“And this shall be a statute forever for you that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 16:34)
Without dispute, the most important festival and celebration throughout Israel’s calendar year is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. Observed on the tenth day of Israel’s seventh month, it involves atonement for the sins of the nation. In 2019, Yom Kippur will be observed on October 8-9. Although there is no directive for fasting, the Jews have continuously interpreted it as a time for fasting and prayer (cf. Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 58:3–5, 10). In the New Testament, the Day of Atonement was simply referred to as the “fast” (Acts 27:9). To the rabbis, it was known as the “Day” or the “Great Day.”
Leviticus 23:26-32 says, “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “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. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.”
What exactly was observed and accomplished on Yom Kippur? The definitive chapter regarding the Day of Atonement is found in Leviticus 16?
Dr. R. C. Sproul states that, “Besides the sacrifice of a bull on behalf of the priesthood, two goats were brought to the tabernacle/temple to deal with the sin of the entire nation (Lev. 16:6–10). One goat was killed and its blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat (vv. 15–19). This sacrifice on the Day of Atonement resulted in propitiation — the satisfaction of God’s wrath on a substitute in place of the people. The other goat, after hands were laid on it, was sent to Azazel in the wilderness and freed, probably meaning it was taken to a desolate mountain and killed (vv. 20–22). Here it is clear that expiation was accomplished. The sins of the people were taken away from Israel and away from the holy camp.
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Leviticus 16;1-34 covers the Day of Atonement (cf. Ex. 30:10; Lev. 23:26–32; Num. 29:7–11; Heb. 9:1–28), which was commanded to be observed annually (Lev. 16:34) to cover the sins of the nation, both corporately and individually (v. 17). Even with the most scrupulous observance of the required sacrifices, many sins and defilements still remained unacknowledged and, therefore, without specific expiation. This special inclusive sacrifice was designed to cover all that (v. 33). The atonement was provided, but only those who were genuine in faith and repentance received its benefit, the forgiveness of God. That forgiveness was not based on any animal sacrifice, but on the One all sacrifices pictured—the Lord Jesus Christ and his perfect sacrifice on the cross (cf. Heb. 10:1–10). This holiest of all Israel’s festivals occurred in September/October on the tenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 16:29). It anticipated the ultimate high priest and the perfect sacrificial Lamb.
Hebrews 10:1-10 says, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
The Day of Atonement was not just the observance of sacrifices offered to the LORD, but it was also to include the repentant hearts and broken spirits of the people due to their sin (Psalm 51:15-17). Our Day of Atonement occurred when Jesus was crucified (John 19:16-30). May each of us who call Jesus our Savior and Lord live a life of faith and repentance because of His substitutionary atonement on our behalf.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!