I have spent a great deal of my more than thirty years of ministry writing, discussing and preaching about Leviticus 17:11, “It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” That's because it is the foundation for our salvation - the reason Yeshua went to the cross.
It is also quintessential evidence of Messiah’s proclamation in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” When His blood was shed, it perfected God’s requirement.
But it wasn’t just His blood. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, holds the key.
First, let’s understand the commandment of Leviticus 17:11 was the underlying basis for the system of animal sacrifices. That system was absolutely in practice in Jesus’ day. In fact, He made reference to it in Matthew 5. In verse 23, prefacing a teaching about forgiveness and reconciliation, He said, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar . . . ”
Since animals don’t sin (only humans are sinners), their blood was a sacrifice acceptable to our Father in Heaven. Sinful human blood was specifically unfit because you can’t take sin into the presence of God. That’s why there’s no place in Heaven for those who die in their sin. Neither can you use a sinful offering to pay the price for sin. That’s akin to using stolen money to pay a fine levied for stealing money.
So how does Yeshua’s sacrifice fit into this scenario. Here’s what we believe.
Although sinful, humans are the highest order of creation. Therefore, the blood of an animal sacrifice provided only a temporary solution because it wasn’t the best possible offering. Therefore, the sacrifices had to be repeated month in, month out, year in and year out. Now here comes Jesus, the Son of God, but born of a woman so He was fully human with human blood. This man never sinned. His sacrifice of sinless human blood therefore qualified as the ultimate propitiation for our sin. It paid the price once for all, so no more sacrifices are necessary.
However that wasn’t the whole story. Back in Chapter 16 of Leviticus, the Lord set up a particular ritual for Yom Kippur which revolved around two goats.
This sacred Feast (although it is a day to afflict one’s soul, or fast from eating), was the one day a year when atonement was made for the whole nation of Israel, not just individual families.
Lots were cast for the two goats, one to be offered as a sin offering, the other to be kept alive. Sin offering, as previously explained, meant its blood was shed for the atonement of the soul of all Israel. Yeshua gloriously perfected and fulfilled this obligation, so it doesn’t have to be done anymore.
So it was, just as powerfully, with the distinctly different activities of the second goat. This goat, remember animals are sinless, was to become the azazel or scapegoat.
Starting in verse 21 of Leviticus 16, God commanded the High Priest (Aaron) to, “lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat . . .”
Take note of the all-inclusive nature of this proclamation. Everything the entire nation of Israel had done wrong for the whole year was imputed into the sinless goat - it took their sin. The Scripture is specific, “The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities.”
Then, this now sin-burdened goat was to be sent into the wilderness, never to come back again. The scapegoat not only took Israel’s sin, it took the sin away. But just like all the other offerings, this had to be accomplished once a year, every year.
Once again, Jesus satisfied the commandment. He took into His sinless body, not just the sins of Israel, but of the whole world, once for all.
In his prophecy about the coming Messiah, Isaiah wrote in 53:6, “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
The Jewish Apostle Peter, who had no doubt been a witness to the two goat ceremonies of Yom Kippur, wrote in his first epistle (2:24) Yeshua, “Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” Likewise, the Jewish Apostle Paul explained Jesus had indeed taken the role of the scapegoat. Writing in 2 Corinthians 5:21, he declared, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.”
Furthermore, just like the scapegoat took the sins away, so Yeshua upon His death went into the depths. He couldn’t ascend directly into Heaven because He was full of our sin, and you can’t take sin into the presence of God.
Unlike the scapegoat, however, Jesus came back. But He came back without the sin, breaking the bondage of sin and death in resurrection power!
The song famously states, “What can wash away our sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Well, not exactly. But He completed the rest of the sin issue, fulfilling Yom Kippur.