The scapegoat and the law of malicious witness

A new look at a challenging passage.

George E. Rice, Ph.D., is the pastor of the Triadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church, Clarksville, Maryland, United States.

Tied to our Seventh-day Adventist understanding of Daniel 8:14 "For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed" (NKJV) is the Day of Atonement ritual in the earthly sanctuary. It is seen as a type of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the pre-Advent, investigative judgment. Of course, central to the Day of Atonement ritual is the role of the scapegoat, which represented the separation of sin from God's people.

As the blood of animal sacrifices was sprinkled upon the sanctuary veil and the altar of incense throughout the year, the record of the sins of the penitent was transferred, by this blood, to the sanctuary. ; The ceremonial cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement, with the blood of the bull and the Lord's goat, transferred the record of the accumulated sins via the high priest to the scapegoat, who bore these sins into the wilderness. Thus sin was regarded as separated from God's people.

Using the earthly Day of Atonement as a type, Ellen White describes clearly what happens in the heavenly sanctuary: "So in the new covenant, the sins of the repentant are by faith placed upon Christ and transferred, in fact, to the heavenly sanctuary. And as the typical cleansing of the earthly was accomplished by the removal of the sins by which it had been polluted, so the actual cleansing of the heavenly is to be accomplished by the removal, or blotting out, of the sins which are there recorded." 1

The scapegoat in the earthly service was a type of Satan; thus, in the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, the record of the accumulated sins of God's people throughout the ages will be rolled back upon his head.

But can Satan bear sin?

However, by saying that the scapegoat was a type of Satan, we are accused of making him the one who bears our sins instead of Christ. How do we answer that charge?

Satan's role in the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary can be clarified by a legal process embedded within the laws and ordinances God gave to Moses. This little-known legal process is referred to as the law of malicious witness. Through this process God made provision for dealing with a lying, malicious witness within the courts of Israel. The procedure is outlined in Deuteronomy 19:16-19.

The provision is simple: (1) If a false witness brings accusations of wrongdoing against a person, the accused and the accuser shall stand before the Lord, who is represented by the priests and judges; (2) the judges will make careful inquiry into the accusations; (3) if it is found that the accusations are false, the accuser will receive the punishment that he desired to be inflicted upon the innocent party.

This simple legal procedure was illustrated in the Day of Atonement ritual in the earthly sanctuary, while it typified what was to take place in the judicial procedure in ultimately cleansing the heavenly sanctuary. The vicarious death of the Lamb of God brings forgiveness to all who accept Him as their Savior, and the demands of the broken law are met. The forgiven sinner stands under the grace of Christ, clothed in His righteousness, and is accepted by the heavenly Father. Although forgiven, the record of sins remains in the heavenly sanctuary.

Satan, on the other hand, knows all too well the sins that God's people have committed, and he demands that the saints be dealt with as God will eventually deal with him. He is relentless in his accusations against those who have ac cepted the grace of Christ and accuses them "before our God day and night" (Rev. 12:10). These accusations also bring God's plan of redemption into question. Satan challenges God's forgiveness, His saving grace, and His Self-renouncing love for fallen humanity. Satan's purpose is "to bring about an eternal separation between God and man."2

Eschatological application of the law of malicious witness

So we have the accused and the accuser. God is accused by Satan of partiality because the saints stand forgiven while he (Satan) is condemned, and the saints are accused by Satan because of their violation of God's law. To settle these accusations and God's right to grant grace to those who accept the sacrifice of His Son, could it be that God activated the law of malicious witness in the process of cleansing the heavenly sanctuary of the recorded sins of His people?

As this law stipulates, there must be a legal trial to see if the accusations are true. At the end of the 2,300-year period prophesied in Daniel 8:14, the trial began.

Thrones were put into place, the Ancient of Days took His seat, thousands upon thousands stood before Him, the court was assembled, the books of record were opened, and the legal process began (Dan. 7:9, 10).

In this vision, Daniel was shown the outcome of this trial. "Judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High" (Dan. 7:22), and thus God's handling of sin on planet Earth is vindicated. The saints are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and covered by His grace, so Satan's accusations against them are found to be groundless and he is proved to be a malicious witness.

He, in turn, with all of his followers, will stand trial in the great white throne judgment described in Revelation 20:7-15. The heavenly record of the sins of God's people has been blotted out by this time because within the context of God's grace Satan's accusations cannot stand.

The slate has been wiped clean. The heavenly sanctuary has been cleansed. The punishment, because of sin, that the malicious witness wished to inflict upon those who committed their lives to Christ is rolled back upon him.

This was typified in the earthly Day of Atonement service by the high priest confessing the sins of repentant Israel over the head of the scapegoat. Eternal separation from God, which Satan intended to be the destiny of the saints, becomes the fate of the malicious witness as the great controversy is brought to its conclusion. "The devil... was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" (Rev. 20:10).

1 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 421 422.

2 ———, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 25.

 

 

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George E. Rice, Ph.D., is the pastor of the Triadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church, Clarksville, Maryland, United States.

December 2005

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