“No, that’s not ‘yum, kippers’.” That would be a questionable culinary comment concerning smoked herring.
Yom Kippur is Hebrew for “Day of Atonement,” or, perhaps more literally, “Day of Covering.”
Instructions for the festival
These are the brief instructions given for the people Israel in Leviticus 23:16-32 (NIV):
The LORD said to Moses,
“The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day [yom] of Atonement [kippur]. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”
The whole of Leviticus 16 is dedicated to giving directions to Aaron, as the high priest at that time. As such, it ascribes great importance to the role of the high priest on the Day of Atonement. This point will become clear when we consider the fulfilment and significance of this festival. At this point, take a few moments to read Leviticus 16.
Two principles to apply
Some principles were laid out earlier in “Celebrating God’s Grace – five basic guiding principles.”
Two of these principles apply as we observe that the Day of Atonement (1) was a one day feast – thereby signifying that it would be fulfilled in a unique historical event; and, (2) that it was celebrated in the seventh month of Israel’s calendar indicating that the fulfilment is still future.
Some people view the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the Day of Atonement. They then ask, “How can the fulfilment be future?”
As we have seen, “Celebrating God’s Grace in the Passover,” the Passover signifies the unique historical event of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is in the past. All the festivals flow from the Passover, in the same way a river flows from its headwaters. Although the Day of Atonement flows from the Passover, it signifies a unique historical event in and through Jesus Christ in the future.
Let’s see what the future event will be.
Although there is much more to the Day of Atonement, let’s focus on four elements.
1. The high-priest represented the people of Israel before God. In that capacity he (a) went into the Most Holy Place within the tabernacle and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the front of the atonement cover (or, mercy seat) on the ark of the covenant (16:15-19); and (b) laid his hands upon the head of the scapegoat (16:20-22).
2. Although there were other sacrifices at this festival, we will concentrate on the two goats (16:7-10). One was slain and its blood taken by the high-priest into the Most Holy Place; the other was a scapegoat that emblematically carried the sins of Israel into “a solitary place” in the desert. As such, the first addresses the barrier of Israel’s sin God-ward; the second, the burden (including memory) of Israel’s sin upon themselves.
3. The two goats involved two venues. The first was into the Most Holy Place within the tabernacle in which the ark and mercy seat were located – typifying the presence of God. This was the only time during which a human could enter the Most Holy Place. The second was into a solitary place in the desert – typifying ‘over the horizon’, never-to-be-seen-again, gone, no more presence!
4. The people waited for the high-priest “until he comes out” (16:17). This was the signal that Israel’s sin for the past year had been dealt with – both the barrier and the burden were gone.
How is this fulfilled?
The New Testament book called “Hebrews” informs us about both the fulfilment and significance of the Day of Atonement. We know that Hebrews 9 concerns the Day of Atonement by, among other things, the mention of “only the high priest entered the inner room [i.e., the Most Holy Place], and that only once a year [i.e., the Day of Atonement], and never without blood” (Hebrews 9:7).
1. Who fulfils the position of the high-priest?
The author of Hebrews writes: “When Christ came as high priest” (9:11a). That book has a focus on the high-priestly role of Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-5:10; 8:1-2).
2. How are the sacrifices fulfilled?
Again, the writer of Hebrews states: “[Christ] did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”
As for the scapegoat that symbolically carried away the sins of the people, note that Jesus Christ “does away with sin” and “takes away the sins of many people” (9:26, 28).
3. What or where is the “sanctuary”?
“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” (9:24).
4. When does our high-priest come out of the sanctuary?
Hebrews 9:28 is explicit: “so Christ … will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
So, drawing these points together we conclude:
- In the past, Jesus Christ was sacrificed for our sins once and finally. That is signified by the Passover. This addressed the penalty of sin.
- In the present, Jesus Christ is in heaven in God’s presence as our high-priest. As such he is there for us (Hebrews 4:14-16). This addresses the power of sin.
- In the future, he will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. This will address the presence of sin.
The fulfilment of the Passover in Jesus Christ declares that our sins are forgiven. And yet there continue to be incidents of sin in our thoughts, words and actions. Will we ever be done with the presence of sin in our lives?
Although ‘my’ sins are forgiven, ‘I’ may continue to have memories or a conscience about those sins. Will ‘I’ ever be done with the memory or conscience of ‘my’ sin?
Consider what we have learned about the Day of Atonement and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
What does his present activity as our high priest have to do with the power and presence of sin in your life?
How will the future appearance of Jesus Christ deal with the presence of sin in our lives?
Think about Hebrews 9:14 in its context:
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
The word “cleanse” is in the future tense (the blood of Christ … will cleanse our consciences …). How does this speak to the issue of your memory or conscience of your sins?
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