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The Day Of Atonement

Summary: In the second of our Fall Feasts Series, we look at the Day Of Atonement, Yom Kippur. What did this most solemn day mean for Israel and what does it typify for the believer regarding the atoning death of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest?


26 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 "Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. 28 And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. 30 And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath."
Leviticus 23:26-32
7 "On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation and afflict yourselves. You shall do no work, 8 but you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma: one bull from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old: see that they are without blemish. 9 And their grain offering shall be of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for the bull, two tenths for the one ram, 10 a tenth for each of the seven lambs: 11 also one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement, and the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings."
Numbers 29:7-11
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God."
Hebrews 9:11-14

Quick Facts

Falls in the Jewish Calendar on the 10th of the seventh month, Tishrei.
You can check when these dates fall in our western calender by clicking here. Will be observed from sundown plus additional time to ensure the fasting day is not breached too early. At its end, a shofar is usually sounded to mark the conclusion of the fast and solemnities.

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day Of Atonement, is the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar. It is not a feast day in the sense of celebration as other feasts, rather to be a day of affliction of both soul and body. It is the only day of fasting the Mosaic Law prescribes.

It is also known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, given its utter solemnity before the Lord.

Ten days before Yom Kippur, the Feast of Trumpets marks the start of the High Holy Days. The ten intervening days between Trumpets and Yom Kippur signify an important time of introspection in preparation for the judgement of God and the writing of one in the Book Of Life or otherwise.

On Yom Kippur, the verdict is given to a man's righteous standing and hence it marks an imperative to be right with God when this verdict is given by the Almighty on Yom Kippur for the coming year.

On this holiest of days, even secular or non-observant Jews observe fasting and the cessation of work and other activities outside the home. It is in fact a national holiday by statute. Synagogue attendance is very high and in Israel today, traffic is limited to emergency services only.

It was on a Yom Kippur, October 6th 1973, that Israel underwent another attack by hostile Arab neighbours, exploiting the national quiet within Israel. It was a war that took Israel several days and loss of life to recover from before turning around the situation and repelling the Arab coalition armies.

Meaning Of The Feast

Above all, it is supremely a day to beseech divine forgiveness and that divine clemency be granted.

The Day Of Atonement is not a feasting day. There are no foods associated with it as it is to be a day of fasting, which is the afflicting of the body.

It is a time to seek forgiveness from God for sins of commission and omission in the past year. To reflect deeply on one's life: actions, words and thoughts with an eye toward the judgement of God.
Therefore, the occasion demands an afflicting of one's soul, to be made right before God by following the prescribed means to obtain His forgiveness.

In the days when the Temple and the sacrifices were functioning, observance more closely resembled the Biblical commands for the keeping the Day.
After the Second Temple's destruction and removal of the burnt offerings, rabbinical Judaism has provided other frameworks for how the same end of forgiveness can be sought and obtained.

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews takes Christ's atoning death as it's chief theme, linking much of its commentary to both the meaning and significance that the Day of Atonement was a shadow of, and that found fulfilment in Christ's death.

We could say the death of Jesus Christ was perhaps the most singular important event in human history.

Practice & Traditions

In biblical times, when the Tabernacle and then the Temples stood, sacrifice was a daily obligation on Israel's priesthood to maintain. There were daily sacrifices to be performed within the priestly service but on Holy days, like Yom Kippur, special requirements for offerings had to be performed.

The central themes of Yom Kippur are Covering and Substitution; the prescribed sacrifices in Leviticus 23 deal with the removal of culpability before God, both on a personal and national level.

The High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, once a year, to offer first a substitutionary sacrifice for Himself. It was important that the priest be covered by blood sprinkling on the mercy seat first before he could offer atonement for the sins of the nation.

He wore special garments of linen, symbolising purity. No other individual was permitted by the Law to enter the Holy of Holies; it was sacred ground and only the anointed high priest of God, in that office, could so. When that was done, he would enter a second time to offer for the sins of the people.

The high priest offered a young bull for his own sins and household and also a ram for the burnt offering. The sacrifices for the people were to be two male goats; one for a sin offering and the second as a scapegoat. This was then followed by a ram for a burnt offering.

Blood from the offerings was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, such an act cleansing the High Priest and the people of their sins before God.

On the matter of the two goats for the people, these were chosen for the occasion by lot; one would be a sin offering and the other, called 'Azazel', would be released into a desolate place.

Upon this second goat, Azazel, the High Priest laid his hands, confessed the sins of the nation before it was driven out into wilderness. It was the 'scapegoat' - carrying the sins in place of the people, bearing away their sins into the wilderness.

Only when blood had been shed and sprinkled, could atonement be made for the sins of the people.

In Mishnah Yoma 8:1, (a Mishnaic and Talmudic tractate), five things are to be abstained from on this day: food and drink, bathing, use of oil on the body (anointing), leather shoes, and sexual intercourse.

Leviticus outlines very specific instructions in regard to the sacrifices to be offered on this day; for both the administering High Priest, first, and then, secondly, the substitutionary offering for the sins of the people.

Within the Messianic Jewish community, observance varies dependant upon individual conviction:
"Yom Kippur can be somewhat of a conundrum to Jewish believers in Y'shua. Do we fast and confess our sins like the rest of the Jewish community or do we rejoice in the knowledge that we're forgiven in Messiah? Many Jewish believers view Yom Kippur as a time for identification with our Jewish people, introspection for ourselves and intercession for loved ones, knowing all the while that Jesus is the One that makes us at one with God."
See Jews For Jesus, Yom Kippur

Messianic & Prophetic Fulfilment

Jesus the High Priest, is the only one who could enter the veil and offer His life sacrificially on behalf of those He would redeem. He offered His own blood as a substitute for man's life.

Only with the shedding and sprinkling of blood could atonement be made for people under the Old Covenant:

"Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."
Hebrews 9:22

It points to Yeshua's removing of the sins of His people, the Church, His Bride, once and forever. Not a repeated, daily or annual offering of Himself to God, but once for all time, covering those who are the called and elect of God.

Christ, as the supreme and final High Priest, about whom the OT office of High Priest typifies, sprinkled His blood on the altar in the Holy of Holies. He made intercession for us and has now sat down at the right hand of God:

"12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God...14 for by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."
Hebrews 10:12,14

The blood of animals as a means to procure forgiveness can never satisfy God's demand righteousness. If they could, why would they be offered up year after year? The Day of Atonement was only a shadow, an Old Testament type of the coming fulfilment of those offerings by one, perfect sacrifice, that would forever satisfy the demands of both the Law and the righteousness of God.

The mercy seat, which was the covering of the Ark of the Covenant, signifying God's presence, was sprinkled with the shed blood. See Hebrews 10:1-4

The danger that the Israelites fell into, and into which we can too, is the repetition of certain acts that simply become a mechanistic response, religious and void of any heart change. Merely performing the external rites does not, in God's eyes, effect the forgiveness that was to be offered through those same rituals.

The prophets of the Old Testament were at pains to point this out to the religious leaders in Jerusalem and Israel, who put much effort into the superficial practise of outer religion but denied the inner convictions and sincere heart response to God. See Isaiah 1:11ff

The means, once and for all, was the offering of Jesus Christ Himself as the propitiation of sin, of all who come to Him as their atonement. It was not the blood of animals, but Christ's own blood, sinless, guiltless, offered up to God as the atonement for His people to which the Old Testament looked toward.

This, the writers of the New Testament made abundantly clear.

When Christ died on Calvary, the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was rent in two. The shedding of Christ's blood was accepted by God as final, the perfecting of the sacrificial system as a means of atonement for the people.

The way was now open permanently for all to come before God, to seek and receive forgiveness by virtue of Christ's shed and sprinkled blood.

Since then, God has not sought another means by which the Law maybe satisfied for the atoning of one's guilt before Him. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness and the divine Presence is open to all those who so come to the Lord on these terms.

Some see a future, great Tribulation fulfilled through this Feast in national Israel; pressing times that will afflict both body and soul of the Jewish people.
This may be alluded to in the Lord's intended dealings with Israel, outlined in Hosea 5:15-6:3: "I will go to My place their affliction they will seek Me earnestly..."

Through such tribulation, Israel returns to the Lord as prophesied in Zech 12:10. This day of return is the climax of the soul searching, confession of national sin and heartfelt repentance of Israel before God, leading to forgiveness and the acknowledgement of Yeshua as the Messiah.

In like manner, the scapegoat of Yom Kippur may be rightly likened to Jesus as bearing away the sins of His people. The sins of the people were confessed over this goat, symbolically transferring the people's guilt on to the goat. The goat was then sent out alone into the wilderness or designated place to bear away the sins of the people.

Our sins were laid upon Him. Jesus' life was offered up outside the city walls, "outside the camp", for our atonement, that we might escape the wrath of God.

Isaiah's moving fifty third chapter foresees this prophetic fulfilment:

"4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. "
Isaiah 53:4-6


For Jewish people seeking remission of sin, it is a tense time: will one be forgiven? Will one's name be written once more in the Book of Life? In practice, there seems no assurance either way of one's status before God. It only encourages more good works and resolutions to do better in the coming year.

For the believer, the knowledge of assurance of sins forgiven and right standing with God (righteousness) is not based on what we can do or will do. If the whole redemptive work is of Christ from start to end, then that is sufficient for all time.

Religion places the emphasis on what man can do for God. I do not know any other religious belief system, outside of Christianity, that stresses free grace as the means of approaching God. All firmly push individual effort as the means to earn divine clemency and forgiveness. If this is true, then that individual had better hope that what he/she does is sufficient in the final reckoning on Judgement Day.

The common basis for man's reckoning himself of right moral standing is solely based on a comparative view of how he performs next to those around or usually below him. No, he is not a murderer, an adulterer, nor evil, but basically a good guy. He prides himself on being balanced, occasionally altruistic and the first to respond to a media appeal for money. He may even attend a church for all his life.

Yet in this he errs. He has set his own standard by which he compares himself to, not what God determines as the standard. By the spirit level of his own life, vindication is guaranteed; he takes pride that he is a good man and finds it easy to justify himself against the flaws and misdemeanours of those around him.

However, the standard of righteousness is not our neighbour, Mother Teresa, a pastor, nor the most outstanding human being we know or who ever lived; it is Christ, the ultimate Holy One, as revealed in the Scriptures.

Christ is the plumb line, the touchstone, the measure of righteousness that God expects from all people. As none can achieve that standard by their own works, we must let the finished work of Christ be imputed to us and thereby stand covered by His righteousness alone.

It is this divine exchange by which, when appropriated to us by God, reconciles us to Him, restoring our original relationship to the Creator. Hostilities end and we are at peace once more with God. Not as the cause, but as the consequence, can we now live out this righteousness daily before God.

This is not merely a positional truth, it is to be experientially known too.

So, in application of Atonement to the believer, we can see how:

  • We are no longer culpable for the penalty of sin
  • Christ has paid the ransom in exchange for our release from the debt of sin
  • Christ has suffered in our place for the punishment that God's justice demands
  • Through Christ's atoning death, the Law is satisfied for every believer
  • Christ's righteousness is imputed to the believer and in this, he/she stands before God, atoned for

Consequently, we are put back in right relationship with God; justified and reconciled.

Through the offering of Jesus' blood for us, we have forgiveness of sin and the way to God, through the Holy of Holies, is now permanently open for all who will call upon His name.

Jesus, the great High Priest cried: "It is finished..." (John 19:30) .....and so it is.

About Ian Jupp

Ian Jupp is Executive Director of Return To Zion Ministries.
Ian's experience as a communicator, pastor, writer, teacher and his understanding of the Middle East, Israel, The Church and God's purposes, place him in a unique position to provide timely commentary on the urgent, prophetic events that are unfolding in our day.
Read More About Ian

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