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The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)


The Day of Atonement teaches us first and foremost about Jesus’ atonement; the covering which credits to us the perfection necessary to enter God’s presence. There are many events and commands associated with this day.

On this day, the high priest would offer an atonement sacrifice for the sins of the entire nation and it’s the one day he would physically enter into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The priest was also commanded to cast lots over two goats (which were considered as one offering), to decide which one would be sacrificed, and which would be the “scapegoat.” The priest would confess the sin of the nation over the scapegoat and tie a red sash around its horn. Then the other part of the sash would then be attached to the temple door and the scapegoat would be pushed off a cliff outside the city.

There were two specific and incredible miracles recorded in tradition regarding this ceremony. First, the lot marked “to God” would come up consistently in the right hand of the priest as a sign of favor. Secondly, the red sash on the temple door would turn white, signifying that the offering was accepted. Amazingly, Jewish tradition records that both miracles stopped about forty years before the destruction of the second Temple; the exact time that Jesus died and resurrected.

The book of Hebrews describes Jesus as our spiritual and eternal high priest because He offered the atonement sacrifice of Himself. Just as the priest’s white robes became stained with blood, Jesus’ robes are stained with blood when we will see Him returning. Furthermore, like the one goat, He is the sacrifice made before God, but He also had the sins of the world on Him like the scapegoat.

The day also teaches us about the period of judgment described in Rev. 20:11-15. Yom Kippur is traditionally called “the closing of the gates,” a picture of the final day of judgment, the one day that epitomizes the necessity of Jesus’ atonement. Everyone will stand before the Judge and will have to account for their actions. Only the names of those who have accepted Jesus’ atonement and walked with Him in life will be written in the Book of Life. In fact, it is even Jewish tradition to wish one another a “good signature” in the Book of Life.

Finally, God commands His people to afflict themselves by fasting on this day. Why does God command this? One reason may be that we are to repent of our sins, humbly mourning for the grief that we have caused God. Another reason may be that it is a solemn day in which the Book of Life will be closed on those who are condemned, which may include many that we have known in life. It is a day that we may mourn and remember those who are dying, that we may be inspired to share life with them. Another reason may be to remind us that we “do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”