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‘The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”’ ~Jn 1:29

The term 'scapegoat’ or ‘sacrificial lamb’ originates from the sacrificial rites found in the bible. It has the meaning of someone being blamed for the wrong done by another. In our daily lives, there are times when we are made the scapegoat for the mistakes of others, and there are also times when others become the scapegoat for us. The use of the term ‘scapegoat’ is rather unique on its own, but when ‘scapegoat’ or ‘sacrificial lamb’ was used in the bible, it bears a far greater significance that concerns our life and death.

Now let us look at the true meaning of ‘sacrificial lamb’ as found in the bible. Firstly, we need to trace back to the days of Moses when God made known His Laws to His people, these Laws included the Ten Commandments. When God announced His Laws, at the same time, He also made known the way of atonement for sin through the offerings of sacrifice, so that anyone who sinned against the Laws (for there is no one who does not sin), could through the sacrifice appease His wrath and escape His punishment. The procedures for offering sacrifice are as follows: The man who has committed the offence shall bring an animal of offering as a sacrifice for his sins – usually a sheep or cattle, this animal must be without blemish and physical defects. The man will then lay both his hands on the head of the animal, after which the priest will proceed to kill it. In so doing, the sins of the offender are taken away by the death of the animal and he obtains forgiveness for his sins.

When a man puts his hands on the animal, it represents the transfer of sins from the man unto the body of the animal; and when the priest kills the animal, that animal suffers the punishment of God meant for the man. The animal then bleeds to death and offers up its life for the sins of the man. The man is the one who ought to suffer death, but now his death is substituted by the death of the innocent animal. This animal needs to be without blemish and physical defects, signifying that the sacrifice needs to be perfect and without sin; because only one that is perfectly pure and sinless is worthy of redeeming the sins of a sinner. Sometimes the priests have to kill hundreds or even up to thousands of animals a day at the sacrificial ground. It is not hard to imagine the blood of the sheeps and cattles flowing like a river, mingling with the agonising cries of the animals; surely a great sense of guilt must be upon the people seeing the innocent animals dying for the sins they have committed. Nevertheless, they would have come to realise and understand the holiness of God, for without the shedding of blood, God could not forgive their sins. Under God’s holy Law, they must have sacrificed numerous animals in their lifetime to atone for their sins. If they have been left alone to bear the consequences of their sins, they would have already died many times.