A blessed Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement to you all. Earlier this month, I subscribed to Bible Gateway’s newsletter Holy Land Moments with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It’s described as a way to learn about the Jewish background of Scripture by exploring the High Holy Days.
I’m finding it fascinating. I grew up keeping these Holy Days, but not always with much understanding of the Jewish perspective on them. While some of the Jewish tradition doesn’t relate to Christian observance of these days, they often teach a perspective that deepens my understanding. Take the Days of Awe for example. Using the 10 days between Trumpets and Atonement for self-reflection and repentance deepens the meaning of and my engagement with this holy time. And sometimes, the Jewish perspective sparks a thought about how my Christian perspective differs, such as today’s comment in the Holy Land Moments newsletter:
The central part of the Yom Kippur service is missing today. Chapter 16 of Leviticus is dedicated to the description and instructions for the Yom Kippur service that was performed when the Tabernacle and later the Temples stood. Today, we no longer have a high priest, nor do we participate in ritual sacrifices. So how do we achieve atonement?
Those who believe Messiah has come have a different answer to this question than those who don’t. Rabbi Eckstein writes,”There are three keys that take the place of the service performed in biblical times” and they “can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better.” These things are “repentance, prayer, and charity.”
While those things are important, I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord that I’m not trying to atone for myself. There’s no way I could ever do enough or be good enough to undo my own sins. Today, we do have a High Priest and He has filled the ritual sacrifices with His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:23-28). The “central part” of Yom Kippur isn’t missing for Christians who keep this Holy Day — it’s more real than ever.
Under the Old Covenant, the Day of Atonement was the only time the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies inside the temple. The priest took two goats and cast lots. One goat belonged to the Lord and was offered as a sacrifice. Its blood was brought into the most holy place and sprinkled on the mercy seat to atone for the sins of the people.
That aspect of the Day of Atonement has been and is being fulfilled now. Our High Priest offered Himself as the sacrificial lamb to atone for the people and He always has the right to come into the inner sanctuary of His temple (that’s us). While we can repent and receive forgiveness at any time, there’s something special about this day and what it pictures. We’re invited into God’s presence, commanded to stop our work, and fast from food and drink (Lev. 23:26-32). There’s no excuse for being distracted from connecting with our Father and our High Priest.
Going back to the Old Testament, the second goat was called “scapegoat” or Azazel — the goat of departure. This goat had all the sins and iniquities of Israel put on its head and was sent into the wilderness by a “suitable man.” Azazel isn’t killed to atone for the people; it just carries the guilt of and blame for their sin. This bears a strong resemblance to Revelation 20 when an angel locks the Devil who “deceived the nations” in a pit for 1,00o years, after which he’s entirely banished.
- (Note: If you ask 10 different people how to interpret the two goats in Leviticus 16 you’ll get 11 different answers, but we’re going to go with this one for now. In my view, it seems the simplest and most balanced)
This aspect of the Day of Atonement has not yet been fulfilled. Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice was victory over sin and sealed Satan’s fate, but the Devil has not yet been put out of the picture. Today as we fast, we not only thank God for the atonement we have received but also pray “thy Kingdom come” and look forward to the time when the Adversary is removed.
See also …