Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement as outlined in the Old Testament. How did He do it? And what is the significance for us today?
In Leviticus 23, God outlines the various feasts of the Lord for the children of Israel, and none is without significance. In fact, every one of these feasts—what the Bible calls “holy convocations”—has incredible significance for all believer’s today, whether Jews or Gentiles.
Here is a very brief snapshot of these holy days and feasts, and their eternal significance:
- The Sabbath: a holy day of solemn rest, a principle that applies to all believers today and forever (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
- The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread: Jesus Christ is our Passover, sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7) and He was crucified on the actual day of Passover. In response, all believers are to live “unleavened” lives, holy to the Lord, in sincerity, righteousness and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
- The Feast of Firstfruits: Jesus was raised from the dead and became the “firstfruits” of all of those who will have died in the Lord, giving us hope for eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:20-23), and He was raised from the dead on the very day the Jews were observing the feast of firstfruits, the day after the first Sabbath following Passover.
- The Feast of Weeks: also called Pentecost, the very day the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers and the New Testament Church was birthed (Acts 2).
- The Feast of Trumpets: signifying the second coming of Jesus, a day when “no one knows the day or the hour” and a trumpet will sound, signaling both the return of the Lord and the gathering of all believers (Matthew 24:29-31; 1 Corinthians 15:50-52).
- The Day of Atonement: Jesus, our High Priest, is the fulfillment of this holy day, having made atonement for us in His own blood and granting us access into the very presence of God (Hebrews 9:6-16; Hebrews 10:11-14).
- The Feast of Tabernacles: Jesus, leading up to this feast as well as on the very day, made statements indicating that He is the High Priest of this holy convocation and thus the Messiah (John 7:1, 37-42) and will send the Holy Spirit to all believers living en route to the promised land of His eternal presence and promises.
Let’s take a closer look at The Day of Atonement.
The Day of Atonement
To properly understand the significance of the Day of Atonement and how it relates to us today, we must first understand the importance of this holy day as originally instituted by the Lord in the Old Testament.
“Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place, with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering… and he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering… He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat… then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with the blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness… for on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Leviticus 16:3-30)
This passage states that on the Day of Atonement, the high priest is to enter into the Holy Place with the blood of a sin offering and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement and cleanse us from all our sins before the Lord. There are three very important elements that must be highlighted to better understand the significance: (1) the sin offering, (2) the mercy seat, and (3) the high priest. Let’s take a look at all three.
The Sin Offering
“Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place, with the blood of a sin offering… for on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” – Leviticus 16
The sin offering is first mentioned in Leviticus 4 with a lot of detail. The Bible states that the anointed priest is to bring the blood of a sin offering into the tabernacle of meeting and make atonement for the people, but it was limited in scope. Then, in Leviticus 16, the Lord institutes a brand new, significant holy day known as The Day of Atonement. This holy day includes the sin offering, but this time the Lord expands the scope and makes some very important distinctions. First, unlike the general practice of the sin offering, this particular sin offering is to be made only once a year on the day of atonement. Second, only the high priest—as opposed to any of the priests—can offer this particular sin offering on the day of atonement. Third, only on the day of atonement can the high priest enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sin offering on the mercy seat of the ark. Fourth, only the sin offering made on this particular holy day covers all the sins of all the people before the Lord.
The Mercy Seat
He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat… then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with the blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement.” – Leviticus 16
The mercy seat is first mentioned in Exodus 25 and it takes place when the Lord is giving instructions regarding the Ark of the Covenant.
“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood… and you shall overlay it with pure gold… and you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you. You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width… You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you… and there I will meet with you” (Exodus 25:10, 11, 16, 17, 21)
In giving instructions regarding the ark, the Lord states that the law is to be placed inside the ark and covered with the mercy seat. Notice that the cover of the ark, which sits above the law, is called the mercy seat, not the judgment seat. This important detail is intentionally designed by the Lord. James 2:13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” However, it is important to keep in mind that this does not at all negate the sobering reality of the judgment seat of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10) and the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), but highlights the very heart of God who desires to show mercy and not condemnation, even as He was originally giving us His law. He calls it the mercy seat.
The Hebrew word for “mercy seat” is “kapporet” (from the root word “kaphar”) which is where we get the name “Yom Kippur” relating to this holy day, and it literally means propitiation or atonement. Propitiation is the procedure or performance of reconciliation. In other words, propitiation means reconciliation. Why is this significant, and how does it relate to us today?
The New Testament says the following about Jesus:
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
“[Jesus] whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25)
The New Testament is very clear that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, which means He brought forth reconciliation. Notice what Ephesians says:
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:14–18)
This passage tells us that in order for Jesus to reconcile us to God, He had to break down the middle wall of separation which is the law, thus making peace. But the question is: Peace between who? Some believe this passage is simply referring to peace between Jews and Gentiles, which definitely applies as well, but the whole point of this passage is Jesus making peace and reconciling both Jews and Gentiles to the Father. Verse 18 says, “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” In other words, both Jews and Gentiles have access to the Father through Jesus, and not through the law. Galatians says, “No one is justified by the law in the sight of God” and also, “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:11, 24). So Jesus broke down the wall of separation, which is the law, and made peace and reconciliation between us and God. How did He do it?
Colossians 1:19-22 says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.”
Jesus made peace through the shedding of His own blood, and He has reconciled us to the Father. It is through Jesus—not the law—that we have been reconciled to God. Remember the mercy seat? If there was not a mercy seat covering the law, we would be judged strictly by the law and no one would be justified in the sight of God. There would be no peace or reconciliation. But God intentionally placed the mercy seat—the propitiation—over the law. This is significant, because Jesus is our propitiation. In other words, the law no longer stands between us and the Father. Jesus stands between us and the Father. And He is not a barrier. He is “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him” (John 14:6). If we will receive Jesus as our Lord and savior, we will receive the propitiation for our sins—the mercy of God—and be reconciled to the Father for all eternity.
The High Priest
“For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” – Leviticus 16
Concerning the day of atonement, “the priest” is specifically referring to the high priest. On that day, only the high priest can take the blood of the sin offering and enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for the people. Regarding Jesus, notice what the book of Hebrews says:
“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17)
In other words, Jesus made propitiation for our sins as a merciful and faithful “High Priest.” This is significant! How does this relate to the Day of Atonement? Notice what Hebrews goes on to say:
“Indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary…. Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience… 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.“(Hebrews 9:6–12)
“For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24)
Hebrews very clearly tells us that there is another tabernacle in heaven. The true tabernacle. And Jesus did not enter the tabernacle made with hands here on earth, but He entered the true tabernacle in heaven—the Holiest of All—and presented Himself before God for me and you. This is what the Day of Atonement is all about! And Jesus fulfilled all three elements:
- The High Priest: “Christ came as High Priest” (Hebrews 9:11)
- The Sin Offering: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood…” (Hebrews 9:12)
- The Mercy Seat: “Behind the second veil… the Holiest of All, which had… the mercy seat. He entered the Most Holy Place once for all… to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:1-5, 12; Hebrews 2:17)
This means that Jesus, our High Priest, is the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day, having made atonement for us in His own blood and reconciling us to the Father. And He not only made peace, but He has also granted access into the very presence of God.
Preparing a Place For Us
This may be one of the most amazing and beautiful aspects of the day of atonement, and yet one that is so often overlooked. Interestingly enough, on the day of atonement, the high priest would not only make atonement for the people to cleanse them from all their sins before the Lord, but he would also make atonement for the Holy Place. This is fascinating and it has incredible, eternal implications for us today. Leviticus 16:16 says:
“So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.”
Notice that the Lord instructs the high priest to make atonement for the Holy Place, which was necessary because of the sins of God’s people. In other words, not only did the high priest need to make atonement for the sins of the people, but he also had to make atonement for the Holy Place—the tabernacle of meeting—where God Himself dwells. Then notice verse 17:
“There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.”
Notice the instructions: There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when the high priest goes in, until he comes out. In other words, no other human being, besides the high priest, can enter the Holy Place where God dwells, until atonement is made. Afterward, all the priests may enter the Holy Place. What does this have to do with me and you as New Testament believers? Jesus, our High Priest, says something very interesting in John 13 and 14:
“Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you.” … Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” (John 13:33, 36)
Notice that Jesus said, “Where I am going, you cannot come… now! But you shall follow me… afterward.” Well the question is: where is He going? Some people believe that Jesus is referring to the cross in this passage, and it’s understandable because of what Peter said next. “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” And Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake?” But we must continue reading the passage to find out how Jesus truly answers the question regarding where He is going. Notice what He goes on to say in the next verse:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
Jesus told us exactly where He is going! He is going to His Father’s house, which is in heaven. And He tells us why is going. He is going to prepare a place for us! Then Jesus went on to say the following:
“And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
As Thomas was seeking more clarity about where Jesus was going and how to follow Him afterward, Jesus responded with the familiar verse, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Only through Jesus—and because of what He fulfilled for us—can we come to the Father in heaven. This is important to understand, because before Jesus died and rose again and presented Himself before the Father with His own blood to make atonement for us, no one was able to enter into the true Holy Place in heaven, but afterward we can now follow Him there (just like Leviticus 16:16-17 states, as well as the words of Jesus).
Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement as outlined in Leviticus 16. He became our High Priest and offered Himself by shedding His own blood as a sin offering. He entered the Holiest Place of All and presented His own blood before the Father. He made atonement and prepared heaven for us. We now have access to dwell with the Father for all eternity. All we need to do is receive Jesus as our personal Lord, Savior, and High Priest.
This is why the Day of Atonement is so significant for us today!
If you have not made Jesus the Lord of your life—or if perhaps you said a prayer some time ago, but for one reason or another you find yourself not truly living for the Lord—now is the time to make the change and fully accept what Jesus has provided for you. All you need to do now is personally respond. The Bible says that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. This simply means you need to believe that Jesus is alive and confess with your mouth that He is Lord.
Pray this prayer aloud and mean it in your heart:
Dear God, thank You for tugging at my heart today. You are wanting to get my attention, because you love me. I believe in You and Your Son Jesus. I believe in my heart that He died to give me eternal life. I believe You raised Him from the dead and that He is alive today. I confess today that Jesus is Lord. I give my life to Him. I choose this day to live for Jesus. I know I’m not perfect and I may make mistakes, but I know that you love me and will help me become the person you have called me to be. I love you. From this moment forward, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you prayed this prayer for the first time or if you made a recommitment to the Lord, this is not the end. This is the beginning. The beginning of a brand new life. Find a good, solid, Bible-teaching church and attend every week. Get involved. Buy a Bible and begin reading it. The Gospel of John is a good place to start. Attend Bible studies. Pray. Make new friends who will encourage you in your new walk with God. And most importantly, continue to grow in your personal relationship with Jesus
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