the Day of Atonement memorializes all that He has done in fulfilling the ritual in Leviticus 16. However, this superior atonement has not yet been universally applied. To see what lies ahead, we will first return to the instructions in Leviticus 16.
Within them, there is a clear emphasis on atonement being made for the nation of Israel, seen in repeated collective terms like “congregation,” “people,” “children of Israel,” and “assembly.” Throughout the year, an individual could make sin offerings for unintentional sins, but on this holy day, the high priest made a sin offering for himself and then one for the whole nation. (These offerings only covered unintentional sins; under God’s covenants, no sacrifice covers presumptuous or willful sin. See Leviticus 4:2; 5:15; Numbers 15:22-30; Hebrews 10:26-29.)
Leviticus 16:1-2 provides essential context for everything else that takes place in this ceremony:
Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died; and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.
This preamble to the instructions reflects on the failure of the priesthood, represented by Aaron’s sons. The event in question took place in Leviticus 10, but God uses it as a starting point for the annual cleansing and removal of sin. Thus, God’s instructions begin with a reminder of how the priests had incurred His wrath due to their careless approach.
Recall that God instituted the sacrificial system because of Israel’s failure in general; it was added to the Abrahamic covenant “because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19). God says something similar in Jeremiah 7:22-23:
For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.”
His original marching orders for Israel were simple: Obey His voice, walk in the ways He commanded—just as Abraham did—and the Creator Himself would be their God (Deuteronomy 27:9-10). Israel failed in this, so He added the Levitical priesthood and the sacrifices as a tutor (Galatians 3:24-25), to give Israel a disciplined, practical system of worship—as well as a reminder of sin (Hebrews 10:3)—until the Promised Seed arrived.
Connection to Failure
Even as the instructions in Leviticus 16 follow a significant failure on the part of the priesthood, we can also credibly link the Day of Atonement with an infamous failure of the whole nation, the Golden Calf incident. By piecing together the dates and spans of time from the scriptural record, a significant possibility arises. Notice these time markers:
» Israel left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month (Exodus 13:3-4).
» Sometime within the following week—between the sixteenth and the twenty-second day—the fifty-day count to Pentecost began.
» It is generally accepted that Pentecost occurred when God gave the law to Israel from Mount Sinai. No verse directly says this, but the text puts Israel at Sinai in the general timeframe of Pentecost. Exodus 16:1 shows that Israel was already near Sinai on the fifteenth day of the second month. Israel was still camped at Sinai “in the third month” (Exodus 19:1), when Pentecost occurs.
» When Moses came down and saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf, he broke the stone tablets and spent a second period of forty days and nights beseeching God not to destroy Aaron and the rest of the nation (Deuteronomy 9:15-20).
The three forty-day periods mean that there were 120 days between Pentecost and the new copy of the tablets. Adding the fifty-day count to Pentecost brings us to 170 days. The count to Pentecost began between the sixteenth and twenty-second days from the beginning of the year, so the time between Abib 1 and the new copy of the tablets was between 186 and 192 days. This span of days is significant because the Day of Atonement falls on the tenth day of the seventh month, 187 days into the Hebrew calendar.
The Day of Atonement, then, may have occurred when Moses returned with his face reflecting God’s glory (Exodus 34:29-32). It may also have been the day when he gave the law to Israel a second time, after their blatant sin. Again, this timeline is not definitive, but we are in the ballpark.
If this timeline is valid, then the Day of Atonement contains a reminder of a colossal failure, such that the law had to be inscribed a second time by the finger of God. God does not waste effort, and He does not repeat Himself or duplicate things unnecessarily. Thus, the Day of Atonement could well provide a reminder that the whole nation was on the brink of destruction, and it was through God’s mercy and Moses’ intercession that the people and high priest were not all blotted out.
It is no wonder that the Day of Atonement is such a solemn day! It is tied to the failure of Aaron’s sons, and perhaps to the more widespread failure of the nation, resulting in the addition of the sacrificial law. It may also have been when the Creator had to repeat His holy law. The law defines sin, and breaking it requires atonement. When the author of Hebrews 10:3 writes that the sacrifices were a reminder of sins each year, he may have had some highly significant national failures in mind.
Atonement’s Unique Features
Adding to the uniqueness of the Day of Atonement is God’s requirement that absolutely no work be performed (Leviticus 16:29; 23:28-31; Numbers 29:7), symbolizing that human effort is completely useless in making the proper atonement needed to keep living after sin. The Israelites could do nothing but observe what occurred at the Tabernacle, watching as the young goat was led away with all their sins. Likewise, we can do absolutely nothing to add to Christ’s atoning work. Thus, it is a day without work for us as well.
Israel’s works nearly condemned the nation to obliteration. In particular, the Golden Calf was a work of Aaron’s hands (Exodus 32:4-5). No matter how he tried to pass it off, he deliberately fashioned an idol out of gold, something he had to work at. Similarly, the work of Nadab’s and Abihu’s hands included offering profane fire (Leviticus 10:1). In Haggai 2:14, God remarks on Israel’s spoiling of everything she puts her hands to: “‘So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.’” The works of men always contain defilement, so on the day when God removes the filth, no work can be done, lest more corruption be introduced.
The only work permitted on the Day of Atonement was performed by the high priest and the man who led the azazel away, and both had to have an atonement made for them. For us, it is a day of solemn remembrance of the perfect work of our High Priest, who gave us precious access to the Father and removed our sins.
Atonement is also a day of afflicting one’s soul. This requirement could serve as a reminder of the fasting Moses did during his interactions with God. There is overwhelming gravity in all that was involved when he fasted for forty days on back-to-back-to-back occasions. Two of those times involved meeting directly with God, receiving a pattern for life from His incomparable mind. The middle period of fasting reflects how seriously God regarded the sins and the enormity of what was at stake due to Aaron’s and the nation’s transgressions.
Zechariah 3 and Atonement
With this background, we can now return to the question of the future fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, beginning with the book of Zechariah, written after Judah’s return from Babylon. Even after that national chastening, the people were still carnal, just as Israel is today. In chapter 3, the prophet receives a vision of the high priest, Joshua. Notably, the chapter contains the same elements and sequence as Leviticus 16. It starts with the cleansing of the high priest and ends with the cleansing of the nation. What is missing is the sacrificial animals, and this is because God is providing the atonement through a different means here.
The essential function of the high priest was to represent the nation to God, which is part of why the Golden Calf incident was so appalling—the nation’s representative was directly involved in the sin of idolatry. Similarly, in Zechariah 3:3, the high priest is depicted in filthy garments, yet in verse 4, the filth and iniquity are taken away. The high priest receives rich robes, symbolic of righteousness from God Himself (compare Revelation 19:8).
Verse 5 mentions the high priest’s turban. Exodus 28:38 reveals that the purpose of the turban was to bear iniquity, so the high priest symbolically carried iniquity throughout the year. Then, on Atonement, the iniquity was symbolically transferred to the goat of departure and sent away. In Zechariah’s vision, the priestly garments are filthy, and a clean turban is needed. The high priest’s defilement shows that the nation had been completely unclean. But God restores the high priest, giving His explanation in verses 8-9:
Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign; for behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. For behold, the stone that I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.
Remember, Zechariah makes no mention of animal sacrifices. This removal of iniquity can only come through the Messiah, the Branch mentioned in verse 8 (see also Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 6:12).
Leviticus 18:28 speaks of the land becoming defiled and vomiting out its inhabitants. The Day of Atonement is an annual type of bearing away of sin, out of the land, so the land and its people become clean before God. This national cleansing of land and nation, however, did not happen at Christ’s first coming. Though the means of that true cleansing was created through His sacrifice, it has not yet been applied. God’s cleansing of the land and people of Israel is still future.
The beginning of this vision contains another significant factor:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1-2)
Note that God rebukes Satan before He cleanses the nation. There is a possible connection here with Satan’s binding: In other instances of God rebuking a party, it typically goes beyond divine words and involves divine action (see Psalm 9:5; 68:30; Isaiah 17:1-3). God’s rebuke may find its fulfillment in Satan’s binding, and Israel’s cleansing follows it.
The critical point is that atonement—expiation, satisfaction of the legal debt—can come only through Christ’s removal of guilt, not through anything that happens to Satan. The nation is cleansed by God removing the iniquity, not through rebuking the accuser. In this vision, if Satan were only rebuked—and in parallel, if Satan were just bound—the nation would remain in its defiled state, still separated from God, unatoned.
Seventy Weeks Atonement
The Seventy Weeks prophecy also contains a national cleansing:
Seventy weeks are determined
For your people and for your holy city,
To finish the transgression,
To make an end of sins,
To make reconciliation for iniquity,
To bring in everlasting righteousness,
To seal up vision and prophecy,
And to anoint the Most Holy. (Daniel 9:24)
This prophecy is God’s assurance to Daniel that He will intervene to lift Israel out of her degenerate spiritual state. The word translated “reconciliation” is the same one translated as “atonement”—kaphar—throughout Leviticus 16. Nearly everything mentioned in the prophecy relates to the Day of Atonement and what is typified in Leviticus 16 regarding the cleansing and removal of sin. Even the Most Holy Place receives attention (see Daniel 8:14). In other words, the fulfillment of the Seventy Weeks prophecy closely intertwines with the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. It is for “your people and for your holy city”—for removing the guilt of Israel and Jerusalem, representative of all the land promised to Abraham.
The Feast of Trumpets looks forward to the return of Christ, and it is also tied to the regathering of Israel (see Isaiah 27:13; Matthew 24:30-31). The second exodus (Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:7-8) may begin on Trumpets with our Savior’s arrival, and the Day of Atonement symbolizes the completion of the regathering, with Israel back in the land after God has atoned for her. Notice these prophecies:
» I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel. (Isaiah 44:22-23)
» I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me. (Jeremiah 33:8)
» “But I will bring back Israel to his home, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan; his soul shall be satisfied on Mount Ephraim and Gilead. In those days and in that time,” says the Lord, “the iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found; for I will pardon those whom I preserve.” (Jeremiah 50:19-20)
» “And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 16:62-63)
» Thus says the Lord God: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt.” (Ezekiel 36:33)
» They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:23)
» Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
Along the same lines, the Jubilee year is announced on the Day of Atonement, and a significant aspect of the Jubilee is the return of each family to its ancestral land (Leviticus 25:9-13)—which, for Israelites, means the Land of Promise. It is a day of proclaiming liberty, which will be particularly relevant to Israel in the future since she is prophesied to return from captivity. She will be freed from spiritual captivity as well as physical, and indeed, Satan’s binding will be an aspect of Israel’s future spiritual freedom.
Yet, in all the references to Israel’s future restoration and the cleansing of her defiled land, not a single word mentions the Devil bearing her sins, nor of the God of Israel having a counterpart in providing a sin offering for His people. Israel will be atoned for in the same way that the church has been: through the perfect work of the Savior.