(Much of the following information is general knowledge, and other commentary came from the books God's Prophetic Calendar, by Lehman Strauss. Published by Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune NJ, ęCopyright 1987; and from The Gospel in the Feasts of Israel by Victor Buksbazen, Published by Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Bellmawr NJ, ęCopyright 2004. Used with permission. Feast overview chart is used with permission from Peter Wise of Internet Biblical Resources).
"And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a Sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your Sabbath" (Leviticus 23:26-32).
Between the Feast of Trumpets [Rosh Hashanah] and Yom Kippur are ten days called "The Awesome Days." During that time Jewish people are to search their hearts and seek to be reconciled with God and their neighbors. God instructed the children of Israel to observe the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown at the end of the ninth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish religious year. Yom Kippur is a solemn fast day, and for twenty-four hours from sundown to sundown, Jewish people assemble in synagogues and places of prayer to seek atonement with God and forgiveness for all their sins. It is "The Day" of judgment and reckoning. This is considered to be the time when the final verdict is made for each human life for the coming year. In the synagogue, the Yom Kippur service begins in the evening with special prayers called Kol Nidre, meaning "all my vows." As a recognition of human frailty, this prayer asks for the annulment of all vows which the people were unable to keep. Ten times on Yom Kippur worshipers rehearse a long list of sins recorded in the holiday prayer book. As they repeat the string of iniquities, they beat their breasts with their hands. They are to "afflict their souls" as instructed in Leviticus. In some communities, the rabbi, cantor and others may wear a kitel, or special white garment, reminiscent of the garment the priest would have worn in Temple times. The congregation recites prayers of confession as a group because all Israel is responsible together. Yom Kippur is about repentance and confession. During the afternoon service, the book of Jonah is read in its entirety. Jonah is a story of judgment, repentance and forgiveness.
Rosh Hashanah opens the solemn period of repentance preparation for Yom Kippur. Since the Jewish people have no Temple, priest, or sacrifice, the rabbis have provided substitutes for the atoning sacrifice. Some of these include repentance, which involves reparation of wrong; prayer, charity and fasting. Another substitute is the practice of kapparot [a propitiatory or atoning sacrifice] using a chicken. While many modern Jewish people consider the practice of kapparot barbaric, some Jewish communities still observe the ritual. A chicken is slain by a rabbi, then the owner of the chicken takes it by the legs and swings it around over his head, while reciting a prayer to God that all his sins during the year be transferred to the chicken. [In some communities the chicken has been replaced with money earmarked for charity]. This practice arose as a substitute for the "scapegoat" described in the Torah, which also symbolically received the sins of the people and carried them out of the camp. Of course, there is no Biblical basis for these sacrifices of roosters and hens, but they are an expression of a deep sense of need for atonement through the shedding of blood.
The last three feasts in God's prophetic calendar, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles, all look into the future from our present position in the Church Age. At the sound of the first trumpet ["the last trump" for the Church], the Church will be caught up to be with the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). The next trumpet sound after the rapture of the Church will be the voice of God calling Jews back to their own land. "Immediately after the tribulation...He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:29-31). In that day no man or nation will be able to prevent the Jewish people from coming into their rightful place and possession. God's unconditional covenant with Abraham, which He later confirmed with Isaac and Jacob, will be finalized.
Israel's greatest need is a spiritual one. Possessing the land and having protection from their enemies cannot solve the nation's biggest problem -- cleansing from sin. An awareness of their unfaithfulness and rejection of their Messiah demands that they deal with the sin question.
The word atonement is an Old Testament term used forty-eight times in the book of Leviticus. It appears once in the KJV translation of the New Testament: "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement" (Romans 5:11). The word used most often in the New Testament, which is similar to the word atonement is the word reconciliation. When a sinner becomes reconciled to God, there is "at-one-ment," the two being brought together in harmony. Our harmony and peace with God have been made possible only through the sacrificial death and shedding of the blood of Jesus the Messiah. "And you, that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death" (Colossians 1:21-22). Sin can only be atoned for by blood: "...and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). The Day of Atonement was established by God for the people of Israel to provide an atonement [literally "a covering"] for sin. Sin had to be dealt with before Israel could worship and approach Yahweh, who is holy.
To fully appreciate the importance of this day, we would need to study Leviticus 16, the chapter that is the heart of the sacrificial system for Israel. In this one chapter, the word atonement appears 15 times. In this same chapter, the word blood is mentioned 9 times. That reminds us of the old song which says: "Down at the cross where my Savior died, down where from cleansing from sin I cried, there to my heart was the blood applied, Glory to His name."
Looking at Leviticus 16 shows us what actually took place in Israel on the great Day of Atonement. It was a unique day in Israel because it was the one day in the year when the holiness of God was vindicated and atonement provided for the sins of the people. The chapter begins with a reference to the death of Nadab and Abihu, the two eldest sons of Aaron who were struck down by God for offering "strange fire" before God, something which He had not prescribed in His instructions to Moses. There is a great deal of strange fire being offered today in the name of religion, but it is not according to the teachings of the Word of God.
We see in this chapter that the priest was God's representative who stood between God and the people, and it was essential that he qualify at all times for his sacred ministry. On the Day of Atonement, the priest must bring a sacrifice to atone for his own sins as well as for the sins of the people. The LORD had given specific instructions for him to follow when appearing before Him. Before he could represent the people of Israel before God, he first had to be acceptable to God by having his own sins atoned by the blood of the sacrifice. The blood represented forgiveness and gift of new life, which God alone was able to provide. As the High Priest presented the blood of the bull, he was identifying with his sin-substitute. We too must identify with our sin-substitute if we are going to be able to stand before a holy God. Our great High Priest, the mediator of the new covenant, needed no sacrifice for Himself before He could represent us. He was the One "who had no sin" (1 Peter 2:22) because "in Him is no sin" (1 John 3:5). "But into the second [Holy of Holies] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people. Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building. Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:7, 9, 11, 12). We read in Hebrews 7:26-27: "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this He [Jesus the Messiah] did once, when He offered up Himself."
The Day of Atonement was an awesome experience for Israel's high priest. After the high priest had offered a sacrifice for himself and his family, he had to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. The Day of the Atonement for Israel is described for us in several verses in Leviticus 16: "And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:5, 7-10, 21-22).
One goat was designated "for the LORD," and the other for the "scapegoat." The goat for the LORD was slain and presented for a sin offering, and the sprinkling of its blood signified the means of reconciliation with God. While the atonement was the aim and purpose of the sin offering, it never did take away sin. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word, kapar, means "to cover." Atonement would cover a person's sins making it possible for him to approach a holy God. Since sin separates man from God, the atoning sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was God's solution to this basic problem. The ceremony was not complete until the high priest returned to the second goat which remained alive. As the Israelite watched his sins being carried away into the wilderness, he knew that God not only forgave his sins, but removed them from him. David knew the full meaning of atonement when he wrote in Psalm 103:12: "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us." We can imagine the excitement of the Israelites when they saw their sins being carried away into the wilderness.
Finally, the people had a solemn responsibility to afflict or humble themselves and do no work on that day. They needed to realize that they could do nothing for their atonement; only God could forgive sin and accept the priest's sacrifice. Salvation is never by man's works. Salvation is God's work. The people simply interrupted their busy lives for one day in humiliation of soul to accept by faith the forgiveness God provided for them. They had to put their faith in the blood that was shed for their sins. They had to take God at His Word.
There is a lesson here for all Christians. We sin in thought, word, and deed. Even as we grow in Christlikeness, we become aware of the problem of sin in our lives. So there is the need for us to draw daily from the power of Christ's atonement to overcome "the sin which doth so easily beset us" (Hebrews 12:1). As the songwriter Philip P. Bliss put it: "Guilty, vile and helpless we, Spotless Lamb of God was He; Full atonement can it be? Hallelujah, what a Savior."
God does not redeem us because we are holy, "But God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He saved us as sinners that He might make us holy. God is holy. Our High Priest, Jesus the Messiah, is holy. The Spirit of God who indwells us is holy. The Scriptures are holy. After we become God's child, we are to live a life of practical holiness by walking in obedience to God's Word.
Every Israelite had to know his standing before the Lord, so when the Day of Atonement approached, each one was challenged to examine himself for personal sins. The basic lesson was the need for contrition, confession, and forgiveness. So the tenth day of the seventh month became the most important day of the year in their religious calendar. It was a day of fasting, prayer, and deep soul-searching.
One of the great tragedies in the nation of Israel today is the continuing attempt to have a Day of Atonement without a blood sacrifice for the sin offering. They go through the formalities without the blood sacrifice. Though a few practice the ritual of kapparot mentioned earlier, this ritual is unbiblical, and the blood of a chicken is no substitute for the blood of the Lamb. The precious blood of Jesus the Messiah, the spotless, sinless Lamb of God, shed on the Cross at Golgatha, was the last blood sacrifice that was accepted by Yahweh. It was the supreme sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Liberalism in Judaism, like liberalism in many churches today, questions whether blood is necessary for salvation and forgiveness of sins. The question is not debatable. The case is settled and closed as far as God and His eternal Word are concerned. God's plan for reconciling the sinner to Himself requires that each of us identify with the death of a substitute, the only means of reconciliation. We know that our Lord Jesus is that Substitute.
For 2,000 years, Israel as a nation has rejected her Messiah, "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). So what hope is there for the Jewish nation? The prophecy of the Bible clearly states that there is a future Day of Atonement for Israel. We said earlier that a future trumpet will sound to gather Israel back to the land. Isaiah and Joel wrote about it. Our Lord spoke of it in Matthew 24. Now, what chronologically follows the Feast of Trumpets? -- The Day of Atonement. The prophet Zechariah wrote of that Day of Atonement: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. And the land shall mourn..." (Zechariah 12:9-11a). Israel's deliverance from sin will be accomplished by the Holy Spirit, leading the Israelites to repentant faith in Jesus as their Messiah. Genuine repentance and sorrow for sin is always the result of the work of the Holy Spirit.
We read in Zechariah 13:1: "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." The day our Lord Jesus died on the Cross, the fountain was opened for any and all to receive cleansing from sin. The future fulfillment for Israel's great Day of Atonement will be a most glorious day. All iniquity will be removed from the land. The fountain of Israel's future cleansing remains open today for sinners to experience cleansing and forgiveness of sins as they receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal Savior by grace through faith. People today are still saved by faith in His blood.
Israel's future will be glorious when she repents and mourns over her Messiah and is cleansed in the fountain of His blood. Then the breach will be finally healed. The sad thing is that they must go through the Great Tribulation, and two-thirds of them will not make it. Though many have repented and believed into their Messiah, multitudes have not, and it is imperative that God's people do all they can to reach them with the saving gospel of grace.
Using Yom Kippur as a type, God presented a picture of His Son -- the ultimate atonement, accomplished through the ultimate High Priest, at a price of ultimate sacrifice. Yom Kippur bears significance to the Messiah's first coming as well as His Second Coming. The final atonement for Israel has been accomplished, but its efficacy has not yet been applied. Israel's High Priest, Messiah Jesus, is prophetically still in the Holy of Holies with His own blood being presented before God as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). When Jesus returns, however, it will not be to obtain atonement for sin. It will be to provide salvation for Israel and for all those who eagerly await Him. We read in Hebrews 2:28: "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation." Just as the people of Israel anxiously awaited the reappearance of the high priest from the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement, signifying that God was satisfied with the atoning sacrifice; so too will Jesus appear in the heavens, having satisfied God's righteous demands for a perfect, once-for-all cleansing from sin. Israel will be washed clean, given a new heart, and will receive God's indwelling Holy Spirit as Ezekiel said: "For I will take you from among the heathen [Gentiles], and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 26:24-27).
Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb? Have you been forgiven and cleansed from sin? Are you reconciled to God? Have you been given a new heart? If not, repent of your sin and believe into the Lord Jesus Christ by receiving the gospel message of grace into your heart. Trust in the shed blood of Jesus the Messiah alone to redeem you and set you free from the bondage of sin. If you will come to Him in child-like faith, "He will in no wise cast you out" (John 6:37).
Those of us who are redeemed by the blood need to go to that fountain daily for cleansing when we fail our Lord in thought, word or deed. We still do battle with our old flesh which is so susceptible to "the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life." May we keep short accounts with our Lord so that we might stay in fellowship with Him and allow His Holy Spirit to lead us into God's perfect will.
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