Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement

Yesterday at sunset the Jews began celebrating Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. There is significance in this holiday for us as Christians, so I thought I’d share the holiday with you.

The Day of Atonement served as a reminder that the daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices made at the altar of burnt offering were not sufficient to atone for sin. Even at the altar of burnt offering the worshipper stood “afar off,” unable to approach the Holy Presence of God, who was manifest between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies. On this one day in the year, atoning blood was brought into the Holy of Holies, the divine throne room, by the high priest as the representative of the people (New Bible Dictionary).

It is customary to wear white on this holiday, which symbolizes purity and the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Isa. 1:18). Some Jews wear a kitel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

Weakness of the Law

The commandment itself explains the weakness of the law. 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 (Heb. 10:1).

The Jew knew something was missing. There is a multitude of sacrifices. The sacrifices attempt to supplement one another but there is still something missing, because Hebrews 10:4 says: For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Obviously, this means of taking away sin was temporary. The sacrifices, are only a forerunner, like John the Baptist, or to prepare the way for the better hope (Edersheim 1994, 241) described in Hebrews 7:19: For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.

Yom Kippur in Bible Times

The high priest is entirely responsible for the Day of Atonement. He began preparing for this day a week early. He stayed in the high priest chamber in the temple court and studied the laws of the Day of Atonement. It was very important the priest not make a mistake. An error could cost him his life and the nation of Israel’s atonement. The high priest spoke a word this day that was unspeakable all other times. During the services he voiced the Holy name of God, YHWH or Yahweh ten times during the ceremony. When the people heard the Holy Name they fell on the ground in reverence.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

The interior of Solomon’s Temple was rectangular, about 35 feet wide and 140 feet long. It was divided into three parts. The priest would have entered the porch, which was about 17 feet deep. He would then pass through gilded Cyprus doors decorated with flowers, palm trees, and cherubim, and enter the main room of the Temple—often called the Holy Place. Beyond a set of olive wood doors lay the room no ordinary priest would ever see. This was the Holy of Holies. It was a perfect cube, with each side measuring nearly 35 feet. In it was the Ark, containing the two tablets of stone of the Ten Commandments (Guinness 1988).

  • The Holy of Holies was entered only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest made atonement for the people. This was the great solemn day that the high priest put aside his official robes and dressed in a simple white garment. To fulfill the law of the Bible, he wore eight garments on this day (Lev. 8:7; Ex. 28:33-35).
  • The golden crown on his forehead.
  • The breastplate on his heart.
  • The outer robe decorated with pomegranates and bells (the people listened for the bells while the priest was in the Holy of Holies to be sure the priest was still alive).
  • The apron or vest.
  • Four white garments made from white flax.
  • The belt.
  • The turban.
  • Pants.
  • He then offered a bullock as a sin-offering for himself and the priesthood. He would fill the censer with live coals from the altar, then enter into the Holy of Holies, where he placed incense on the coals. The incense sent forth a cloud of smoke over the mercy seat, which served as a covering for the ark of the covenant. The high priest took some of the blood of the bullock and sprinkled it on the mercy seat and on the ground in front of the ark cleansing them from defilement.
  • The burnt offerings were: seven male lambs, each a year old, one young bull, and one ram. The sin offering was one male goat. Every step the priest took was precisely scripted. According to the Talmud he made forty-three trips between the court and sanctuary on this respected day.

Order of Events

A Bible study by Greg Killian explains the high priest would:

  • Remove the ashes from the outer altar (1:8).
  • Immerse (baptize) himself for the first time. Put on the golden vestments (3:4).
  • Slaughter the daily morning elevation (burnt) offering (3:4).
  • Receive and throw the blood of the elevation (burnt) offering (3:4).
  • Prepare the five lamps of the menorah (3:4).
  • Offer the daily incense (3:5).
  • Prepare the remaining two lamps of the menorah.
  • Burn the limbs of the daily morning elevation (burnt) offering on the outer altar (3:4).
  • Offer the daily meal offering (3:4).
  • Offer the Chavitin offering (3:4).
  • Offer the wine libation (drink offering) (3:4).
  • Offer the Mussafim: The ox and the seven lambs – all elevation (burnt) offerings, along with their meal and drink offerings (7:3).
  • Immerse (baptize) himself for the second time and then don the linen vestments (3:6).
  • Do the first confession on the High Priest ox offering (3:8).
  • Draw the lots to select the he-goats for God and for Azazel (3:9, 4:1) [see the section titled “Two Goats” in the “Messianic Significance of the Day of Atonement” further in this chapter].
  • Do the second confession on the High Priest ox sin offering (4:2).
  • Slaughter his ox sin offering (4:3).
  • Perform the service of the special Yom HaKippurim incense: (a) scoop up some coal; (b) scoop up the incense into the ladle; (c) burn the incense in the Holy of Holies. This was his first entry into the Holy of Holies (4:3, 5:1-2).
  • Sprinkle the blood of his ox in the Holy of Holies. This was his second entry into the Holy of Holies (5:3).
  • Slaughter the he-goat for God (5:4).
  • Sprinkle the he-goat’s blood in the Holy of Holies. This was his third entry into the Holy of Holies (5:4).
  • Sprinkle the blood of his ox on the curtain in the Holy place (5:4).
  • Sprinkle the he-goat’s blood on the curtain in the Holy place (5:4).
  • Mix the blood of his ox and the he-goat (5:4).
  • Sprinkle the mixture on the inner altar (5:5-6).
  • Do the confession on the he-goat to Azazel and present the he-goat, to the designated person, for dispatch to azazel (6:2). This was not a sacrifice.
  • Remove the entrails of his ox and the he-goat and place them in a utensil (6:7).
  • Prepare the limbs of his ox and the he-goat for removal to the burning place (6:7).
  • Read from the Torah (7:1).
  • Immerse (baptize) himself for the third time, then don the golden vestments.
  • Perform the service of the he-goat sin offering of the Mussafim (7:3).
  • Offer his ram (7:3).
  • Offer the people’s ram (7:3).
  • Burn the entrails of the ox and he-goat on the outer altar (6:7).
  • Immerse (baptize) himself for the fourth time, then don the linen vestments (7:5).
  • Remove the incense ladle and the shovel with burnt coals from the Holy of Holies. This was his fourth and final entry into the Holy of Holies (7:4).
  • Immerse (baptize) himself for the fifth time, then don the golden vestments (7:5).
  • Offer the daily afternoon elevation (burnt) offering (7:3).
  • Burn the daily afternoon incense (7:4).
  • Light the Menorah (7:5).
  • Ten times would the High Priest pronounce the Name of God on Yom Kippur: six times in connection with the bullock, three times in connection with the he-goat, and once in connection with the lots. Those who were near him would fall on their faces, and those who were far from him would say: “Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever.” Neither those who were near nor those who were far would move from their places until he had disappeared.

The Fast

The fast, the penitential prayers, the Bible readings, the formulas of confession (viddu’i), and every part of the Atonement Day ritual emphasize this single theme–-that would relieve one from the burden of sin-–acknowledging the transgressions, declaring repentance through a process of confession, and then making atonement before God in order to obtain His forgiveness.

Yom Kippur is a time to atone for sin. While fasting is not explicitly mentioned, the Bible ordains for this day, “You shall afflict your souls” (Lev. 16:31; 23:27-32; Num. 29:7), and from early times the rabbis interpreted this to mean fasting. Part of the “affliction of the soul” included five statutory rules of mortification. These were abstention from: food and drink, marital relations, wearing leather shoes, using cosmetics and lotions, and washing any part of the body other than the fingers and eyes. The pleasure of such bodily comforts is seen as a prime source of opposing the “affliction of one’s soul.” In Biblical times, rending one’s garments and putting on sackcloth and ashes were further signs of distress, accompanying abstention from food (Jonah 3:6; Ezek. 9:5). In other cases the fasting is clearly implied (Josh. 7:5-13; Jer. 6:26; Lam. 2:10).

Messiah in Yom Kippur

Christians know that Jesus has provided our atonement: “…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:23-24). God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. Jesus’ death surpasses and replaces the atonement ritual of the Jewish Temple. The book of Hebrews explains the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement as a pattern of the atoning work of Christ. Jesus is our high priest, and His blood shed on Calvary is seen as symbolized in the blood of bulls and goats. As the high priest of the Old Testament entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of his sacrificial victim, so Jesus entered heaven itself to appear before the Father on behalf of His people (Heb. 9:11-12) (Killian n.d.).

The Old Testament tabernacle was designed, in part, to teach Israel that sin hindered access to the presence of God. Only the high priest, and he only once a year, could enter the Holy of Holies, and then not without taking blood offered to atone for sins (Heb. 9:7). Hebrews notes that the levitical offerings could effect only the purification of the flesh. They ceremonially cleansed the sinner, but they could not bring about inward cleansing, the prerequisite for fellowship with God. Just as the high priest had to be sinless to enter the Holy of Holies and live, so Yeshua had to be sinless to live after He entered the grave.

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. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:11-14).

The high priest had to offer sin offerings each year for his own sins and the sins of the people. This annual repetition of the sacrifices served as a reminder that perfect atonement had not yet been provided. Jesus, however, through His own blood effected eternal redemption for His people (Heb. 9:12).

The Old Testament offerings served as a pattern and a prophecy of Jesus, who, through His better sacrifice, cleanses the conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:13-14). God always determined what was an acceptable offering and what was not. He finally provided His Son, the Lamb of God, as the sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 1:19; 3:16).

The moment Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matt. 27:50-51). The earth quaked beneath men’s feet. This event is important because it established Jesus as being the new High Priest and Lamb of God. No longer must there be an annual sacrifice for sin on our behalf; instead, He has made payment for us once and for all. Jesus, through a new and living way has entered heaven itself, the true Holy of Holies, where He ever lives to make intercession for His people. The believer need not stand afar off, as did the Israelite of old, but may now through Christ approach the very Throne of Grace! Yes, it is now possible for each of us to have direct access to God through the blood of Yeshua HaMashiah (Jesus Christ)!

The Two Goats
After purifying the holy place and the altar of burnt offering with the mingled blood of the bullock, the High Priest went to the eastern side of the court in front of the Temple. Facing him were two identical goats. Nearby was a lottery box especially designed for this ceremony. In the box were two tablets (lots). One bore the name “For God,” the other “For azazel” (the scapegoat). The high priest shook the box and withdrew the tablets, putting one tablet in front of each goat. The goat labeled “for God” was sacrificed. The priest laid his hands upon the goat’s head labeled “for azazel” and confessed over it the sins of Israel. The scapegoat symbolically bore the sins of the nation of Israel away from the people. This goat, commonly called the scapegoat (i.e. escape goat), was then driven into the desert.

In the same way Jesus was brought before Pilate and stood before the people just as He was about to be led forth, bearing the iniquities of the people. These two goats were required for one sacrifice (Lev 16:17, 21-22). Both sacrifices were fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua. How can resurrection be portrayed in a sacrifice? By using two animals, one killed, the other set free, representing Jesus’ death and resurrection.

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 (Lev. 16:7-10).

And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness (Lev. 16:18, 22).

Tradition states that a cord of red wool was tied on the horn of the scapegoat, before it was let go in the wilderness. When the red wool turned white, it was a sign that God forgave the people’s sin.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isa. 1:18).

The Priests used to bind a shining crimson strip of cloth on the outside door of the Temple. If the strip of cloth turned into the white color, they would rejoice; if it did not turn white they were full of sorrow and shame (Tractate Yoma 67a).

Jewish literature explains the Shekhina glory of God left the Temple forty years prior to its destruction. Three signs occurred to show evidence of this: 1.) The western candle of the menorah refused to burn continually. 2.) The doors of the Temple would open of themselves. 3.) The red wool no longer turned white supernaturally. This is especially significant because it indicated that God was no longer forgiving the sins of His people. The people were sorrowful because they began to realize more and more that the sacrifice of Yom Kippur did not have the power to cleanse their sinful hearts. That very year Jesus started His ministry, the very year that the blood of bulls and goats was no longer accepted as a sacrifice for the atonement of sin!

Prophetic Significance

The Second Coming or Judgment
The entire ten days from the first day of the Feast of Trumpets through the Day of Atonement are known as Days of Repentance or Days of Awe.

According to Jewish tradition, on the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) the destiny of the righteous are written in the Book of Life, and the destiny of the wicked are written in the Book of Death. However, many people (perhaps most people) will not be inscribed in either book, but have ten days–until Yom Kippur–to repent before sealing their fate. On Yom Kippur, then, a final appeal is made to God to be written in the Book of Life before it is sealed. These days are a picture of the Rapture (Feast of Trumpets), the Tribulation (days in between), and the second coming (Day of Atonement).

Second Coming

Our Messiah made two promises before He returned to our Father. He would send the Comforter (Pentecost) and He would come again.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:3).

The Day of Atonement just may be the day of the Second Coming when Jesus will physically return to earth!

The Bible clearly states Jesus will return immediately after the great tribulation.

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:24-26).

Day of Judgment

The apostle Peter wrote about this awesome day of judgment. He declared,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13).

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:31-34).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

In the coming judgment, there is forgiveness and mercy and grace to those who have already received Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Who gave His life as a ransom for us! Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).


Study the Tabernacle and Temple. The Holy of Holies was so sacred that only the high priest could enter in, and only one day of the year, The Day of Atonement. To explain the dimensions and design of the temple would take another book. Sir Isaac Newton wrote volumes about Solomon’s Temple. There are several good, illustrated books available from Christian bookstores about the symbolism of the Tabernacle and Temple and how each item relates to Christ.
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One thought on “Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement

  1. thewomanatthewell says:

    I wish I had more time to read this. I'm glad it's here so I can come back and read more later. thanks TJ you Rock! -WATW

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