Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur is the holiest and most solemn day in the Hebrew calendar and it was instituted by Yahweh in Leviticus 23:27-28, there are 7 Feasts of the Lord and Yom Kippur is number 6.
All the Feasts of the Lord represent in various ways God’s plan of redemption and they reflect how Yeshua the Messiah, represents and fulfils them – Yom Kippur is no different.
Man’s greatest predicament is that he is sinful and therefore separated from God – God is holy and cannot abide sin, so does this mean that God cannot abide mankind and if so, is mankind without hope? Yes and No. God knew man would sin and had already instituted His plan of redemption, because God cannot and will not tolerate sin, He made sure that His plan of redemption would provide the means for man to be reconciled to Himself. The feasts of the Lord reveal how God will redeem mankind.
Yom Kippur takes place on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri (the 1st month of the annual Hebrew calendar but it’s the 7th month of the religious Hebrew calendar); Rosh Hashanah begins on 1st of Tishri and it begins what is termed the 10 ‘Days of Awe’ or ‘Aseret Yemei Teshuvah’ – the ‘Ten Days of Repentance’ and they are meant to be days of personal preparation, reflection and repentance for sin and wrong doing in whatever forms they’ve taken and a subsequent turning to God by the individual. Yom Kippur has a very sacred and solemn Biblical history and unbelievable significance when we look at Yeshua’s act of redemption on our behalf.
Leviticus 23:27-28, ‘On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation (sacred assembly) for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God.’
The actual details of what took place on Yom Kippur are found in Leviticus 16.
The name ‘Yom Kippur’ means a ‘Day like Purim’ in that it’s similar to the celebration of the Feast of Purim which is the celebration of deliverance and salvation from death and annihilation that can be read about in the book of Esther. The name was given over time because like Purim, the Jews were saved from annihilation and Yom Kippur is salvation from God’s judgment of annihilation through the substitutionary sacrifice of an animal. Yom Kippur comes from the root word ‘kafar’ which itself is derived from the word ‘kofer’ which means ‘ransom,’ and the word ‘ransom’ is parallel to the word redeem which means ‘to atone by offering a substitute’. Yom Kippur then is about salvation and deliverance from sin through a substitute.
The ritual and requirements of Yom Kippur in the Old Covenant are both fascinating and gruesome.
The role of the High Priest
The Holy of Holies was the small room in the heart of both the Temple and Tabernacle, and was only entered once per year and only by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. The High Priest would undergo extensive and numerous ceremonial cleansings, he would wear special garments specifically for this day and he would offer a bull as a sin offering for himself and his own family first. Then he would present 2 goats as sin offerings for the people. He would lead them to the doorway of the Tabernacle and later on the Temple, and there cast lots to see which one would be offered and which one would become the ‘scapegoat’.
One goat would then be sacrificed and the blood would be taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat over the Ark of the Covenant, then the High Priest would leave, put his hands on the living goat to symbolically place the sins of the nation on it while at the same time, confessing the sins of the nation over it and then it would be sent out into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people and taking them away. A man was selected to follow the goat for up to 7 days to make sure it never returned bringing the sin back.
(Just as an aside, there’s a traditional belief within Christianity that the High Priest had a rope tied around his ankle in case God struck him dead while he was in the Holy of Holies and had to be dragged out, however this is not in Scripture and there is no Jewish tradition or historical account of this every occurring, so it’s probably just a medieval legend).
There is a traditional Jewish belief in the Talmud (not Scripture) that says a scarlet cord was tied around the neck of the scapegoat that reportedly turned white as the goat was led away from the city. However, for the last 40 years before the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD (which would have been from the time of Yeshua’s death and resurrection) the scarlet cord failed to change colour. Again, the Talmud is NOT inspired Scripture, it’s the writings of men, but the fact that Jewish literature specifically points out that the scarlet cord on the scapegoat no longer turned white during the years following the death and resurrection of Yeshua up until the destruction of the Temple is very interesting and curious.
The role of the people
Yom Kippur is the only ‘holiday’ or ‘celebration’ that specifically requires the affliction or ‘humbling’ of the soul before God, or abstinence, or ‘self denial’ for the purpose of lamentation or grieving over sin. It’s the only ‘holiday’ where fasting is specifically commanded by God from His people. (Lev 16:29-34, 23:26-32; Num 29:7-11) The fast begins an hour before sundown on 9th of Tishri and lasts for 25 hours until sundown on 10th Tishri. Before the fast begins, a special meal is eaten together, candles are lit and blessings recited and they customarily say ‘Tzom Kal’ – ‘Easy Fast’ or ‘G’mar khatimah tovah’ – ‘May you be sealed in the Book of Life for good’.
This day was also a ‘Shabbat Shabbaton’, a very special kind of Shabbat which was a day of complete abstention from any kind of work, other than to save a life.
The order of celebration for Yom Kippur is significant; it starts with Rosh Hashanah which begins the Days of Awe when the people are in the attitude of self examination, confession of sin and solemn repentance and remorse over their sin. God commands repentance and that His people return to Him earnestly with all their heart and then He provides the means of reconciliation or atonement with Him.
Today there is no Temple and the sacrificial order laid out in the Torah is not possible and without a High Priest the focus has now fallen on the individual and personal repentance and a return to God, rather than from a national perspective.
Using Leviticus 23:27 as the foundation, observant Jews implement what they call the Five Afflictions.
1: No eating and drinking
2: No washing and bathing
3: No applications of lotions or perfumes
4: No wearing of leather shoes
5: No marital relations
In short, it’s about grief and remorse of body and soul over sin. Sin is very serious! Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe – it cost God His only Son to pay for it!!! We must stop treating sin as though it’s just an ‘issue’ or a ‘problem’…no, sin is deadly and God despises it and He Himself paid the ultimate price so we can be free from it. If dealing with sin is that important to God, surely it should be a priority for us to never indulge in it or explain it away and treat it casually. Sin is deadly and separates us from God and Yeshua died in our place so we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. That’s the heart and power of the Gospel.
The Ultra-orthodox perform the Kapparot where a chicken is used in place of a goat. While reciting a prayer, the chicken is circled above the head (not cruelly swung, but gently circled overhead) and then taken to a kosher butcher for slaughter and is then given to the poor for their Yom Kippur evening meal after the fast is broken. This particular custom began in the 9th century. It’s curious that even today, non-Messianic Jews understand the necessity of atoning blood sacrifice for sin, they know that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Without a Temple to offer the Biblically prescribed offering, Judaism has come up with an alternative method. Sadly, because the majority of Jews don’t recognise Yeshua as Messiah and the substitutionary atoning sacrifice He made for them, they don’t understand that there is no further need for sacrifices. Pray for the Jewish people that God would lift their blindness so they recognise Yeshua as the Messiah they’ve been waiting for for so long.
On Yom Kippur observant Jews are required to attend 5 different services in the Synagogue as this day is essentially, the last appeal, the last chance to change the ‘judgment of God’ and to demonstrate repentance and make amends and each of the 5 services has a different and specific focus.
The Torah readings on Yom Kippur are: Service #1 – Lev 16:1-34; Num 29:7-11; Isa 57:14-58, 14 (Messianic synagogues include Rom 3:21-26, 2 Cor 5:10-21). Service #2 – A memorial service for departed family members. Service #3 – A retelling of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple and the priestly blessing. Service #4 – Lev 18:1-30; Jon 1:1-4, 11; Mic 7:18-20 (Messianic synagogues include Rom 3:21-26, 2 Cor 5:10-21). Service #5 – Thought to symbolise the ‘closing and sealing’ of the Book of Life, and the great shofar is sounded.
The Role Of Yeshua In Yom Kippur
The significance of Yeshua in Yom Kippur is obvious. First of all, Yeshua is our High Priest, (Heb 3:1-2) and God instituted the system of atonement and the forgiveness of sin to come only through the shedding of blood. (Lev 17:11) The substitutionary shedding of blood which is the ‘life for a life’ principle is absolutely essential for atonement with God.
Hebrews 9:22, ‘And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.’
Yeshua our High Priest, offered Himself to be the perfect sacrifice for sins – vastly more suitable than bulls and goats. The elaborate ritual and sacrificial system in Leviticus was a foreshadowing, and ‘symbolic type’ that would ultimately be fulfilled by Messiah who sacrificed Himself.
Just like the High Priest laying the sin of the people on the head of the scapegoat, God laid on Him the sins of us all: Yeshua bore our sins upon Himself – He became our scapegoat!
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.’
Hebrews 9:24-28, ‘For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another – He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.’ (The last line is another verse emphasising that believers eagerly await the return of Yeshua!)
For Messianic believers, they don’t have the same concerns as non-Messianic Jews in that they know that their salvation is not based on whether or not they fast or do enough good deeds or in denying themselves or abstaining from earthly pleasures. Messianic Jews know – as do Gentile believers – that what Yeshua did for us was once and for all, a one-time event powerful and far reaching enough to cleanse and save permanently the soul who has genuinely repented and put their faith and trust in Him alone. (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:27, 9, 10:11-20; Rom 3:25; 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10)
Some Messianic Jews participate in Yom Kippur fasting in order to reach their Jewish brethren, some participate in the fast for personal reflection but they never fast in order to gain special favour because through faith, we’ve all been brought near to God through His sacrifice not through pious actions on our own behalf. Messianic Jews participate in Yom Kippur celebrations and fasting because they remember the gravity and extreme sacrifice of Yeshua in substituting Himself as the Scapegoat on their behalf. For the believer in Christ, Yom Kippur is remembrance of the sacrifice of Yeshua our High Priest who took our sins upon Himself, bearing them in His body on the cross and became the scapegoat that took our sins away permanently. As a result, our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life which has assured us of our eternal security.
Hebrews 10:14-25, ‘For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.’
I’ve mentioned this before, but there are some who don’t believe in the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement believing it’s really a form of “cosmic child abuse”, but Scripture is clear that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.
But why wasn’t the blood of bulls and goats sufficient to pay for sin permanently? The example I like to use is this: pretend that you loaned me your brand new Rolls Royce and I completely right if off it in an accident, I apologise sincerely and promise to replace your brand new vehicle with another brand new vehicle. A week later I present to you with a brand spanking new Mini Minor. It will fulfill the same function as your Rolls Royce – it will get you where you want to go in comfort, it has a motor, doors, wheels and most importantly, it’s brand new! But it’s a completely inadequate substitute; in value and all other areas it’s an inferior substitute. Kind for kind is required.
God had His plan of redemption laid out before the foundations of the world, and He established a sacrificial system to teach His people about the cost and severity of sin and that in all cases, someone has to pay for the crimes that have been committed. Knowing we could never pay for our own sins sufficiently, God Himself chose to become a human being like us and then offered Himself in our place. Kind for kind. His perfection meant He wasn’t paying for His own sin, rather He was paying on behalf of all of us and this is why the Son of God had to die for us. Substitutionary Atonement IS the Gospel and without it there is no forgiveness.
We have so much to be thankful and grateful for to God, His Son and His Holy Spirit who indwells us assisting, maturing and purifying us for our benefit and His glory. May you be more aware of all He’s done for you, especially this Yom Kippur.