Did you know that God reveals His master plan through a series of annual holy days that almost nobody understands? God commands true Christians to observe annual religious festivals that are discussed in Leviticus 23. Each of these days shows us how God is working out His master plan for mankind. If you know the holy day plan, you can know the future and your part in it!
In a previous article, we learned that the fourth festival, the Feast of Trumpets, pictures the triumphant return of Jesus Christ to rescue mankind from self-destruction. At that time, Christ will also establish His world-ruling government to bring unprecedented peace to Earth.
Next, Jesus Christ will replace the current god of this world: Satan the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9). Before He can bring utopia, Jesus Christ must remove Satan and his influence. The fifth festival shows us how He will do just that. The name of this holy day is Atonement.
An Unusual Festival
Although most modern Christians have never heard of the Day of Atonement, it is discussed in detail in the Old Testament and the New Testament. God commanded Moses, “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:27-28).
The Day of Atonement takes place nine days after the Feast of Trumpets. This year it is on Thursday, September 16. God commands His people to assemble together on this day. It is so important and solemn to God that He commands His people to abstain from all work, including even simple food preparation (verses 30-31). This is the only holy day where God commands that. And notice this: we are also commanded to afflict ourselves (verses 29 and 32). What does it mean to “afflict” yourself?
To afflict oneself is to fast, which means abstaining from food and water for 24 hours (Leviticus 23:32; Isaiah 58:3). Fasting on the Day of Atonement gives this festival its unique character.
Why fast during a festival? The spiritual purpose of fasting is to humble ourselves in order to draw closer to God. Not eating and drinking brings us into a humble state of mind—the state of mind necessary for salvation. Human pride and vanity keep us separated from God. However, fasting with prayer, Bible study, meditation and godly sorrow for our sins and shortcomings brings us into an attitude where we are willing to listen to God, obey Him more fully and do His Work.
In order to fully understand this day, we need to understand what the word atonement means. Webster’s online dictionary gives one definition: “to set at one; to reduce to concord; to reconcile, as parties at variance; to appease.” This day pictures the time when God and man will be at one. It is literally the Day of At-one-ment. For us to be unified with God, we will have to become humble—and Satan will have to be restrained!
The Two Goats
God’s instructions to ancient Israel on how to keep the Day of Atonement are detailed in Leviticus 16. The special ceremonies conducted on this festival involved the high priest, the tabernacle and sin offerings, which included two goats. The Apostle Paul explains the spiritual significance of these ceremonies for New Testament Christians in Hebrews 9.
The high priest was commanded to make a special sin offering once a year to atone for all the sins of Israel on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-33). The purpose was to cleanse Israel of its sins so that God would continue to dwell with them. During this ceremony, the high priest represented Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1).
However, the high priest’s most significant act on the Day of Atonement involved selecting and using two identical goats (verse 5). This part of the day’s ceremony required him to take the two goats to the door of the tabernacle and present them before God. The high priest then cast lots over the goats. One lot was for representing God, and the other was for representing the Azazel (verses 7-8). The Authorized Version uses the word scapegoat instead of Azazel. The marginal reference provides the correct translation.
There is rich symbolism with these two goats. The goat for God was sacrificed as a sin offering (verse 9). That goat’s blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat and the altar for the sins of the people (verses 15-19). This offering pictured Jesus Christ, who was slain and whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Hebrews 9:12, 22-26). The high priest (who also performed symbolic roles of Jesus Christ) then seized the Azazel goat. He laid his hands on the goat and confessed over it all the sins of the people. Then a man led the goat to the wilderness and released it (Leviticus 16:20-22).
So, what does the Azazel goat symbolize?
Herbert Armstrong shows in his booklet Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?, that the name Azazel is a name for Satan the devil. Satan is guilty of influencing mankind into disobeying God (Ephesians 2:2). He will be punished for it. He will bear his own guilt for the sins of mankind. The devil considers himself to be a scapegoat—that he has no fault in human sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is the author of sin, and he will bear his punishment.
Satan to Be Bound
How will the symbolism of the goat for Azazel be fulfilled? Jesus Christ will return to this Earth to rule it. One of His first duties as King of kings will be to order Satan to be bound and taken to a place of restraint for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3). Satan will not be able to influence mankind during this wonderful time period. The change in men’s minds will be remarkable. As a whole, humanity will accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and live according to God’s law. There will be universal peace, joy and happiness! (Isaiah 2:1-4).
The removal of Satan’s influence will allow the world to be freed from sin and to become at one with God!