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The 10 Days of Awe (in Hebrew, Yamim Noraim) concludes with the celebration of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. It is a high holy day in Judaism. But what is the Day of Atonement and what does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians, if anything at all?
What is the Day of Atonement?
The Day of Atonement in Judaism is also known as Yom Kippur. 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.
Special services are attended and a 25-hour fast is held, from sundown to sundown, where no food or water is consumed. It is truly a time to focus solely on Hashem and repentance.
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, as I mentioned previously, a 25-hour fast is held.
When is the Day of Atonement?
The Day of Atonement does not occur on the same day each year on the secular calendar. It follows the Hebrew calendar.
On the Hebrew calendar, it occurs on the 10th day of Tishri, which is the seventh month and usually occurs in September or October.
What Happened on the Day of Atonement?
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 Yom Kippur here in my post “God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies”
Yom Kippur and the Scapegoat
When someone looks into what is the Day of Atonement in the Bible, 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.Yeshua took the sins of the people onto Himself. Our sins were transferred onto Him and He bore them for us, paying the price of atonement that was ours.
What Does the Day of Atonement Mean for Yeshua?
Hebrews 7:27 says-
This does not speak about in an earthly Temple of course because we do not have a Temple standing and Yeshua was not a descendant of Aaron and not of the Levitical priesthood. This refers to the Heavenly Temple where He is a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek.
Saying Yeshua became a “sacrifice” for us so that we no longer need to make earthly sacrifices relegates His death and resurrection to simply a matter of convenience and would indicate that if we DID simply resume them we could accomplish the same ends without Him. So this is not referring to an earthly Temple.
Isaiah 53:6 –
Yeshua became a type of “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, not as a sacrifice in the sense of a Temple sacrifice (God did not EVER call for human sacrifice and Yeshua was not killed at Temple), but as an atoning substitution and what in Hebrew is known as a Tzadik (righteous one); He bore 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!!
He became our mediator! Not middleman, but mediator; one who helps bring two parties together! He paid our debt for us.
What Does the Day of Atonement Mean for Christians, if Anything?
So you may still be wondering, but you are already inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life (see the Book of Revelation).
Christians have assurance of redemption in Messiah so what does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians? Why should you observe Yom Kippur?
Well, first, I am not saying you should!
As a Christian there really is no mandate or reason for you to observe it. There is a lot you can learn from it and you should absolutely do so, but there is no requirement for you to observe it in the same vein as the Jews do.
Learning about the particulars of Yom Kippur can help deepen your understanding of the Temple period and Yeshua’s relationship to it.
In what is known as Paul’s Rule in All the Church which is in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul writes (I will quote only 1 Corinthians 7:17-20):
In other words, if you were a gentile when you were called, then be a gentile.
If you were a Jew, your identity should remain as a Jew.
He said this because there is no need for a gentile believer to become like a Jew as that would make God the God of the Jews only and not all the nations as well.
God has said that He is the God of ALL.
If all gentiles were to live as Jews and practice as Jews then He is God of only the Jews, which He is not.
However, if you are a Messianic Jewish believer you may choose to continue to celebrate this part of your culture and heritage as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It is still a time we can come and confess our sins and repent of them, much like when we as Messianic Jews say Tachanun (Prayers of Repentance as part of the daily prayers).
Your traditions as a Jew don’t (and shouldn’t) come to an abrupt halt simply because you accept Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah, and Paul drives this point home in his rule in all the churches.
As a Christian, you too can use the day to remember and reflect; to fast and to pray!
First, it is a day of remembrance and reflection.
Even though Yeshua is the Messiah and your names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, Yom Kippur still offers us a time of prayer, repentance and introspection.
Repentance does not end and SHOULD not end just because you have a place in the World to Come.
It can be a beautiful time for the Jewish believer as well as the Christian to fast and focus on God’s goodness and grace and loving-kindness toward us.
What is 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?
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 believers, 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.
Jesus offered Himself in our place once and for all. He said, “It is finished“.
The work of atonement was complete! He has done it once and for all in the Temple above not on earth! He has taken His place as our High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek in the Temple in the New Jerusalem to come.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! Click To Tweet
What is the Day of Atonement – A Shadow of Things to Come
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Originally published August 29, 2019 and then updated on September 15, 2020
Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*. Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society. Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.