Identifying Satan as the fulfillment of the azazel goat (often translated as "scapegoat") in Leviticus 16 originates with extra-biblical sources, overlooks Scripture's consistent statements about the responsibility for sin, discounts the principles and requirements of the sacrificial system, and ignores the finished expiatory work of Jesus Christ. Leaping over these foundational planks, some conclude that the azazel and the binding of Satan are linked.
However, the stated purpose of Satan's binding is to curtail his deception of the nations throughout the Millennium. It will not be a permanent measure, nor will it be final justice or the true solution to mankind's estrangement from God. Nothing in Revelation connects Satan's binding with any sort of expiation of sin.
Not a single scripture shows that Satan is the author of all human sins, an idea based on the “Book of Enoch” and human reasoning. In spite of Satan's influence, each person is still responsible for his own sins. Satan will pay the penalty for the sins he has committed, and with His own life, Christ has already paid for the sins of those who accept His sacrifice.
Asserting that Satan is the author of humanity's sins gives rise to the claim that mankind cannot be “at one” with God until Satan is out of the way. Part of the confusion has arisen because the word “atonement” can be separated out into “at-one-ment.” Regrettably, this linguistic feature often leads to a wrong conclusion about the meaning of the word.
The primary meaning of atonement is “expiation”: “to provide legal satisfaction, such that guilt is removed, and the obligation of punishment is paid.” It can include cleansing, forgiving, pardoning, purging, and covering. The effect of atonement is that two formerly estranged parties are brought back into agreement—they are “at one”—because the controversy between them has been legally satisfied.
The focus on the Day of Atonement is the means of atonement, which Satan's binding cannot legally achieve. It will neither remove mankind's guilt, nor lift the curse of the law. Regarding the separation between God and man, that gulf can only be bridged through the atonement God provides through Christ.
The idea of man and God becoming reconciled through Satan's binding also overlooks the fact that during the Millennium, the Devil will be unable to influence anyone—yet people will still be sinning. Will the defanged Satan still be the cause of their sins? Will humanity be unified with God just because Satan's broadcast stops?
On the contrary, during Jesus' final Passover (John 13—17), He repeatedly returned to the themes of peace, unity, and oneness with God, all of which are possible with Satan still on the loose. All this occurs through Christ's work, mainly through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Humanity can become “at one” with God only through the Son, not merely by keeping the evil one at bay.
Also, if Satan's binding were the actual solution to human sin, then all sins committed after he is loosed would remain unatoned. Will the people who arise in the second resurrection put their faith in Satan's prior binding—trusting that it would provide expiation for their sins, too—or will their object of faith be Jesus Christ?
Satan, however, is not the factor keeping us separate from God—our sins are (see Isaiah 59:1-2), which Satan cannot cause us to commit. What hinders mankind from being unified with God is the presence of sin rather than the presence of Satan. Jesus Christ alone supplies the solution to sin.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)
Many commentators believe this angel is Christ Himself, as no single angel seems to be the match for Satan. When Daniel cried for God's help, it took two angels, both Gabriel and Michael to overcome “the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” thought to have been Satan (Daniel 10:13). If the key to the bottomless pit is like the keys of Hades and Death—that is, in the possession of Christ alone—Revelation 1:18 may support this speculation.
Satan's imprisonment in the bottomless pit is not his final sentence, but he will be “bound and gagged” for a thousand years, no longer able to deceive anyone. It is almost inconceivable to imagine what the world will be like without Satan around. Except for a short time in Eden, mankind has never experienced a time when his anti-God attitudes were not constantly pervading our environment (see Ephesians 2:2).
Once Satan is sealed away, a great weight will be lifted from the minds of people. A great sigh of relief will go up. When that prison door clangs shut and Satan's influence is cut off, people may finally experience true peace of mind. The brain-fog caused by his attitudes will be gone, and human beings will for once be able to think clearly. Sin will not disappear altogether, since people will still have to overcome their carnal natures, but without Satan's encouragement, they will have a fighting chance to conquer it.
With Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), triumphant over rebellious humanity, and Satan out of action, peace will descend over the whole earth. With peace, as James writes in James 3:18, the fruit of righteousness can flourish. Over time, under Christ's righteous government administered by the children of God, the creation will begin to return to the way it was before Adam sinned (Romans 8:18-21). With Satan a nonfactor, healing can begin.
Peter describes it in different terms in Acts 3:19-21:
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. And that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
Two very important steps in God's plan will occur in quick succession: the return of Jesus Christ prompting the first resurrection and the binding of Satan. The Devil will be imprisoned for most of the thousand-year reign of Christ with His saints, and until he is released for a little while (Revelation 20:7), the earth and its inhabitants, human and otherwise, will enjoy “times of refreshing.” During this time, God will work with humanity through His resurrected firstfruits and a proper relationship between man and God will be restored.
What an advantage those people will have then, able to live, overcome, and grow without Satan's constant pressure to ignore or defy God! Instead, godly teachers will be near to say, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). People will still have to make their own choices, but free from the Devil's hateful and rebellious attitudes, they will be much more inclined to decide to do what is good.
Yet, because of this advantage, they will not receive as great a reward as God's firstfruits. Because those in this age have had to fight Satan's influence all their converted lives, they will receive, as the author of Hebrews puts it, “a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35), one that includes, among other things, reigning with Christ throughout the Millennium (Revelation 20:6) and following the Lamb wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4). As overcomers of Satan with Christ, the firstfruits stand on the first tier of those who are raised into God's Kingdom.
When Christ returns, so many wonderful things will come to pass, not the least of which is the confinement of Satan for a millennium. What an excellent reason to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10)!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Binding of Satan
Like everybody else, Satan has only the power God created in him and the latitude to use it only as He permits and no more. The power given to him is meted out for what God wants him to accomplish for His purposes. Seeing all of the horrible things happening on earth, we may suppose that his power is unlimited, but it most assuredly is not.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part Two)
A common view of the azazel goat—sometimes translated as "scapegoat"—is that it represents Satan, on whose head the sins of humanity will be placed. However, the source of this interpretation is the apocryphal Book of Enoch.
In the Book of Enoch, “Azazel” is the name of a demon blamed for all the sins of mankind (Enoch 10:8). He is not the chief demon—not actually Satan (Enoch 6:3; 9:7). Azazel is bound and cast into darkness, confined to the desert until the day of judgment:
And again the Lord said to Raphael: 'Bind Azâzêl hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dûdâêl, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there forever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire. (Enoch 10:4-6)
Bizarrely, all of humanity's sins are ascribed to this demon, not to the chief demon, yet in Leviticus 16, the sins are allegedly placed on Satan's head. If this demon is the fountainhead of mankind's sins, why is Satan held responsible? Even so, this is the clever counterfeit that links the Hebrew word azazel with something evil. Without the Book of Enoch, nothing ties Leviticus 16 to the binding of Satan.
Notice the contrast between what happens to the biblical azazel (“goat of departure” or "complete removal") and what befalls Satan. God's purpose for the azazel goat is to “bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land.” His purpose for Satan's binding is “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.” These purposes are also completely dissimilar.
Satan's binding effectively and thoroughly stops his work as the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). While the pit facilitates temporary protection from his influence, God will release Satan to deceive again (Revelation 20:7-8). Satan remains unrepentant and continues his evil work. His binding provides a reprieve but no atonement.
In contrast, the live goat acts as a substitutionary sacrifice, and by itself, this nullifies the possibility of it representing either Satan or another demon. The goat's role was to bear iniquities. In the ritual, the sins were those of the children of Israel. Scripture provides multiple witnesses that Jesus Christ bears mankind's sins (Isaiah 53:11-12; I Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28) and that God would lay the iniquity of us all on the Messiah (Isaiah 53:6).
Conversely, neither Satan's nor a demon's sins are in view in Leviticus 16. An unblemished animal—symbolizing sinlessness—could in no way represent either of them, and for the same reason, neither qualifies to be a substitutionary sacrifice. In addition, there is no biblical basis for placing humanity's sins on Satan's or a demon's head.
Revelation 20 makes no mention of atonement, justification, reconciliation, cleansing, propitiation, human sin, or any other theme found in Leviticus 16. Instead, Satan is bound to curtail his influence on the nations, not to satisfy God's justice. Scripture provides no legal foundation for his binding to pay the debt for sin, whether his own or mankind's. The wages of sin is death, and the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23), but the confinement of Satan neither pays those wages nor facilitates that gift.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Five)
The Devil will again go on the offensive against God with the same results: He is cast back down to earth. In his anger over his defeat, he will savagely persecute God's people and gather the armies of man to fight against Christ when He comes. He and his human agents will be soundly defeated, and Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Basic Doctrines: Satan's Origin and Destiny
The releasing of the azazel into the wilderness (Leviticus 20:21-22) is commonly—but incongruously—linked with the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3). This linkage is problematic because the account in Revelation makes no mention of sins—whether mankind's or Satan's—being placed on Satan's head. Instead, the express purpose for his binding is “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (verse 3). He is bound to cut off his influence, not to provide any sort of expiation.
In addition, since the book of Revelation is generally dated around AD 90-100, John's vision did not occur until the very end of the apostolic generation. Earlier, Jude had written to exhort the beleaguered first-century church “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3; emphasis ours throughout). “The faith” is a specific faith, indicating a well-defined body of beliefs. However, when Jude wrote his epistle, Satan's binding had not yet been foretold. It was not revealed to John until after “the faith” had already been delivered to the saints.
Similarly, Paul writes to Timothy that the “Holy Scriptures”—which, at that point, would have consisted of what is generally called the Old Testament—“are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). Even without the book of Revelation, the first generation of Christians had all they needed to understand God's plan.
The matter of how sin is atoned for is at the very core of being “wise for salvation,” and Paul's words indicate that “wisdom” was already available from 1) what had been written before, and 2) God-given faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, the apostolic generation understood salvation—including the Day of Atonement and how sins are expiated—without the revelation that Satan will be bound. The former is not dependent on the latter.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)
Notice that this is done so that Satan can no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years are finished. This is God's judgment. Why does He make this judgment? So that Satan will no longer be able to deceive. Man is separated from God because he was deceived into sinning, thus rejecting the government of God, causing estrangement from God. As long as Satan is free to deceive, mankind will never be reconciled to God.
So then, God judges that, even though Jesus Christ will be on earth, unless Satan is gotten out of the way, atonement can never take place. Thus, the first order of business, after Christ returns, is to make a judgment against Satan so that man can be reconciled to God.
The judgments of God are continuing. They do not stop with the Feast of Trumpets, but they keep right on rolling.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fall Feast Lessons
It is commonly held that mankind cannot be “at one” with God until Satan is bound. Consider, though, how much this belief diminishes God's power while elevating the status of the wicked one. God will bring all those alive during the Millennium to salvation without Satan being around, even as He is perfecting the firstfruits now with Satan around. God is sovereign, and thus neither limited by Satan's presence nor dependent on it.
During Christ's final Passover, He speaks at length about what His upcoming sacrifice would make possible. His confident statements demonstrate that a close personal relationship with God is entirely possible even while Satan is still the ruler of this world. Jesus promises to love and manifest Himself to those who love Him and keep His commandments (John 14:21). He declares that both He and the Father will make Their home with those who love Him (John 14:23). His work allows humans to abide in Him, even while Satan deceives the whole world (John 15:4-5, 7). He assures us that we can have peace in Him, even as the world—under Satan's influence—is against us (John 14:27; 16:33; see also Acts 10:36; Romans 5:1; 8:6; II Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 2:14-17; Colossians 1:20; II Thessalonians 3:16). He reveals that the gift of eternal life is entirely His to give (John 17:1-3), and there is no proviso regarding Satan's presence. He promises oneness through the Father's keeping (John 17:11, 20-23)—not through Satan's binding. All the things covered in His prayer are not limited to the original disciples, “but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (verse 20).
Jesus teaches that it is quite possible to be one with the Father and Son without Satan being bound. When we are brought to Christ, He “delivers us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and “from the power of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). Satan is powerless to stop God's work (see Job 1:10-12; 2:4-6). Since God's converted people are walking proof of oneness with God in the face of the Devil's influence, it makes no sense to conclude that humanity can be one with God only once Satan is bound.
The world needs the same covenant the elect are under now. Satan's binding will be a tremendous gift to those alive during the Millennium, so in no way should it be diminished, as it will remove a great deal of spiritual pressure. But is Satan's influence so vast as to prohibit the Father and the Son from working out Their plan in the Millennium? Certainly not!
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Five)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 20:1:
1 Peter 3:18-20