“If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”
The Old Testament tells us that when the people of Israel gave to God their offering of the remission of sin, they had to make sure to bring an unblemished animal and to put their hands on its head. And it is also written that when priests, on their behalf, killed the animal, drew its blood, put the blood on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and poured the rest of it on the ground, then they would receive the remission of a day’s worth of sins.
On the other hand, to be forgiven of a year’s worth of sins, Leviticus 16:6-10 states, “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.” In the Bible, this scapegoat was to be abandoned in the wilderness.
In addition, Leviticus 16:29 says, “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you.”
How were the people of Israel forgiven of a year’s worth of their sins all at once? First, they needed the High Priest—in the main passage above, this was Aaron at the time. To make a year's worth of the Israelites’ sins transferred onto the scapegoat, it was absolutely required to have the High Priest. Who, then, was the representative of the priests of the Israelites? It was none other than Aaron. God set aside Aaron and his descendants as the High Priest.
Aaron brought a bull into the Tabernacle’s court, passed his sins onto it by first putting his hands on its head to make atonement for himself and his house, cut its throat open, drew its blood, and took some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. This is how Aaron and his house first received the remission of sin. Atonement of one’s sin could be achieved only by putting his hands on the sacrificial animal. The vicarious death of this sacrificial animal is atonement.
The sinful must die because of their own sins, but when they pass their sins onto the sacrificial offering by laying their hands on its head, then this animal is put to death instead. This is how the High Priest and his house were first remitted of their sins. After doing so, he entered into the Tabernacle by himself and offered one of the two goats to God by laying their hands on its head and killing it to take its blood. On behalf of the people of Israel, he then laid his hands on the other goat before their presence and thereby passed their sins onto this goat.
Putting his hands on the head of the goat, the High Priest therefore prayed, “Oh, Lord, the people of Israel have broken Your Law, from the first to the last of Your Ten Commandments, and all the 613 articles of the Law. Lord, all these tribes have become sinners before You. I therefore pass all their sins onto the sacrificial goat by laying my hands on its head.” He then cut the goat’s throat, drew its blood, and took this blood into the Most Holy, where he was allowed to enter only once a year. Then he had to sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat seven times (Leviticus 16:15).
The Ark of Testimony was placed inside the Most Holy. The covering of this Ark was called the mercy seat, and when this covering was removed, one would have seen the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the golden pot that had the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded inside the Ark. Aaron’s rod that budded refers to resurrection, the two stone tablets of the Law refers to the righteousness of God, and the golden pot that had the manna refers to God’s Word of life. On top of the Ark of the Testimony, a covering called the mercy seat was placed. The blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled seven times before the covering. As bells of gold were attached to the hems of the robe worn by the High Priest, whenever he sprinkled the blood dipped in hyssop, the bells made sound.
As Leviticus 16:14 explains, “He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.” Every time the High Priest sprinkled the blood, the bells rang, and outside the Tabernacle, all the Israelites heard the sound of these ringing bells, for all the sins of the people of Israel could be blotted out only when the High Priest offered this sin offering on their behalf. Like this, for the people of Israel, this sound of the ringing bells coming from inside the Most Holy was the blessed sound of the gospel that told them that their sins were all blotted out.
When they heard the golden bells sounding seven times, they told themselves, “I am free now. I had been burdened by all the sins that I accumulated over the past year, but now this burden has been lifted.” On this Day of Atonement, the people of Israel won their freedom from all sins, and then went back to their everyday life in joy. Now, in the present, this sound of bells is none other than the very sound of blessings that enables us to be born again of water and the Spirit. The gospel has the power of dynamite that can blow away all sins once and for all.
We have been saved by hearing with our ears, believing in our hearts, and confessing with our mouths our faith in the Word of God, the gospel of the water and the Spirit. The gospel of the remission of sin enables us to be born again of water and the Spirit. Leviticus 16:21-22 states, “Aaron shall 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, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.” The offering that thus accepted all the sins of the Israelites passed onto it by the laying on of hands then carried these sins on itself, roaming the sand desert until its ultimate death. This was the Old Testament’s remission of sin.
It is written in Jeremiah 17:1 that everyone’s sins are written in two places before God. One is God’s Book of Judgment, and the other is people’s own hearts. Like this, to receive the remission of our sins, our sins should be erased both in God’s Books of Judgment and in our own consciences. Also, we must receive this remission of sin by believing righteously before God.
This is why the High Priest performed the ritual of the sin offering that atoned for all the sins of the people of Israel by putting his hands on the head of the goat in their presence—to show them, in other words, that all their sins were indeed passed onto the goat.
When people hear this good news of the gospel, some people realize it soon, while others are slow to understand it. Those who say, as soon as they hear, “If I had been sinful but my sins were passed onto the goat, then it is the goat that now has these sins”—these are the ones whose realization is quick. When our sins are passed onto the sacrificial offering, then we become sinless. How simple is this? Once one realizes it, truth is easy to grasp. When the goat disappears from the sight and the man who sent it off returns, the goat then roams in the wilderness with neither vegetation nor water, and in the end dies with the sins of all the Israelites on its shoulder.
This is how the righteous law of God, that “the wages of sin is death,” was fulfilled. God, in other words, saved the nation of Israel by sacrificing this goat, the sacrificial offering, for their sake. God passed all the sins that all the Israelites had accumulated all year long onto the goat, and thereby saved them.
In the New Testament, Jesus has given us salvation by being baptized and crucified (Matthew 3:15-17; 1 Peter 3:21).