The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur

The Habitation of the Living God

In the opening scenes of the movie, The Fiddler on the Roof, the main character Tevye begins to explain the traditions of his Jewish village.  In the middle of his dissertation he says, “why do we do these things?  Because of tradition.  And why do we have these traditions? I will be happy to tell you… I don’t know.”  Like Tevye, many of us believe or go through religions motions or religions traditions without knowing the exact nature behind the Holy Day.  Many of us have read about the feast days in the bible only we have never embraced them as holy days to be observed.  The Day of Atonement is one of those days in scripture that has powerful implications if we will embrace it.  Thus, let us explore the history of the day, the Messianic fulfillment, and the practical application for the Christian.

God is a holy God (Isaiah 6:3).  He is so Holy that He can’t dwell in the presence of sin (see Numbers 5:13, 19:13,19,20).  This makes relationship with His Image-bearers strained and difficult.  Yet, His Love for humanity is so strong that He has developed principles by which He can continue to dwell among us.  The Day of Atonement is about those principles.  The foundation was laid in the Old Testament and Messiah brings fulfillment in the New Testament.  These principles, that are outlined in the Day of Atonement make possible the ultimate covering of sin by Messiah.  The Day of Atonement is a specific day, the tenth of the seventh month, in which God provided a release of the penalty of sin.  This release requires the shedding of blood and a sacrificial death must take place. ( see Lev 17:11)  A payment for sin must be paid for a Holy God to “cover it.”   A sacrifice is required for God to continue to dwell among His People.  Avram Yehoshua writes, “Sacrifice represents the penalty that God exacts for sin.  The animal dies but is a picture of what should happen to Israel.  Atonement happens on this day due to the sacrifice.” (1)   A Holy and Moral God must deal with sin.  If He turns His back on it, He would be immoral and unholy.  He would have to violate His character to overlook sin.  Because of who He is, His character will not afford un-holiness and immorality.  Therefore, in order for him to maintain trueness to his character and his nature, he must in fact deal with sin.  Therefore, the Lord came up with a plan to deal with sin.  Interestingly enough, it was not men who approached the Lord and asked for forgiveness for their sins.  It was not men who came to Mt. Sinai and said “what can we do to be in right relationship with you?  No, we didn’t choose God, God chose us.  And the Day of Atonement and the ultimate sacrifice of Yeshua His son were all God’s plans, they were all in His mind from the beginning so that we would have perfect relationship and perfect fellowship with him.  We didn’t ask for it, this is something that he gave to us.  All of this bespeaks of the love that God has for us.  His Great Love is evidenced in the fact that He Himself, set up a system to deal with sin, so we could maintain fellowship with Him, it was totally originated in Heaven.

This necessitates a response from those who receive His great Love and Sacrifice.  Our response is that of obedience driven out of a love for God and a heart that is turned fully toward Him.  This is what Yom Kipur is all about!  Intimacy and fellowship with God are the underlying themes of “The Day”.

Events of the Day

“The object of this solemn ceremonial was to impress the minds of the Israelites with the conviction that the whole tabernacle was stained by the sins of a guilty people, that by their sins they had forfeited the privileges of the Divine presence and worship, and that an atonement had to be made as the condition of God’s remaining with them.” (2)

All of the events of the Day centered around the High Priest.  He was the focal point of the day and he was the one who would intercede for Israel in the divine presence.  Likewise, Messiah would become our intercessor in the divine presence.  The bulk of his activities is listed in Leviticus 16.  The entire chapter is dedicated to his activities on this day.  The reader is referred to that chapter and a paraphrase and discussion of those activities is listed below.  The messianic symbolism of the day can’t be overlooked to any objective reader of scripture.

1.  The High Priest lives within the temple precincts for the entire week before the day.  He is maintained in the highest level of purity during this week.  He assumes the majority of priestly roles for the daily sacrifices.  It was extremely important for him to be prepared for the ministry of this day.  Interesting, that Messiah spent thirty years preparing Himself for a ministry of three years.

2.  On the morning of the Day of Atonement, the High Priest is prepared.  He goes to the courtyard for the ceremonial washing.  He removes his “royal robes”, and is dressed in a white tunic.  The motivation for this is Isaiah 1: 18 which states, “Though your sins are scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…”  These are also the normal uniforms of the regular priest.  Again, we see the High Priest humble himself, remove his royal robes, and become a servant to intercede for the people.  Sound like anyone else in the bible?  Jesus laid aside His Divinity, to become a man, to serve us, to willingly go to the cross because of His Great Love for us.  (Phillipians 2:5-11)

3.  Once prepared, He goes and sacrifices the bull, at the alter of burnt offerings, to make atonement for himself and his household.  He lays his hands on the bull and confesses his sins and the sins of the priesthood and the bull becomes his sacrifice providing the covering of sin.  Likewise, Messiah knew no sin, but became a sin offering for us.  (2 Corinthians 5:21).

4.  Having now obtained atonement for his sin, he is permitted to go behind the veil and into the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God.  This is only permitted once sin is forgiven.  Perhaps, this is the reason why Aaron’s two sons died upon the dedication of the tabernacle, see Leviticus 10:1 for details.  He offers the incense offering and the cloud covers the ark, or the mercy seat, or the dwelling place of God.  Then, he sprinkles the blood of the bull in the holy place.

5.  Now, he returns from the holy place, and two goats are brought to him.  They cast lots for the goats.  One is to be sacrificed on behalf of Israel, and the other is to be sent into the wilderness (more on the scapegoat later).  Once the lot is determined, the goat for the sins of Israel is killed after laying on of hands and the confession of the sins of Israel..

6.  The High Priest returns behind the veil and sprinkles the blood of the goat in the Holy of Holies.  Thus he has atoned for Israel after having atoned for himself.  Again, tremendous Messianic parallels that we will discuss later.

7.  He goes out into the courtyard and lays hands on the live goat.  He confesses the sins of Israel over the goat and the goat is taken away alive and sent of into the wilderness.  Thus, the goat carries the sins of Israel far from them and separates Israel from their sins.  Likewise, Messiah has removed our sins from us.  A later tradition developed in Judaism in which a scarlet cord was tied around the horn of the scapegoat.  This goat was later pushed off a cliff outside of Jerusalem and killed.  If the scarlet turned white, sins were forgiven.  Tradition maintains that for forty years after the death of Messiah, the cord remained scarlet and led up to the eventual destruction of the Temple in AD 70.

8.  The high priest enters the holy place and removes his special servant garments, washes and puts on His regular garments.

9.  As a final sacrifice he went out to the great alter and offered a ram as a burnt offering for himself and another ram for the people.

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is an interesting item in the ceremony.  All of the sins of Israel are confessed over the head of the animal; thus, transferring the sins of Israel onto the goat.  The goat is then lead away to “Azazel”.  Much controversy has arisen over the exact meaning of this word and it is most often translated wilderness in contemporary translations.  As one writer suggest, “Some debate exists as to the exact meaning of Azazel.  Some believe it was a reference to satan, for in Jewish traditions Azazel was the name of a fallen angel.  However, most scholars believe that the word was derived from the Hebrew word azel which carries the idea of escape. This line of thought led to calling this goat the ‘scapegoat’ since it escaped death and was instead driven into the wilderness.” (3)  The other school of thought seems to make more spiritual sense especially in light of the events of the day.  Keil and Delitzsch write, “This complete deliverance from sin and its author was symbolized in the leading away of the goat, which had been laden with the sins, into the desert.  The goat was to take back the sins, which God had forgiven to His congregation, into the desert to Azazel, the father of all sin, in the one hand as a proof that his evil influences upon men would be of no avail in the case of those who had received expiation from God, and on the other hand as a proof to the congregation also that those who were laden with sin could not remain in the kingdom of God, but would be banished to the abode of evil spirits, unless they were redeemed there from.” (4)  The Intervarsity Press commentary states, “It is most consistent to consider Azazel a proper name, probably of a demon.  Early Jewish interpreters had this understanding, as is demonstrated in the book of Enoch (second century B.C.).  this goat is not sacrificed to Azazel (consistent with 17:7) but released ‘to Azazel’.” (5)  When we sin, we agree with satan in rebellion against God.  Thus, a covenant of rebellion is formed against God.  When we repent, the old covenant with death is broken (Isaiah 28:15 &19) and a covenant with God is established.  Thus, the symbolic events of the day are repackaging all the sins of the past year and returning them to their originator marked “return to sender” with no forwarding address. (see Psalm 103: 10-12).

The Messianic fulfillment

“But just as with the tabernacle and the sacrificial system, so too the Day of Atonement contained only the shadow of future good things, but not these things themselves (Heb 10:1).  Its intrinsic limitations are manifest, both in the repetitiveness of it numerous atoning acts and by it recurrence year after year (Hebrews 7:27).  Yom Kippur was an acted prophecy or type of Christ, who has entered into the holy place not made with hands, viz., into heaven itself, and has now appeared before God, by once for all giving Himself as a sacrifice for the removal of sin (Heb 9;23).  Like the first goat, burned out side the camp, he died outside the walls of Jerusalem for us (Heb 13:12) and like the second, the scapegoat, He suffered substitutionary condemnation, sending sin back to its demonic author and abrogating satan’s claims over the fullness of Israel (I john 3:8).  By this act, the purpose of the OT sacrificial worship in its highest development (the Day of Atonement) has been fulfilled. (6)

The kingdom principles that were laid down in the Day of Atonement, made possible the ultimate fulfillment of Messiah destiny.  God realized that something more was necessary than the rituals contained in Yom Kippur.  It is impossible for “the blood of bulls and goats” (Hebrews 9”12-13) to change our selfish and sinful nature into a new servant Christ-like nature..  Furthermore, because the ceremony had to be repeated year after year, it allowed no room for spiritual progress.  Something else was required for this type of result.  It was the sacrifice of Messiah Himself that would open the door for the dwelling place of God to come into the hearts of men.  A better covenant was needed.  Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.  The bible states:

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience form dead works to serve the liming God?” (Hebrews 9:11-14 NKJV)

Thus, Messiah fulfills all the kingdom principles outlined in the Day of Atonement.  When Jesus spoke, “it is finished” (John 19:30), and the veil in the temple, the same veil that the High Priest went through on this day, tore into (Matthew 27:51), the presence and the dwelling place of God became the hearts of men.  No longer did it have to be contained within tabernacles and temples because of the sin problem.  The veil tore in two because the presence of God was bursting to get out and once the sin was removed by Messiah, the presence of God exploded out of the Holy of Holies!  God is so motivated by the Great love that He has for us that Jesus willingly came, endured all that torment, pain, and affliction so that we could have fellowship with Him.  The Bible states.

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this the love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the  propitiation for our sin,” (I John 4:9-10).

What else can be said about this?  The only response to such love is to open one’s heart and receive all that God has purchased for us.  His very presence and everlasting intimacy with Him.  John G. Lake writes, “God has been seeking a habitation a long time.  God found a habitation in Jesus Christ, and He became the dwelling place of God.  Christ’s purpose for the world was that men like Himself should become the dwelling place of god.  It was not purposed that Jesus Christ was to be  a particular or special dwelling place of God.  It was rather purposed that mankind should be just as much a holy and desirable dwelling place of God as Jesus Himself was.  The purpose of the Gospel of God was that through Jesus Christ His Son, many sons should be begotten of God, would be begotten of Christ.” (7)

The Current Observation of the Day

Leviticus 23:27:  “Also the tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of atonement.  It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, an offer an offering by fire to the LORD.” (NKJV).

In Leviticus 16:29, God commands that this day is a “statute forever”.  This means that it was God’s intention for us to continue to celebrate the Day. What is to be done if Jesus has fulfilled the requirements?  First, this is a day of confession and repentance of sin.  A day to re-align our hearts with God.  A day for  breaking off covenants with the demonic and the sin that so easily ensnares us. (Hebrews 12:1).  It is a time when we, in humility, remember that we are “saved by grace through faith and not of works” (Eph 2:8).  A day to remember all the love that God has for us and that we also reciprocate towards Him.  Additionally, there is still a powerful role, that we fulfill in the scriptures and in the fulfillment of this day.  In the role of priests, and intercessors.  Our role in this day has powerful implications

This day God has chosen to be a holy convocation.  A convocation in Hebrew can best be described as a gathering of the ‘called out’ ones.  A holy convocation, the holy and chosen people of God, a royal priesthood, a nation of priest and prophets, all of the called out and holy people, are commanded by God to gather on this specific day.  To come together in unity (See Psalm 133).  What does God command this chosen people to do?  To Afflict one’s soul.  Noah Webster defines afflict as, “To give to the body or mind pain which is continued or of some permanence.” (8)  Traditionally, this has always been seen as fasting.  Basically it has this idea:  If sin is the willful taking of that which is unlawful, affliction (fasting) is the willful giving up of that which is lawful for the sake of consecration.  It is a sacrifice of what is lawful for the sake of the call.  This has tremendous power in the Kingdom of God because it is just like Jesus.  He was God and put on flesh, becoming a servant for us.  Hence, when God’s people humble themselves and afflict themselves they identify with the nature of Jesus, and this moves in power.  What we have so far is this, a specific scripture day, when all of the called out ones are commanded by God to gather and fast.

Now, what are these holy and called out people to do while they are fasting?  Well, Aaron is commanded to offer an incense offering before the mercy seat, “lest he die” (see Lev 16:13).  Incense, scripture tells us in heaven, is seen as the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:4).  So, the called out ones who are afflicting their souls are to pray and the incense offering will go up before the throne of God and prevent death.  We are a royal priesthood, Peter tells us this and this has been God’s plan all along for His called out ones( I Peter 2:9, Exodus 19:6), we minister to the LORD through prayer and fasting (Acts 13:1-3), so, on this particular day, which has been commanded to be a statue forever in three different places (Lev 16:29, 16:31, and 23:31), we are commanded to gather, to fast, to pray, to intercede, and sprinkle the blood of Jesus over our nation, so that the presence of the Spirit can begin to move like never before.  In fact, the New Testament believers called this day, “The Fast”. (Acts 27:9).  They knew it was a special consecrated day, for believers to confess, repent, fast, pray, make sacrifice, that will advance the kingdom of God.  (see Isaiah 58 for Godly instructions on fasting)

As we fast for the advancement of the kingdom, we become more like Yeshua (Mark 9:29).  The putting aside of self and the indulgence of the flesh is one thing, and a necessary thing, for walking in the Spiritual.  However, it is at another level to give up even what is lawful for one to have.  This is the whole basis of fasting which is the opposite of sin.  As stated previously,  sin is taking that which is not lawful, fasting, is a willful giving up of that which is lawful.  It is the sacrifice that makes the difference, this is the heart of Yeshua, the offering of self.  This sacrifice, be it fasting, be it lifestyle, be it finances, or whatever is lawful that someone is giving up, is a powerful force in moving the forces of heaven.  This is the basic premise of any apostolic work or any missionary work and we see it in so many stories throughout church history and in the life of Paul and the apostles.   The laying aside of what is lawful for the sake of the call.  It’s the cross, it is this level of self imposed sacrifice that moves the kingdom.  All intercessory prayer and fasting is based upon this premise.  It is a basic commonality in all types of ministry that are going to be Spirit empowered. Lou Engle’s “The Call” comes close to this type of kingdom activity.

Let’s fulfill the commandment of the “Fast”.  Let the Body of Christ gather together, a holy convocation, a gathering.  Let us fast and prayer with a  heart that is motivated out of a love for God and for the advancement of His Kingdom.  This obedience out of love always moves the heart of God.  He guarantees us action, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).


1.  Avram Yehoshua, “Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, article on website,  Page 1.

2.  Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass., second printing, vol. I,  page 479.

3.  Kevin Howard, Marvin Rosenthal, The Feasts of the LORD, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1997, page 123.

4.  C.F. Keil, F Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament,  Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass.  Second printing, 2006  Volume one,  page 590.

5.  John H Walton, Victor H Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament,  InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill, 2000, page 131.

6.  Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.  1979, page 362.

7.  Liardon, Roberts, John G. Lake, The Complete Collection of His Life Teachings,  Albury Publishing, Tulsa OK,  1999  page 767.

8.  Webster Noah, American Dictionary of the English Language 1828 edition, San Francisco, CA, Foundation for American Christian Education, 2006.