One day a year, the High Priest of Israel offered sacrifices for the sins of the people of God. That day was called Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The priest represented the people as he walked where no man could and did what no other man was authorized to do. And as the church universal turns its attention to the death and resurrection of our Lord, I think it is a good time to learn a bit about that great day.
Actually, there were two goats that were used on the Day of Atonement. The one we typically identify with is the goat of the “sin offering.” That goat was killed and the priest took its blood behind the veil and sprinkled it over the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. This goat, the Bible says, made “atonement for the Holy Place” (Lev 16:15). All of Israel should have been there making things right with God, but only the priest could go behind the veil.
The second goat is less often associated with the Day of Atonement. They didn’t kill the second goat. Instead, Aaron laid his hands over its head and “confessed over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, all their transgressions, all their sins” (Lev 16:21). He placed Israel’s sins on the head of this goat and sent it away into the wilderness. It bore the sins of God’s people to a remote and desolate place. This goat is where we get the term scapegoat.
Of course, in the New Testament, we find out that Jesus is the True Sacrifice and the True High Priest. We are told he went where we could not, did what we could not, and represented us while there. No place is this more overt, and yet more slight, than in Romans 8:3. There, Paul says that Jesus came in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (the scapegoat) and “as a sin offering” (the sacrificed goat). The book of Hebrews has Christ offering a sacrifice in the temple while Peter pictures Christ as our scapegoat, but one verse in Romans has it all. Christ’s atonement on the cross was the real atonement that the Old Testament procedures had actually foreshadowed. Christ was our True Priest on that True Day of Atonement.
Here’s some incredible proof...
Before Aaron entered the Holy of Holies on that great day of sacrifice, he was to put on the proper clothes. The holy garments were all made of linen - he was wrapped, literally, from head to toe (Lev 16:4). Flash forward to our Lord where, right before they buried him they wrapped him in a “clean linen shroud” (Mat 27:59).
Of course, Christ burst from that grave on Sunday morning and, according to John 20:5-7, he even burst from his death shroud as well - it was the only evidence Peter and James found of Christ at the resurrection. But that’s not all. Jesus apparently took time to neatly fold the face cloth and leave it in the tomb before he left. But why? Flash back to ancient Israel after all the work of atoning was complete: “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 he shall leave them there” (Lev 16:23, emphasis added of course!).
Christ really is our High Priest. Not in some vague divine notion. He really made an atoning sacrifice by the procedures God had given Israel. He was wrapped in linen to do the work and when he finished it, he left them there! What a great God and what a wonderful Savior.