The Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement comes once a year, in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. On that day, Jewish people observe a complete fast, and spend most of the time in prayer. Their prayer book lists a confession of sins meant for them all, to stress their united responsibility before God. On the eve of the Fast some of them still perform a token atonement ceremony, using a fowl as a sacrifice. Having declared, “A soul for a soul”, and having read selected Scriptures (Psalm 107; 10-15 and Job 33:23-24), they say this prayer three times: “This is my substitute, this is my redemption. This fowl is going to be killed, and I shall be admitted and allowed to a long, happy and peaceful life”. Here is their frank acknowledgment of man’s Biblical need for a sacrificial substitute.
Even more explicit is an afternoon prayer during the Fast, where they confess that God’s appointed Substitute is their Messiah. It reads: “Our righteous Anointed is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have non to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He beareth our sins on His shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the Eternal will create Him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring him up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, by the hand of Yinnon”. (‘Yinnon’ is a term for ‘Messiah’, from Psalm 72:17).
The above interesting customs derive from the Biblical Day of Atonement, where God commanded in detail how Aaron the High Priest, and his sons, should observe it. There is a full description in Leviticus 16, with the centre of worship in the Tabernacle, and later on in the Temple. On that Day, work was forbidden: all Israel spent it, as today, in prayer and fasting “It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute” (Lev. 16:31). They offered the atonement for their sins through the shed blood of a sacrifice, as God commanded: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11). Two kinds of offering were made: the Sin-offering, and the Burnt-offering.
The Sin-offering came first. While the people of Israel waited, Aaron washed and put on pure linen garments. He then presented burning incense and the blood of his own sin-offering within the Most Holy place, where God’s presence was -- “Then Aaron shall offer the bull of his sin offering which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself. And he shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, lest he die. Moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; also in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times”. (Lev.16:11-14).
Now came the turn of the people. For their sin-offering, they gave Aaron two young goats; Aaron sacrificed one, and sprinkled its blood in the Most Holy place. The other goat (called the scapegoat) was sent away after he had confessed over its head the sins of his people. Throughout the entire ceremony, Aaron had to be alone -- “When he goes in to make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel” (Lev. 16:17). Aaron alone stood for all Israel. He was sole mediator.
The Burnt-offering came next. Aaron washed after laying aside his linen garments, and dressed in his robes of glory and his heart, engraved with the names of Israel’s twelve tribes. As their representative he thus symbolically carried them with him into God’s holy presence. A gold plate over his brow read, “Holiness to the LORD”. Thus attired, he presented the burnt-offerings for himself and the people, and then he blessed them. Once every fifty years the trumpet of Jubilee sounded immediately afterwards, announcing release and restoration of every one’s inheritance.
This was the Atonement that Aaron made each year. The pure linen garments, the washings, the sprinkled blood proclaimed the need of Aaron and his people for personal holiness to accompany their worship. When one goat as sacrificed for their sins and the other sent away, God was teaching Israel that sin, once properly atoned for, was put away forever -- “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). However, the need to repeat this solemn ceremony every year, showed that its affect was limited and temporary. A better, lasting Atonement was needed: an everlasting Atonement, bringing everlasting righteousness to God’s people, through the ministry of a never dying High Priest. Nor was this a vain hope, for God had graciously promised to do it Himself --”Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for HE will atone for His land and people” (Deut. 32:43).
Through His prophets, the LORD prepared His people Israel for this new and better arrangement -- “Behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD, I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people, And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbour and each man his brother, saying, ‘know the LORD’, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, declares the LORD, for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:31-34).
In this new arrangement the High Priest that God appointed did not need replacing, because He was the Messiah: “The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizadek” (Psalm 110:4). As a priest offered sacrifices for his people, this was also the duty of Messiah, who obtained everlasting atonement through His work and sacrifice: “To finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy” (Dan.9:24). To achieve His purpose the Messiah offered Himself as the atoning Substitute for His people’s sins; as they confess in their remarkable afternoon prayer, which is an echo of another prophecy: “He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors yet he Himself bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors.” (Isa. 53:12). Thus, as the Jubilee trumpet sounded the release and restoration of the people, so His atoning work brought spiritual deliverance and restoration to all who trust in Him.
This new order meets God’s requirements forever. Messiah is now the High Priest and Representative of all His people, atoning for them and taking them with Him into God’s Most Holy presence. No further sacrifice is needed: His atonement is final, complete and forever!
The Promise Realized.
The Bible and History bear witness, that the promised Messiah can only be Yeshua of Nazareth. None other appeared at the appointed time, to claim these promises or to fulfill them. None other vied for the sufferings and the glory. Yeshua alone could, and did. The New Testament (which has not been quoted yet) was written to record and confirm the fact.
At the appointed time, Yeshua was born in the city of David, as foretold; “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His going forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5:2). And at the appointed time, at the age of thirty (when priests begin their ministry), He appeared to redeem Israel from their sins, and to extend His salvation to the whole world -- “When Messiah appeared as 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; 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. And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance”. (Heb. 9:11-15).
The final proof rests on His resurrection. After dying for sinners, bearing the penalty for their transgressions and interceding for them, Yeshua rose again on the third day, “Declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead”. “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Yeshua, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My son; today I have begotten Thee’”’ (Rom. 1:4, Acts 13:32-33).