Wednesday of this week, September 23, was Yom Kippur, the Jewish celebration of the day of atonement. In our day, Yom Kippur is an almost exclusively Jewish holiday when the obedient Jew goes to temple and fasts and prays and does various rituals to get forgiven by God. Even for dedicated Jews, the real significance of the day is lost in a haze of readings and rituals, but for the Hebrew in the days of Solomon’s temple, this definitely was not the case.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was for the Old Testament Jew the most solemn and holy day on the Hebrew calendar. This was the one day of the year given by Yahweh that allowed for the atonement of sins through the shed blood of a sacrificial animal. Only on this day, the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies, into the very presence of God, carrying the blood of atonement, the blood that God would accept for the forgiveness of sins. The high priest needed to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat in the prescribed way and in the prescribed order so that Yahweh would accept the offering and grant forgiveness of sins for another year. This atonement was only effective for one year. It was required that the day of atonement, Yom Kippur, be observed every year without fail.
As part of the procedure for the atonement, there were also two goats who were brought to the high priest. A lot was cast and one goat became a sin offering for the LORD and one was a scapegoat who was presented alive before the LORD and then sent out far away into the wilderness. The goat of the sin offering was slaughtered and its blood was taken by the high priest into the holy of holies and was sprinkled on the mercy seat to make atonement for all the people. The high priest then came out of the holy of holies to where the scapegoat awaited. The priest laid his hands on the head of the live goat and confessed over the goat all the iniquities and transgressions of the sons of Israel, so that those sins were transferred to the scapegoat. Then the scapegoat, bearing on itself all the iniquities of the people, was carried away into the wilderness, into a solitary land, never to return or be seen again.
This was the procedure that Yahweh had given to provide for atonement. This was a deadly serious day, for if the procedure was not followed, Yahweh might not forgive and there was no other means of atonement. This was the only way available for sin’s atonement, and all the Hebrews knew that God was a consuming fire if His wrath was not appeased.
But now there is no temple and there is no holy of holies. There is no high priest and there are no goats for animal sacrifice. There is no blood to appease God’s wrath and there is no wilderness into which to send the goat of the removal. So if God’s only prescribed means of atonement is gone so that the Day of Atonement cannot be rightly practiced, how can there be forgiveness of sins? Are we doomed to be condemned for our sins?
No, we are not doomed to condemnation, for Yom Kippur was only instituted for a time as the means of atonement year by year until the final and full atonement might be offered. But now the final Day of Atonement HAS come and has been accomplished once for all time, so that there is no longer a need for a temple or a high priest or the holy of holies or the sacrificial blood of animals. Jesus Christ has fulfilled all the shadows and types of Yom Kippur by the means of His atoning death on the cross. Jesus was the goat of the sin offering, shedding His blood to be the sacrifice for sin that Yahweh required, but Jesus was also the goat of removal, the scapegoat who carried our sins far away from us, as far as the east is from the west. Jesus Christ was also our High Priest, entering the heavenly holy of holies on our behalf, to appear before God and to sprinkle His own sinless blood on the mercy seat so that we could be forgiven. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, for He is our atonement, the one who takes away our sins.
So the next time that Yom Kippur rolls around on your calendar, remember that the real and final Yom Kippur has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross, and then talk to a Jewish person about how their sins can be taken away forever.
SDG rmb 9/25/2015