Tonight is the last day of the Jewish Days of Awe. It is Yom Kippur, considered the most holy day of the year. Jewish festivals are reckoned from sundown to sundown because Genesis 1 shows over and over that “the evening and the morning” make up one day.
However, did you know that some Christians celebrate this day as well? Beginning at sundown, many will begin a roughly 24 hour fast in celebration of the Day of Atonement.
27Also 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.
28And 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 16 outlines an odd ceremony where two goats are selected. Lots are cast between the goats to see which role they will play in the ceremony (vv 7 – 8). One is “for the LORD”, and one is a “scapegoat”. That is actually a bad translation, though. A scapegoat is one who takes the blame but is really innocent. However, this symbolic ritual shows that the one that plays the role of the innocent is killed as a “sin offering”. IOW, the "one … for the LORD” is actually symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ! If anyone should be called a “scapegoat”, it would be the one that is offered.
The other is called the “Azazel” goat, a transliteration of the Hebrew. The footnote in the ESV says, “The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat”. The name of a demon is the most likely meaning. Since the first one represents Jesus Christ, it stands to reason that the second is symbolic of Satan. Notice that Aaron was instructed to confess the sins of the Children of Israel over the head of the Azazel goat (v 21). Then, it is lead into the wilderness by a fit man. The goat is to “bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area” (v 22) and let go. Afterwards, the fit man had to bathe and even wash his clothes before coming into the camp. He was symbolically unclean, having handled evil.
Some commentators have tried to have their cake and eat it too, suggesting that somehow both goats were representative of Jesus Christ. This is not logical. You would only need one goat were that the case. One goat is killed being innocent, which is an obvious symbol of Jesus. The other bears sins and is let go. Before the end of this physical existence, Satan will have to bear responsibility for his part in causing mankind to sin. Being spirit, he will not die but rather be put away.
What is the meaning of letting the Azazel go free in the wilderness? It represents the putting away of Satan for 1,000 years in the bottomless pit, presumably able to move and roam about but in complete darkness and without being able to influence human beings.
1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
~ Rev 20:1-3 (ESV)
After this, and only after this, can true reconciliation and atonement begin. Human beings will finally be “at one” with God.
For more information, see UCG’s God’s Holy Day Plan, “Atonement: Removal of Sin’s Cause and Reconciliation to God”.