Friday, April 2, 2010

Jesus Christ: The Spotless Lamb, the Scapegoat, and the Bronze Serpent

Today Christians around the world celebrate Good Friday, the most tragic and beautiful of holidays (literally: holy-day) on which we remember the death and sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus. Tragic for the death that it entailed. Beautiful for the lives that it bought. And yet all of history from the point of the fall was leading up to that moment because "it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (Lev. 17:11) and "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22).

Likewise, all of the Old Testament was leading up to and foreshadowing the coming of the Messiah who would redeem his people. For this reason, the most dominant characteristic of the Old Testament sacrifices for the sins of the people was that it must be pure, spotless, unblemished. Thus when John the Baptist saw the one for whom he was to prepare the way, he announced "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" Jesus came as one pure and unaffected by Adam's fall. Spotless and unstained by sin. Unblemished and righteous before God. As Peter wrote,
"You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (1 Pet. 1:19)

Yet, among the other Old Testament allusions, two have stood out to me as beautifully poignant. The first is only mentioned once in the entire Bible.
Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat . . . Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins ; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land ; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:8-10, 21, 22)
Notice that the scapegoat remains alive to carry the sins of the people away. Though there are no explicit New Testament references (that I am aware of) to this living atonement, there is still a clear image of Christ.

The second is less obvious and, had Christ himself not drawn the connection, it would have seemed a bit of a stretch to draw the parallel ourselves. In Numbers 21 we read the account of yet another rebellion on the part of the Israelites against their God. In response, the Lord sent "fiery serpents" with a deadly bite into the Israelite camp. When the people repented, God commanded Moses to "m
ake a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." (Num 21:8) And Jesus calls our attention back to this account when he said "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life." (John 3:14,15)

This imagery can be fairly confusing. It is easy to see the parallels to Christ in the unblemished sacrifices and the scapegoat. But Jesus also says he is like the bronze serpent which, instead of being the picture of purity, is the representation of the curse. Yet Jesus did just this when he came in human form. Beyond this, " God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

Thus, in Christ all of this Old Testament imagery comes to a head and fulfillment. Christ became the One who was without blemish or defect to be our sacrifice, the One who lives to take sin upon his head and carry it away from his people, and the One who was lifted up in the likeness of the curse—nay, became the curse
!—so that all who looked upon him in faith in the promise of God would be saved.

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