The Day of Atonement

This is part of a series of essays I wrote in 2018 to explain the Biblical Appointed Times (mo'adim) to my family members. If you'd like to read the other papers in this series, you can find them linked here:

  1. Happy New Year! (four months early)
  2. Shabbat shalom!
  3. Passover & Unleavened Bread
  4. Pentecost
  5. The Day of Loud Noise
  6. The Day of Atonement
  7. The Grand Finale
  8. That Jewish Christmas?

May you be sealed in the Book of Life!

We are about to enter the holiest, most solemn day of the year. Yom Kippur falls on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei (the seventh month). On this day, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the temple in Zion. The temple represented Eden, the garden of God, where heaven met earth, and the Holy of Holies was the place where the presence of God dwelt among men.

The only object in the 15′ × 15′ × 15′ room was the ark of the covenant—the throne of God.1 The ark of the covenant is the most sacred object on earth. It contained the two stone tablets upon which Yehovah wrote the Ten Commandments, a golden pot of manna, and the staff of Aaron the priest which God caused to bud as a sign of his eternal designation of the sons of Aaron has his priests.

Atop the ark were the images of two cherubim—strange chimeras with the bodies of oxen, the feet of lions, the wings of eagles, and the faces of men. Their wings came together in the middle. It is possible they may have formed a chair (resembling many thrones of that era). It is atop the cover of the ark, called the mercy seat, where the presence of God would rest. There was no light in this room except for the light of the glory of God.

Anyone who would enter through the curtain into this room would immediately die. Only the high priest was permitted before the presence of God, and only once a year at that. Jewish legend says that the high priest would even enter with bells tied around his ankles and a rope so the other priests could pull him out if he dropped down dead, but there is no proof this ever occurred.2 Nevertheless, this myth illustrates the fear and respect we ought to have when speaking about the presence of God. We should not approach him casually.

God is gracious and merciful, abounding in faithfulness and love for us his children. His heart delights in the obedience of his people, and it breaks when we sin against him. When we rebel against the instructions of God, we are cut off from him. Think of it as wearing a white robe that is dragged through the mud every time you break one of God's commandments. He is perfect and holy and pure, so any defilement we carry necessarily cuts us off from his presence. We need atonement to be made pure again, for our robes to be bleached white once more.

And that is the purpose of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This day is full of somber ritual. We are commanded to do no work and afflict our souls on his day (Leviticus 23:26-32). Jewish tradition takes this phrase literally to refer to fasting. They say we must not eat any food or drink any water for this entire day (barring medical necessity).3 That is how I take it as well, although there is some disagreement on this point. The Apostle Paul even observed his day, which the Book of Acts refers to as “the Fast” (Acts 27:9). Although we are commanded not to eat or work, the impetus of this day lies with the high priest.

The priest would begin the morning by bathing his entire body. Then he would put on pants, a robe, a sash, and a turban all made of white linen, to be worn exclusively on this day. He would take three animals into the temple with him—a bull and two male goats. He would first sacrifice the bull; this would cover his own sins and those of his family. He would enter the Holy of Holies with burning incense and a basin of blood from the bull, which he would sprinkle upon the seat of the ark of the covenant seven times.

Then he would take the two goats and cast lots (dice) for them to see which one would live and which would die. The goat chosen to die would be sacrificed on the altar, then the priest would take its blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it before God's throne on the ark of the covenant. With the rest of the blood, he would anoint other areas of the temple, to purify it from the sins of God's people.

Finally, the priest would take the living goat and confess over it all the sins of Israel for that year. These were national sins. (If America did this, we'd confess things like rampant abortion, homosexuality, and lavish hoarding of wealth. Even if we personally don't commit them, we are still collectively guilty because we are part of a society that does them.) This goat would be turned over to someone waiting outside the temple. He would take the goat into the middle of the wilderness, far away from Jerusalem, and set it free to carry Israel's sins far away. This is called the scapegoat.

This ritual would accomplish three things: first, it would purify the priest and his family from their own sins; second, it would purify the temple from the pollution of Israel's sins; third, it would remove the sins from the collective chosen people and release them into the wilderness. But all that significance besides, an important question remains: What does this mean, if anything, for followers of Christ?

With all the mo'adim, the lack of a temple in Jerusalem is a serious impediment to our observation of them. And while we can go through the motions of celebrating them (as I am getting ready to do with my camping trip that I'll explain in my next essay), we can't actually observe any of them as the Torah instructs. With the rest of them, this is a disappointment, but not a requisite for our salvation. But with Yom Kippur, the entire day is about our salvation! What hope is there when our collective guilt as the people of God called out from among the nations remains over us year after year, century after century, because there is no temple in which this sacrifice can be made?

I know what you're thinking: “What about Jesus?” And yes, we'll get there. But before we do, I'd like to issue a caveat. There is a concerted effort amongst faithful Jews in Israel to rebuild the temple.4 I have a high degree of confidence that the temple will be rebuilt within this decade, if not begun within this year.5 In fact, on September 5, the Temple Institute announced the birth of a red heifer meeting the biblical requirements of the Bible for purifying the new temple (cf. Numbers 19).6 The prophetic significance of this cannot be overstated, but we will not dwell on that in this paper. As a Christian, you are probably thinking to yourself, “If only those Jews would recognize Jesus as their Messiah, they wouldn't be putting so much hope in a temple and sacrifices.” That sentiment is understandable. For most of Church history, Replacement Theology has been the dominant view. (That is the teaching that God rejected the Jews because they killed Jesus, so now he's started over with the Gentile Church.) This couldn't be further from the truth; the Bible teaches that all of Israel—which includes the Jewish people—will be restored to the Land of Israel and the promises of God (Ezekiel 38). In fact, that includes us (Romans 11)! As gentiles, we have the privilege of being included in Israel—not the other way around.

The Bible says that the temple sacrifices will be resumed in the Messianic kingdom. Ezekiel 40-48 waxes long in describing the most glorious temple on earth which will presumably be erected during the reign of Jesus. Although the exact interpretation of several of these prophecies are debated, the most straightforward interpretation of them tells us that there is still a place for the temple and sacrificing animals to God. As such, it is not wrong for Jews to be so fervent in their desire to rebuild the temple.

But what about Jesus?! Didn't his death on the cross pay for our sins forever? What does Yom Kippur have to do with us? Now that we've laid the groundwork, we can finally get to these all-important questions.

The first thing to point out is that Passover has nothing to do with forgiveness of sins. It is concerned with release from captivity. Those who rest under the protection of the blood of the Lamb will be spared from God's judgment against sin. We are set free from our slavery to sin, so that now we are slaves to righteousness, in order that we may obey God and not walk in disobedience any longer (Romans 6). That is all wonderful, but it isn't quite the same as forgiveness. Does the death of Jesus have anything to do with Day of Atonement? This is an important question that isn't so cut-and-dry as the Christian Church teaches.

When it comes to the life of Christ and his fulfillment of the Appointed Times of God, we see that he accomplished the spring feasts on the days that they fell. He was killed on Passover at 3:00 PM as the priests were slaughtering the Passover lambs in the temple. He was raised from death on the Day of Firstfruits. The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus' followers in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Jesus wasn't sacrificed on Yom Kippur, so how could his death fulfill that sacrifice? Instead, something else significant in his life happened on that day—the Transfiguration.

Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 each record the events of Jesus' transfiguration on the mountaintop. While the texts don't outright say this was on Yom Kippur, a careful analysis of the timing descriptions in the three accounts strongly suggest that it was, in fact, on that day.7 As Jesus, Peter, James, and John were on the mountain praying, Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light,” “as no one on earth could bleach them.” The popular interpretation of this passage among Christians is that this was the revelation of Jesus as God the Son to his disciples—their first encounter with him in unfurled deity. But when we consider that this fell on Yom Kippur, and when we remember what we learned about the white robes of the priests that they would wear on this day, we see instead that the Transfiguration was Jesus' anointing ceremony, when God instated him as the High Priest of the New Covenant.

Another point to consider is that Jesus was said to begin his ministry as he was “nearing 30 years of age” (Luke 3:23). We can back-date his baptism to February, when he was about 29½ years old. Though a thorough chronological analysis of his ministry exceeds the scope of this paper, I am satisfied that the Transfiguration took place on Yom Kippur, five days before his 30th birthday (more on this in the next paper). Priests would enter service at 30 years old (Numbers 4:1-3), so Jesus was the appropriate age. Isn't God's timing amazing?! We lose out on all this incredible detail when we discount the importance of his Appointed Times. That's why I am dedicating so many hours to writing these essays for you.

As we saw with the last paper on the Day of Trumpets, Yom Teruah is all about celebrating something that hasn't happened yet. The resurrection of the dead will occur sometime in the future, marking the beginning of the Day of Yehovah. Ten days later is Yom Kippur. Just like Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur will be fulfilled literally, and it hinges on the priesthood of Jesus.

When is the last time you read the Book of Hebrews in your Bible? It is one of my favorite books, but it can be kind of confusing until you get to chapter 11 with all the descriptions of the martyrs and the “cloud of witnesses”. This book is most likely a sermon that was transcribed, rather than a letter written for a church.8 For the sake of brevity, I won't break down the entire book. Most of the Book of Hebrews is written about the role of Jesus as the High Priest of the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, the Levites are still priests, but Aaron's descendants are no longer high priests. That distinction has transferred to Jesus.9
Hebrews 9-10 goes into detail about a time when Christ Jesus will go into the temple of God in heaven and purify it with his own blood. I would encourage you to read these two chapters for yourselves. If you do, you will notice that the author speaks as if Jesus already did that. But he is employing a form of Hebrew writing where a future action is described as having already taken place because it is guaranteed to happen. It is clear from Hebrews 9:25-26 that this will take place in the future—at the end of the age. This is where we get into End Times speculation.

The prophet Daniel described a general timeline for the End Times. In chapter 9 of his book, he outlines a period of time during which God will accomplish all his purposes for Israel and the world. Notably, there is a seven-year period which is yet to take place when God will “finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place” (9:24). This is known in Christianity as the Tribulation. The Tribulation will begin in the fall, probably on a Day of Loud Noise. It is worth noting that the book of Revelation describes seven judgments that are announced by trumpets—the seventh trumpet being the most significant. I believe each judgment will come in successive years, although there are multiple interpretations for the timing of these events.

Halfway through this time, probably on a Passover, a man known as the Antichrist will enter the temple in Jerusalem (which will probably be rebuilt very soon) and defile it. He will declare himself to be higher than all the gods (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). This will set off the last 3 ½ years, distinguished as the Great Tribulation. This will be a time of terrifying persecution for Jews and Christians alike. But the seventh trumpet marks the day of our redemption, when the “dead in Christ will rise, and we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The seventh trumpet also marks the beginning of the “bowl judgments”. The next ten days will be the worst in the history of Creation.

The ten days between the Day of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement have a name in Judaism. They refer to them as the “Ten Days of Awe”.10 The Torah doesn't specifically say anything about them, but Jews consider these days to be particularly important in humbling yourself before God and confessing your sins to him. During these ten days each year, we prepare ourselves to observe Yom Kippur. But for those who are God's enemies, the Ten Days of Awe will feature the greatest judgment since the Flood in Noah's day. Revelation 16 describes seven bowls of judgment reserved for these days.

The seventh bowl will fall on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As God's enemies on earth are being severely punished for their hatred of him, I believe this is when Jesus will enter the temple in heaven and offer his own blood to purify us, as the book of Hebrews describes. The reason I believe this is because it is the first time in history when all of God's people—from Adam to us—will stand before him. Although he has forgiven us individually, our corporate sins as the people of Israel have profaned his Most Holy Place. It must be purified before we can be brought into the New Covenant.

Wait, “brought into the New Covenant”? Aren't we already in the New Covenant? No, not really. Five days after Yom Kippur begins the weeklong celebration of Sukkot, aka the Feast of Tabernacles. This is the greatest party of the year, and it plays particularly great significance in the unfolding events of the End Times. We will pick this up again in a few days.

May the grace of God our Father be with you in Jesus the Messiah.

Seth שת

  5. This is why it's foolish to set dates on future prophecy, kids. Now, in November 2019, I can see in crystal clear hindsight that no new movement for the temple's construction has begun. Here are a few reasons I thought this would be the case last year.

    • It was the 70th year of Israel of a nation.
    • It was the 50th anniversary—the Jubilee year—of God giving all of Jerusalem back to the Jews.
    • President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
    • Depending on where you start counting, it's been over or nearly 2,000 years from several key events in the modern era.

    I want to be cautious about making any predictions in the future, but I think the latest the temple could be built is ~2070. Since the Second Temple was destroyed in ca. 68-70 CE, I think the new temple must either be built or even destroyed by then. I still expect to see construction begin within a few years, but such a prediction is easily falsifiable with a few years' time.
  7. My friend K***, who proofread this for me, disagrees with me about this. There isn't a consensus on this point. I hold to a particular chronology of Jesus' ministry, and that's what I base these papers on, but I figured I should note the disagreement we had because it isn't outright stated. There can be room for dispute. For more information on my position, see The Chronological Gospels by Michael Rood.
  9. This is yet another idea I have abandoned in the year+ of study since writing this letter. The resurrection and the new covenant are such expansive topics that I am constantly discovering more to them. Presently, I do believe the sons of Aaron will administer the new temple in the Messianic Kingdom, even serving as high priests. Hebrews 8:4 says that Jesus is not and could not be a priest on earth because he is not a descendant of Aaron. The priestly line remains Levi's eternal possession, just like the kingly line belongs to Judah. Rather, Jesus will administer the heavenly temple and rule as king over Israel and eventually whole world. This is the subject of a future post, assuming I ever reach a satisfactory understanding of it.


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