“Your Sins Are Forgiven You”
“GET up and pick up your little bed and be on your way home.” How those words, so simply and easily spoken, electrified the crowds that were gathered in Capernaum to hear Jesus preach! Admittedly they had never seen anything like this before. As all eyes were riveted on this paralytic to whom Jesus’ words were spoken, “instantly he rose up before them, picked up what he used to lie on and went off to his home, glorifying God. Then an ecstasy seized one and all and they began to glorify God, and they became filled with fear, saying: ‘We have seen strange things today!’”—Luke 5:24-26, NW.
But not all in that crowd had been so favorably impressed. Scribes and Pharisees that were present had objected among themselves, even reasoning in their hearts that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. Why would anyone be opposed to such an act of mercy? Obviously their viewpoint was all wrong.
Our narrator, Luke, points out that those who had brought the paralytic to Jesus had done so under great difficulties. “And when [Jesus] saw their faith he said: ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’” Ah! this was what had raised the objection in these self-styled leaders and arbiters of religious worship. “Thereupon the scribes and the Pharisees started to reason, saying: ‘Who is this that is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins except God alone?’ But Jesus, discerning their reasonings, said in answer to them: ‘What are you reasoning out in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But in order for you to know that the Son of man has authority on the earth to forgive sins—’ he said to the paralyzed man: ‘I say to you, Get up and pick up your little bed and be on your way home.’”—Luke 5:20-24, NW.
Perhaps some of those religionists who questioned the legality of Jesus’ authority may have had in mind the words of Jehovah God himself, as stated at Leviticus 17:11 (AS): “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life.” They may have had in mind all the minute details of the atonement day sacrifices that had to be repeated every year for the forgiveness of their sins, and which could be offered only by the high priest. Since Jesus offered no such animal sacrifices and since he had not yet poured out his own life blood as an atonement, how could he actually forgive sins?
DAY OF ATONEMENT
The answer is to be found in the law of Moses itself, in this same yearly observance of the day of atonement, which was the tenth day of their seventh month, or Tizri 10. It was a day of propitiation or day of sin-covering. (Lev. 23:27, 28) It was on this day more than any other that the Jews were reminded of their shortcomings and their need of a redeemer, for on this day not only were individual sins considered but the national guilt before Jehovah was also recognized and atoned for.
In the time of Jesus, the high priest took up his temporary abode seven days beforehand in his chambers in Herod’s temple. There, with the other priests serving in their course at the temple, he was to live until the feast was over. Throughout this week he regularly participated in the offering of sacrifices by sprinkling the blood, burning the incense, lighting the lamp and other such activities in order that by this practice he might not make a single mistake in the offering of the sacrifices on the day of atonement, since this would make them unacceptable. All night (which was the beginning of Tizri 10) he was kept awake by the reading of the Scriptures and at midnight preparations were begun for the activities of the day. By this time all the priests who expected to participate had bathed in the well-appointed baths provided for their use and were awaiting the sudden and unexpected appearance of the superintending priest. He came, knocked, and they opened the door to him, and only those priests who had washed were acceptable for service. Lots were cast in order to select those who would perform the various duties in the service. The preliminaries of cleaning the altar and laying the wood for the fires having been completed by the first streak of daylight, the lamb for the daily morning sacrifice was brought in and as the last of the great gates of the temple slowly swung open three blasts on the silver trumpets announced to the city that the morning sacrifice was about to be offered.
BULLOCK AND TWO GOATS
When this entire daily sacrifice had been completed, the special services for the day could begin. The high priest, having put off his golden garments, bathed, and put on his special linen garments, proceeded to the divinely ordained services of the day. Here, then, begins the picture of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself fulfills the parts of both sacrificing high priest and sacrificial victims. These victims for a sin offering consisted of a young bullock and a kid of the goats, both perfect animals, without blemish. The goat was selected by lot from two goats that were to be as much alike as possible, the later rabbis even making every effort to see that they were purchased on the same day and, when available, twin goats were procured. The animals selected as sin offerings represent Jesus’ one sacrifice, but from different aspects. “When Christ came as a high priest . . . he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting release for us.” (Heb. 9:11, 12, NW) Another evidence of this is that only one high priest officiates in the offering.
Turning now to the instituting of the Atonement as recorded at Leviticus 16, Aaron, as high priest, is told to offer the bullock of the sin offering for himself and for his house, the Levites. (Le 16 Vss. 3, 6) Next he is told to cast lots upon the two goats. (Le 16 Vss. 7-10) In Herod’s temple this was accomplished by the high priest’s drawing from a casket two lots made of boxwood or gold, one in each hand, and placing these on the heads of the goats. One lot was marked “For Jehovah” and the other “For Azaʹzel”. The goat selected as Jehovah’s goat was to be used to make atonement for the sins of the nation, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azaʹzel was to be set apart and later to carry these sins of the nation into the wilderness where certain death awaited it. This was made more certain by the rabbis in Jesus’ time, for they had the goat led to a rocky precipice on the edge of the wilderness and pushed over so that before it reached half the way down the hill it was broken in pieces.
The offering of both the bullock and Jehovah’s goat as atonement sacrifices pictures the one purpose of Jesus in the earth as the ransom although for two different groups, whereas the sending away of the goat “for Azaʹzel” pictures his other purpose in the earth, namely, in connection with the vindication of Jehovah’s name. In the type two goats were needed because it would not be possible to kill Jehovah’s goat as an atonement and yet keep it alive to picture God’s further purpose with Christ Jesus. It was for this reason that the two goats were to be as nearly alike as possible, because, in order to picture the two aspects of Jesus’ one death in the reality, it was necessary to employ the two goats in the type. Further, the casting of the lots shows that while the two goats were actually equal they illustrate the twofold ministry of Jesus in that his offering possesses life merit and that he can serve to answer Satan’s challenge.
With the scapegoat left facing the people, the high priest now returns to the bullock and after confessing his sins and the sins of his house over its head he kills the bullock and catches the blood in a golden basin and hands it to an assistant. Before the blood can be sprinkled in the presence of Jehovah, a proper approach must be made; so, as the assistant stirs the blood to prevent coagulation, the high priest enters the Most Holy for the first time in the day’s service, carrying with him a golden censer full of burning coals from off the altar and with a handful of sweet incense on a dish. Reverently, with appropriate prayers, this is burned in the presence of Jehovah in the Most Holy. (Le 16 Vss. 11-13; Heb. 9:4, NW) Returning outside, he takes the blood of the bullock and goes the second time into the Most Holy and sprinkles the blood seven times at the front of the mercy seat.—Le 16 Vs. 14.
This divinely arranged order in the service emphasizes the order of importance in Jesus’ sacrifice. The high priest’s killing of the bullock pictures Jesus presenting himself for baptism at the Jordan river in the fall of A. D. 29 and there showing his willingness to surrender to Jehovah God, his Father, his right to live forever on earth, which right he had by virtue of his perfect humanity. This sacrifice being authorized and accepted, Jesus is begotten of God’s spirit with prospects no longer of living on earth, but of being reunited with his Father in heaven as a spirit son once more. However, before this can be realized, Jesus, now properly The Christ, must establish his perfection of integrity as well, thereby answering Satan’s challenge in vindication of Jehovah’s name. The burning of the incense, therefore, pictures Jesus’ zeal in pleasing Jehovah by this ministry in behalf of God’s house. The sprinkling of the blood represents Jesus’ actual appearing in heaven before the throne with the merit of his human sacrifice; and since the bullock made atonement for the sins of Aaron’s house and tribe, the value of the ransom is thereby applied first in behalf of the bride of Christ, the 144,000 anointed joint heirs in his kingdom.—Heb. 9:11-14.
The value of the ransom of Jesus as applied toward the rest of mankind, who are thereby given earthly hopes, is next represented by the killing of Jehovah’s goat and the sprinkling of its blood. This the high priest does by entering into the Most Holy the third time. (Vs. 15) But there is another feature in connection with the sacrifice of the goat that was mentioned earlier and with which we are particularly interested because it demonstrates how Jesus was legally able to forgive this man’s sins, even though his own life blood had not yet been poured out. This is in connection with the scapegoat.
It is noticed in the account of the atonement that “the goat, on which the lot fell for Azaʹzel, shall be set alive before Jehovah, to make atonement for [or, “over,” margin] him, to send him away for Azaʹzel into the wilderness”. (Vs. 10, AS) This means that atonement for the “alive” goat was derived from its equal, Jehovah’s goat, just slain and, since the sin-atoning merit of Jehovah’s goat was thereby transferred to it, it could carry merit for sin atonement as though its own blood had actually been spilled and yet it could remain alive to serve for Azaʹzel.—Vss. 21, 22.
This was exactly the position of Christ Jesus at the Jordan. Having voluntarily given up all right to life on the earth by surrendering his human life right in sacrifice, Jesus was accounted as already dead although his sacrifice must be consummated by his death on the torture stake, Nisan 14, three and one-half years later. Therefore, although still alive in the flesh as was the “alive” goat, Jesus carried with him throughout his ministry in the wilderness of Satan’s world the value of this sacrifice and, along with incense of praise in integrity, could use it as a sign in further praise to Jehovah by demonstrating this power and authority he had received from the great Giver of Life, Jehovah God.
Truly is this an arrangement of the Most High, and while those men that were cured of their sicknesses in Jesus’ day eventually died, the time is now very near at hand when Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath will bring in permanent cures and will heal the people and set them on the road to everlasting life, all of which is made possible through the atonement sacrifice of Jesus and the forgiveness of man’s sins.—See “Atonement for the New World” (3 parts), The Watchtower of August 1 to September 1, 1942.