The Feast of Yom Kippur {The Day of Atonement} – Part 1

“And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.”

[Leviticus 16:21]

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the holiest appointed feast of the year for the people of Israel. Once a year, the high priest of Israel was to consecrate himself before the LORD on behalf of the nation by entering the inner sanctuary of the temple and sprinkling blood over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. The sins of the entire nation were confessed before God, as the people sought mercy, forgiveness and restoration.

In studying the Day of Atonement, I have come to discover significant connections that are rich with meaning. Once I started pulling on this particular thread, it began to unravel deep prophetic mysteries that I had never seen before.

In short, this holy convocation — or annual rehearsal — provides the most comprehensive typological shadow picture of the Day of the LORD — that great Day of judgment for the whole world.

This initial post will attempt to lay the groundwork and Biblical backdrop of Yom Kippur.

Moses on the Mountain

Once the Feast of Trumpets was announced on Tishrei 1, the LORD instructed the children of Israel to enter into a 10-day period of self examination, fasting, fear, and trembling — called the days of Awe. These 10 days of repentance were to prepare the people of Israel for the Day of Atonement, which was appointed on the 10th of Tishrei.

Jewish tradition historically has associated the 10th of Tishrei as the very day Moses came down from Mount Sinai the second time after spending 40 days mediating between the LORD and the people. God’s anger burned against the children of Israel for their idolatry and rebellion with the golden calf, and Moses knew that something had to be done.

The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

[Exodus 32:30]

When Moses came back down the mountain from having met face to face with the LORD, his face was shining before the people.

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” [Exodus 34:29]

From that point, Moses primarily would speak with the LORD in the tent of meeting — or tabernacle — and after communicating God’s word to the people with his face aglow, he would place a veil over his face.

The Tabernacle and Holy of Holies

As the children of Israel camped in the wilderness, the LORD instructed Moses to build an intricate tent for His own unique dwelling place in the midst of the people. The tabernacle was called the tent of meeting because it was the one place that the the LORD of glory would visit to meet with Moses.

The tabernacle was divided into three parts, and the inner sanctuary was concealed with a curtain and was the most holy place — the Holy of Holies. The inner sanctuary contained the ark of the covenant [which contained the 10 commandments] and the mercy seat, where the blood from the atoning sacrifice was to be sprinkled on behalf of the people.

Once a year, the high priest would consecrate himself and enter the Holy of Holies wearing only white garments to make atonement for the entire nation. If the high priest failed to approach the LORD in total observance to the law, he would be killed on the spot.

The Scapegoat and the Crimson Cord

The 16th chapter of Leviticus provides the detailed instructions for the Day of Atonement. The high priest was to sacrifice a bull for his own sin before entering the inner sanctuary, and then he was to bring a censor of burnings coals from the altar and incense to cover the mercy seat while applying the blood.

Then the high priest was to take one of two goats and cast lots for them. One goat was to be sacrificed on behalf of the entire nation and the other goat was to be the scapegoat — or  Azazel in Hebrew. The first goat was to be the atoning sacrifice, which temporarily satisfied God’s righteous anger toward the sins of the people. This conveyed the act of propitiation, where a substitute is sacrificed on behalf of another to punish sin and appease the wrath of God.

After making atonement for himself and the people, the high priest then was commanded to place both hands on the scapegoat and confess all the sins of the people over the goat, which effectively transferred the guilt onto the scapegoat and removed the guilt from the people. This conveyed the act of expiation, where guilt is transferred onto another and removed far away from the guilty. The scapegoat was then driven out into the wilderness, where eventually it would be forced off a cliff.

Jewish writings later reveal that the priests would tie a crimson thread both to the scapegoat and the door of the temple in order to determine if the LORD had accepted the sacrifices. If both crimson threads turned white, then the people took that as a sign that the sacrifices had been acceptable in God’s sight.

Interestingly enough, according to the Jerusalem Talmud, during the 40 years between the death of Yeshua and the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 70) the crimson cord never turned white.

“Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open.” 

[Jacob Neusner, The Yerushalmi, p.156-157]

Jesus Partial Fulfillment of Yom Kippur

“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) 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 … Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

[Hebrews 9:11-12, 25-26]

The book of Hebrews elaborates on the role of the high priest and the Day of Atonement, specifically how the Lord Jesus has entered into the very presence of God in heaven by His own blood on our behalf. When Jesus died once and for all as the atoning sacrifice for sin, the veil in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, exposing the inner sanctuary. God was communicating a message that sinners now have direct access to the Father through the Son — our Great High Priest.

The Day of Atonement does find its partial fulfillment in the first coming of Christ, as He has made propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world. The annual rehearsal on Yom Kippur was merely a shadow picture of the good things to come.

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near … Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

[Hebrews 10:1, 19-22]

The Day of Atonement, however, will not ultimately be fulfilled until Christ comes a second time to bring judgment on His enemies, transfer the guilt of sin upon Azazel (the devil), forgive and save the nation of Israel, and completely pour out his wrath upon the wicked.

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him … But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”

[Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:12-13]

Stay tuned for my next post — part 2 of the Day of Atonement.

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