/ / What is the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur? And What Can Christians Learn From It?

What is the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur? And What Can Christians Learn From It?

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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 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.

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.

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Yom Kippur is a great Sabbath; no work is to be done and, as I mentioned previously, a 25 hour fast is held.

However, the tenth day of this seventh month is Yom Kippur, a holy convocation to you, so you are to afflict yourselves. You are to bring an offering made by fire to Adonai.

Leviticus 23:27 tlv
Jewish man's hands over tallit and text overlay that says What is the Day of Atonement and What Christians Can Learn From Yom Kippur

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.

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 What Does the Day of Atonement Mean for Yeshua?

Hebrews 7:27 says-

He has no need to offer up sacrifices day by day like those other kohanim g’dolim—first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. For when He offered up Himself, He did this once for all.

TLV

The Mount of Olives with a text overlay quoting Hebrews 7:27 in Tree of Life version for post What is the Day of Atonement

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 Messianic Era 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 –

We all like sheep have gone astray.

Each of us turned to his own way.

So Adonai has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

TLV

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Yeshua became a type of 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, 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 celebrate Yom Kippur?

Well, first, I am not saying you should!

As a Christian there really is no mandate or reason for you to celebrate it. There is a lot you can learn from it and you should absolutely do so, but there is no requirement for you to celebrate 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):

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, let him walk in this way. I give this rule in all of Messiah’s communities. Was anyone called when he already had been circumcised? Let him not make himself uncircumcised. Has anyone been called while uncircumcised? Let him not allow himself to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing—but keeping God’s commandments matters.

tlv (Emphasis mine)

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.

Psalm 86:9:

All nations You have made will come and bow down before You, my Lord, and they will glorify Your Name.

tlv

If all gentiles were to live as Jews and practice as Jews then He is God of only the Jews, which He is not.

Isaiah 49:6:

So He says,

“It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and restore the preserved ones of Israel.

So I will give You as a light for the nations,

    that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth.”

tlv

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?

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Matthew 5:23-24 TLV
Two female friends hugging eachother with Matthew 5:23-24 quoted for post What is the Day of Atonement

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

The Torah has a shadow of the good things to come—not the form itself of the realities. For this reason it can never, by means of the same sacrifices they offer constantly year after year, make perfect those who draw near.

Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers—cleansed once and for all—would no longer have consciousness of sins? 

But in these sacrifices is a reminder of sins year after year— for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:1-4 tlV

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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.


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34 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of your posts I have read. I learn so much and always find myself coming back for more. Thank you for teaching us about our Jewish roots!

  3. I appreciate your insight and wisdom into the Jewish holidays. It provides a broader perspective into my own faith.

  4. 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!!

  5. The intense and obvious connections between this feast and Jesus is always amazing and beautiful to me. I have always been enamored with how perfectly they align. God does all things with purpose and intention and seeking to have relationship with us, doesn’t He? Thank you for the detail shared here.

  6. Happy Yom Kippur!
    So, in reading through your post, I’m wondering if this is the day Christ was resurrected? Or the day He was put on the cross? Is this the proper day to celebrate that verses the false “easter” celebration we’ve been taught?
    Thank you for your insight on this matter!
    Yeshua be with you.

    1. No..actually scripture is very specific on that one and it specifies that He was crucified during Passover. In fact the Last Supper was actually a Passover Seder. Bless you!!

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