The ultimate restoration of the Israelite people would be based on the one who was chosen by YEHOVAH God -- the one appointed to be our priest. He could, and did, go into the Presence of YEHOVAH God with his own blood. He was accepted there on his own merits, no sacrifice being needed for him. He would even remain in the purity of the presence of YEHOVAH God without rejection. One of us has made it -- Yeshua the Messiah! There is a man of Israel in heaven! Denial of human access is the backdrop of the Day of Atonement. It begged to be resolved -- and in the Messiah it has been!
by HOIM Staff
The Day of Atonement -- or Yom Kippur -- is the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar. It truly was the most holy day in the life of Israel, a day whose ceremonies are no longer repeated. Hosea's tragic prediction about Israel's sacrifices has been fulfilled:
"For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD in the last days" (Hosea 3:4, 5).
The sacrifice of the Messiah in 31 AD had been rejected by the majority in Israel; in 70 AD the sacrifices of Israel ended with the destruction of the Temple. In Hebrews 3 YEHOVAH God repeated the warning He made to an earlier generation, "For forty years I was angry with that generation…" (Psalm 95). I leave the math for you to calculate. (Remember that the Hebrews used inclusive counting).
In rejecting the Messiah the Son of David, Israel suffered a double loss: They lost the one who YEHOVAH God had promised and they lost the Day of Atonement that cannot now be practiced in the way the Torah stipulated. In this article we shall seek to show the connection between the Messiah and the ceremonies of that day. We hope that the ancient ritual will even make Christian truth more clear to us.
The Day of Atonement addressed the need of cleansing from sin, and how YEHOVAH God may be approached. It included details on what animals to sacrifice, where blood was to be shed, where applied, for whom and why. Here is a rich exhibition of an Israelite priest and people before their offended yet forgiving God. Guilt was removed and blessing secured. The God who lived in their midst kept them back. They could not enter His presence, yet He had their representative draw near to Him. Because of this, He could stay among them and the place of His worship would be cleansed from the sin of His people Israel.
In Leviticus 16, many principles and policies of YEHOVAH God are on display. Sometimes truth was stated; sometimes it was illustrated. The intent was to prepare us of Israel for our great high priest to come. The Messiah alone was qualified to go before the face of YEHOVAH God for those of us of Israel. He would bring his blood there, and make an end of sacrifices by ending the need for them. And in doing all this, he would act alone. He who is holy and undefiled -- and needs no sacrifice for himself -- would offer himself for us. The blood he presented would not be of animals but from his own veins. And YEHOVAH God shall NEVER require anything more to forgive all the sins of His people Israel.
In the Day of Atonement we are shown:
The insistence of YEHOVAH God that He be approached in the way He dictates.
The great truth that YEHOVAH God is holy and requires the removal of sin as a condition of accepting the people of Israel He loves.
The absolute need for a Mediator Redeemer to go before Him to intervene for those of us of Israel.
The putting away from us of all our offences never to be seen again. Forgiven sin is never brought up again.
The role of the people doing no work, contributing nothing to their atonement.
Leviticus 16 is heavy on visual ceremony. Sometimes there are explanatory words. YEHOVAH would spell out these things in more detail in the New Testament. This is part of the design; visual images were meant to impress vivid scenes in the mind. The Israelite people of that day saw (and we can picture it too) the priest's hands on a victim's head, the raising and plunging of a knife, the squirting of blood, the animal struggling, losing strength and then the stillness of death. Then blood was sprinkled around, and fire consumed an offering. The high priest wore special clothes that day when he went out of sight into that forbidden holy place where no one else of Israel was ever permitted to go. What is going on?
These things beg to be interpreted, but first they must make their impact on YEHOVAH's people Israel. They were holy things that spoke to the mind through the senses. In time, YEHOVAH God would use more words to explain the things the eyes saw. We must do two things: 1) Observe all the ceremonial actions, and 2) Connect these to all the verbal explanations -- those attached to the ceremony at the time, plus those added in later revelation.
We cannot now follow the line of so many Scriptures (such as Isaiah 1:11-14) on how these holy exercises became dead ritual to all Israel except the believing remnant. Mere ritualistic formality paid no heed to the necessity of obedience to the God who hated sin so much He would require an atonement. They missed the point! Isaiah 1 is a lesson on the deadness of the sinful heart -- not a reflection on the vividness or clarity of YEHOVAH-ordained ceremonies to teach the gospel.
Much of Israelite Christendom has fallen into this same hardness of heart. Bread and wine are taken without faith and obedience, sometimes even as a magical pill, as if some substance could make us acceptable to YEHOVAH God. The solution is not to dispense with ceremony or sacrament; we must participate in them in obedience and faith, so they may have their YEHOVAH-intended effect. The proper effect is always received by joining YEHOVAH's words to YEHOVAH's ritual. So Christian Israelites are to take the bread and the cup, but always with the explanations YEHOVAH God attaches to them. Likewise, the Day of Atonement is connected to the work of a high priest to come -- a priest who is prophesied in Psalm 110 before one even gets to the New Testament.
The high priest was to do what was not done on any other day of the year. Only on the tenth day of the seventh month, was he to enter the holiest of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was located. There he saw carved angels, one on his right and the other on his left. YEHOVAH God's Shekinah Glory resided between the gold cherubim. Below them, in that beautiful gold box, were the Ten Commandments -- in clear human language.
To go in there, the high priest had to take off the colorful garments he wore on other days. After washing himself, he would put on plain white linen clothes. He would have to kill a bull by himself, and take its blood with him into the Presence of YEHOVAH God through a curtain that separated where priests went every day from where he would go only on this day.
The priest had to open the curtain to enter, but this would expose the presence of YEHOVAH God to human sight. So it had to be obscured by smoke on penalty of death, if the priest did not do this. The priest would carry a pot full of coals taken from the large altar outside, and when he opened the curtain, he would drop two handfuls of incense on the hot coals. The burning spices would create enough smoke to hide the Glory of the LORD from the sinner's view. Only then could he go in and sprinkle blood on and before the atonement cover.
He then had to go out and get more blood -- this time from a goat. Casting lots to see which one was to be offered, he then killed it. The blood of that goat was also taken into the presence of YEHOVAH God and sprinkled where the other blood was already. When that was done, he was through inside; he did not sit down or have a chat. He had to leave that most holy place and could not return for another year. No one else was to be anywhere in the area when he did all this. The high priest was to act alone. He was to stand while making his offerings of blood, and leave. The other goat was waiting outside.
After making atonement for that most holy place, he went out and put blood on the horns of the large outdoor altar. Then, out where the people could see him, he went up to the live goat, laid both hands on its head, confessed out loud all the sins the Israelites had committed that year, all the while keeping his hands on the goat's head. After that, some other man who was not so tired was to take that goat so far away it would never come back again.
Finally it was time to remove those once-a-year clothes, wash up and offer the regular offerings that other priests offered every day. By himself, the high priest had to slay all the other sacrifices of the day which according to Number 29:7-11 comprised nine more animals. He must have been one weary high priest when it was all done! His duties that day were heavy. If he followed YEHOVAH's instructions, he would still be alive at the end of the day, so he would be relieved as well as weary. He had had the privilege to represent the people of Israel in their need before YEHOVAH God. He had approached their Sovereign LORD in the way commanded. He had made atonement.
Some explanation lies in the labeling of the offering itself. Making a severe separation between the acts and their meaning is not possible. If a sacrifice is called a sin offering, some meaning is obviously fused into the act. The language "to make atonement" with blood placed on a gold lid labeled the "atonement cover" is clear. These are terms loaded with the idea of bloodshed bringing reconciliation.
YEHOVAH God did not intend that we might easily be able to disconnect what He had put together. Sacrificing a sin offering is simply sacrificing for sin. How a sin offering might end up not being a vicarious death for the offender, is a task some theologians these days attempt when they seek to write a different meaning for the tree of the Messiah. YEHOVAH God was making it hard for them to do that. But they still try!
So the Day of Atonement had imbedded explanations -- the way a "wedding ring" is tied to a wedding ceremony. And there are attached explanations as in verse 16:
"In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place, because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness..."
The atoning cleansing was for the place -- not just the people of Israel. They were unclean so they made the Holy places unclean by contact with them. The sanctuary and the Tent of Meeting needed atonement. So did the entire community, even the priest and his family. All had sinned and fallen short of the glorious standard of YEHOVAH God in that box. Their Savior God was addressing defilement, a defilement we too of Israel, bring to everything we touch until the day we are perfected in holiness at the sight of our great High Priest.
One cannot miss that that poor innocent goat about to be taken far away, had all the "wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites" confessed over it. Laying hands on its head was significant because YEHOVAH God had instructed Moses to confess sins on the head of the goat. Sins were ceremonially transferred to the innocent goat.
This is Old Testament imagery for sin being imputed from the sinner to an innocent victim. In the gospel, YEHOVAH does not impute our sin to us, because the Messiah "became sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). This means the Messiah took guilt that was not his. It was our guilt and our penalty, but it was laid on him. Just as with that goat, sins that had been imputed to our Lord and died for, are now as far from us as the east is from the west -- never to return to haunt our consciences again. In the gospel, the conscience is relieved by an atonement the sinner of Israel does not make and cannot make.
After the goat was gone, the priest assumed his regular garments and sacrificed the burnt offering "to make atonement for himself and for the people," verse 24. Obviously the blood taken into the presence of YEHOVAH God did not end sacrifices for sin. Before the Day of Atonement had even ended, another burnt offering was required. There was no triumphant cry of "It is finished!" spoken on the Day of Atonement. Many more offerings would follow, and many more days of atonement.
YEHOVAH God gave His own summary explanation of the purpose of the day in Leviticus 16: "On this day, atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins" (verse 30). Similar words appear twice more before Leviticus 16 ends. We want to reverently say that YEHOVAH God certainly said it enough times; if we do not see the necessity of a vicarious blood atonement, it is not His fault!
These truths were ingrained into Israel's worship, in ritual, promises, prophecies, prayers, and confession. How Israel -- told of their rebellion and wickedness and the need of atonement -- could ever trust in their own righteousness is a startling example of the frightful dullness of the human heart. But this is precisely what Moses said in the Torah, had been, and would be the case (Deuteronomy 29:22-29; 31:24-29). It was what the prophets later asserted repeatedly. YEHOVAH God had given them much to see but -- apart from the remnant -- He had not "given them a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear," (Deuteronomy 29:4). The Messiah was chosen and they did not know him, just as the prophet said in Isaiah 53:1-4. The amazing paradox is that by reading the rituals in Leviticus given to the children of Israel, and which were practiced and preserved by them for centuries, sometimes the non-Israelite nations of the world have come to understand the Messiah's priestly work far more.
The Levitical priest had sin and had to atone for his sin with blood. He washed and dressed in spotless clothes, in anticipation of the sinless priest (the Messiah) to come. Death removed him from office and his sons would have to serve in his place. We are thereby prepared for a unique priest who would act alone, just as YEHOVAH God alone is Savior in Isaiah 43:11,12, and YEHOVAH God alone led Israel, with no foreign god assisting Him, (Deuteronomy 32:12). And we are told to expect a priest who would serve forever, one that would never be replaced, (Psalm 110:4).
Before we leave the Old Testament, we are told of one to come who would be our righteousness in Jeremiah 23:5. He would be the exalted Servant (Isaiah 52:13-15) yet would be humiliated and, in death, would be pierced for his people's transgressions and bear the sins of many (Isaiah 53:5, 12). But Isaiah also had reason to ask, "Who has believed our report?" And in his day, there were not many.
Most people, as children, consider a room was empty if there is nothing in it. When learning later that it was filled with air, it was an amazing scientific discovery to most. Though they lived in that air, they thought nothing of it unless it was windy. The Day of Atonement teaches reconciliation based on the substitution of an innocent victim. Like air, this theme is everywhere in sin offerings. Something innocent and clean died while a death deserving guilty transgressor was allowed to live! Can we miss the principle that the forgiveness of a sinful people by a Holy God must be on this basis? Yet the substitutionary aspect of the Messiah's death has been contested and still is. Old Testament ritual leads the mind to accept that one will die in the place of others. Any man may die for his own sin, but if so, it is never a reconciling death; such a death is one of reprobation, where an unreconciled state becomes permanent. Yeshua's death had a purpose -- he died for us to bring us to YEHOVAH God (1 Peter 3:18). It was a reconciling atonement.
YEHOVAH God dwells in light unapproachable. Yet a man fully human in all aspects -- and ordained as high priest -- was allowed and commanded to approach the unapproachable God. He was not welcome to stay. Here is the anomaly of a God who loves His people so was unwilling to forsake them. Yet -- because they were covenant breakers -- He could not in His holiness walk with them. He is like a faithful spouse who will not sleep with an unfaithful partner and yet will not leave. Distance and closeness coexist when His people are His people by covenant, yet are morally unclean. The people of Israel were kept out of the Most Holy Place -- and the only man allowed in once a year, could not stay.
How will YEHOVAH God ever keep His promise to Israel when His covenant is based on perfect obedience and they have only sin to offer? "If…you are careful to keep my commands…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people," (Leviticus 26:3-12). That this unresolved tension should be an eternal predicament is impossible. YEHOVAH God was determined to reach his goal of resuming the fellowship lost when man first sinned. Some day the Holy God will walk with holy humans (Zechariah 14; Revelation 21:3). An effective atonement must precede such contact.
The ultimate restoration would be based on the one who was chosen by YEHOVAH God -- the one appointed to be our priest. He could and did go into the Presence of YEHOVAH God with his own blood. He was accepted there on his own merits, no sacrifice being needed for him. He would even remain in the purity of the presence of YEHOVAH God without rejection. Since this holy person was one of us -- fully human in all aspects -- the matter of human approachability has been solved. One of us has made it -- Yeshua the Messiah! There is a man in heaven. Denial of human access is the backdrop of the Day of Atonement and it begged to be resolved -- and in the Messiah it has been!
In the heavenly sanctuary, the Messiah could sit at his adoptive Father's side and put up his feet in confidence and remain there. Imagine, a man in the presence of YEHOVAH God! It is where he belongs, and to which he moved into after his resurrection. The Old Testament priest went through that curtain with fear, especially if he remembered Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). Israel's priests entered from outside the curtain, as did the Messiah. In the tabernacle in the wilderness, YEHOVAH's place was above the atonement cover between the cherubim. The Messiah offered himself for us, placing his blood before YEHOVAH God, and thereby really secured forgiveness and reconciliation. His adoptive Father told him to sit down and take his place beside Him. The one born in Bethlehem of human parents has entered the Holy of Holies.
The blood of animals was placed on the atonement cover or, "mercy seat", as it was referred to in older Bible versions. This was an auspicious place. Above the lid was the invisible YEHOVAH God Himself (Psalm 80:1). No physical representation was allowed of YEHOVAH, but on each end of the atonement cover was a gold angel. They looked in the direction of the cover over the box; they looked where the blood would be sprinkled. These were cherubim, the same kind of angels that kept our first parents out of Eden after they sinned. Now they were looking in the direction of broken commandments. This is a setting of impending vengeance, because cherubim are the kind of angels YEHOVAH God has used as enforcers. It was between their gaze and the broken law where the blood would go.
Under that cover were two copies of the law -- YEHOVAH God's and Israel's. Those Ten Commandments were the essence of covenant obligation between YEHOVAH and His people. Yet at Sinai, Israel no sooner had the law than they made and bowed down to idols on the Day of Pentecost (Exodus 32:5). So those tablets were witness of a covenant broken, one YEHOVAH God was so determined to salvage. The blood was sprinkled in the presence of YEHOVAH, between the molded cherubim, who in real life, were astounded that humans could disobey YEHOVAH God and still be alive.
That blood also came between the broken covenant and the covenant keeping LORD. Rebellion against YEHOVAH God is a recipe for all hell to break loose, but YEHOVAH's grace intervened to have blood presented there to propitiate the wrath of the loving, holy, and just God. On the Day of Atonement this blood stayed YEHOVAH's wrath only in ceremony. How would YEHOVAH's perpetual law breaking people ever really be saved? A non-ceremonial offering would have to be made to propitiate YEHOVAH God in reality -- not just ritual. The ritual anticipated the real thing. If YEHOVAH did not have the real thing, He would just be playing games. Animal blood cannot take away sin. That old system had a substitution for man by a mere animal. The situation begged for a real man to be the real substitute, so YEHOVAH God found and chose one at the predicted time!
It is the Old Testament that tells us that YEHOVAH God would not keep a record of sins, and that with Him there is forgiveness (Psalm 130). But He also declared He would not clear the guilty (Exodus 32:6, 7) -- so how can He avoid doing what He said He would not do unless He charges us with our sins and punishes us? Such Old Testament statements are incapable of resolution unless there is a third party to bear the sin of the guilty Israelites. For YEHOVAH's Word to hold, both must happen: sin must be punished, and at least some sinners forgiven.
The Old Testament not only predicts an atoning Redeemer, but it also lays out theological coordinates whereby YEHOVAH God locks Himself into a commitment of personal mediation on behalf of sinners. YEHOVAH is the offended party, and we of Israel, the transgressors. Yet He would provide the mediator for us. Thus He fulfilled His goal of reconciliation. At the same time, by the Messiah's atonement, YEHOVAH God guarded His holy glory and preserved His justice. Such a LORD as this should be loved, believed and worshipped.
The Old Testament is like a room with dim light. In the New Testament, the furniture is the same but all is seen in a clearer light. The New Testament is not only the fulfillment of promises, in the book of Hebrews, it is an advanced explanation of truth, already present in the Old.
The Psalms say that the Messiah is the adopted Son and that he will be a Priest, (Psalm 2 and 110). Hebrews takes those two truths and builds the structure of salvation on these roles of the Messiah, (Hebrews 5:5, 6). It is his priestly office that connects with Leviticus 16. The temporary priest, a man with sins, a man who lost his role in death, was a priest who offered inferior blood that could not really remove sin -- such a priest was no more than a shadow of the ultimate Priest to come! (Hebrews 5:3; 7:23; 10:4).
A major theme in Hebrews is that the Messiah entered the real sanctuary in heaven. There he sat down, after his offering had been made and his blood presented. He had accomplished purification for our sins, all by himself (Hebrews 1:4). He shared our humanity and became like us in every way but sin, that he might make atonement for the sins of the people of Israel (Hebrews 2:17). Our great high priest did not go through the curtain in the Temple -- instead, he went through the curtain of the heavens (Hebrews 4:14,15). Our hope is in our priest, anchored in the place where he has gone -- the inner sanctuary (Hebrews 6:19). Clearly, Hebrews has the Day of Atonement in mind.
"We do have such a high priest who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the LORD not man" (Hebrews 8:1, 2).
The physical structure in the wilderness depicted a higher sanctuary, the very presence of YEHOVAH God Himself. The earthly sanctuary was made according to the pattern, i.e., according to the reality of the real sanctuary. On earth was a replica, a little model of the real thing if you will -- "a copy and shadow of what is in heaven," according to Hebrews 8:5. Of this earthly structure and ministry, we read in Hebrews 9:7:
Then Hebrews speaks of the Messiah. Note how the earlier pattern approximates the real. "He went through" is curtain language in Hebrews 9:11. "He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12). Yeshua the Messiah was not in the line of Aaron, so he never entered the Holy of Holies on earth. The only sanctuary he entered was the real one -- heaven. The Messiah did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in YEHOVAH's presence (Hebrews 9:24). This is why he was not of the line of Aaron.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest slaughtered the animal outside and took its blood into the sanctuary. The Messiah offered himself on earth and took his blood (meaning the reality and merits of his sacrifice), and, in a non-literal sense, brought that blood and placed it in the Presence of YEHOVAH God. His entry into the heavenly sanctuary is literal. The blood had been shed on earth literally. He then could appeal for our forgiveness, because in his death, he bore the penalty for the sin of the people of Israel.
The Messiah did not literally carry blood to heaven. But by going there after his sacrifice he was our priest; he represented us and sat down and stayed. The Father's words telling him to sit (Hebrews 1:13; 10:11, 12) show the sacrifice was accepted on behalf of all of us of Israel for whom it was shed. Since his sacrifice was accepted, so too are all of Israel who trust in it. (We make no other claim for acceptance by YEHOVAH God.)
The Messiah is the reality, while the succession of previous priests were a massive display of model priests (like "model" airplanes that cannot fly) to prepare Israel for the ministry of the Savior. He offered his own blood once for all and achieved genuine cleansing, not merely ceremonial. He purchased an eternal inheritance for us, plus the right of entry for all his Israelite people into the presence of YEHOVAH God. YEHOVAH -- by means of the Messiah, His adopted servant -- had met His own requirements.
The Day of Atonement showed a need for reconciliation and indicated the way it would be achieved -- by a priest who would take blood and go before YEHOVAH God for us. In the fullness of time, YEHOVAH picked a priest "in service to God" so he could make atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. That priest is now His adopted and first-born Son.
In short, YEHOVAH God would never let up on His demands for righteousness and for satisfaction for sin. We could not meet either demand. YEHOVAH has supplied the ground rules for accepting sinners in two ways:
(1) He chose His Son out of Israel to meet our covenant obligations by obeying for us. His righteousness is credited to the believer. Obedience is the requirement of the law.
(2) With his blood, he satisfied the demands of justice. Death is the sanction of the law.
The Messiah -- having finished his work of obedience and sacrifice as a man -- entered the heavenly sanctuary (the Holy of Holies) and sat down. Because of this, YEHOVAH God poured out His spirit, sent to produce a new covenant faithfulness in those of us of Israel (Hebrews 10:16). With our status settled, the process of living in the new relationship is addressed. But we need to remember that all consequent blessings for His believing people, are already secured, and we have only begun to enjoy them. The spirit helps us fix our thoughts on Yeshua -- the "Sent One" and high priest we confess (Hebrews 3:1). YEHOVAH God writes the holy law, found under the atonement cover, on our hearts and makes us walk obediently in it (Ezekiel 36:24-32; Jeremiah 31:31-34). In short, Yeshua the Messiah -- our Great High Priest -- fulfilled the demands of the Old Covenant for us and YEHOVAH's spirit makes His people alive in the New.
While the high priest was working hard, the people were explicitly ordered not to "do any work", verse 29. Atonement was being made "for them", verse 30. We too are commanded not to offer other sacrifices or seek other approaches to YEHOVAH God. They did not offer for themselves; their priest did. Atonement was not based on their participation, but on their representation by someone else, appointed by YEHOVAH God to be high priest. They were out of the atoning activity. YEHOVAH's anointed priest would have to do that for them.
Much has changed; the Real Sacrifice has replaced the object lessons of a million animals. The Messiah has replaced all the forerunners; the curtain that blocked the presence of YEHOVAH God has been torn open by YEHOVAH Himself (Matthew 27:51). This gospel has already gone through much of the Israelite nations of the earth, but the principles have not changed. There is a priest who went before YEHOVAH God for us, and our reconciliation does not rest on our contribution to it whatsoever. Someone else -- our elder brother Yeshua the Messiah -- paid for sin with his blood. To receive him is to have him as our priest and reconciliation with YEHOVAH God. YEHOVAH, in His holiness, is a danger to sinners, but, in the Messiah our priest, YEHOVAH God Himself has become the safety of His people Israel.
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!
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