What Happened on the Day of Atonement - What the Day of Atonement Means for the Christian - a shofar and tallit

What Happened on the Day of Atonement?

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The 10 Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) concludes with the celebration of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. It is a high holy day in Judaism, but what happened on the Day of Atonement and what does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians, if anything?

What Happened on the Day of Atonement - What the Day of Atonement Means for the Christian - a shofar and tallit

What Happened on the Day of Atonement?

The Day of Atonement is also known as Yom Kippur. It occurs on the 10th day of Tishri and it is known traditionally as a day to “afflict the soul”, where the sins of the year are atoned for. Yom Kippur is a time of introspection and repentance of one’s sins. It is also a time to make amends with those you may have hurt or offended.

In Judaism, it is during Yom Kippur that God decides the fate of a person.

It is believed that God inscribes the fate of a person in the “Book of Life” on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to seal the book, thus sealing their fate for the year.

So one would have from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance.

This is why it is a time of doing good deeds and asking forgiveness and making amends.

Yom Kippur is a great Sabbath; no work is to be done and a 25 hour fast (24 hours is typically what Christians observe) is held.

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. Leviticus 23:27 ESV


Entering the Holy of Holies – The Sacrifice

Entering the Holy of Holies was the privilege and duty of one man; the High Priest! Yom Kippur was the only day of the year the High Priest could enter behind the veil.

He was to bathe in a mikvah, a bath used for ritual purification, and he then put on special robes. A bull was sacrificed for a sin offering for himself and his family. The blood of the bull was then sprinkled on the Mercy Seat which sat upon the Ark of the Covenant.

There is a lot of detailed information about the high priest and the Holy of Holies and what happened on the Day of Atonement there in my post “God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies 



What Happened on the Day of Atonement – The Scapegoat and Jesus

When someone looks at what happened on the Day of Atonement, the scapegoat is probably what they are least familiar with. The High Priest would bring in two goats, one to be sacrificed for the sins of Israel. He would sprinkle its blood on the Mercy Seat. The choice of which one to be sacrificed would be left up to God and that would be done by casting lots.

The second goat was called the scapegoat.The term scapegoat is a translation of the Hebrew word “Azazel”.

So, the high priest would place his hands on the goat’s head, he would confess out loud the sins of the people and their rebellious nature, thereby transferring them onto the scapegoat.

The goat would then be taken far out into the wilderness by a carefully selected man. A far off, barren place would be chosen to ensure the goat would not return looking for food.

Then the goat would be sent out into the wilderness, where he carried away the sins of Israel for the year, only to have this ritual repeated the following year with a new scapegoat. This account can be found in Leviticus chapter 16.
Jesus became the scapegoat for us as believers, once and for all. What happened on the Day of Atonement was no longer needed because of what Jesus did as OUR scapegoat. Wait, Jesus a scapegoat? How?

Because he took the sins of the people onto Himself. Our sins were transferred onto Him.


 Jesus Carried Our Sins

Hebrews 7:27 says-

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. NIV

2 Corinthians 5:21 says-

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. NIV

Isaiah 53:6 –

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.

An image of a wooden cross on a white background with 2 Corinthians 5:21 quoted

Jesus became the “scapegoat” for us! He was crucified outside the city just as the scapegoat was removed from the city! 

He took on the sins of the world; our sins, our shame, our sicknesses. It was all laid upon Him and He bore them to the cross! He carried them away, as far as the East is from the West! They were taken away, never to be seen anymore!!



What Does the Day of Atonement Mean for Christians?

So you may still be wondering, but we are already inscribed in the Book of Life. We have assurance of salvation so what does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians? Why should I celebrate Yom Kippur?

Well, first, I am not saying you should! As a Christian there really is no reason for you to celebrate it as a holiday. There is a lot you can learn from it and you should absolutely do so, but there is no mandate requiring you to celebrate it.

However, if you are a Messianic Jewish believer you may choose to continue to celebrate this part of your culture.

First, it is a day of remembrance and reflection.

Even though Jesus became our sacrifice and our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life,Yom Kippur still offers us a time of prayer and introspection.

It can be a beautiful time for the Jewish believer to fast, focus on Jesus and His sacrifice for us.

What Happened on the Day of Atonement – A Time of Reconciliation

And it still affords us an opportunity to think about those we may have offended during the year and make amends. It can still be a time of reconciliation for the believer. What does it say about personal reconciliation and atonement in the New Testament?


So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 ESV


Two female friends hugging eachother with Matthew 5:23-24 quoted

Reconciliation between people was important enough to Jesus that He said to not even offer a gift at the altar if you know you have offended someone!

While we should always make amends for things we have done to hurt another, it can be a time for us to reflect on whether or not there is someone we may have offended that we haven’t apologized to. We can use it as a time to mend broken relationships.


It is a time we can forgive those who have offended us, even if they have not asked for it.

When looking at what the Day of Atonement means for Christians, we need to reflect on the fact that we as believers do not have to wonder if we have done enough to make amends or atone for salvation. The work of our salvation is not tied to bulls and goats. 

Jesus offered Himself as our sacrifice once and for all. He said, “It is finished”.

Meaning the times for sacrifice are done! The work of atonement was complete! The veil of the temple was torn in two giving man direct access to God! There was no longer a need for a priest to mediate! He has done it once and for all!

What Happened on the Day of Atonement – A Shadow of Things to Come

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

 Hebrews 10:1-4 NIV





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Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™



28 thoughts on “What Happened on the Day of Atonement?”

  1. I recently read a book set in Wales during the reign of Charles I, (Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge) a very superstitious era of flip-flopping between high church and low church practices, depending on who sat on England’s throne. Sadly, in the village where the main character spent her childhood, there was a “sin eater” who functioned in the same manner as the scape goat, except of course he was human, and he did not just wander away. He was an object of both fear and revulsion in the village, and yet they continued to call on him when someone was about to die.
    It was so good of God to give us a visual aid, showing us that He has dealt with sin once and for all.

  2. I always find it interesting reading about the scapegoat and the day of atonement. It’s great how these various rituals in the Old Testament foreshadow the greater work that Jesus did for us on the cross and God’s whole redemptive plan. When we see these little incidents in the OT in isolation, it’s easy to wonder what they’re all about until we see the bigger picture. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Thank you Robert! I believe God gave us these Biblical holidays as a picture and foreshadowing of the cross! Each and every feast day is parallel to the work of redemption! You can see Jesus in them all!

  3. Hi Diane, Ihave hear this teaching before and believe it is so important for Christians to know the deeper meaning of His great sacrifice, linking up today, so nice to join you on the Day of Atonement.

  4. I love this! I was just looking into Yom Kippur and it’s been put on my heart recently to start understanding the Jewish Feasts and Festivals more. Scripture is so RICH with meaning when we understand it as a whole. Thank you! xoxoxo

    1. Thank you so much and I am so glad that you are learning more about them! I know many times people tend to think of them as just a Jewish holiday but in truth they are Biblical holidays…Jesus kept these feast days Himself so I think they are definitely worth learning more about!

  5. The Lord’s 7 feasts days are always great to read about. I’m thinking about eventually writing about them myself, mainly looking into their purpose and how Christ fulfilled/will be fulfilling them. Thanks for your perspective and insight into this. Do you and your family try to celebrate all the feasts?

    1. I do try to celebrate them as often as I can! We do celebrate Passover each year. The others, if I do not celebrate them in full I at least do something to be part of the celebration of it. I try to make sure we observe each one in some way!

  6. Love this! You’re a #wordnerd at heart! I’d love to have you join my contributor team for 2019! This year we did a whole series on the OT Feasts! Super fascinating stuff!! Great post! Blessings!

  7. Thanks for explaining these rich and powerful meanings behind the Day of Atonement and the scapegoat, Diane. And what a blessing to hear them from a Christ-following Jewish woman! Love it! I’ll be pinning for sure and thanks for the linkup! It’s my first time to linkup and found you had one from FB. 😉

  8. The atonement is something I could read and study about daily and learn something every single day. You did a wonderful piece of work here.

  9. Diane,
    I’m so glad to find you. My husband and I follow the feasts and go to the House of David with Curt Landry, which is only 20 minutes from our home. Last Wednesday, on the actual day of Yom Kippur, my brother in law was very tragically killed in a car wreck, 74 years old. His daughter’s 94 year old grandmother (in-law) also died two hours later.

    I am reading this after both funerals, and your words, “In Judaism, it is during Yom Kippur that God decides the fate of a person.” I’m come to believe through and through. Both people were Christians, and the pastors who probably were not even award of the day they died, kept stressing how important forgiveness is. God is truly trying to WAKE US UP! To obedience and walking in LOVE.

    1. Ann first and foremost, I am so sorry for your loss! I am praying for you and your family. I am so glad you found me! God certainly does put us where we need to be when we most need it and allows us to hear what we need to hear at the right time! Thank you so much for commenting!! I hope you’ll keep returning!! I love knowing other Messianic believers come by!!

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