As Yom Kippur quickly approaches, the theme of atonement is on the forefront of our minds. From scripture, we see that this is a day completely focused on the atonement of sins.
During the Tabernacle period and later the Temple period, atonement was achieved through the instructions detailed in the Torah – by the sacrifice of goats, and calves. Following the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Mashiach, our sins are fully atoned for once and for all, no longer requiring a yearly atonement by the blood of animals.
The process of atonement in the Torah and in the New Testament are different, but very much the same in many aspects. I believe it is important to understand their similarities and differences in this process to better understand this High Holiday and Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement
Leviticus 23: 26 – 32: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month is a day of atonement: it shall be a holy convocation to you; and ye shall humble your souls, and offer a whole-burnt-offering to the Lord. 28 Ye shall do no work on this self-same day: for this is a day of atonement for you, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 Every soul that shall not be humbled in that day, shall be cut off from among its people. 30 And every soul which shall do work on that day, that soul shall be destroyed from among its people. 31 Ye shall do no manner of work: it is a perpetual statue throughout your generations in all your habitations. 32 It shall be a holy sabbath to you: and ye shall humble [afflict] your souls from the ninth day of the month: from evening to evening ye shall keep your sabbaths.”
Exodus 30: 10: “And once in the year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns, he shall purge it with the blood of purification for their generations: it is most holy to the Lord.”
Yom Kippur is a holy and important day. It is a day observed by prayer, fasting, and as a strict sabbath-rest day, it is a day to afflict ourselves.
Jesus atoned for our sins forever when he rose from the dead. As believers in Mashiach, the Day of Atonement should be a day of joy and thankfulness, because our sins are atoned for by the blood of Jesus and not goats and calves.
If you grew up going to Evangelical, Pentecostal, Baptist, or “Non-Denominational” churches, the pastor probably briefly touched on the topic of atonement and its importance to your salvation. However, the discussion was probably very brief and you probably were left with the sense of still not knowing the topic and just being glad you weren’t born during Bible times and that “you are no longer under the law”. While I am glad I wasn’t born during Bible times (although I think it would have been very interesting), it is still important to understand the atonement process in the Torah, because it helps us to understand Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
The New Testament writers for the most part were writing to the Hebrews who were very knowledgeable on the Old testament. As a result, they were speaking out of that knowledge to help us to better understand the New Testament principles – Jesus being our Messiah, salvation by grace through faith, the grafting of the Gentiles into the faith, etc. The New Testament and the Old testaments work together so beautifully and one shouldn’t be excluded from the other.
Atonement in the Torah
Leviticus 16 – Details the process of atonement for the sins of Israel by the High Priest. This was a long process that only the High Priest could perform and would be for the benefit of the whole nation of Israel.
– God tells Moses that there were certain circumstances when the High Priest could enter into the propitiatory- the inner chamber inside the Tabernacle of Witness where the Holiest of Holies was. The only time he was allowed to enter into the Holiest of Holies was during Yom Kippur with an offering. Otherwise, the High Priest would die, because this was the very holy place where God resided inside the Tabernacle (Leviticus 16: 2).
– The first step in the atonement process by the High Priest was to bathe and to put on the holy garments – the consecrated linen drawers, the linen girdle, and the linen cap (16: 4).
– Next, the High Priest would choose 2 goats for the sin offering and 1 lamb for the whole-burnt-offering. He would cast lots for the goats. One goat would be for the Lord- a burnt offering for sin, and the other would be the scapegoat (16: 5 – 7).
– The goat that was for the Lord would become the burnt-offering to atone for the sins of the whole nation of Israel.
– The scapegoat was presented alive before the Lord. The High Priest would make atonement upon this goat, and it would then be sent into the wilderness.
– A calf was brought and the High Priest would kill it to atone for his sins and the sins of his household. He would do this before he started the atonement process for the whole nation of Israel (16: 11).
– The High Priest would then take a censer full of coals off the altar before the Lord, fill his hands with finely ground incense and place the incense and coals behind the veil of the Tabernacle (inside the Holiest of Holies) before the Lord in the fire. This created much smoke which covered the Mercy Seat and the Tables of Testimony because the High Priest gave this offering – he didn’t die. Next, he would take the blood of the calf that he gave as a sin offering, and sprinkle it seven times onto the mercy seat in an eastward direction (16: 12 – 14).
– The non-scape goat was the sin offering for the whole nation of Israel. The High Priest would kill this goat, take its blood behind the veil of the Tabernacle, and he will again sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat, but on the front of it this time. This is to make atonement for the Sanctuary on account of the uncleanness and trespasses of the children of Israel. The High Priest was alone inside the Tabernacle of Witness during this process (16: 15 – 17).
– Next, the High Priest would take the blood of the goat and the calf and sprinkle the blood on the horns all around the Altar. He would sprinkle the blood seven times, to purge the altar. He did this to make the Altar holy again because the blood that was sprinkled onto it was for the uncleanness and sins of the children of Israel. He is making atonement for the people, the other priests, and at the same time is making atonement for and cleansing the Sanctuary, the Tabernacle of Witness, and the Altar. Almost like cleaning something in a bowl. The thing needs to be clean and the bowl that you used needs to be clean again as well (16: 18 – 20).
– Next, the High Priest comes out of the Tabernacle of Witness. He lays his hands on the head of the living goat – the scapegoat. He declares over the goat all the iniquities, unrighteousness, and sins of the children of Israel. Then a man is sent with the scapegoat into the wilderness (16: 21 – 22).
– The High Priest returns to the Tabernacle of Witness, takes off the linen garments, and leaves it inside the Tabernacle. He then bathes inside the Tabernacle and puts on his regular priest clothes. He then offers a whole-burnt-offering for the people and to make atonement for himself and his household (16: 23 – 25).
– The man that led the scapegoat into the wilderness, comes back and washes his body and his clothes, then enters into the camp of Israel (16: 26).
– The leftover blood, skins, flesh, and dung of the goat and calf sin-offerings were taken outside the camp of Israel and burnt with fire. The person that did this would then bathe and wash his clothes, then he could return to the camp (16:27 – 28).
Leviticus 16 ends with the command to keep the Day of Atonement by the native Hebrews, the stranger, and the sojourner. God tells Moses that the previous steps were to be carried out on this day for the priest, his family, the other priests, and the whole congregation of Israel, and also for the holy place, and the Tabernacle of Witness. This process of atonement was to be done once a year to atone, cleanse, and purge our sins.
Atonement in the New Testament
The four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, tell of the life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach – Jesus the Messiah. We know from these books and others that Jesus died in our place and as a result, we have salvation and eternal life. The book of Hebrews dives into details about the process of atonement in the Torah, how Jesus is a better High Priest than any other and how the Old and New Covenants differ.
The author of Hebrews also shows us how the new covenant was prophesied about in the book of Jeremiah and how it is fulfilling an aspect of the Old – the process and importance of the atonement for sins.
The book of Hebrews speaks of the greatness of Jesus’ priesthood ministry.
- He sits on the right hand of the throne of Elohim.
- He ministers in the Tabernacle of God that was not made by man.
- The offerings and sacrifices the priests offered were examples of heavenly things – they were types and shadows of the things to come.
- The promise of the New Covenant was to put the laws on our mind, to write them on our hearts, and for God to be our only God. In addition to this, no one had to go to anyone else to receive the teachings of God, He would give them to everyone. Another part of the new covenant was that our sins would be completely atoned for forever.
Hebrews 8: 8 – 12: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, When I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them out of the Land of Egypt; Because they continued not in my covenant, And I regarded them not, saith the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, And write them in their hearts: And I will be to them a God, And they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, And every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, From the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. ” Quoted from Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34 KJV
Description of the Holy Items Inside of the Two Chambers of the Tabernacle
Hebrews 9 describes the first covenant (the old covenant) and the articles inside of the tabernacle where the priest had made his offerings to the Lord.
- The Tabernacle had two areas or “chambers” the outer area where the general Tabernacle/ Temple ministrations occurred – regular sin offerings, whole burnt offerings, grain, meat and drink offerings, etc., and the inner area where the Holiest of Holies was that had all the holy instruments and where God dwelled. This second area was reserved for the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 9: 8 – 10).
- The outer area had the golden candlestick or the Menorah that was always lit, the Showbread Table, and Showbread, and the veil that separated the two Tabernacle areas (Hebrews 9: 2).
- Inside the Holiest of Holies contained the golden censer of incense and the golden Ark of the Covenant. Inside the ark of the covenant contained manna from the wilderness that Moses saved, Aaron’s rod that had budded in the wilderness, the Tables of the Covenant – the Ten Commandment tablets, and the Cherubims over the Mercy Seat (Hebrews 9: 3 – 5).
- The High Priest could only go into the Holiest of Holies with an offering on Yom Kippur, because it was exceptionally holy (Hebrews 9: 6 – 7).
Jesus Atoned for our Sins Once and For All, Rather than Every Year.
The process of atoning for our sins in the Torah was never meant to be the only way of atonement. It was a shadow of the better covenant. This doesn’t mean the whole Old Covenant was to be thrown out, just this particular aspect – the process of atoning for sins by the blood of goats and calves.
Hebrews 10: 1: “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.”
10: 4 “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”
10: 10 – 14: ”By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 but this man[Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13 from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14 For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. ”
We are Righteousness Before God as a Result of Jesus’ Sacrifice for Us
As a result of Jesus being the perfect atonement for our sins, we are now able to access God in a way we weren’t able to before. Before there was a veil between us and God, and between the priests and the Holiest of Holies where God resided. But now, that veil has been removed, we can enter into the Holiest of Holies and access God in a new way (Matthew 27: 50 – 53).
Just like when the Old Covenant was first given to us, and how Moses sprinkled our forefathers with the blood of the goats and calves, we have been sprinkled and redeemed in Jesus. We have been consecrated, we have been sprinkled and washed by the blood of Jesus. Therefore God now sees Jesus’s righteousness instead of our own, and his atonement rather than the temporary atoning blood of goats and calves (Isaiah 64: 6).
Hebrews 9: 19 – 22: “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people 20, saying this is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the Tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” Quoted from Exodus 24: 7 – 8 KJV
Hebrews 10: 19 – 22: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 and having a high priest over the house of God; 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Do not disregard the blood of Jesus as our only atonement for sins
Towards the end of chapter 10 of Hebrews, we are admonished to not sin purposefully and to not disregard the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the grace that we have been given. Because then God would require the sacrifice for our sins from us, which is eternal death.
Hebrews 10: 29 – 31:” Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31 It is a fateful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Quoted from Deuteronomy 32: 35 – 36 KJV
The author of Hebrews tells us to remind ourselves of when we were first saved, to think about Heaven and the promises that God gave us to help carry us through the afflictions, reproaches, and trials of life. To think about the reward of those who endure until the end doing the work and will of God.
Yom Kippur can be a heavy day. It is filled with so much weight, holiness, and affliction. As Hebrews, we should observe this day not with uncertainty and mourning but with joy in our hearts. We have joy because we have a savior and redeemer, who has completely atoned for our sins, thus allowing us to be holy and have right standing before Elohim forever.
Have a holy and meaningful fast and sabbath-rest day. Shalom.