Yom Kippur - Jewish Day of Atonement Featured

Tuesday, 11 October 2016 10:51

Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Day starts at sunset. Learn of its relevance for all disciples of Jesus.

For many, Yom Kippur is nothing more than a Jewish Holiday occurring in early fall that allows them to take a day off from work or school. However, for Jewish people it is without a doubt the most sacred day of the year. For Christians, although many don’t realize it, the day contains enormous spiritual significance. Hopefully this study will shed some light on the Biblical significance of Yom Kippur, the way rabbinic Judaism has restructured its observance, and more significantly, the deeper messianic significance of this special day. To read Part 1 on Rosh Hashanah see this article.

What's so special about Yom Kippur?

Known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur takes place ten days after the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hoshanah, and is considered the high point of the Jewish High Holy days often occurring in late September or early October. Jewish people who don’t attend synagogue most of the year still try to attend this service. Yom is the Hebrew word for "day". The Hebrew word Kapar means, to cover. It is translated to make amends, appease, forgive, pardon, to cover over and is often translated "atonement". Kippurim is the Hebrew word used for the Day of Atonement or day of covering. Biblically, Yom Kippur emphasizes the holiness of God, his judgment on sin, and the process by which sin can be atoned. It is the day on which sin is dealt with. The serious nature of this day is described in Leviticus 16; Leviticus 23:26-32; and Numbers 29:7-11. It was commanded to be observed by the Israelites as one of the seven central feasts. It was to be a Sabbath day of no work and self-denial with a sacred assembly involving several different offerings. This most solemn of Jewish holidays was also known as the “Fast”, the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" and is considered so important that the Rabbis simply referred to it as “the Day.”

What atonement was all about 

Contrary to some beliefs, the word does not mean "at-one-ment", but rather, is associated with the idea of sins being covered. The concept of "Atonement" is a Biblical one in which the crimes committed against God need to be covered in order for God's justice to be satisfied and thus allowing him to show mercy. Unlike the gods of the other nations, the God of Israel was a moral Being (morally perfect), holy and completely separate from sin and evil. In order to have a relationship with Him, sins (violations of his holy law) had be covered. To God sin is not a minor infraction and violations of his law resulted in a penalty. Atonement involves covering for the consequences and penalty from the sin.

An allusion to atonement occurs early in Genesis when the Lord God made “garments of skin“ to clothe Adam and Eve after they sinned (Genesis 3:21). In spite of their efforts to cover their crimes with excuses and cover their shame with fig leaves, God intervened by providing them with animal skins, thus, a hint at the need for a death to take place to cover for crimes. The concept of atonement is elaborated more in the sacrificial system described in the Law of Moses. Exodus and Leviticus devote a lot of attention on the importance of blood sacrifices and the role of the High priest as the means of approaching God in order to make atonement for the trespasses and violations of the people. 

Yom Kippur according to the Law

The books of Exodus and Leviticus record the instructions given to Moses by God at Mt Sinai. The laws regarding the Tabernacle and the offerings were in reference to approaching God. At Sinai the Israelite people nervously listened to the voice of God while trembling at the sight and sounds of a quaking mountain accompanied with thunder, smoke, and lightening. The message was clear: take caution and don’t get too close to the mountain! God was among His people but He was not approachable. Only Moses was allowed to get near in order to receive the law from God. The instructions he received as recorded in Leviticus clearly showed that the only way to draw near to God was through offerings and even then, they must be made by a priest. Whether one wishes to bring a gift or seek forgiveness their only hope in approaching God was through some type of specified offering via the intermediary of a priest. As a representative of the people, the priest had to follow very precise procedures in presenting these offerings before God. The procedures were very prescribed and carefully obeyed. The most significant moment of approaching God was on Yom Kippur. It was a day of fear and trembling highlighted by the High Priest entering into the most Holy Place inside the tabernacle (and later in the Temple).

The solemn ritual of Yom Kippur

Everything about the rituals of that day with its offerings and work of the High Priest provided a sobering reminder of the seriousness of sin and separation between God and man. While God made his residence among the Israelites in the Tabernacle, there were reminders everywhere that He was not accessible. God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies in a cloud just above the Ark of the Covenant. There was a special veil or curtain separating this chamber from the Holy Place. There were even curtains separating the Holy Place from the courtyard where priests would do their work. The message was clear: No one can approach or get close to God without a mediator and without offerings. It’s a glimpse into man’s predicament: that no sinful person can stand in his presence unless his sins are covered!

Yom Kippur: the High Priest’s big day 

The day is described in detail in Leviticus 16 with emphasis on the elaborate work of the High Priest and the variety of sin offerings. An elaborate system of preparation, frequent washings, and several changes of clothing for the high priest were designed to reinforce the holiness of the day. This was a once a year event and the most important day of the year for the high priest to carry out his service for the people of Israel. If he failed in his duties it could mean his death. On this sacred day his unique responsibilities involved going inside the tabernacle (later the Temple) and enter into the Most Holy Place carrying the blood from animal sacrifices. Inside the Holy place was The Holy of Holies, which was off limits to everyone except the high priest. It was even off limits to him except on this one particular day. Inside the Holy of Holies stood the Ark of the Covenant (a gold covered wooden box), which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments. On top of the Ark sat a golden embroidered lid or cover called the "Mercy seat" or “atonement cover.”

Yom Kippur was all about approaching God in order to obtain covering and removal of sin. It was the most important day of the year for the High Priest and for the nation who knew their only hope for being right with God for that year rested in the work of the high priest. According to Leviticus 16 it was the only day of the year that the High Priest, as a representative of the people, could venture into God’s presence. For this day the high priest wore the same linen garments as the average priests. The fact that the high priest did not wear his normal ornate outfit reinforced the humbling nature of the event. He first had to bring in sin-offerings to atone for the sins of himself and his family before he could represent the people. Even he, the high priest himself, felt little confidence as he approached God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. Only after filling up the room with incense, was he permitted to enter behind the sacred curtain (veil) into the Holy of Holies. In the midst of a cloud of incense he went before God and sprinkled blood upon the atonement cover of the ark (also known as the mercy seat).

Nothing but the blood

Earlier in Exodus 12 we see a reference to the importance of blood in the sacrificed lamb for Passover “When I see the blood I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you.” (Exodus 12:13). However, Leviticus is the primary book for teaching us about the sacred significance of blood. On Yom Kippur everything had to be ceremonially cleansed with blood. On this day, the high priest, carrying a basin of blood, would enter behind a curtain (or veil) and sprinkle blood from the sacrifices upon the Ark of the Covenant. This activity was done on behalf of the people and the high priest himself. He would even sprinkle blood on the Tabernacle itself to cleanse it of any contamination of sin. The blood of the animals would serve as a substitute for the penalty incurred by the sin (crimes, transgressions, iniquity) of the people. Yom Kippur was a very bloody day. Many animals were offered and blood was sprinkled over and over again on many parts of the tabernacle. 

In contrast today, modern Judaism makes very little reference to the importance of blood for atonement. Many consider vicarious blood sacrifices as archaic. Although modern Judaism prefers to avoid any attention given to the concept of blood sacrifices, the emphasis on blood and its connection to atonement is undeniably Biblical. It remains a central teaching of the Torah as it says: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. “ (Leviticus 17:11)

Blood sacrifices - the only way for atonement

According to the Bible, blood represents the life of a creature. According to the Bible, sin results in death. We may not be able to fully understand how an innocent life can substitute for a guilty life but we do know this concept is taught throughout the Scriptures. This is the mystery behind a blood sacrifice. The value of the blood to provide atonement was determined by the value of the offering. If the Day of Atonement teaches anything about salvation, it’s that there can be no salvation apart from the shedding of blood. Without a blood sacrifice there could be no atonement.

The serious nature of blood is directly related to the seriousness of sin. Since God is the offended party, he is the one who determines what is acceptable to cover a crime. The wages of sin is death. The loss of life demonstrates the awfulness of sin and its dire consequences. Certainly, watching ones favorite animal get slaughtered because of ones crimes would remain a vivid memory for the offerer. More about the significance of blood is explained later in this essay.

The importance of the mercy seat

The mercy seat on the ark of the covenant is where God’s mercy and justice came together. They converged on this very special day in the Holy of Holies. Inside the Ark sat the Ten Commandment stone tablets that were a reminder of God’s holy law. Cherubim (angelic creatures) were sculptured into the Mercy Seat with their faces turned downward looking at the law of God. They provided an image and reminder of God’s justice, that His holiness had been violated, and judgement was coming. Blood from an offering was sprinkled upon the mercy seat to cover for the violations. The power of the blood was determined by the value of the animal sacrificed. On this day they used unblemished bulls, rams, and goats. Everything pointed to the need for God’s justice to be satisfied. This could only take place with an offering great enough to pay for the crimes committed. Only after justice was satisfied, could mercy be shown and thus, the word “mercy seat” Yom Kippur provides a variety of visual illustrations pointing out that in order to approach a holy God there must be atonement for sin. In other words, for God to show mercy, justice must be satisfied.

The two goats and the concept of a sin bearer

Leviticus 16 not only elaborates on the importance of blood for atonement but also describes the concept of a sin bearer. When an animal became a sin offering it first became a sin bearer. Before an animal was sacrificed, the priest laid his hands on the animal while confessing the sins of the people. When the priest laid his hands on the animal, the animal became identified with the people. In this way the sins of the people were transferred onto the animal and thus the creature became a bearer of their sins. Among the many sacrifices of the day, particular attention was given to selecting two male goats to be considered as one sin offering. A special ceremony occurred in which the High priest cast lots for the goats. One was selected as the goat of sacrifice to the Lord and the other would be selected to be the goat of removal. Both goats were considered sin bearers. The sacrificed goat’s blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat and the goat that was not killed became the scapegoat. The sacrificed goat signified punishment for sin and the live goat was taken out into the wilderness, which represented the removal of sin. This goat was called Azazel, which means “removal.”

Both goats together portrayed a complete picture of what atonement is all about: Atonement required a substitute to bear sin, and to pay the price for sin; the substitute sacrifice covered the penalty of sin by its death, the innocent for the guilty. The live goat that is led into the wilderness signified the removal of sin far away. Thus, the Day of Atonement was considered a sobering and awesome day as each year the nation relied on the work of the high priest to provide the necessary offerings in hopes that he would secure forgiveness from God for their crimes. 

Looking at modern traditional Judaism’s approach to Yom Kippur, however, we see a much different observance. In fact this difference illustrates one of the most significant distinctions between Biblical Judaism and Rabbinical influenced Judaism. 

Traditional observances of Yom Kippur today

The practices we read about in Leviticus 16 have long since disappeared. Today’s modern Jewish observance of Yom Kippur shows very little resemblance to the event described in the Bible. With the absence of the temple in Jerusalem, the absence of the priesthood and the ancient sacrificial system, Rabbinic Judaism chose to turn Yom Kippur primarily into a day of self-examination, fasting, with a strong emphasis on repentance. For this reason, modern day Judaism observes Yom Kippur traditionally as a time of attending synagogues, a lot of liturgy, prayers of confession, focus on asking for forgiveness, recognizing deeds of charity and other good works (mitzvahs). There is an underlying hope that good deeds will outweigh bad deeds and that there will be enough repentance to make a difference on the Judgment day. It is viewed as the central day to ask forgiveness for promises broken to God.

Yom Kippur is also viewed as a day of "not" doing. Jews usually hold to a 25-hour period of fasting as a means of self-denial. Other than fasting for a day, the need for an actual sin offering or sacrifice is not recognized. On the eve of Yom Kippur the community joins at the synagogue. Men put on prayer shawls (not usually worn in the evenings). Then as the night falls the cantor begins the "Kol Nidre", which is repeated 3 times, each time in a louder voice. The Kol Nidre emphasizes the importance in keeping vows, as violating an oath is considered one of the worst sins. An important part of the Yom Kippur service is the "Vidui" (Viduy) or confession. The confessions serve to help reflect on ones misdeeds and to confess them verbally is part of the formal repentance in asking God's forgiveness. Because community and unity are an important part of Jewish life, the confessions are said in the plural (we are guilty). As Yom Kippur ends, at the last hour, a service called "Ne'ila" (Neilah) offers a final opportunity for repentance. It is the only service of the year during which the doors to the ark (where the Torah scrolls are stored) remain open from the beginning to end of the service, signifying that the gates of Heaven are open at this time. The service closes with the verse, said seven times, "The Lord is our God." The Shofar is sounded and the congregation proclaims - "Next year in Jerusalem." With that Yom Kippur is over.

The mystery of Yom Kippur

There is both a rich and deeper hidden meaning in Yom Kippur, which is seldom appreciated. Most people have very little interest today in the elements of the tabernacle, high priests, and blood sacrifices. Besides seeing the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” one may wonder what relevance does all this ancient ritual have to do with us today? I hope the following explanation will open up one to a deeper appreciation of this special day. Beyond its lessons on God’s holiness and the serious nature of sin, Yom Kippur contains tremendous pictures and shadows of the work of the Messiah and the real essence of salvation. As we shall see, Yom Kippur foreshadows an ultimate sin offering by the ultimate high priest himself - the Messiah. It all comes together: the tabernacle, the mercy seat, the sin-offerings, the goat of removal, the high priest, the veil, the blood offerings (and much more) in the promised coming One. An individual would come who would be the reality behind all these shadows.

“These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality however, is found in Messiah.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

"When Messiah came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say not a part of this creation. 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 9:11-12)

The Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 53 describes a suffering servant that would become mankind’s ultimate sin bearer, and ultimate sacrifice for sins: "We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)

The culmination of all the sacrifices pictured in the Hebrew Scriptures found their fulfillment in this ultimate sacrifice of all time. His death as a sacrifice for atonement was foreshadowed in the Jewish Scriptures and described in detail by Isaiah the prophet in the book of Isaiah 52:13-53:1-12. We can see from this prophecy that the suffering man of Isaiah 53 would become the one to bear our sin. The ultimate sacrifice would not be an animal but a human being. This individual would be identified with us. He became our sin bearer. This was someone who would represent all of us and whose righteous life could be counted on as a substitute for all sinners. This individual obviously had to be a very special person for his death to count on behalf of all men.

"After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light and be satisfied, by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.... For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:11-12)

The question of "Who is the prophet talking about?" should be in the back of the mind of every Jewish person. Rabbis from ancient times were agreement that it was the Messiah.

Although it is difficult to comprehend the infinite value of his righteous life, the blood of Messiah was of such infinite value that His death as mankind's substitute could satisfy the laws demands for the sins of all men.

Is it just a coincidence?

In looking at an individual in history that best matches the description of Isaiah’s suffering servant it doesn’t take much effort to see the connection with what the prophets spoke and Jesus of Nazareth. Is it just a coincidence that he was born in Bethlehem, the town that the Messiah was to be born in? (Micah 5:2) Is it just a coincidence that his ministry took place in Galilee as Isaiah the prophet foretold? (Isaiah 9:1-6) Is it just coincidental that no one could find him guilty of any sins? Is it just coincidental that his crucifixion occurred on Passover at the same time as the sacrificed lamb? Is it just coincidence that immediately following his crucifixion that the massive veil in the temple was torn in half and that later on in the temple the priests experienced strange occurrences with the traditional Yom Kippur offerings? Is it just coincidental that forty years after his crucifixion (70 A.D.) that the sacrifices and offerings finally ceased and since then there has been no longer any means for the nation to even practice Yom Kippur? Is it just a coincidence that his life has impacted the world more than any Jewish man? Or is it possible that He really is the Messiah?

Is it any wonder that he received the following Messianic description by a prophet of his own time who said: " Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

The scriptures clearly teach that *Jesus (Yeshua) is the fulfillment of all that the Law, Prophets, and the Biblical Writings foretold in regard to the Messiah. Man's ultimate sin bearer had to be an unblemished human being - someone whose life was valuable enough to count for all men everywhere. Only one human being in all of history meets that qualification. The "gospel" is the good news that God has provided both the ultimate high priest and the ultimate sacrifice to take care of our problem of sin. As it says in the New Testament letter of Romans: ..."For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ (Messiah) Jesus. GOD PRESENTED HIM AS A SACRIFICE OF ATONEMENT, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice." (Romans 3:23-25)

A devout Jewish believer, a former zealous Pharisee, named Saul of Tarsus, wrote theses words. According to this man Saul who later became the apostle Paul, Yeshua ha Machiach (Jesus the Messiah) was presented as Gods provision for our atonement. Paul, who was very familiar with the law, explains in his letter to Romans just how Jesus became our sacrifice of atonement. When Messiah suffered for our penalties God’s justice and mercy converged. It was at the cross where God punished sin and accepted the offering up of His son as man’s sin bearer on behalf of the human race.

The outcome of Messiah’s atonement as elaborated in Hebrews 9-10

The most thorough explanation of the Old Testament connection of Yom Kippur with the person and work of Jesus is found in the New Testament letter of Hebrews, which was originally addressed, to Jewish disciples. These two chapters elaborate on the greatness of the sacrifice of Jesus and how it was the ultimate and complete fulfillment of every Old Testament sacrifice offered under the law.

Some may think, "Well if I am not Jewish, then what relevance does this holiday have for me?” The answer is that Yom Kippur, although a Jewish holiday can be a time in which all disciples can reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that took place on the cross and the power and efficacy of His blood. With this understanding many verses jump out with deeper meaning.

"By one offering, He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."

"For Messiah entered into heaven now to appear in the presence of God for us."

This shows that He is the ultimate Priest and that He entered the ultimate place for us. He brings in blood (His blood) into heaven before God. He became both, the offerer and the offering.

"He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26)

The way into God's presence is now open

Interestingly, after Jesus was crucified several strange phenomenons occurred. One of them involved the temple veil. This was a huge thick curtain in the temple that served to separate the holy place from the Most Holy Place (or Holy of Holies). Immediately upon Jesus death, that veil was torn - from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). There was no natural explanation for this occurrence. This signified that God Himself tore it and that the entrance into the Holy Place was now open. What a vivid image of God indicating that His justice against sin has been satisfied. and approaching Him was now possible through Messiah. The final atonement had come and consequently, sinful man had a way to approach God with confidence. This was a radical idea for both Jews and Gentiles.

A new and living way

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain that is, his body and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God.” (Heb 10:19-22) 

The writer of Hebrews talks about this way of approaching God as a new and living way. What is new about it? We can go in with confidence - that's new! Now through Messiah we can all go in - to the very presence of God at anytime. This was incomprehensible before Jesus completed his mission. What was once off limits to everyone but the High Priest has now been opened like never before. We all (even you gentiles) now can go in - made possible by the blood of Jesus. Not because of our religious observances or good deeds but because of the powerful efficacy of his blood.

The old way involved the high priest being the sole representative of the people before God. Only the high priest could come in to meet with God and no one dared get near the innermost sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence resided. Blood sacrifices in the form of guilt offerings and sin-offerings offered up by a priest was the only way the Jews knew to approach God. They even feared for the life of the high priest if he messed up. Tradition has it that they even planned for his death (if he messed up and died) by tying a string to high priest’s foot in case something happened to him while making atonement in the Holy of Holies. If he died while in the Holy of Holies no one could go in and get him therefore they would at least be able to pull him out. Just like at Mt. Sinai - God remained distant to the people, too holy
for them to get that close. Coming into the presence of God was considered impossible for anyone other than the high priest. Even for him it was viewed as dangerous and frightening. Under the Old Covenant God was too awesome and holy to be approached. Therefore, no one dared attempt to get close to Him. Approaching God under the old covenant always involved a reminder of your sins and uncertainty that the high priest would adequately represent you each and every year. Because of this, there was always a lack of confidence in ones standing with God. There was never any assurance of salvation and thus no joy of being saved. The message in Hebrews 9-10 is that Jesus made something possible that is new, far superior, and far more glorious. No longer is access to God limited. As one writer put it, 

"When we consider the elaborate hierarchy provided by the Jewish religion, and indeed, by nearly all the other religions of the antiquity, the importance of this becomes clear. Christ’s sacrifice has transformed the whole method of approach to God."

(Leon Morris from "The Cross in the New Testament” p.293)

We can now glory in his blood and sing his praises from a position of being forgiven by grace. These thoughts bring to mind the following lyrics of some of our greatest hymns:

"Hallelujah! What a Savior!" By Philip Bliss 1875

"Man of Sorrows." What a name for the Son of God who came.

Ruined sinner to reclaim: Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood.

Sealed my pardon with His blood: Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement! Can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior! 

"To God Be the Glory" by Fanny J. Crossly 1875 

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;

So loved He the world that He gave us His Son;

Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,

And opened the life gate that all may go in. 

So how shall we draw near to God? 

The new and living way is described as: with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds..."

(Hebrews 10:19-25)

Notice these phrases: 1. With a sincere heart; 2. With full assurance of faith; 3. A cleansed conscience; 4. An unwavering hope; 5. To spur one another on to love and good deeds. 6. With encouragement for others to stay connected to God and his people.

I hope these reflections on the outcome of Messiah’s atonement will be an encouragement to you and fill you with the joy and gratitude intended. Wow, just think, He has borne your sins, provided a way to pay the full price for all your sins, covered your sins by his blood and removes your sins far away. Therefore, now you can draw near with confidence to God everyday, enjoy a personal relationship with Him and live with a very free conscience moment by moment; what could give us more assurance and confidence? That’s real Shalom (peace)! That’s something to sing about. Something to help you sleep at night! With all this in mind, I would encourage you to take time out to meditate upon Hebrews 9 -10. Hopefully, with this understanding of Yom Kippur, these scriptures will have more personal meaning for you.

"When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place one for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:11-12) 

"For Christ 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 God’s presence." (Hebrews 9:24) 

"But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26)

The Yom Kippur dilemma for Jews today 

As we return to the topic of modern day observance of Yom Kippur we see a perplexing situation. Jews are faced with the obligation to observe this sacred day as a lasting ordinance (Leviticus 23). However, the means by which to observe this day are missing. Since 70 AD when the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem, there has been no sanctuary or high priest. The sacrificial system of animals ended and the concept of vicarious sacrifices came to an end and is no longer practiced. Although the Rabbi’s came along and decided to adjust the observance of Yom Kippur by creating a special service, there remains the obvious missing elements that give Yom Kippur its true meaning. This poses a dilemma for any Jewish person seeking assurance of salvation.

Without a sin offering there really is no means to have confidence that ones sins are forgiven. What exists today is a religion where Jewish men and women hope that their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds. This is contrary to everything the Torah teaches. On the surface this appears unfair. Either God expects the Jews to observe a holiday without the means to observe it or He expects them to realize that the ultimate Yom Kippur sacrifice has been offered already. We as believers of course take the latter view. The hope for salvation is a spiritual reality based on the substitutionary work of the Messiah as described in Isaiah 53. The promise of forgiveness of sins as offered in the New Covenant foretold by Jeremiah has come! (Jeremiah 31:31)

The powerlessness of Yom Kippur without Messiah 

Biblically, Yom Kippur had less to do with congregational prayers and more to do with the work of the High Priest and substitutionary sin offerings. Yes, it is important to reflect on the seriousness of sin and take a moral inventory of our wrongs. However, those actions in and of themselves even when connected with admirable deeds cannot erase our sins. The solution to the problem of sin is not more religious activity and resolutions but rather a means by which we can have those violations covered and find assurance of forgiveness. Without a Savior there is no power to remove sin. Without a Savior we are not going to be able to stand right and clean before a holy God. No matter how we compare ourselves with others the fact remains we are sinners in need of atonement. For thousands of years the Torah taught the necessity of blood sacrifices as a means of covering for sin. Rabbis who came along later did not and will not have the authority to set aside God’s law. If any Jew hopes to stand before God he better have a sacrifice. In keeping with the law, that sacrifice needs to be unblemished and it needs to be value enough to cover for his crimes. If he refuses the sacrifice of Jesus, he needs to find another one.

The true significance and power of Yom Kippur is realized only in the ultimate offering found in Yeshua himself. The value of his life offered up on our behalf is best described by Peter when he said, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers but with precious blood of Messiah, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

In regard to repentance it should also be noted that everyone needs power to break the cycle of addiction and defeat of reoccurring sin. Yom Kippur as practiced today does not offer power to change ones life. Long-term heartfelt motivation to live a life apart from sin is necessary for genuine change. Breaking the chains of lust, bitterness, pride, selfishness, jealousy, violent temper, greed, for example, requires nothing less than the power of God. It requires a deep conviction about sin, God’s mercy and grace, and most of all, hope in overcoming the struggles of the sinful nature. Without a savior man has no power to overcome sin. The gospel, however, offers this power. As the song goes, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” You won’t hear Amazing Grace sung at Yom Kippur services nor any songs about the wonder of salvation or a the power of a transformed life. One might note that such songs do not exist in Islam or Judaism or in any religious system that relies soley on ones own efforts for salvation. 

The power in the atonement of Messiah to change one's life

Because of Messiah’s offering on our behalf, because His substitution has made atonement, believers not only sing heartfelt praises, they respond with a heartfelt desire to change. This is not about ten days of repentance but rather a lifestyle of repentance, a life of atonement results in a life of gratitude and gratitude results in true repentance: a turning from sin and a returning to God

This is exactly the lifestyle described under the promissed New Covenant as foretold in Jeremiah 31. This desire to fulfill the law’s commands as a result of Messiah’s atoning work is beautifully described in the following verses:

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ”No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Jesus, because through Messiah Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Yom Kippur: seed for discussion

 We began this essay with the question “Why is it so important for disciples to know about Yom Kippur? After all, isn't it just a another Jewish Holiday?” Perhaps one of the best reasons to know about this special day is in the way it provides a powerful topic for discussion with our Jewish friends. The obvious ways that Yom Kippur foreshadowed Messiah’s redemptive work makes it an excellent point for conversation. (Notice I said conversation- not argument). Without love, all this knowledge will come off as a resounding gong and a clanging cymbal (I Cor 13). There must be genuine care and sensitivity to go along with this understanding. However, the very fact that Jewish people are not able to observe the day according to its original Biblical pattern makes for an ideal opportunity to talk about its true significance. Many Jews have no idea of the Biblical roots of the Day of Atonement. Very few know why blood sacrifices are no longer being practiced? It begs the question -- how can there be atonement from sin without sacrifices and without a high priest? Most Jews do not realize that the concepts of blood, atonement, and substitution are not New Testament concepts but rather rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Christianity didn't invent a suffering Messiah - it was written in the prophets! Believers are experiencing the actual reality behind Yom Kippur! When a repentant sinner comes to Christ they come up from the waters of baptism with a clean conscience. He or she is a new creature in Christ with a new beginning- not because of any good deeds but because of their reliance upon their sin offering Jesus Christ. They enjoy a salvation based on atonement from sin (past, present, and future). Now that’s something to rejoice about!

Without the Messiah all one has is an empty shell of a holy day called “Yom Kippur”. You have a day of atonement without any atonement. This is a major point to be raised with Jewish people in order to make them aware that we as believers are actually enjoying the blessing of atonement - assurance of salvation. This is a blessing that can be a reality only through the Messiah. This corresponds to what Paul says in Romans 11:11-14 when he says that he shares the gospel in hopes his Jewish people will feel envious of the Gentiles who are getting the benefits of what originally was intended for the Jews.

There is no joy in Yom Kippur if there is no assurance of forgiveness. For this reason observant Jews dont go around saying “Happy Yom Kippur”. However, disciples of Messiah do enjoy the reality of atonement and its practical ourcomes of joy, gratitude, confidence, a changed life, and desire for outreach and service to others.

In conclusion 

I have contrasted today’s traditional Jewish observance with the Biblical observance of Yom Kippur. I have also focused on how it points to the person and work of Messiah and finds its fulfillment in Yeshua ha Maschiach (Jesus the Messiah). Yom Kippur today should be viewed not only as a day of reflection and repentance but recognition that atonement has been made possible because of the sacrifice of Messiah. In many ways Yom Kippur is the gospel in the Old Testament. It is the Jewish gospel! It contains the most complete array of foreshadows of Messiah’s redemptive work any where in the Law. Biblically, the very center of Yom Kippur was the sin offerings made by the high priest. That’s what it was all about!

Today in synagogues around the world the central Biblical elements of Yom Kippur are gone. There is a noticeable absence of any references to the need or significance of blood for atonement via a sin offering. Thus, the true deeper meaning of Yom Kippur is missing in traditional Judaism. Modern day observance of Yom Kippur is centered in fasting and congregational prayer services. In contrast, according to the Torah, Yom Kippur was to be a day centered around sacrifices and the work of the high priest. If the Israelite congregation prayed on this day it was so that the High Priest didn’t mess up. Although there is a need to focus on repentance, without a realization of Gods provision through Messiah’s sacrifice, there can be no atonement. Apart from an actual sacrifice for atonement, there is no means for forgiveness. Contrary to the rabbis teachings, good intentions, good deeds, prayers, and confession cannot atone for sin. Such acts were never considered adequate to remove sin any more than asking a judge in a court room to overlook a crime will remove the criminal penalty. Crimes have to be paid for. God is the offended party and He alone is the one who determines the means for atonement. According to God’s word, only by Messiah as our sin offering can we hope to be delivered from our sins. In essence, modern day Judaism is observing the Day of Atonement with no assurance of forgiveness. Essentially, this becomes an observance of Yom Kippur with no Kippur.

Application of Yom Kippur for believers 

Certainly, the Jewish high holy days provide an ideal time to take inventory of our relationship before God and our relationship with those around us. It is an ideal time to pray for a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51) for those thoughts and actions that are not godly, to get inwardly honest about our obvious and hidden faults (Psalm 19). It is a great opportunity to fast, to confess sin, to reflect on areas of our life we need to change (repentance) so that times of refreshing can come (Acts 3:17-19). However, for believers, each Lord’s Day communion is like Yom Kippur for it provides a time of reflection upon our lives and our appreciation for the sacrifice of our LORD. He provided the ultimate atonement through the offering of Himself on our behalf. Truly we do not have one day of atonement but rather an “everyday of atonement” in which His blood continually washes us clean from sin (I John 1:7-9). Hopefully, with this understanding, Yom Kippur will have a deeper personal meaning for you.

As the hymn asks: 

What can wash a way my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Nothing can for sin atone. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Not of good that I have done. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O Precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Psalms 103:12 

Phillip Lester

Yom Kippur Oct 11, 2016

 
 
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