Expiation and Propitiation (Lev 16)
Leviticus 16 details an annual law of atonement (v.34). Aaron was commanded by God, via Moses, to offer up several animals in this law: a bull, a ram, two goats. The ram was for a burnt offering (v.3). The bull was for his own sin and the sin of his household (v.11). Some of the bull’s blood was to be sprinkled on the mercy seat (v.14). Already, it is quite obvious that coming before the Lord is a dangerous thing for the priest (in this case, Aaron). “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat’” (v.2). This warning is given again in verse 13. Verse 2 makes certain that Aaron’s life would be in danger if he entered due to the presence of God. He would die because God would be there, over the mercy seat. The most dangerous place for a sinner to be is in the presence of God, for He is an omnipotent, just, holy God.
However, there was a way which Aaron could enter into the presence of God. “‘Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering’” (v.3). Aaron was only able to come before God if a propitiation for his sin was provided. There had to be something to take the penalty for His unholiness and something through which he could then be credited with righteousness. Otherwise, Aaron would be left unholy and guilty before the holy and pure Judge. To enter the presence of God – for prayer, for the indwelling of the Spirit, for the final time of glory, etc. – we also must have a propitiation for our sins: something to take God’s wrath for our unrighteousness and give us righteousness. Praise God that this propitiation is Jesus Christ!
The two goats that Aaron brought were for a very unique purpose. Here we find the doctrines of propitiation and expiation beautifully illustrated. One of the goats (both were chosen by casting lots, v.7-10) was to be slaughtered as a sin offering for the people – the blood sprinkled on the mercy seat (v.15). Aaron was to take the other goat and “‘confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins’” (v.21). After this, the sins of God’s people were considered to be on the head of the goat. With this, Aaron would “‘send it away into the wilderness….The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land’” (v.21-22).
This ritual performed with two goats beautifully illustrates the work of Christ in relation to God the Father! In one sense, Christ served as a propitiation for our sins. He was the first goat, dying under the wrath of God and providing righteous blood to cover the mercy seat, thus satisfying God’s righteous indignation for our unrighteousness. In another sense, Christ served as an expiation for our sins. He was the second goat, who took upon Himself all of the unrighteous, wicked filth of His people. With such wretchedness upon His back, He carried it away – far, far into the wilderness and far, far away from the judgement throne of God.