“And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”
This Levitical antitype of the scapegoat is one of the most compelling in all the Old Testament. Keeping in mind that this picture is given in relation to atonement, the surface reading here is that atonement is a substitutionary act: i.e., one dies for sin so that another can go free. This of course is a wonderful analogy for what Christ’s death accomplishes for us at Calvary. As Isaiah prophetically writes, “By His stripes we have been healed.” Or as Christ promised directly in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It’s reasonable then to see in these two goats, one that dies and one that escapes death, as a picture of Christ’s role in atonement alongside ours. Christ is slain for our transgression, while we, though bearing the sin and guilt on our own heads, go free.
Yet there’s another interpretation here that paints a dichotomous picture of atonement rather than a substitutionary one. It’s a picture of two equal aspects of Christ’s atoning work—His life and His death—represented by a goat that’s sacrificed and the goat that disappears in the wilderness. Effectively, Christ bore our sins and sorrows in the darkness of a mother’s womb, and on into a manger on the outskirts of town, and on into a backwater town called Nazareth, and on into a wilderness of temptation to wrestle the devil, and on into the crevices of Gethsemane to cry out to the Father for help as His capillaries burst, and on to Golgotha, to the loneliest, most desolate crag in all the world, being led by the hand of a man who was in readiness.
This is our Lamb of God, friend! Carrying our sins on His head, in His body, to the remotest area of the cosmos, as far as the east is from the west, where we’ll never see them again for all eternity!