Day of Atonement: Its Importance

Yesterday was the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is the term for followers of Judaism. Christians, on the other hand, understand that the only atonement for sins was/is the atonement of Jesus Christ at Calvary in Jerusalem in the 1st century. No other high priest ever atoned for sin. Why? Because all other high priests are sinners. Only Jesus was/is sinless. Hence, his expiation and propitiation satisfied God’s holy standard.

Why should Christians understand the Day of Atonement? Because it was ordained by God as a temporary practice. It never atoned for sins at all but it did point forward to how God as high priest would atone for the sins of his people.

Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the promised one, the final high priest, the Anointed One, was the final high priest whose sacrifice–once for all at Calvary–accomplished redemption for all who would ever believe upon him for salvation.

Where is it in the Bible? Two main places:

  1. Leviticus 23:26-32
  2. Leviticus 16:1-34

Significance of the Day of Atonement?

It pointed to Jesus Christ who was to come. The whole of the Bible makes this clear. Jesus, not any sinner who has to atone for his people’s sins, and even his own, over and over again, year after year, is the final high priest.

Hebrews 9 is explicit in its explanation:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification on the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV)

All three persons of the Trinity are referenced here: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And who gets sole credit for atoning for sin? Christ. Not any sinful human high priest. Christ alone.

In Romans 3 the Bible is again explicit regarding the atoning work of Christ alone:

God put forward as a propitiation by his [Christ’s] blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26, ESV)

It is remarkable when you consider that this was written by the Hebrew of Hebrews, Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus. He was a pride-filled legalist (Philippians 3:4), a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), a persecutor of Christians (Philippians 3:6; Acts 8). But God gripped him and gave him eyes to see the truth of the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-22).

Takeaway/Encouragement: So much in the observance of holy days can lead to pride if we misapply observances and their designed lessons. The Day of Atonement can lead to trusting in the works of men to atone for their own sins. They cannot. Only Christ can and did atone.

Temporary biblical rituals can lead to pride if we misapply ordained rituals by not understanding how the high priesthood pointed to Jesus, the final high priest, whose sacrifice was once for all at Calvary.

So much of the Bible can be misunderstood if we miss this fundamental: Scripture does have a hero, but it’s not us; it’s God:

in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, ESV)

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