The Day of Atonement

One day each year the high priest would draw aside the veil and enter the holy of holies to make atonement for the nation of Israel.

'Yom Kippur - The Great Day of Atonement'


ne day each year the High Priest would draw aside the Veil and enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement (Heb. Kafar) and cover the nations sins from the judgement of God and receive forgiveness. It took place on the 10th day of the 7th month, Tishri. By our calendar that would be around the end of September or early October.

It was a day of fasting in which no work could be done:

Lev 23:26-32 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbath."

Yom Kippur was for the priesthood, for the people, and for God's dwelling-place the tabernacle, which He said, 'is among them in the midst of their uncleanness:'

Lev 16:16 "So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

The purpose of the Day of Atonement was to re-direct God's anger for the sins of the past year and seek his favor in the one that lay ahead. It was the day on which the meaning of the sacrificial system reached its highest point. For in spite of all the daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices that had been offered, there was still sin that was not fully atoned for, and on this special day all the people sought God for forgiveness.

Jewish Tradition

What do the Jews do now to receive atonement?


With the fall of the Temple and the cessation of the atonement offerings the subject of repentance as a means of expiation for sins became an extremely important issue in Judaism. Even when the sacrifices were still in effect, the Rabbis argue that contrition was essential before an offering was ever accepted by God. They asserted that:

"Neither sin-offering nor trespass-offering nor death nor the Day of Atonement can bring expiation without repentance." [Tosifta Joma v. 9].

When the Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices were no longer offered the Jewish people needed an assurance of their hope for forgiveness and atonement. Thus the Rabbis said:

"Whence is it derived that if one repents, it is imputed to him as if he had gone up to Jerusalem, built the Temple, erected an altar and offered upon it all the sacrifices enumerated in the Torah? From the text, "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" (Ps 51:17) [Lev. R. vii. 2].

"I do not want of you sacrifices and offerings, but words (of contrition); as it is said, "Take with you words and turn to the Lord" (Hos 14:2) [Exod. R. xxxviii. 4].

One passage of importance in Jewish literature on this subject reads (note that the Hebrew Scriptures are divided into the 3 classes, the Hagiographa, the Prophets and the Torah):

"Wisdom (ie. the Hagiographa) was asked, What is the penalty of a sinner? and the reply was, 'evil pursueth sinners' (prov 13:21). When prophecy was asked the question it answered, 'the soul that sinneth it shall die' (Ez 18:4). When the Torah was asked the question it answered, Let him bring a trespass-offering and he will be forgiven; as it is said, 'And it shall be accepted of him to make atonement for him' (Lev 1:4). When the question was asked of the Holy One, blessed be He, He replied, Let him repent and he will be forgiven; as it is written, 'Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will He teach sinners in the way' (Ps 25:8)" [p. Mak. 31d].

In Judaism the point of all this is not that the Scriptures contradict themselves but that repentance is the chief method by which a sinner truly atones for his wrongdoing. The Rabbis instruct with all authority that if a sinner truly repents before his death and by mistake he descends to Gehinnom he will be "shot out like an arrow from a bow." This is the belief among the Jews today in many streams of Judaism. The sad truth is that "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Lev 17:11). Y'shua (Jesus), the Jewish Messiah, said: "Unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins." Y'shua taught that the Torah was given to reveal sin.

Inasmuch as God created man with an evil impulse, by reason of which he is prone to sin, justice demanded that an antidote should likewise be provided for his salvation. If wickedness is a disease to which every human being has been affected, then it was necessary for the Lord, blessed be He, to provide a means in His own great wisdom that would expose the heart and bring about true repentance. That means is found in a living and vital relationship with Y'shua, who is risen from death and the first fruits of all them that die and through believing in Him, live again. As He said:

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall never perish but have everlasting life"

Also this day revealed more clearly than any other the work of the High Priest as mediator between God and man. On this day, as the official representative of the people, he alone had access to the presence of God and the people shared this access in him. By returning alive from the holy of holies the people knew that their covenant-keeping God had once more extended his mercy to them. But this could not happen without repentance and the confession of sin and, of course, the blood of a substitute:

Num 29:7-8 "On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall afflict your souls; you shall not do any work. You shall present a burnt offering to the LORD as a sweet aroma: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year. Be sure they are without blemish."

The day began with personal preparation by Aaron the high priest because of his holy participation as mediator for the people. Everything he did in the ceremony had a meaning that could be understood in relation to man's need of forgiveness.

First of all, Aaron discarded his normal priestly dress. His official garments, which were for dignity and honor, would not be seen at this time. Aaron was himself a sinful man and so he clothed himself only in white linen, he needed to repent along with the rest of the nation. This day he would be approaching God as a sinner seeking forgiveness.

Dressed in a plain long white linen coat and headdress, with a linen sash for a belt, he went forward with the eyes of all the repentant Israelites upon him and then passed through the entrance gate of the courtyard, leading a young bull and a ram. This was the exact same way that any other repentant sinner would normally come but this time to seek the forgiveness of God for himself and his family of priests.

He led the young bull to the burnt altar of sacrifice and there placed his hands on its head, confessed his own sin and that of his family, then slaughtered it. The animal was a substitute for Aaron and its blood was shed so that atonement could be made for his sins. Aaron then took the blood of his sacrifice and placed it in a bowl. He then filled his censer with coals of fire from the bronze altar on which selected parts of that sacrifice were burned to ashes. Then he washed his feet and hands at the bronze laver and entered the holy place. From this moment onward he was hidden from the view of the people.

Passing through the Holy Place he gathered up two handfuls of the holy incense from the golden altar of incense and then stood face to face with the Veil. It was an awesome moment when he moved the curtain and stepped forward to enter the presence of God.

First he would sprinkle the incense on the coals in the censer he was carrying so that the holy room might be filled with a cloud . And then he took some of the blood and with his finger sprinkled it on the mercy seat between the two judgment angels. His last act was to sprinkle blood 7 times on the floor in front of the ark. The Presence of the Lord shone between the Cherubim and the glory cloud above the tabernacle which came down upon the holy of holies could be seen by all the people.

As the High Priest came out from the tabernacle he would stand at the door of the Tent of Meeting (Lev. 16:7) while two goats were led toward him. He then cast lots. As a result one goat was chosen as the goat for the Lord while the other became the 'goat of departure' or 'scapegoat'.

The First Goat

The first goat was sacrificed just as Aaron's own offering had been, but this time it was for the sins of the people. As their High Priest he laid his hands on it and as their representative he killed it for them.

Again Aaron would journey into the Most Holy Place. Once again in prayer and worship he sprinkled the blood of the sin offering on the Mercy Seat, then 7 times in front of it.

According to Jewish tradition during this time the people outside stood in great fear. If the High Priest delayed, they became terrified that their sacrifice had not been accepted and he had been killed in the presence of God.

When Aaron, in an attitude of praise, was finished in the Holy of Holies he would open the veil curtain and go back into the Holy Place towards the golden altar. This time he did not offer incense on it but with his finger he would sprinkle some of the blood on its four horns.

When Aaron returned in the sight of the people he would go to the altar of burnt offering and in the same way sprinkle its four horns with the blood of the bull and the goat.

The Second Goat

The second of the two goats was still standing there. It was the scapegoat. This goat would live, but the command was that it should "be sent away into the wilderness."

Lev 16:20-22 "And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness."

It was a vivid picture of sin being removed and never seen again. As David said:

Ps 103:12 "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."

And this goat, which represented the removal of sins, bore them upon him to an isolated place in the wilderness, never to be seen again.

Aaron laid both his hands on the head of the goat and confessed over the scapegoat "all the wickedness and rebellion of the children of Israel" (Lev. 16:21). In one act of symbolic substitution he laid them, as it were, on the head of the goat which was then taken far into the depths of the desert by a selected man who would release the scapegoat, only when he was sure it was not possible for the animal to return.

As the great ceremony was drawing to a close Aaron went back into the Holy Place, after bathing his whole body in water he would come out to the people wearing his splendid apparel.

He had one more offering to make. It was a burnt offering which, as distinct from all other sacrifices, was wholly consumed by fire on the altar. When Aaron offered one ram for himself and one for the people it was an act of praise and worship to God for providing a way of atonement.

Jewish Tradition

According to the writings of the ancient Rabbis "seven things were created before the universe came into being. They are: Torah, Repentance, Paradise, Gehinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah" [Pes. 54a).

Jesus Christ and the New Covenant

The Book of Hebrews teaches us how God the Son, Jesus Christ, became the supreme High Priest beyond whom there is no other. This High Priest is One who understands all our human weaknesses and temptations because He was tested and tried and found faithful. He became one of us that he might truly represent us to God the Father,

Heb 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews goes on to explain that Christ did not come as a son of Aaron, but rather as a priest of the order of Melchizedek.

Heb 7:1-3 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.

This had been prophesied long before in the inspired writings of David:

Ps 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not relent, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."

David emphasizes those words, 'You are a priest forever. Something permanent would enter into the priestly task. He declares, 'Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.

Heb 7:24-27 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

The author of Hebrews then emphasizes the pattern of worship and approach to God. He speaks of the tabernacle, the holy place and the holy of holies. He speaks of the ark of the Covenant and the 'cherubim of Glory overshadowing the mercy seat' and then concludes by pointing out that the high priest had to continually enter the holy of holies year after year and the fact that he always had to carry more blood simply showed the inability of that pattern to bring completed salvation.

Hebrews Chapter 9:

Heb 9:11-26 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you." Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another-- He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Heb 10:12-13 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.

The sacrifices of the old covenant were superseded by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The new covenant, also authored by Yahweh, requires the shedding of blood but this time it is a better covenant built upon better Promises and it includes, not just the Jews but the whole world.

It is a covenant where there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). It is a covenant in which the High Priest not only presents the sacrifice to God but by his substitutionary death is Himself the sacrifice. He offers his own blood which not only covers but takes away sin, for the 'blood of Jesus ... purifies us from every sin' (1 John 1:7).

His sacrifice is complete. It is perfect in every way, and that is why we read:

Heb 10:19-22 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

God's tent is no longer pitched in the desert. Animal sacrifice came to a screeching halt with the sacrifice of God. Aaron and his priesthood no longer mediate between God and man. Jesus Christ has done it all.

For through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ atonement has been made final, and those who trust him have full assurance:

Heb 7:25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

The Presence of God now dwells IN us, as Paul said:

Gal 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

If 'Christ lives in me' it means that my life is the Mishkan of God. (See also Blood Atonement).