Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What is Yom Kippur?

What is Yom Kippur?
Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest of the Jewish holidays.  It actually started at sundown last night. Yom Kippur is quite sober, rather than festive, and there’s a reason for that. You see, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. Unfortunately, most people don’t even understand that English name. What is atonement? The dictionary describes it as “amends” or “compensation” or “reparation” for a wrong done. Basically, that means that someone has done something wrong, and someone has to pay. Theologically speaking, that means that all of us have sinned against a just and holy God -- and someone has to pay the penalty. But who?

In the Old Testament, we find an elaborate sacrificial system. The priests at the temple would offer sacrifices daily for individual sins. For example, a person might bring a dove to be sacrificed because he had deceived his neighbor. And once a year, on Yom Kippur, a very special sacrifice would be made by the high priest for the sins of all the people. Only once a year could the high priest enter the Holy of Holies -- the inner sanctum of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept – to offer up the blood of a goat as an atonement for the sins of the people of God.
The way into the Holy of Holies was shielded by a heavy veil or curtain. No one else could enter. This high priest wore bells on the hem of his robes; if they stopped tinkling, the other priests would assume that God struck him dead. I’ve been told that they tied a rope around his ankle ahead of time so that if this happened, they could haul him out without entering themselves. The priest would also send another goat, a scapegoat, into the wilderness, symbolically bearing the sins of the people. So this Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, was a very sober time of reflection and repentance. It wasn’t a time to be flippant just because your sins were atoned for. You needed to be really truly sorry! Sin brought God’s intense displeasure and earned his fierce wrath. Sin deserved death, our death. But God in his mercy wanted to spare us, so he provided atonement. You can read more about the Yom Kippur sacrifice in Leviticus 16.

And yet… That’s not the end of the story. What happened in the Old Testament was, by God’s design, a mere foreshadowing of eternal truth. Because, really, the blood of goats or any other animals cannot, in itself, take away our sins. The temple sacrifices were a token and a promise of something better to come. And that something better was the Messiah who was foretold by the Old Testament prophets, including Isaiah and Micah. In Isaiah 53, we hear of the suffering servant who will bear our sins, who will die in our place. Here is just a small sample of it:

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all… Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

But who is this Messiah? Hundreds of prophecies gave the details, such as that he would be born of a virgin mother in Bethlehem. His earthly parentage would be of the tribe of Judah, in the house of David. This Messiah is Y’shua, or, in English, Jesus. He was God incarnate, God in the flesh, not a sinful human being. He willingly came to earth and bore our sins on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t have to be sacrificed year after year, because he was the perfect atonement. Once was enough! Hebrews 10:1-23 explains:

"For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

When Jesus was crucified, the curtain in the temple split in two! The barrier that separated mankind from the Holy of Holies, from the presence of God, was removed!

"And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." Mark 15:37-38

"We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever..." Hebrews 6:19-20a

So now what? What does this have to do with us? First, we must have faith. We must believe that Jesus died for us and accept that sacrifice for our own. We must confess our sins and repent from them and ask him to forgive us.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Then, not only does he take the penalty for our sins, but he also welcomes us into his family to fellowship with him forever. We have access into the Holy of Holies, the right and privilege of entering into his very own presence. And when our earthly bodies die, we will live forever with him in heaven.

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51

"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Corinthians 5:1

I encourage you to use this time to reflect and repent. If you haven’t already trusted in Jesus to be your Messiah, your atoning sacrifice, now is the time!

"For he says, 'In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 6:2

What will you do with Yom Kippur? What will you do with Jesus, the Messiah?


Virginia Knowles

More on Jewish heritage and Jesus...


  1. Amen! Praise be to God for His mercy; for the gift of salvation through the shed blood of His son Jesus!

    Thank you for the wonderful post about Yom Kippur...the picture of Christ in the Old Testament and the fullfillment of atonement for sin in the New Testament through Jesus Christ.

    Blessings ~


  2. What a wonderful post! Sharing the history and the beauty of the gift God sent, His only Son! Thank you for sharing and linking up at Wisdom Wednesdays!


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