Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, is the holiest, most reverent day of the year for Jews. Leviticus 16 records God’s institution of this holy day. It is the only day of the year in which the High Priest went past the veil inside the Tabernacle (and later the temple) and entered into the Holy of Holies – the place where the presence of God dwelt. It was this veil that was torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross (Luke 23:45). In the Old Testament, only the High Priest was permitted to enter the presence of God. Under the New Covenant, we are all welcomed to come boldly to God’s throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:16) Hallelujah! Only God could tear the heavy veil from top to bottom. Only God could remove the separation of His presence from His people.

On the Day of Atonement the priests wore only simple linen clothing instead of the more decorative, richly embroidered tunic and sashes and gold medallion (or plate) they typically wore. One writer interpreted this as a picture of Christ who laid aside His glory to be born as a child who would one day be crucified for our sins (Philippians 2:7).

The Day of Atonement also introduces the scape goat. Two goats are presented to the Lord. One is slaughtered as a sin offering for the people of Israel. The other is presented to the Lord alive.

20“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
Leviticus 16:20-22

The High Priest lays both hands on the goat representing that he is placing the fullness of their sins on the goat. The following passage is a prophecy about Jesus:

5    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
      he was crushed for our iniquities;
      the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
      and by his wounds we are healed.

6    We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
      each of us has turned to his own way;
      and the LORD has laid on him
      the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 55:5-6

Just as the sin of Israel was laid on the scape goat, our sin, in its totality, was laid on Jesus. He has carried our sin away from us just as the scape goat carried the sins of the Jews away from their camp.

The symbolism and imagery in the Day of Atonement ceremony clearly point to Christ. The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who knew and followed the Law. Read this passage in light of Leviticus 16 and what we’ve learned about the Day of Atonement:

19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:19-28

The copies of the heavenly things are the manmade tabernacle and everything used in it. They were required to be purified with the earthly sacrifices. The heavenly things required better sacrifices – the sacrifice of Christ, who died for our sins and appears before God on our behalf. The High Priests had to offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement every year, but Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to take away the sins once for all. Hallelujah! Do you see the cohesiveness of the whole Bible? The New Testament becomes so much richer when we understand more of its background. That background isn’t necessary for us to understand that Christ died for our sins, but it helps us understand the awesomeness of God as He unveils the mystery of His plan from beginning to end. The rituals of the Day of Atonement were repeated year after year – for over a thousand years. Then Christ came to earth and the ritual was fulfilled and a New Covenant was introduced. Again…Hallelujah!

Speaking of awesomeness – here’s a cool fact I learned. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known as the High Holy Days or Yammim Nora’im. Yammim Nora’im means “Days of Awe.” God reveals to us some of the mysteries of His presence and we are awed. Awed.

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