What is the significance of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)?
The Day of Atonement points directly to the Messiah, Jesus, and His death on the cross to atone for people's sins. God instituted it in Leviticus 16:1–34. Also known as Yom Kippur, it is the most holy, solemn day on the Jewish calendar, occurring annually on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri) in the Hebrew calendar.
God made it clear that the Day of Atonement was the only day anyone, specifically the high priest, could enter the portion of the temple or tabernacle known as the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies. The penalty for entering this area wrongly was death (Leviticus 16:2).
In Leviticus 16, Aaron (and subsequent high priests) is instructed to perform certain duties on the Day of Atonement. First, he is to bathe and don special clothes. Then, a bull is sacrificed for the sins of the high priest and his family, with the blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant. Then, two goats would be brought. One would be sacrificed on behalf of the Israelites and their sin. Its blood was also to be sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant. The other goat was called the scapegoat. The high priest would put his hands on this goat's head, confess the sins of rebellion and wickedness of the Israelites upon it, then send it out with a man into the wilderness where it would go free. The goat symbolically bore the sins of the people and carried them away.
Christians view the Day of Atonement as a foretelling of Jesus' sacrifice. He became the sacrifice and the scapegoat for all who call upon Him. First, Jesus' sacrifice parallels the sacrifice of the first goat. All the sins of the people were placed on Him and He shed His blood to atone for them all. This ultimate sacrifice by Jesus did not cover sins for only a year, but was done once and for all (Hebrews 10:1–18). The second goat took away the sins of the people into the wilderness where they could not be located. Jesus' propitiation did that for the people, as well. The sins of people are both sacrificed for and driven away never to be remembered.
Romans 5:9 says, "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." Hebrews 10:17–18 says, "Then he (the Holy Spirit) adds, 'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.' Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin" (Hebrews 10:17-18). Jesus' work is completed. In Him our sin is paid for and removed.
Jesus' blood was shed. The annual sacrifice of animals is no longer required (Hebrews 7:23–28; Hebrews 10:1–23). On the cross, Jesus declared "It is finished" (John 19:30) for many reasons, but one was to say that the sacrificial system of Leviticus was over. At that point, when Jesus declared it over, the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, "was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51). Jesus made a way that anyone who puts their faith in Him can commune with God at any time because their sins have been sacrificed for and done away with (Hebrews 4:14–16; 10:19–23).
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