Atonement is clearly the action of God and not of man throughout the Bible. The symbolic import of the sacrifices is so detailed that three different actions were necessary to display everything that God apparently intended us to understand about the way he was to deal with sin.
- The sacrificial death of the first goat showed clearly that the offense of sin requires the punishment of death ( Eze 18:4 ).
- The sending of the second goat into the wilderness with the sins laid on the top of its head emphasizes that sin will be removed from the person and the community "as far as the east is from the west" ( Psalm 103:12 ).
- The burning of the sacrifice so that it is consumed shows the power of God over sin, completely destroying it so that it can bother the supplicant no more.
Atonement is clearly the action of God and not of man throughout the Bible, but especially in Leviticus 16. Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, had been recently put to death by the Lord for disobeying his command by offering "unauthorized fire" before the Lord ( Lev 10:1-3 ). Here God gives Aaron precise instructions concerning how he wants the sacrifices to be made, down to the clothes Aaron is to wear, the bathing rituals in which he is to engage, and the types of sacrificial animals he is to bring. His sovereignty is further emphasized by the fact that the lot is used to choose which goat will be sacrificed and which goat will serve as the scapegoat.
The purpose for the ritual is made very clear in several places. It is to cleanse you "from all your sins" ( Lev 16:30 ). Other passages make it clear that such cleansing results in saving the life of the participant (cf., e.g., Lev 17:11 ). The restoring of pure relationship is an important result, too, since the atonement is for all "uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been" ( Lev 16:16 ). Thus Israel is reunited in purity to its God by the atoning sacrifice for sins.
Particularly important for the full biblical picture of atonement as it is found in Christ is the sacrifice Aaron makes for himself and his family ( Lev 16:11-14 ). Everyone, even the high priest, is guilty and needs atonement that can only be provided by God himself. The author of Hebrews emphasizes this point to make clear his doctrine of the purity of Christ as both the true and perfect sacrifice and the true and perfect priest who performs the ritual of atonement ( 8:3-6 ; 9:6-15 ). The Old Testament sacrifices are shown to be but shadows of the real sacrifice of Christ on the cross by the fact of Aaron’s sinfulness; an imperfect high priest cannot offer a true sacrifice, just as the blood of bulls and goats could never truly pay for the offense of human sin or substitute for the shedding of human blood.
Lastly, atonement covers all the sinsintentional, unintentional, heinous, trivialof those for whom it is intended. No one was to enter the Tent of Meeting until the ritual was over because what was taking place there was for the whole of the community of Israel ( Lev 16:17 ), presumably because any interference with the sovereign action of God’s cleansing might bring an impurity into the equation that would nullify the purificatory act. The comprehensive nature of the sacrifice of atonement prefigures the comprehensiveness of the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross, but it limits its effects in the same way the Old Testament limits the effects of its sacrifice on the day of atonementto the people whom God has elected to call his own and them alone.
At Temple the message was for each of us to be atoned with (3) actions;
- tzedakah (charity)