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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?
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.
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. ESV
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.
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
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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