Christ Our Scapegoat
...and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:6b
An Old Testament ceremony comes to life in Leviticus 16, which helps to understand our text. It is a ceremony enacted each year on the Day of Atonement. It is a ceremony that graphically explains “Atonement” or “How God Deals With the Sin of Men.” It is the ceremony of the two goats, one of them being a scapegoat.
Choosing the Scapegoat
We read of it in Leviticus 16, beginning at verse 7, speaking there of the high priest: “And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” and what follows. During the morning service, two look-alike goats, of the same value and age and colour, are brought to the high priest. The high priest places the goats next to each other “with their backs to the people and with their faces towards the sanctuary” (Edersheim). The high priest then draws two lots, laying one on the head of each goat. The one lot says that the goat is for the Lord, and the other lot says that the goat is a scapegoat. A scarlet-red cloth is tied around the throat of the goat designated for the Lord, and a scarlet-red cloth is tied to one of the horns of the goat designated as scapegoat. The goat, designated for the Lord, is slain as a sin offering-sacrifice.
Meanwhile, the scapegoat is turned around to face the people. After the one goat has been slain, the high priest returns to the other goat, facing the people he solemnly lays both hands on the head of this scapegoat, as we read in verse 21: “and confess(es) over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat.” All the iniquities of the people are laid upon this scapegoat.
Led Into the Wilderness
Then a strange scene is witnessed, according to Edersheim. Some priests would take the sin-burdened scapegoat through the crowd and through one of the gates of the city, and hand the scapegoat to a man appointed especially for that purpose, who in turn would take this scapegoat far into the wilderness and let it loose in a so called “uninhabited land.” Thus ends the ceremony of the two goats: the goat for the Lord, and the scapegoat.
This ceremony is a prophetic representation of what would happen some day to Jesus Christ. Notice that at a certain point, when it was determined which one would be the scapegoat, this animal was turned around to face the people. Pontius Pilate took Jesus at a certain point in the trial, and set Him to face the people, and said, “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). Jesus stood before Israel as a designated Scapegoat, just as He was about to be led forth, bearing the iniquity of the people.
Sins are Laid on the Scapegoat
Notice how those iniquities were laid on the scapegoat. Very solemnly the high priest placed both hands on the head of the scapegoat, and confessed all the sins of the people. These sins were laid on the scapegoat by the Lord God, even as the high priest, on behalf of the people, confessed his own and the people’s iniquities and transgressions and sins.
This load of sin was laid on the scapegoat by way of confession. Therefore, removal of sin can only come by way of confession. Notice how the scapegoat, laden with iniquity, transgressions and sins was taken out of the camp and out of the city, into the wilderness, even into a place, literally called “uninhabited land.” The sins laid upon the head of the scapegoat are taken away from the people and removed to a forgotten place, not to be found anymore, as it says in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”
Finally, notice that the ceremony of the scapegoat coincided with the goat of the Lord being sacrificed as a sin offering. Two look-alike goats were involved in this ceremony, and together they represent how God deals with the sins of His people: providing a sacrifice for, and the putting away of sin. As the sacrifice for sin was made, arrangements were made at the same time to put those sins away for good.
“And the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”
The ceremony of the two goats has come to its reality and fulfillment in Christ. Both goats represented the work that Christ would do; the goat designated “for the Lord” and the goat designated “Scapegoat” are to be found in Christ. Christ performed both tasks: the offering for sin, and the carrying away of sin.
When Christ suffered and died on the cross, He fulfilled what the goat, “for the Lord” represented. He was sacrificed for the sins of the people. The goat with the scarlet-red cloth tied around its throat was slain. Its blood was shed, which was then brought inside the Most Holy Place, presented to God, while the body of the goat was taken out of the camp and burned with fire and totally consumed. Christ was slain; His blood was shed, and it is a precious substance sent forth from heaven’s Most Holy Place, as redemption price and cleansing agent for the sins of His people. Colossians 1 states, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins ... having made peace through the blood of his cross...” Without personal acquaintance with the blood of Christ, no salvation is possible, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
God the Father Laid the Sins on Christ
What about the scapegoat laden with the sins of the people and taken into an uninhabited wilderness? This too, has come to its fulfillment in Christ. “And the LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Christ became the Scapegoat when the Lord God laid on Him the iniquity of us all. This became part and parcel of what happened to Christ as He hung on the cross. He hung there laden with the sins of His people, burdened under the load of sin. This time it was not merely a high priest, but God Himself who placed the sins of the people on Christ. At some stage in the trial and execution of Christ, God the Father came, and with invisible hands laid the sins and iniquities of His people on Christ.
Why were those sins and iniquities laid on Christ? In order that Christ would carry them away. Just as the scapegoat carried away the people’s sins and iniquities into an uninhabited land, Christ carried away the sins and iniquities of His people. Those sins and iniquities will never be found again. Once Christ, the Scapegoat, carried them away, they are gone for good; God will remember them no more: “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17)
“And the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” He did so to prove that those iniquities would never accuse us anymore; they are forgiven, carried away, put out of God’s sight, and never to be remembered anymore. The ceremony of the scapegoat tells the story.
For Whom Did Christ Sacrifice?
Christ was slain as a sacrifice for sin, but He also carried sin away, because “the LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Whose iniquity was laid on Christ, and whose iniquity is it that He, as Scapegoat, has carried away? “Of us all.” Has Christ died for all people and has He taken away the iniquities of everyone, head for head? That would be universal atonement and would go against the clear teaching of Scripture. “Of us all” refers to people who have learned to confess, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” They have learned to confess that they have gone astray like sheep; they have learned to confess their sins and iniquities. For such people Christ has died and carried away their sins and iniquities.
Have you already learned to confess, “I too like a sheep, have gone astray and have turned to my own way”? Let me encourage you to believe on Jesus Christ, because He died for such as you. It is true, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;” but remember, “the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Not only has Christ died for our sins, He has also carried them away. In Christ, the ceremony of both goats has come to its fulfillment. Christ fulfilled both roles, the role of the sacrificed goat, and the role of the scapegoat. We, who have confessed our sins and believed, may have the assurance that we are saved and forgiven, and God will never recall the iniquities we once committed. They are gone; they are carried away. Thanks be to Christ, our blessed Scapegoat!