What Does the Azazel Goat Represent?
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
The Feast of Atonement involves an intricate ceremony described in Leviticus chapter 16. Through this process, atonement was brought to the nation of Israel; they were reconciled back to God. It foreshadows our Atonement through Jesus Christ. While Christ has already atoned for our sins in His first coming, there is one aspect of this ceremony that has not prophetically been fulfilled.
The high priest began this special ritual by washing with water and putting on sacred garments. He then sacrificed a bull for his own sin and that of his household. The blood of this bull was taken into the Tabernacle and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant and the Altar of Incense.
The next step involved two goats. Lots were cast for them: the first goat was for the Lord and the second goat was called the scapegoat or azazel. The goat chosen for the Lord was taken to the door of the Tabernacle. The high priest would confess over it all the sins of the people. It was then slaughtered as a sin offering to make atonement for them. Its blood was applied in the same way as the bull.
The second goat was brought to the threshold of the Temple. The high priest would confess over it all the sins of the people. A man was chosen to chase this goat outside the camp and far away – to a place not inhabited by anyone else. This made the chosen man unclean. Once this was completed, he would return to the camp, wash with water, and be clean again.
Christ is our High Priest (Hebrews 3:1). He came to earth and laid down His life for our sins. Unlike the earthly high priests of the Old Covenant, He did not have to sacrifice an animal for His own sins. He is perfect. “…who doesn’t need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices daily, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. For he did this once for all, when he offered up himself.” (Hebrews 7:27). After His resurrection, He took his own blood into Heaven to atone for the sins of the world (Hebrews 9:11-14).
Christ’s first coming fulfilled both the functions of the high priest and the sacrificial first goat. It logically follows that the fulfillment of the second goat happens after that event. There are some who propose that the second goat, called the azazel, represents another aspect of Christ’s atoning work. To further understand this second goat, we must delve into the deeper theological conceptions with animals in God’s Temple system.
In the sacrificial system, animals died in the place of the person who brought it; this is called a substitution. Leviticus 17:11 reads: “…the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.”
In the New Covenant, Christ is our substitutionary sacrifice. We each deserve death because we have sinned (Rom. 3:23, Rom. 6:23). Christ took on Himself the sins of the world and died in our place (Romans 5:6-21). Any animal that had its blood shed was a foreshadowing of the ultimate blood to be shed – the perfect Son of God (see Hebrews 10:1-8). This would include the first goat from Atonement.
After reviewing the concept of sacrifice, we can better consider details of the second goat and any possible connection with Christ.
The first two details of the azazel goat are very important. First, this goat was dealt with after the Lord’s goat. Secondly, though sin was placed on the azazel, it did not pay the penalty for sins, which is death. These details present problems when trying to compare azazel to Christ.
We have to ask ourselves this question: when in history did Christ take on the sins of the world a second time and remain alive? Christ is not returning a second time to bear sin; He did that in His first coming. “…but now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:26b-28, NIV, emphasis mine).
Third, consider that the second goat was chased into an uninhabited place by someone who was NOT the high priest. While Christ died outside of the camp (Hebrews 13:12), he only did so in fulfilling an aspect of the first goat (Lev. 16:27). Since then, he has not been driven to an uninhabitable place. He currently dwells in Heaven, where God and a host of angels dwell (Heb. 12:22-24).
Fourth, the azazel goat caused uncleanness to the one who chased it into the wilderness. If Christ still had the sins of the world on Him (which He does not), then he would defile everything around Him in the Heavenly Temple. He would be disqualified from serving as our high priest. No such implication is made in the Bible.
Because Christ took upon Himself our sins and paid the price of death, it is impossible that He could in any way represent the second goat. Christ does not live forever in a state of sin–He lives forever in glorified perfection (Hebrews 7:28).
Who does this second goat represent? Consider the qualifications for it. 1) It takes on sin (permanently); 2) It does not die; 3) It is handled by someone who is not a high priest; 4) It is placed in an uninhabited place; and 5) It causes uncleanness to others while alive.
The very next chapter in Leviticus brings more clarity to this subject. In Leviticus 17:7, we learn that the Israelites were sacrificing to goat idols: “They shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat idols, after which they play the prostitute.” Some translations say “goat demons”. There is an obvious connection between the azazel and the goat idols (or goat demons). The worship of idols and satan are mentioned together in the Bible (Rev. 9:20; 13:1-18).
While Christ took on the sins of the world, we must remember that the first sin by Adam and Eve was influenced by the serpent or satan. He is called the deceiver of all mankind (Rev. 12:9). Satan or the devil is called the father of all lies (John 8:44). The devil has sinned since the beginning (I John 3:8). This means every lie originates with his being.
While every human has chosen to sin and disobey God, satan has participated in that sin through deception. In other words, satan is a partaker in the sins of other people. This means he also bears guilt for our transgressions. Since his sins cannot be atoned for or be taken away, they remain upon him forever. No atoning sacrifice was made for angels.
In fact, satan and his angels are eventually cast into the Lake of Fire where they will be tormented (Rev. 20:11-15). They are not allowed to die. They also impart uncleanness while they are alive. The term ‘unclean spirit’ is used as another name for satan and his minions (see Mark 5:1-13 as an example). At Christ’s return the land of Israel will be cleansed by removing the idols and unclean spirits (Zechariah 13:2).
In Matthew 12:43, Jesus described unclean spirits as walking through wilderness places. Additionally, satan will be cast into an uninhabited place called the bottomless pit by an angel, who is not our high priest, just before the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-3). As long as he is bound, the nations are not deceived.
In conclusion, satan is the only being that can meet all of the five qualifications for the azazel goat. This interpretation fits perfectly into the fulfillment of Bible prophecy as outline in the book of Revelation.
The fulfillment of Trumpets is revealed in Christ’s public return (Rev. 19:1-21). Satan is then placed in the uninhabitable bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1-3), representing the fulfillment of the Atonement azazel. The Millennium is described, which relates to Tabernacles (Rev. 20:4-6). The Great White Throne Judgment is then described, which relates to the Eighth Day (Rev. 20:11-15).
Christ laying down His life as the first goat ensured that the second goat would be condemned.
All verses, unless otherwise noted, come from the Kingdom Life Version.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org