Introduction & Background
Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement is the holiest day of the Jewish year and provides prophetic insight regarding the return of Jesus to earth to restore the nation of Israel and establish His Kingdom.
The instructions God gave Israel regarding the Day of Atonement are recorded in Leviticus 23:26-32:
“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.”
As was noted in the study on Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur takes place ten days after Yom Teruah, during the month of Tishri. It was a day of national cleansing and repentance from sin. It was a day when God would judge the sins of the entire nation, so it became known as the Day of Judgement.
The ten days from Yom Teruah to Yom Kippur were to be used for self-reflection, known as the “Awesome Days.” This time was devoted to repentance and sorrow for the sins committed over the last year, so it was also referred to as “Ten Days of Repentance”. It was a time of bringing the flesh under the obedience of the spirit, with pray and fasting.
The sacrifices on the Day of Atonement brought a threefold cleansing:
- To the High Priest and his family
- To the people of Israel
- To the Tabernacle – the sins of the people not only defiled the individual and the nation, but their presence at the Temple also defiled the Tabernacle of God.
- A bull and a ram for the high priest and his family – the bull as a sin offering and the ram as a burnt offering (Lev. 16:3).
- A ram for the people – as a burnt offering (Lev. 16:8; Lev. 16:15).
- A scapegoat for the people – as a sin offering (Lev. 16:8; Lev. 16:21-22).
Before explaining the duties of the High Priest, it is necessary to give details about the Holy of Holies and the the ark of the covenant, both of which play an extremely important part in the sacred ceremony that takes place on Yom Kippur:
- the Holy of Holies was at the rear of the Temple, separated from the rest of the temple by a huge, heavy veil. The area behind the veil was small and windowless, containing only the Ark of the Covenant.
- The ark of the covenant is a gold-covered wooden chest, which represented the presence of God in the midst of Israel. The ark was built to hold the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them, but also contained the pot of manna (Exodus 16:4; Hebrews 9:4) and Aaron’s almond rod (Numbers 17:1-13; Hebrews 9:4). The broken stone tablets symbolise the rejection of God’s law by the people, the manna symbolise the rejection of God’s provision and the rod of Aaron the rejection of God’s appointed leaders.
On top of the ark is a lid called the mercy seat, which is flanked on either end by two cherubim (Exodus. 25:19). The Divine presence of God was above the mercy seat, and was where God met with His people: “There… I will meet with you” (Exodus 25:22).
So the ark of the covenant may be seen as a throne of God in the midst of Israel, from which Yahweh dispensed mercy to His people.
The Day of Atonement
On the day of Atonement, the high priest was required to perform certain duties (Leviticus 16). First, he was to bathe and put on simple linen. He left his glorious garments in the holy place. Laying aside his glorious robes was an act of humiliation, and washing in the laver was an act of sanctification.
The next stage for the High Priest was that a bull was sacrificed for his and his family’s sins, with the blood sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. Without this offering, the High Priest would not be able to enter the Holy of Holies without being struck down by the Holy God.
Yom Kippur was the most solemn of all the feasts, a day of atonement and cleansing for both the nation and the sanctuary. Two special offerings were the sacrifice of two goats, one goat was for Yahweh and the other goat was for Azazel. The High Priest chose a disk from a bowl to determine which of the two goats brought for sacrifice would be for Yahweh, and which would be for Azazel. The one chosen for Yahweh would be slain and its blood collected in a bowl, which would be taken by the High Priest behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies. There the High Priest would sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat for the sins of the nation.
So, the Blood of High Priest’s bull was sprinkled on the east side of the Mercy Seat, then seven times before the Mercy seat, and the blood of the goat for the nation’s sin was sprinkled directly on the Mercy Seat, and also seven times before the Mercy Seat. Both blood offerings were sprinkled before the Mercy Seat for the cleansing of the Tabernacle.
The Hebrew word kapar, translated “atonement,” is recorded as “forgave” in the KJV, and is used in that context in Deuteronomy 21:8. Atonement is then best understood as covering human sin, and so removing a barrier between man and God, rather than appeasing an angry God. Atonement therefore means that a price is paid and blood is shed: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for yourselves, for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life” (Leviticus 17:11; see also – Heb. 9:22). Only the shedding of blood would give forgiveness and a new beginning, a life was required for a life to be saved from sin.
So, the main duty of the High Priest on Yom Kippur was entering the Holy of Holies on behalf of the nation, and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, “to cover” the sins of Israel (Leviticus 16). The Day of Atonement teaches us that there is no salvation from sin apart from the shedding of blood.
A ribbon of red cloth would be tied to the horn of the second goat, and a section of this ribbon was cut off and then tied to the handle of the door to the Temple. This goat was called “the scapegoat,” because all the sins of the nation were symbolically placed upon its head, and it became the personification of uncleanness. The scapegoat would then be lead away from Jerusalem to the mountain Azazel, where it would be pushed backwards to its death from the edge of a cliff. This was done to ensure the death of the scapegoat, if the goat was merely released in the wilderness it could well find its way back to the city, carrying the sins of the nation with it! The name “Azazel” came to mean placing blame. The scapegoat carried the sins of the people outside the city wall, where it died for the sin of the people. If this sacrifice was accepted by God then the ribbon tied to the Temple door would turn white. The death of the two goats symbolically set aside the sins of the nation, the people were at peace with their God.
How Jesus Fulfilled Yom Kippur
The symbolism of Yom Kippur points to Jesus in the following ways:
- The High Priest left his glorious garments in the holy place and changed into simple linen clothing; lying aside his glorious robes was an act of humiliation. The High Priest is a shadow of the reality of our true and faithful High Priest, Jesus. Jesus left His glory in heaven, coming to earth as a humble servant to lay His blood on the mercy seat: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Phil. 2:6).
- The washing and cleansing of the High Priest, symbolized the need for mankind to be cleansed of sin. The once and for all sacrifice of Jesus stopped the need for all cleansing rituals required by the priests.
- The work of the cross is also seen in the two goats. Jesus’ crucifixion parallels the sacrifice of the first goat; Jesus died on the cross and His blood was shed for the atonement of those who identify Him as their acceptable sacrifice. This ultimate sacrifice by Jesus did not cover sins for only a year but was done once and for all (Hebrews 10:1–18). Jesus’ blood was shed “to cover” our sins, restoring us in relationship with God. The second goat removed the sins of the people into the wilderness, where they were forgotten and no longer clung to the people. Jesus is also our scapegoat, He was crucified outside the city walls, and took our sins upon Himself (expiation). This act fulfilled the promise that God would remove our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and that He would remember them no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).
Yom Kippur a Shadow of the Reality
The above three points reveal how the Holy feast is a shadow of the reality which is Jesus. So then, how does the return of Jesus match with the Day of Atonement? The feast has three pointers to the return of Jesus to earth to set up His Kingdom:
1. Satan is defeated
The Day of Atonement pictures Satan being defeated, the accuser has nothing to hold against the nation of Israel, their sins are forgiven. At the return of the Lord at the end of the Tribulation, Satan is defeated and cast into the bottomless pit for 1 000 years (Rev. 20:3). He is then out of the picture, a prisoner of war, locked away in the deepest of dungeons – an abyss. He no longer will be able to lead his demonic forces, he will no longer have authority, and he will no longer be able to stand before the throne of God as the accuser – he will be defeated, conquered, crushed.
Yeshua the long-awaited Messiah – the symbol of both the sacrificial goat, whose shed blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat, and the innocent scapegoat, who carries away the sins of others, restores the nation of Israel to God on the Day of Atonement.
There is no more fitting day for Jesus, the righteous and Holy King of Kings, and Lord of Lords to return to establish His rule in Jerusalem. Only those who come under the covering of His blood will be able to remain with Him on earth during His millennial reign (they have received atonement). In Jewish tradition, this day is for Jewish individuals to “get right” with God. Biblically, it was a day for Israel to be restored to God as a servant nation (Lev 16; 23:26-32). Prophetically, it points to the time when Israel as a nation will be gathered to Messiah Yeshua.
The Jews look back to a time when water flowed from a rock, the Church looks forward to a time when living water will flow from the Rock of Ages. The Jews look back to a time when they were led by Moses the greatest of all of their Old Testament prophets, whose face was veiled to hide the shining glory of God. The Church looks forward to the greatest man of all, the Son of David, who returns to earth to rule the world from Jerusalem, seated on the throne of David.
3. Judgement of the nations
At the Lord’s return, the Gentile nations of the world are gathered together in the valley of Jehoshaphat (the Lord Judges, [Joel 3:2]), which is thought to be the Kidron Valley to the East of Jerusalem. Here the Tribulation survivors will be judged for their sins, which Jesus spoke of in the sheep and goat’s judgement of Matthew 25:31-46. The defining factor of who is a sheep and who is a goat, is in connection with their support of Jesus’ brothers – the Jews. Naturally, those who are described as sheep are the saved, as they will be the ones who will be willing to risk their lives to minister to the Jews, while those who are not saved – the goats – will side with the Antichrist and persecute the Jews. The separation of righteous Gentiles (sheep), from those unrighteous Gentiles (goats) will therefore be determined by atonement.
As the Kingdom is run by a Jewish Messiah, whose throne is in Jerusalem – the capital of a restored nation of Israel – it is a very fitting distinction for the Son of David to make. So, those who are under the blood of the New Covenant sacrifice, have their sins forgiven. While those who do not have atonement, have no covering, so consequently their sins are exposed for judgement, which will result in their death. Their spirits will be locked away in Sheol, to await the judgement that all who reject God’s grace will have to endure. Scripture refers to this as the White Throne judgement (Revelation 20:11), which will occur at the end of the age, and will see the prophecy fulfilled that states: “Every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Yom Kippur then, must signal the return of Jesus and the gathering of the Jews to Him in Jerusalem. At the end of the coming Tribulation period, Israel as a nation will “look on (Messiah) whom they have pierced (crucified) and mourn for Him as one mourns for a firstborn son” (Zech. 12:10b). In that day, Israel will receive “cleansing from sin and impurity” (Zech. 13:1), and be grafted back into “their own olive tree,” and “thus all Israel will be saved!” (Rom. 11:23-26). The Day of Atonement reminds us that this national gathering of Israel under their Messiah is coming soon, which should motivate us to share the Good News of Yeshua “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16).
~ Neil Taylor