Chapter 2: ‘The reason the Son of God appeared’

(1 John 3:8, NIV)

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Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. This is what we read: ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3:8, NIV). The cross of Christ marked the beginning of the end for Satan and his power, as stated in Hebrews 2:14-15, NIV: ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’

Satan is the one who ‘leads the whole world astray’ (Rev.12:9, NIV). He is called ‘the god of this world’—or ‘age’—who has ‘blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (2 Cor.4:4, NIV). He is ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience’ (Eph.2:2, NKJ), whose spiritual forces of evil are continually and insidiously at work to tempt, deceive, influence, and provoke mankind into every kind of vice and sin. The apostle Paul warned his fellow believers at Ephesus to ‘put on the full armour of God’ so that they could ‘stand against the devil’s schemes’ (Eph.6:11, NIV). ‘For our struggle,’ he explained, ‘is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph.6:12, NIV). Jesus called Satan ‘the ruler’ or ‘prince of this world’ (as recorded three times in the Gospel of John: 12:31; 14:30 and 16:11). The demonic powers are real and relentless in their opposition to God and those who serve God. Satan is angry, for he knows that his rule is coming to an end and that ‘his time is short’ (Rev.12:12, NIV).

Unlike the portrayal of demonic powers in popular fiction and movies, the presence of demonic spirits and their influence over this world are not so obvious. The devil is far more subtle and deadly in his schemes and actions. The reason for this is clear—he doesn’t want to frighten people into turning to God. He would rather be the authority behind the throne, whose sway and control is hidden from open view. Satan, in attempting to prolong his rule, will do all in his power to hinder the spread of the Gospel. In varying degrees, the demonic forces have the nations of this world deluded and in their sway. Yet, the devil remains entirely unable to thwart the purposes of God and in Christ we have nothing to fear. Jesus came to set man free: ‘He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’ (Col.1:13, NIV). To the Apostle Paul, Jesus gave the commission to witness before Jews and Gentiles, saying:

‘I am sending you to them to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place amongst those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:17-18, NIV).

‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness’

We read in the book of Revelation: ‘So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world’ (Rev.12:9, NKJ). The devil is called a serpent. His spiritual poison kills. As the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44), it was he who, in the beginning, tempted mankind to doubt God’s word, coming to Eve in the guise of one bringing enlightenment. His tactics were no different in Paul’s day: ‘Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light,’ he wrote (2 Cor.11:14, NIV). He expressed his fear that the Corinthians, just as Eve, might be deceived by ‘the serpent’s cunning’ (2 Cor.11:3). The association is clear, the Bible speaks of Satan as a snake, whose subtle use of camouflage and stealth hides his evil and poisonous intent. This is important as we consider the related passages of Scripture from John 3:14-16 and Numbers 21:4-9:

In the wilderness wanderings under Moses, as the Israelites journeyed to go around Edom, the people started to speak against Moses and against God. Complaining against Moses was bad enough, after they had witnessed so many miracles, signs and wonders, but speaking against God was blasphemy. People despised the manna that God had given them for bread, calling it worthless, and they questioned God’s wisdom in leading them through a barren land, not having the faith that He would provide. So God sent venomous serpents among the people and many started to die from the poison (Num.21:6). Then the Israelites began to confess their sins of rebellion and asked Moses to pray that God would save them from the snakes. In response, God told Moses to make a bronze image of a snake and to set it on a pole so that whoever was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze image and live. The people had to believe in the word of God and obey His command in order to be healed. However, notice from the passage—they were not commanded to worship the snake. They were not told to put their faith in the snake. They were not told to bow down before that bronze image of a snake on a pole. They were told to believe the promise of God. They were told to ‘look’ and the moment they looked, the serpent’s venom was taken away—the effect of the serpent’s poison was destroyed.

When you look to Jesus—when you believe and in your mind’s eye look to Jesus on the cross—the devil’s poison in you is taken away—the devil’s work in you is destroyed. You have to believe and you have to obey.

What do you have to believe? That when you look to Jesus, the works of the devil in your life and the hold he has on you will be destroyed. This is faith in Christ. This is the effect of the cross for all who put their faith in the word of the living God and look to Christ. The image of the crucified Lord symbolizes God’s promise of salvation and deliverance through faith.

Jesus said: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15, NIV). The image of the serpent lifted up was a symbol to the people of their deliverance through God from the poison of the snake. The mental image of Christ on the cross carries a like significance. It is through Jesus that we are saved from the spiritual poison of the devil. Both images signify God’s power over the serpent and His power to deliver from evil. This symbol of the bronze serpent lifted up and removed from the earth also prefigures God’s judgment on Satan at the time of the crucifixion: ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; Jesus declared, ‘Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (John 12:31-32, NIV). It is not that the bronze serpent typifies Christ, but that the significance of this symbolic image at the time of Moses typifies the deliverance of man from the power of the devil through the cross of Christ.

‘The serpent’, as we have seen, is a term the Bible uses for the devil, not God’s Son. To allude to Jesus as the serpent, therefore, as some commentators do, is to ignore the testimony of Scripture and to apply the attributes of a snake to Christ (which is, frankly, a blasphemy—although not one against the Holy Spirit). In the symbolic imagery of these passages, therefore, we have revealed the resulting triumph of Christ and the utter defeat of that serpent of old and all his works. When you believe and look to Christ, the devil’s power over you will be destroyed. This is the effect of putting your faith in the offering Christ made of His life.

The Day of Atonement

The instructions and sacrificial laws regarding the holy days of God’s sacred calendar, as described in the law given to Moses, contain prophetic symbolism that foreshadow the cross and help us to understand further the reason why the Son of God appeared and made a sacrifice of His life. Paul wrote to the Colossians: ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’ (Col.2:16-17, NIV). This is echoed in the letter to the Hebrews: ‘The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves’ (Heb.10:1, NIV). Also, in the same letter we read that the priests offered gifts at a sanctuary that was ‘a copy and shadow of what is in heaven’ (Heb.8:5, NIV). With this in mind, therefore, we must study the events of the Day of Atonement and allow the biblical revelation to unfold the mystery of this most holy day.

In ancient Israel, it was held on the 10th day of the 7th month and was ordained as a fast day—a day for self-denial and solemn assembly (Lev.23:27). It was the only day of the year in which the high priest, carrying the blood of sacrifice, was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies—the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle (or temple), which contained the ark of the covenant, symbolizing the throne of God. In reality, this was fulfilled when Jesus Christ, bearing His own blood as our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb.6:19-20), offered His life for us before the God of Heaven (Heb.9:11-14). Carrying the cross, He bore away all our sins to the place of execution, where He provided the perfect atonement for all who believe. As soon as Jesus yielded up His spirit, ‘the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom’ (Matt.27:50-51). This veil was a heavy curtain behind which was located the Holy of Holies. Thus, through His sacrifice, the way was made open for those of true faith to approach the throne of God (Heb.10:19-22, NKJ):

‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’

Spiritually, therefore, through faith in the ‘blood of Christ’ we are cleansed of sin, as His life both touches and ‘covers’ our own and sins are forgiven. The Hebrew word translated ‘atonement’ is taken from the word ‘kaphar’, which is a primitive root, meaning ‘to cover’ (cf. Strong’s Concordance). Most often, as in the law given to Moses, it is used in the figurative sense: ‘to cover over sin’ when blood is applied—the blood can be said to cover over the life of the person or persons concerned, covering over and blotting out sins. We read: ‘The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Heb.9:22, NIV). The same word is used literally in Genesis 6:14 with the meaning ‘to cover with pitch’, in reference to the covering of Noah’s ark with a kind of tar, to make the vessel water tight and safe against the flood. Within the visionary description of Isaiah (Is. 6:7), kaphar is used to indicate the purging of sins and uncleanness through the touch of coals taken from the altar of God’s heavenly temple – burning away impurity by the refining fire of God. In Scripture, therefore, it can be used figuratively to suggest any action where the result is cleansing and forgiveness, allowing for ‘atonement’ – a restoration in some form with God. In Leviticus chapter 16, the word is used 16 times in the Hebrew instructions regarding the Day of Atonement – initially, of course, as it was to be kept during the time of Moses, when the nation Israel journeyed in the wilderness after leaving Egypt.

On this special day, the blood of sacrifice was used to achieve atonement and cleansing in all but one of the actions to be performed. The exception related to a rite involving a goat that was singularly chosen by sacred lot, not to be killed, but to be driven out into the desert wilderness and away from the camp, ‘laden’ with all the sins for which the people had been guilty—symbolically placed on the head of the goat by the high priest through his laying on of hands and confession (Lev16:10 &-22). It was one of two goats presented before the Lord for the casting of lots to decide which of them would be sacrificed as a sin offering; and which taken away bearing sins into a place of desolation. Goats chosen for a sin offering had to be without spot or blemish. This goat, dispatched to the wilderness, although not a blood sacrifice, also had to exhibit the same signs of purity when first selected from the flock. Jesus—the true ‘Lamb without blemish,’ 1 Pet.1;19—may be seen represented by both goats for this reason.

To understand what is meant by this rite, we must consider the reason and purpose for the choosing by lot. It is generally thought that the goat not sacrificed represented the sin-bearing aspect of our Lord’s work, as foretold by Isaiah; nevertheless, we need to ask how this was possible and why it was necessary to command the employment of the sacred lot to decide between the goats, if both represented different aspects of the one and self-same sacrifice of the Lord. If both goats typified Christ, what difference would it have made which one was to be sacrificed and which one delivered into the wilderness? None. It would have made no difference at all. However, the use of the sacred lot was not to differentiate between the goats, but to declare that all would be done according to the divine judgment of God and to declare to us that it would be God’s decision both to deliver up and to accept His Son as the atonement for sin. Prophetically, it proclaimed that the Lord’s sacrifice would be made according to the foreordained will of God: ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord’ (Prov.16:33). We should realize, therefore, that the solemn use of the sacred lot upon the Day of Atonement foreshadowed the enactment of God’s will and judgment at the time when Christ atoned for our sins.

Jesus was delivered up to the satanic authorities and judged by man, but ‘He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly’ (1 Pet.2:23, NKJ). That judgment was to accept the fragrant offering of His Son and to overturn the verdict of an earthly court through the resurrection, according to His own divine will and purpose. But, also, there was the other judgment exercised by God at that time, pronounced by Christ Himself: ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world, now the prince of this world will be driven out’ (John 12:31). The expression ‘prince of this world’ is in reference to Satan (cf. Jn.14:30, 16:11). Jesus foretold that the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, would convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: ‘… and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned’ (John 16:7-11, NIV).

In verse 8 of Leviticus 16, the Hebrew uses the preposition ‘for’ (‘lamed’): lots were cast ‘for the Lord’ on the one hand, and ‘for Azazel’ on the other. Notice: ‘And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for Jehovah, and the other lot for Azazel’ (as translated by Darby; also translated as a proper name in the following works: cf. RSV; ASV; Jewish Bible,1917; New American Bible, 1986; New English Translation, 1996). It was God’s decision that His Son deliver up His life and Spirit in death as the Sin Offering (‘for the Lord’) and that His body be delivered up to the ‘prince of this world’, to suffer and die—bearing sins—for the purpose of our redemption from sin. The price He paid was His life— offered not to Satan, but to God. Notice, only the goat ‘for the Lord’ was a blood sacrifice—His life (‘…the life is in the blood,’ Lev.17:11, ‘…it is the blood that makes atonement.’) was yielded up to God. The crucifixion of Christ sealed God’s condemnation of this world and its prince. That sins are symbolically carried away to the wilderness (considered the realm of evil spirits) may be seen as a metaphor showing God’s indictment for all sin of the one from whom sin came into the world (‘…the devil has sinned from the beginning,’ 1 Jn.3:8, NKJ). Here, sins are returned to the source. The removal of sins indicated spiritual cleansing—the casting away of sin and Satan’s rule from God’s people, effected by Christ.

In the above passage, ‘Yehovah’ is the personal name for the Lord in Hebrew. It is, therefore, both logical and reasonable to accept ‘Azazel’ as a personal name for one standing in contrast to the Lord. In examining the meaning of this noun, translators put forward various suggestions:

1. It refers to a precipice, east of Jerusalem, over which—on the Day of Atonement in NT times—the goat was thrown backwards, to be dashed on the rocks below (cf. Mishna, Yoma vi,6). However, this cannot be the original meaning as the instructions were given at the time of the first tabernacle under Moses—long before Israel had come to occupy this territory.

2. It means ‘entire removal’ as derived from a similar sounding Arabic term meaning ‘to banish, remove’.

3. It means ‘goat of departure’ from the Hebrew words: ‘ez’ (a she-goat) and ‘azal’ (a primitive root meaning ‘to go away’, cf. Strong’s). In this form the term appears in the Septuagint. Jerome used the term ‘caper emmisarius’ meaning ‘goat that escapes’ in the Latin Vulgate (c. AD400), which influenced the King James translators to use the term ’scapegoat’. The modern NIV retains this form, but we should realize the original derivation. The goat did not ‘escape’, but was sent away and literally driven over a cliff to its death in the time of our Lord.

4. It is a name given to a strong demon, as derived from the Hebrew ‘azaz’ (to be strong) and ‘el’ (god). According to the New Bible Dictionary, this is the meaning that most scholars prefer.

Objections to the view that the term refers to the name of a demon are often based upon the notion that it is unthinkable that an offering should be made to a demon. This is true, but there is no suggestion that such an offering was to be made. The main idea contained in this rite is that of the removal of sin. Firstly, through God’s acceptance of Christ for us there is complete and full forgiveness for all who truly believe. His life becomes our covering. This is foreshadowed by the rite concerning the goat chosen by sacred lot to be slain. Secondly, there is the need for deliverance—symbolized by the sending away of the goat bearing sin (‘to Azazel’: RSV; ‘for a goat of departure’: YLT, Lev.16:10—not ‘as the scapegoat’). Jesus bore our sins at the cross as the head of all humanity – not as the One upon whom responsibility for those sins was placed, but as the One against whom all have sinned. Just as the Lord regards every act of kindness towards others as an act done to Himself (Mat.25:34-40), so likewise He regards every act of unkindness:

Then He will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (Mat.25:41-46, NKJ).

As stated in chapter one, God’s justice demands that the guilty be held responsible for sin, not the innocent (cf. Ez.18; Prov.17:15 & 26). Satan is truly guilty as the instigator of all rebellion against God. Though we can be forgiven, Satan remains condemned. If one incites or tempts others to trespass against God, even if those who actually commit the crimes later repent and are forgiven, that person who provoked the offences remains guilty. This is true justice—the justice of God.

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He came to banish Satan from our midst. The devil’s power over us and in our lives is removed when we turn to Christ. Satan is the strong ‘god of this world’ (2 Cor.4:4), ruling over those who live in darkness. He has completely departed from God’s ways and has entirely been removed from God’s kingdom. The time for judgement on this world has begun and he is condemned. His sentence will be carried out in full when God’s rule is restored on Earth (Rev.20:10, 21:4; Matt.25:41).

Now, should this interpretation be true, that ‘Azazel’ is to be viewed as a personal name given to a ‘demon-god’, and that the associated rite should be understood in terms of our deliverance and God’s judgment, then one would expect to find support from other sources in the literature of the period—and this is exactly what one does find. The following extracts are taken from ‘one of the most important inter-testamental works’ (NBD):

‘Thou seest what Azazel [a fallen angel] hath done, who taught all unrighteousness on earth..? …Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. …And on the day of the great judgement he shall be cast into the fire. And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, and that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things which the watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: ascribe to him all sin‘ (The Book of Enoch: 1 Enoch X:6; X:4-8; Charles, R H, trans., Oxford, Clarendon, 1912).

Here, Azazel is described as a fallen angel to whom is ascribed all the sin and corruption of the whole earth. He is pictured as being cast into a desert place until the day of judgment when he will be cast into fire. Also, from the same source:

‘Ye mighty kings who dwell on the earth, ye shall have to behold Mine Elect One, how He sits on the throne of glory and judges Azazel, and all his associates, and all his hosts in the name of the Lord ..’ (The Book of Enoch: 1 Enoch LV:4; Charles, R H, trans., Oxford, Clarendon, 1912).

The Book of Enoch has historical value and is thought to have been known to the apostles (cf. the close parallel between Jude:14-15 and 1 Enoch 1:9). These writings allow us to understand Jewish thought from an early period, but are not to be regarded as Scripture. Important for our study, however, is the fact that ‘Azazel’ was considered to be a personal name for a fallen angel.

During the time of Christ’s ministry on Earth, He delivered many who were demonized. ‘When an evil spirit comes out of a man,’ He said, ‘it goes through arid places seeking rest’ (Matt.12:43). This reminds us of the solitary desert region to which the ‘Azazel’ goat was sent. We may not need to have demons cast out, but all who can truly call Jesus ‘Lord’ have been delivered from Satan’s rule, as Paul wrote: ‘He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves’ (Col.1:13, NIV). Satan needs to be removed from our midst. At the hour when Christ had to suffer, He said: ‘Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out’ (John 12:31). When the Spirit of Christ enters our lives, the power of Satan is cast out. It is then that we become at-one with God.

The pure and precious blood of Christ’s one atoning sacrifice avails for all who truly believe, covering over and blotting out sin. In Christ there is truly victory over sin and the devil. This is the biblical revelation of the atonement Christ provides for us. He is Jehovah Jireh—the God who provides. To be saved, we need only to accept His great provision and yield to His gracious governance.

To ascribe the Azazel goat to Christ in such a way as to ascribe to Him all sin is against all reason and justice. Though we, through the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, repent and are forgiven our sins, Satan and all his cohorts remain justly guilty. The time will soon come, however, when the final judgment will be passed on Satan and his angels (1 Cor.6:3; Mat.25:41). As Peter declared, God judges righteously (1 Pet.2:23).

The foregoing observations reason against the notion that the rite concerning the goat sent away typified the transference of guilt and responsibility for sin to our Lord. Rather, Jesus bears our sins as the One against whom all have sinned.  Now, through the grace of God, He is also the One to bear away the sins of all who truly repent.

Note: Reflections from writings of early Church fathers

 

In the foregoing were outlined various interpretations that scholars had given to the word ‘azazel’ – as applied to one of two goats chosen by sacred lot in the ritual of the Day of Atonement. This term – understood as a proper name – was used in contraposition to the name of God in the Hebrew text.

One other word contrapositioned to God in Scripture is ‘mammon’ ( ‘riches’ , as trans. from Aramaic): ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’ (Mat.6:24, NKJ). Here, mammon, although not a person, is personified. It is reasonable to believe, therefore, that the term ‘Azazel’, likewise contrapositioned to the name ‘Yahweh’, expresses either a person or a personification standing in opposition to God. There were two goats chosen by lot, one for Azazel and one for Yahweh; but what is to be understood of this symbolism from the first centuries of Church history?

The early church writers: Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd cent.) and Origen of Alexandria (3rd cent.) are known to have held the view that ‘Azazel’ was the name of a demon. Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies, quoted an unknown ‘elder’ as saying in verse:

“Marcus, thou former of idols, inspector of portents,
Skill’d in consulting the stars, and deep in the black arts of magic,
Ever by tricks such as these confirming the doctrines of error,
Furnishing signs unto those involved by thee in deception,
Wonders of power that is utterly severed from God and apostate,
Which Satan, thy true father, enables thee still to accomplish,
By means of Azazel, that fallen and yet mighty angel,
Thus making thee the precursor of his own impious actions.”

Such are the words of the saintly elder.

Irenaeus Bk 1, Ch.15:6 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff)

Origen (c.AD 182-251) knew Hebrew, wrote profusely on Christian topics and was a well-known Christian writer in his own day, although not entirely orthodox. As with Irenaeus, His view of the term ‘Azazel’ expressed an agreement with a teaching that Azazel is the name for a fallen angel – ‘the serpent’ – although the passaage is unclear as to his exact interpretation of the goat:

‘For the serpent … he who was the author of destruction to them that obeyed him, and did not withstand his wicked deeds … Moreover (the goat), which in the book of Leviticus is sent away (into the wilderness), and which in the Hebrew language is named Azazel, was none other than this; and it was necessary to send it away into the desert, and to treat it as an expiatory sacrifice, because on it the lot fell. …’

Origen, Contra Celsus, Bk 6, 43 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff)

Irenaeus (c. AD 120-200), bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyons, France), was a pupil of Polycarp, the revered bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) – who was said to have been ordained by the apostles (Irenaeus: letter to the Roman elder Florinus, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V. xx, 5 – 6). Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, in several places in his works, quoted from the writings of the second century apologist ‘Justin Martyr’ (c. AD 100-165) and also made reference to Justin, as shown here:

Truly has Justin remarked that before the Lord’s appearance Satan never dared to blaspheme God, inasmuch as he did not yet know his own sentence, because it was contained in parables and allegories; but that after the Lord’s appearance, when he had clearly ascertained from the words of Christ and his apostles that eternal fire has been prepared for him as he rebelled against God by his own free will, and likewise for all who unrepentant continue in the rebellion, he now blasphemes by means of such men, the Lord who brings judgment upon him as already condemned, and imputes the guilt of his rebellion to his maker, not to his own voluntary disposition.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, 26 (Ante- Nicene Fathers, trans. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson)

The above comments reveal the beliefs that Satan had no understanding of his condemnation until after the Lord’s coming and that he, the devil, imputes the guilt of rebellion to God, his Creator – not to himself. Both Irenaeus and Justin, therefore, held the belief that Satan imputes the guilt of his sin to God. That Satan would want to impute the guilt of man’s sin to God also would seem logical, if he should want to so impute his own!

Irenaeus would also have been familiar with Justin’s comments concerning the atonement. Notice from the following passages just how Justin understood in what manner Jesus had become ‘a curse for us’ (Gal.3:13):

Nay, more than this, you suppose that He was crucified as hostile to and cursed by God, which supposition is the product of your most irrational mind. (93)

Just as God commanded the sign to be made by the brazen serpent, and yet He is blameless; even so, though a curse lies in the law against persons who are crucified, yet no curse lies on the Christ of God, by whom all that have committed things worthy of a curse are saved. (94)

If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? (95)

For the statement in the law, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,’ [Deut.21:23] confirms our hope which depends on the crucified Christ, not because He who has been crucified is cursed by God, but because God foretold that which would be done by you all, and by those like to you, who do not know.For you curse in your synagogues all those who are called Christians; and other nations effectively carry out the curse, putting to death those who simply confess themselves to be Christians … (96)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, (Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson)

He wrote: ‘No curse lies on the Christ of God.’ – That is, not in truth, according to God’s judgment. Justin explained that on the crucified Lord fell not the curse of God, but the curses of man – uttered by man against Him, as indeed upon His followers. Many had wrongly supposed that the crucifixion was proof that Jesus was cursed by the Almighty. To Justin, such a perception was the product of a ‘most irrational mind’ (93, ibid.). Here, Justin presents us with the prophetic portrayal of the suffering servant – viewed by man as accursed of God, as He hung upon the cross. To Justin, the true reality was that Jesus was prepared to suffer all the curses of mankind in His desire to save mankind from sin.

Do these views help us to understand Justin’s comments regarding the goat ‘for Azazel’ – the goat that was driven into the wilderness? – As a matter of fact, yes.

Justin wrote:

And the two goats which were ordered to be offered during the fast, of which one was sent away as the scape [azazel, goat of departure], and the other sacrificed, were similarly declarative of the two appearances of Christ: the first, in which the elders of your people, and the priests, having laid hands on Him and put Him to death, sent Him away as the scape; and His second appearance, because in the same place in Jerusalem you shall recognise Him whom you have dishonoured, and who was an offering for all sinners willing to repent, and keeping the fast which Isaiah speaks of, loosening the terms of the violent contracts, and keeping the other precepts, likewise enumerated by him, and which I have quoted, which those believing in Jesus do. And further, you are aware that the offering of the two goats, which were enjoined to be sacrificed at the fast, was not permitted to take place similarly anywhere else, but only in Jerusalem. (40)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, (Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson)

From this we see that Justin understood the ‘goat of departure’ as typifying an appearance of Christ – the priests laid hands upon Him and sent Him away to die. In doing so, they dishonoured and killed the One who made an offering of His life for all who repent of sins, as prophesied.

Therefore, we see that Justin wrote of two appearances of Christ – one by which He came unrecognized, dishonoured and cursed; the second by which He came known and understood by His disciples to be the One who offered His life for all sinners who truly repent and seek the righteousness of God. In this sense, the goat for Azazel prefigured what would happen to Christ during the first appearance. Jesus was rejected as an object of revulsion, just like the goat that was driven away to die in the wilderness.

Likewise, the body of the sin offering was also taken away ‘outside the camp’ – where it was completely burned and destroyed. However, its blood was sprinkled on and before the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies and afterwards sprinkled upon the altar to make atonement (Lev.16:27-28 & 15, 18, 19). This signifies that although the body of Jesus was to be taken and treated by man with contempt, His life would be received by the Father as a holy offering of atonement, acceptable and well-pleasing in His sight. (The ‘life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement,’ Lev.17:11, NKJ.)

To Justin, the two goats of the Day of Atonement spoke prophetically of our Lord’s rejection, suffering and death on the one hand, and of our Lord’s acceptance as a worthy offering sufficient for all on the other. The leaders, priests and people saw only the outward appearance. Nevertheless, the blood of the sin offering, sprinkled before God over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy Place, amidst a cloud of fragrant incense, revealed the true inner reality of holiness and the Father’s acceptance of His Son: the Lamb of God ‘who takes away the sin of the world’ – though paradoxically the focus of mankind’s sins, curses and rejection.

The goat of departure became reviled as an object of sin, as indicated in The Epistle of Barnabus (c. A.D. 70-130):

‘Notice how the type of Jesus is revealed! “And all of you shall spit upon it and jab it, and tie scarlet wool around its head, and then let it be driven into the wilderness.”’ (The Apostolic Fathers, 7, 7-8: Lightfoot, Harmer, Holmes, pub. Apollos, 1989).

Although the source of this quotation used by Barnabus is unknown, the obvious revulsion shown towards the goat is echoed in a description found in the Mishna (a 2nd cent. AD compilation of Jewish precepts):

‘And they made a causeway for him because of the Babylonians, for they used to pull his hair and say to him, ‘Bear [away our sins] and go forth! Bear [away our sins] and go forth!”’ (Yoma, 6:4, Mishna, Talmud).

Laden with sin, the goat had come to personify sin and was thus treated with contempt by those who wanted to be free of sin.

In Isaiah, we read the Messianic verse: ‘I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting’ (Is.50:6, NKJ). At once, we recognize the figure of Jesus – for whom the goat of departure (spat upon, jabbed at and hair pulled) may be seen as the type.

Jesus knew that He would be delivered up to authorities acting under satanic influence, as we can read: ‘I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming …’ (John 14:30, NKJ). ‘Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death’ (Acts 2:23, NKJ). After His trial and scourging, He was led to a place of execution outside Jerusalem. The goat of departure (‘for Azazel’) was delivered up to Azazel in the wilderness, bearing the sins of the nation. Similarly, Jesus carried the sins of the people in His own body to the cross. He bore the sins, but not juridically as a substitute, for He had been ‘deprived of justice’ and had been ‘taken away by lawless hands’ (Acts 8:33; 2:23). No, what happened signified that atonement for sins can be found through the blood of Christ, shed for us on the cross. His life, poured out in true holiness can be our covering. His righteousness is the garment of salvation for all who truly repent through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus was looked upon as one who typified sin, just as the goat for Azazel came to be seen. Nevertheless, in reality, He was the One who pronounced the sentence of God upon the father of sins. Although delivered up in body as an outcast of the nation Himself, Jesus delivered God’s verdict upon the ruler of this world – casting out the power of sin and Satan.

Did the goat for Azazel represent the devil? In the minds of the people, this goat came to symbolize sin. It was thought of as bearing all the sins for which Satan is ultimately guilty. As such, it was treated with hostility and was driven away as an object despised and hated. In truth, it symbolized Christ as the One who would be delivered up, bearing in His body the marks that symbolized mankind’s sin and rebellion against God, for which Satan is also culpable. Did the goat for Azazel represent an aspect of the deliverance to be received through Christ? Yes, this was the hidden truth. Jesus, though delivered up to Satan, maintained His righteousness and revealed His victory over sin and death. The devil lost and received God’s judgment. Through faith, all who look to Christ are truly set free from the power of sin and death. In Him is no condemnation.

Personal note: In the light of the above, I have to make a personal apology for my need to revise the position I expressed previously in my book. We have to admit to our mistakes and move on – this is what I am doing here. At the same time, I recognize that the above does not detract from the overall message of the book. In fact, quite the opposite, as Justin remarked: ‘No curse lies on the Christ of God.’ Though cursed, rejected and regarded as sin by man, He was received as the Lamb without blemish by God the Father. His victory over sin was our victory also, if we are in Christ.

‘Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ’

(Mat.27:17, NIV)

‘Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. … But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed’ (Mat.27:15-20, NIV).

‘Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder’ (Luke 23:19, NIV).

‘Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”‘ (Luke 23:20, NIV).

Notice from these accounts of Scripture: Pilate, in wanting to set Jesus free, offered the people a choice between Jesus and a notorious rebel and murderer called Barabbas. Pilate had obviously thought that the crowd would choose Jesus for release and not an infamous criminal. Barabbas, whose name means ‘son of the father’ in Aramaic (the common language of the people at that time), represented the antithesis of Christ, ‘the Son of God’—’the Son of the Father’. The Apostle Peter contrasted Barabbas to ‘the Holy and Righteous One’:

‘But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you’ (Acts 3:14, NKJ).

Moreover, just as Christ represented His Father in heaven, so Barabbas was truly a son in the spirit of his father, the evil one. To the Pharisees, Jesus said: ‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him’ (John 8:44).

Origen (d. AD254), in his ‘Commentary on Matthew’, mentions that some old manuscripts render the question of Pilate: ‘Whom do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?’ – and it is in this form that the name appears in the 9th century Codex Theta. It is thought the name ‘Barabbas’ could have been given because he was the son of a rabbi, a Jewish religious leader. Nevertheless, both in name and character, Barabbas was the spiritual opposite of the Lord.

The mob unknowingly rejected ‘the source of eternal salvation’ (Heb.5:9). Barabbas received pardon and release from Pilate, but not the pardon of God. Without repentance and belief in Christ there can be no release from condemnation for sin. The Bible declares through Peter the nature of the one the crowd chose. At the behest of the mob, Pilate released a murderer.

It is a common misconception that Barabbas is to be likened to those set free by Christ. The words of Jesus: ‘He has sent Me … to proclaim release to the captives’ (Luke 4:18; Is. 61:1-2) is sometimes used to support this idea. However, Barabbas was set free from a physical confinement , not from  his bondage to sin and Satan. True, ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom.5:8) but our release through Christ is spiritual, effected through faith and repentance. To identify with Barabbas, therefore, is to identify with evil. Those set free by Christ are the ones who – like Peter and Paul – repent with faith.

On the Day of Atonement, it was God who was called upon to signify His decision by sacred lot concerning the two goats, chosen from the flock without spot or blemish. In contrast, at the the judgment seat before Pilate, it was the people who chose. In calling for the release of Barabbas and for the death of Jesus, the leaders of the nation and their followers aligned themselves with the evil one. This very act of identifying with Barabbas revealed the enmity of man, under the sway of Satan, against God’s Son and against God. They rejected Immanuel, ‘God with us’, and heaped their sin upon the Lord. Jesus , therefore, was delivered up by the high priest, laden with the sins of the people, like the ‘goat for Azazel’.

At the present time, the devil is free on earth though banished from heaven (Rev.12:7-12), and having no place in God’s kingdom. He is at large: ‘like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Pet.5:8). On earth, God’s kingdom is spreading through the Gospel into the lives of all who submit to the Lordship of Christ—and the devil knows that ‘his time is short’ (Rev.12:12). People are being delivered from Satan’s dominion, covered by Christ’s blood, His life, and sealed by the Holy Spirit against the day of God’s wrath upon the ungodly.

Before Pilate, the people were given a choice—they chose evil. We have a choice also. We can accept what Satan offers as an alternative to Christ. We can receive the freedom he provides—the freedom to indulge in every act of vice and sin without restraint of conscience. We can accept all the self-gratifying pleasures of this world. We can reject God’s Son and follow a persuasive Satanic influence. The choice is ours.

Barabbas was given the liberty to follow his evil ways as before. God’s grace by no means gives us such freedom. Jesus breaks the chains of sin, that we might become slaves of righteousness (Rom.6:15-18). In Jesus, the power of sin and the devil is destroyed (Heb.2:14-15). Satan would have us blind and bound—living in spiritual darkness and captivity, but God has called us ‘out of darkness into His wonderful light’ (1 Pet.2:9).

Jesus said: ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. …Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’ (John 8:31-36, NKJ).

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