The Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16:30 “For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.”
Leviticus 17:11 “For the life is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for your souls; for it is blood that makes atonement (covering) for your soul.”
Yom Kippur: Israel’s most awesome holy day, falls on the last day of the Ten Days of Awe.
Yom is Hebrew for day and kippur is from the Hebrew word ‘kaphar’ meaning to cover. For Jews, the atonement means a ‘covering’ of the sins of the past year. Yom Kippur falls on the 10th day after Rosh Hashanah, completing the 10 Days of Awe and is five days before the 7th Feast: Tabernacles.
Yom Kippur is a solemn day of fasting and repentance and no work is allowed. According to Jewish belief, Jews who do not repent and observe are ‘cut off’ and will suffer death.
Prior to AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple, the High Priest (Cohen Gadol) was the only person allowed to enter the Holy of Holies (behind the sacred veil) in the Temple. And Yom Kippur was the only day of the year in which he was allowed to enter and stand before God.
The ritual began with the High Priest (Aaron in the Leviticus passage) preparing himself by bathing and changing into a special set of holiday vestments that included a turban and sash! He then selected three animals as sacrifices—two young goats and one bull. (Lev. 16:1-5)
Aaron cast lots (not unlike a roll of a die) to select one goat as the offering and the other as scapegoat or “Azazel”. This random selection ensured that the high priest would not be able to sway the decision; God Himself would make the decision. But before the High Priest entered, he would make atonement for himself, for his family, and for his community. (Lev. 16:6-10)
The goat selected as a blood offering was killed along with the young bull. Their blood was brought into the most holy place of the Temple, and sprinkled on the mercy seat (the cover of the Ark of the Covenant). That sacrifice atoned for (cleansed, purified) the High Priest, the people and the sanctuary. (Lev. 16:11-15) A rope was tied to the High Priest’s feet in case a malady befell him and he had to be pulled out of the Holy of Holies.
The living scapegoat was taken away to be lost in the desert after the High Priest laid both hands on its head and confessed the sins of Israel. In this way, the sins of the nation were symbolically carried off into the desert. The hides, flesh, and offal of the sacrificial animals were carried outside the camp and burned. (Lev. 16:20-22)
In Deuteronomy 12:5-6 and in Psalm 132:13-14, God made it clear that sacrifices could only be made in the temple in Jerusalem, His chosen dwelling place. After the temple’s destruction in AD 70, it was forbidden to make animal sacrifices.
So the rabbis devised another plan. They said that in the absence of the Temple, repentance, prayer and tzedekah (charity) would become the means of atonement. Israel abandoned atonement by blood and substituted atonement through mitzvoth, or good works. They cited Hosea 6:6 as justification: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Christian Application: Some prophecy instructors teach that Jesus was born on Rosh Hashanah and will return on Rosh Hashanah. If that is accurate, then it follows that the Day of Yom Kippur would be the day when “They will look upon Me, the One they have pierced and they will mourn (repent, atone) for Him as one mourns for an only child and grieve for Him as a father grieves for an only child” Zechariah 12:10.
We can agree, however, that Jesus Messiah is the fulfillment of the foreshadowing of
- the office of High Priest
- the blood sacrifice of the goat
- the scapegoat that is blamed and punished for the sins of the world and removes our sins
Blood sacrifices for the payment for sin are not required in the New Covenant Church. Jesus Christ offered Himself and paid the sin debt in full for all. But we must acknowledge that it is only He who has achieved our salvation and sanctification. Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:11-15, 9:25-28; Hebrews 10:10, 13:11-12.
Click HERE for the beautiful Yom Kippur prayers.