The relevance of the day of Atonement for new covenant believers is covered in the book of Hebrews.
The New Covenant Day of Atonement
The relevance of the day of Atonement for new covenant believers is covered in the book of Hebrews. It directly addresses two of the four main themes of the day:
- The priest’s ritual of cleansing and purification. A symbol of moral and salvation implications . This is covered thoroughly in Hebrews
- The priest’s entrance into the holy of holies within the tabernacle. A symbol of status and the change from the old to the new covenant. Also covered in Hebrews.
- The removal of the azazel goat into the wilderness. This is not directly addressed in Hebrews, but I will touch on it briefly
- Fasting for all the community. Also not directly addressed in Hebrews, but I will touch on it briefly as well.
The Tabernacle Layout
Chapters 7 and 8 cover the transition of the office of high priest to the resurrected Christ. Then we are given a reminder of the layout of the tabernacle/temple.
Hebrews 9:1-5 the tent of meeting was divided into two sections by a large heavy curtain. On one side of the curtain there were various pieces of temple furniture [lamp stand, tables etc.] and the priest would appear there daily to tend to a variety of duties.
One the other side of the curtain was a place called the "most holy", the “holy of holies" etc. In this section of the tent of meeting was the ark and the altar of incense. The glory of God would appear above the ark also know as the mercy seat... a symbol of the throne of God in the third heaven. The priest NEVER entered this section of the tabernacle at any time... on penalty of death... the only exception was the day of Atonement.
Sins of Ignorance
Hebrews 9:6-7 the details of what the priest did when he entered the "holy of holies" on the day of Atonement can be read in Leviticus chpt 16. Key features:
The priest would bathe himself and sacrifice a single bull as a purification offering for himself before entering he holy place. He would also bring two goats to use for purification and one ram to use as a burnt offering following the offerings of purification.
One goat would be selected [by lot] as a sacrifice for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The blood of the first goat would be used to purify and cleanse the tabernacle contaminated by the sins of the people all around it.
The other goat would have the community’s sins of ignorance... symbolically placed upon it’s head. Then it was taken out and left in the wilderness far away.
To be ignorant means “not knowing any better”. The people of Israel had God’s word but they still fell victims of deception.
In our day the way of God has been made known in this world. But, much ignorance and deception is at work... there is a lot of evil and wickedness in our world because people grow up in a world of lies.
The new covenant writings are quite clear that Satan is the source of deception. He is the father of lies about who God is, and what He's up to. Lies told frequently enough sink in leading to ignorance of God's truth and way of living.
Like the second goat that must be cast out... Satan must be confronted and overcome. This is a present reality for believers …. and prophetically at the end of the present age, Satan will be cast into the bottomless pit and sealed over.
The second goat of the Atonement ceremony pictures that event. Not only must sins committed in ignorance be covered with the blood... so to must the source of that ignorance be banished.
Note: this is one of the reasons fasting is part of the observance of the day of Atonement. As Jesus said in Mark 9:29 especially stubborn demons can only be driven out with the inclusion of fasting.
The Day of Atonement Has Meaning For Our Time
Hebrew 9:8-10 one of the features of the day of atonement is: our present separation from God. ... lost at Eden... cast out from His presence… the way back guarded by angels with flaming swords... as pictured on the veil used in the temple.
The day of Atonement was a symbolic picture of the coming restoration of our direct relationship with God... but it was only a symbol. The reality of re-establishing that direct relationship would only come to pass through Jesus Christ.
The offerings of Leviticus 16 are no longer a part of our observance of the day of Atonement. Under the new covenant they have been replaced by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ… who is also now acts as the high priest. The symbols and outward observance didn't have the power to transform people from within... they could not cleanse our conscience. But Christ can.
The New Order
Hebrews 8:10-12 the new covenant is concerned with the actual inward transformation which outward works and symbols could only point to.
Hebrews 9:11-12 Jesus didn't ever enter the “holy of holies” in the Herodian temple standing in 31 A.D. He entered a greater and more perfect tabernacle. The meaning of what is that more perfect tabernacle is can be taken in several directions. Let’s consider these two:
- It is the actual throne room of God in the third heaven
- It is the body mind and soul of every believer [your bodies are temples of the holy spirit]
We are told about two characteristics of this more perfect temple 1) it is not of this creation... meaning it is spiritual not stones, metal, and wood. 2) the sacrifice made within it is not with sacrificial animals but Christ's own blood.
The Body, Mind and Spirit of Believers
Hebrews 9:13-14 under the old system the blood and water of purification was smeared and sprinkled on the altar, on the veil, and on the mercy seat itself. The purpose was to cleanse and purify them because of sins committed in ignorance [sins of the priest and the commoner alike].
Under the new system the blood of Christ is applied to cleanse the conscience... the minds and hearts of believers... the innermost parts of the fleshly tabernacle... which is the believer.
You are cleansed through the forgiveness that is Christ’s blood. But the cleansing of your conscience is also your personal cleansing from deception and the sins of ignorance that deception leads to. You have been washed & purified:
- Through baptism & forgiveness of sin Acts 22:16, 1 Cor 6:11
- Through enlightenment of God's word Ephesians 5:26
- Through moral improvement and overcoming James 4:8, 2 Corinthians 7:1
Through the power of His spirit and the power of His word in you... sin through ignorance can be a thing of the past... You have his word made more sure through the holy spirit… you are no longer ignorant of sin... but now that means you must work to overcome sin.
In the prophetic scheme Satan will not be bound and cast away until the appointed time of Christ's return. For most of the planet deception will continue. But for the believer the removal of deception is happening now. You can have your conscience [your mind] cleansed by Christ's blood... and by placing yourself under His power and authority Satan can be confronted and cast out of your life even now.
The Throne of God
Hebrews 9:23-26 under the old covenant the High priest cleansed and purified using animal blood. He did this within a facsimile of God's own throne room in the 3rd heaven. Once each year he would enter the most holy place on behalf of the people. That was the day of Atonement.
Now the reality all those ceremonies foretold has come.
The high priest of the new covenant [Christ] has entered the actual throne room of God... not a facsimile made of metal, cloth and wood. He has appeared before the throne of God on your behalf. He has made atonement for sins committed in ignorance and provided blood with the power to cleanse.
Hebrews 9:27-28 Christ will return to bring the fullness of eternal life to those He set free from deception…who persevered and overcame. Then the fullness of the restraining and casting out deception will come to pass for all people. Satan will be bound completely and all humanity will live in a world free of ignorance and deception... for the first time Revelation 20:2-3.
An Annual Reminder
Hebrews 10:1-4 the annual Atonement observance using the old testament symbols of sacrifice and cleansing never did and never really would truly cleanse the worshipper in the way they needed. What they really needed was a transformation to take place in their heart and mind. If it had been effective it only would have needed to happen once.
But God had them do it over and over again each year... why?
The sacrifice of the animals was not causing any real change within them... but the annual reminder was a VERY REAL teaching tool... and it would have a moral impact on them... if they let it.
Under the new covenant we too need an ongoing reminder of our need for cleansing from sins committed in ignorance. Those constant reminders come to us through God's annual holy days.
1 John 1:7-2:2 Christ is still there in the throne room of God pleading your case... because the sad truth is... sin still remains. Purification and renewal are still part of a believer’s life.
We still need the annual reminder the day of Atonement provides: our need for purification and casting deception out of our lives!
Repetition: A Great Form of Emphasis
Hebrews 10:5-13 Christ's sacrifice take the place of symbolic animal sacrifice.
Hebrews 10:14-18 the sacrifice of cleansing is about the cleansing of your conscience... your heart and mind.
No More Separation From God
Hebrews 10:19-20 entrance to the holy of holies is no longer restricted a high priest. Through Jesus' sacrifice of His life and blood the veil that separates us from our God no longer stands in our way Matthew 27:51.
1 Corinthians 3:12-18 a veil is also a symbol of the ignorance that brings about so much sin and suffering… and which leads to separation from God.
Hebrews 4:16 you can now come boldly before the throne of God yourself… in prayer & bible reading.
Hebrews 10:21-25 continue to gather together for this annual reminder about our need for cleansing from sins committed in ignorance and the removal of the source of deception.
The new covenant significance of the day of Atonement remains for the people of God. Therefore we will continue to observe it.