The Day of Atonement

atonementIn our walk through the Old Testament, we have arrived at the Day of Atonement. This was an important event in the yearly calendar for the children of Israel. It is also a foreshadowing of the eternal sacrifice for sin. The Day of Atonement is described in the book of Leviticus, chapter 16.

I. A type and Shadow

The first thing that we learn about the Day of Atonement is found in verse 1:

Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the LORD and died.

The Day of Atonement was not something invented by a religious organization to enslave the people to traditions. The Day of Atonement was instituted by God, Himself. He instituted it with a specific purpose in the lives of the children of Israel and to prepare the way for His Promised Messiah. God lays out the details and Aaron, the High Priest, had to follow God’s plan step by step or face the consequences. Aaron’s sons attempted to do things their own way and they paid with their lives. The Day of Atonement was instituted to deal with Israel’s sin problem. Sin was not just a problem in Israel. Sin is a human problem. God is holy and cannot be in the presence of sin so, He has to make a way to deal with mankind’s sin problem. The Day of Atonement was a temporary ritual that foreshadowed an eternal solution.

2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.
3 “Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
5 “He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. (Leviticus 16)

Aaron had to do things God’s way, as I mentioned earlier. Before going in to the holy of holies, which is where the presence of God indwelt the tabernacle, Aaron had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins because he was a sinner just like the people for whom he would make atonement.

15 “Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.
16 “He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities. (Leviticus 16)

After making atonement for his own sins, Aaron would go back to the altar and make a sacrifice for the sins of the people. After making the sacrifice for the sins of the people, Aaron would go back to the holy of holies a second time and offer the blood for the people’s atonement of their sins.

20 “When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat.
21 “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness.
22 “The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

After offering the blood to make atonement for the sins of the people, Aaron would return to the altar of sacrifice and symbolically place the sins of the people on the scapegoat and send the scapegoat away into the wilderness. This event had to happen yearly because the people would continue to sin. This entire system could not wash away the sins of the people. All that it could do was cover the sins of the people and remind them that they were still sinners. The writer of Hebrews explains this to us in Hebrews 9 and Hebrews 10.

II. Insufficient Sacrifices

The Day of Atonement in Leviticus was a foreshadowing of what God was going to do with His perfect sacrifice for the sins of all time. Faith in the Day of Atonement’s rituals as an eternal solution was insufficient. We find out why in Hebrews 9.

which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, (Hebrews 9:9)

The sacrifices on the Day of Atonement could not do anything for the conscience. All they could do was cover up the sins of the people.

and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12)

The Day of Atonement could not offer eternal redemption. The Day of Atonement could not purchase the people out of the slave market of sin. They remained there, still enslaved to their sin nature. The only thing that it did was cover their sins over and remind them of their need for eternal redemption.

how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)

The Day of Atonement could not cleanse the people’s conscience. It was a system of dead works that could only cover the blemishes.

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1)

The writer of Hebrews explains why the Day of Atonement was just a foreshadowing of what the Lord was going to do by the fact that the sacrifices had to be offered annually. If they would have been enough, there would no longer have been a need for them to continue.

3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10)

The Day of Atonement was a reminder of the people’s slavery to sin. The Day of Atonement could not take away sins. All that it could do was cover the people’s sins. All of this was pointing to Jesus Christ and what He was going to do on the cross. Let’s take a look at why He is the perfect sacrifice.

III. The Perfect Sacrifice

Jesus is the Perfect sacrifice because His sacrifice is able to do things that the sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement could not do.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9)

First of all, Jesus is the High Priest and His offering was done once, for all time. It was not to be an ongoing thing like the Day of Atonement. Jesus’ sacrifice is also different because not only is He the High Priest, He is also the sacrifice. He is able to offer His own blood instead of the blood of animals. Jesus’ sacrifice is able to provide eternal redemption for us. This means that Jesus is able to pay the price to buy us out of the slave market of sin. Jesus’ sacrifice changes us. It does more than simply cover our sins. It transforms us by cleansing our conscience so that we are able to serve the living God. Jesus’ sacrifice also offers forgiveness of sins to us. The Day of Atonement did not offer forgiveness of sins. It only covered our sins. With His sacrifice, Jesus put away our sins once and for all.

There is more in Hebrews 10. Jesus’ sacrifice deals with our internal sin problem. The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart. Jesus’ sacrifice deals with our hearts.

16 “THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,” (Hebrews 10:16)

We receive a new heart that has the Laws of God written on it. We are able to walk in obedience to God.

“AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” (Hebrews 10:17)

Jesus’ sacrifice does not simply cover our sin. Jesus’ sacrifice offers forgiveness of sin. God no longer remembers any of our sin.

22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (Hebrews 10)

Jesus’ sacrifice gives us a new, sincere heart that encourages us to draw near to God with confidence because our consciences have been cleaned, finally.

24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10)

Based on all that we have seen in the beautiful atoning work of Jesus Christ, we need to stimulate each other to love and to good deeds. One of the best ways that we can do this is by assembling together around the Word of God and growing together in our faith. This is why churches meet (or, at least it is why we should).

Isn’t the Day of Atonement a beautiful picture when you view it in the light of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross? Are you trusting in dead rituals to save you? Or, are you ready to trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross? Today truly is the day of salvation. Accept this amazing gift that the Lord offers to any who will believe.

3 comments on “The Day of Atonement

  1. Pingback: God’s Provision for Salvation | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Moses’ last message | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

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