It’s fascinating that one of the most stubbornly-defended Adventist doctrines—besides the obvious doctrine of the Sabbath and the slightly-less-obvious doctrine of “soul sleep”—is their almost-unseen doctrine of the scapegoat. Adventists, by the authority of Ellen White, identity the scapegoat of Leviticus 16 as Satan—in spite of the fact that Leviticus 16 establishes conditions that prohibit Satan from being the scapegoat.
Adventists are quick to argue that Satan does not really bear the sins of the saved—rather, he is punished for causing them, as he should be. After all, humans are guilty because Satan tempted them and deceived them into sin.
Yet this argument—that Satan doesn’t really bear the sins of the saved and does not receive the punishment for them—is not Adventist doctrine. Adventist doctrine, as per Ellen White, says that Satan is punished for our sins and that his bearing them away actually cleanses the heavenly sanctuary.
The layers of heresy implicit in this doctrine are horrifying. The investigative judgment says that when a person “accepts Jesus”, his or her sins are transferred by Jesus’ blood from that person to the books in heaven. Jesus then writes “pardoned” next to the person’s name in the heavenly record, but that sin remains on the record, recorded there by the blood of Jesus, and it is NOT REMOVED from the heavenly record until Jesus completes the investigative judgment. In the meantime, the professed believer is not yet forgiven but is on probation.
At the end of the investigative judgment, Jesus places those confessed sins on Satan the scapegoat who carries them out of heaven—thus cleansing it—and receives the punishment they deserve in the lake of fire. When the sins are fully confessed and overcome and carried out of heaven by Satan, Jesus then writes “forgiven” by the person’s name, and they are then ready to be saved.
Most Christians—and many Adventists— are not aware that Adventist soteriology says that when a person accepts Jesus, they are placed on probation and are “merely” pardoned but are not fully forgiven until much later when Satan finally takes away those sins.
When Adventists try to support their belief that Satan is the scapegoat, they often argue that Satan does NOT receive the punishment due for those sins. They insist he’s just getting what he deserves because he is responsible for causing humans to sin. Yet they are wrong on both counts.
First, Satan is not responsible for human sin. He did not cause Eve and Adam to doubt God’s word and to eat that fruit. He tempted them, but Scripture clearly says that sin entered the human race through Adam. Paul says this in Romans:5:12–14: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Romans:5:12–14).
Thus the first argument, that Satan made us do it, is disproven by the word of God. Humans are responsible for human sin. (In fact, this reality is why Jesus HAD to be human in order to atone for our sin. He had to shed sinless human blood in order to be the propitiation for human sin.)
Second, Adventist doctrine DOES teach that Satan receives the punishment for the sins of the saved. Look, for example, at these quotations from Ellen White (and these are by no means exhaustive): “Since Satan is the originator of sin, the direct instigator of all the sins that caused the death of the Son of God, justice demands that Satan shall suffer the final punishment. Christ’s work for the redemption of men and the purification of the universe from sin, will be closed by the removal of sin from the heavenly sanctuary and the placing of these sins upon Satan, who will bear the final penalty” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 358).
In this doctrine Ellen White blasphemes the Lord Jesus and His completed atonement. Jesus, not Satan, is the one who bears the FULL penalty for human sin. Jesus is the One whose death removed our sins as far as east is from the west: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm:103:11–12).
Furthermore, Jesus Himself took our imputed sin and bore the full wrath of God for that sin: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians:5:21).
Satan, not Jesus, is actually Adventism’s sin-bearer. Jesus’ blood, in EGW’s scenario, is the means by which heaven is defiled in the first place: it transfers the person’s sin from the person to heaven where the sins remain on the books of record until the end of the judgment. Then they are placed on Satan, and they are removed from heaven. The universe is finally cleansed.