What Does the Day of Atonement Have to Do With Jesus Christ?

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What Does the Day of Atonement Have to Do With Jesus Christ?

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One of the more mysterious chapters in the Old Testament is Leviticus 16, concerning the 10th day of the Hebrew seventh month, the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 23:26-32 Leviticus 23:26-32 26 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. 28 And you shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. 29 For whatever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. 30 And whatever soul it be that does any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath.
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). Chapter 16 discusses a series of animal offerings for this occasion, including that of two goats with roles determined by lot, and Israel’s high priest entering the Holy of Holies of the physical tabernacle. It also commands a fast on this day.

Ultimately, Leviticus 16 points to the dual roles that God our Father gave to Jesus Christ to become both our High Priest and ultimate sacrifice for our sins, as well as pointing to the complete removal of the source of sin.

A sinless High Priest

We read in Leviticus 16:4 Leviticus 16:4He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches on his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen turban shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.
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that ancient Israel’s high priest was to bathe himself on this occasion, then put on his priestly attire. In Leviticus 16:5-6 Leviticus 16:5-6 5 And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. 6 And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.
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we read that he was to offer a bull as a sin offering for himself and his own family. This is significant in that it shows that no human being is without sin, not even the earthly high priest (see Hebrews 5:1-3 Hebrews 5:1-3 1 For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: 2 Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. 3 And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
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). As a man, he too needed forgiveness; he needed to be washed clean so that he could perform his priestly duties.

But Jesus Christ, our true High Priest sent from God, never needed forgiveness (Hebrews 3:1 Hebrews 3:1Why, holy brothers, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
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; Hebrews 7:26-28 Hebrews 7:26-28 26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27 Who needs not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. 28 For the law makes men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, makes the Son, who is consecrated for ever more.
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). He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 Hebrews 4:15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
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). Satan could never plant any of his evil nature in Him (John 14:30 John 14:30Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world comes, and has nothing in me.
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).

Israel’s high priest was to wear “the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers,” and “be girded with the linen sash” (Leviticus 16:4 Leviticus 16:4He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches on his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen turban shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.
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). This is similar to the clothing Christ wore when He appeared to the apostle John in a vision. Jesus was seen standing “in the midst of the seven lampstands … clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band” (Revelation 1:13 Revelation 1:13And in the middle of the seven candlesticks one like to the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle.
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). Some commentators note that the word translated “garment” here denotes priestly attire.

Two goats—one for the Lord, one for another

Next, the high priest was to deal with the two goats. One would represent the Lord and the other, often called the “scapegoat,” would represent something else. He cast lots to determine which each would represent (Leviticus 16:8 Leviticus 16:8And Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
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).

Note Leviticus 16:9 Leviticus 16:9And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
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: “And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering.” This goat, which represented the Lord, was sacrificed as a sin offering. It clearly stood for Jesus Christ, the ultimate sin offering who was slain for the sins of the whole world.

Since two goats were involved, many think both goats were to represent the Lord. But notice the contrast here in Leviticus 16:8 Leviticus 16:8And Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
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: “One lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat”—or for Azazel, some Bible versions leaving the Hebrew word here untranslated. Clearly, only one goat was to represent the Lord. The other goat was not.

Note Leviticus 16:10 Leviticus 16:10But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
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: “But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat [or Azazel ] shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.”

So this goat was not to be killed as the goat for the Lord was. The high priest was to “lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21-22 Leviticus 16:21-22 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: 22 And the goat shall bear on him all their iniquities to a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
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, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).

This sending away into the desert is part of the reason for translating Azazel as scapegoat, or goat that escapes. But many scholars identify Azazel as the name of a demon inhabiting the wilderness.

It stands to reason that Azazel is one in stark contrast to the Lord—indeed, the ultimate enemy Satan the devil.

Christ bore our sins to the cross in order to pay the ransom price for them through His own blood (and the resurrected Christ was portrayed by the high priest presenting the slain goat’s blood before God). In contrast, Satan bears the blame for sin as he was the first to lead mankind astray in the Garden of Eden and continues to deceive humanity today (2 Corinthians 11:3 2 Corinthians 11:3But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
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). And he is the tempter (Matthew 4:3 Matthew 4:3And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
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)—enticing the world into sin.

The high priest placing sins on the live goat and having it driven away parallels the future of Satan and his demons at Christ’s return. They will be removed at the outset of Jesus’ reign over the nations, as John describes in Revelation 20:1-3 Revelation 20:1-3 1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
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:

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished …”

Jesus died for our sins. But Satan will bear blame for his role in our sins and be banished. And with the instigator of sin removed, the world will more easily be led to atonement—“at-one-ment,” meaning to be at one—with God.

Consider that if the live goat represented the resurrected Christ, then this would mean the sins Christ bore on the cross are placed back onto Him after His resurrection. Clearly this is not what happened.

And there is another distinction scholars have noted. We see that the Azazel goat was to be driven from the camp of Israel. In other words, this goat was not to dwell with humanity again. This banishment fits with Satan’s future. Yet it is the exact opposite of the role of Jesus Christ, who has promised to be with His people forever. “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
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).

Jesus as High Priest and perfect sacrifice for all mankind

In Leviticus 16:17 Leviticus 16:17And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goes in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
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we read of Israel’s high priest: “There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place.” The high priest did this atonement work alone. Christ, too, did His work alone. Earlier, His disciples “all forsook Him and fled,” Mark 14:50 Mark 14:50And they all forsook him, and fled.
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. Indeed, He felt so totally alone that he cried out to His Father: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46 Matthew 27:46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
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). At that point, Jesus alone bore the sins of all humanity.

And in His awesome sacrifice Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system God gave to Israel (see Hebrews 9:13-14 Hebrews 9:13-14 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
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). The animal sacrifices on Atonement and those at other times ultimately pointed to the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10:4 Hebrews 10:4For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
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states: “Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” And in Hebrews 10:8-10 Hebrews 10:8-10 8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin you would not, neither had pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; 9 Then said he, See, I come to do your will, O God. He takes away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
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we read: “First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (NIV, 1984).

These verses plainly state that the sacrificial system is not necessary today—that we have the one sacrifice for us we need, that of Jesus Christ. Indeed, to His Father He “appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26 Hebrews 9:26For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
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). This one-time sacrifice of our great High Priest once and for all is more than sufficient to pay for the sins of all of humanity.

Today, however, Jesus’ sacrifice and priestly work is properly accepted with repentance by only a few. But after He returns, all mankind will come to truly understand what He has done for us.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus’ sacrifice is portrayed vividly in the spring feast of Passover, the day on which He actually died, as well as in this fall Holy Day of Atonement. Our free study guide God’s Holy Day Plan points out: “The Day of Atonement and Passover both teach us about the forgiveness of sin and our reconciliation with God through Christ’s sacrifice. However, Passover concerns the redemption of the firstborn and thus applies most directly to Christians whom God has called in this age, while Atonement carries universal implications.”

Christ’s sacrifice and intercessory work as our High Priest allows us to come before God’s throne continually (see Hebrews 4:14-16 Hebrews 4:14-16 14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
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)—to enter the Holy of Holies in a spiritual sense—and cast Satan out of our lives now. But this will not be experienced by all Israel and the world at large until widespread repentance following Christ’s second coming and the full banishment of Satan from the world scene (as pictured in the fall feasts).

An observance to keep today—with fasting

In Leviticus 23:27 Leviticus 23:27Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.
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God commanded ancient Israel: “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month [i.e., Atonement], you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all” (see also Leviticus 23:31 Leviticus 23:31You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
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; Leviticus 23:26-32 Leviticus 23:26-32 26 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. 28 And you shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. 29 For whatever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. 30 And whatever soul it be that does any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath.
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). This meant they were to fast—to go without food and water—for a period of 24 hours.

Psalms 35:13 Psalms 35:13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into my own bosom.
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says that King David humbled himself with fasting. The word “humbled” is anah in the Hebrew, which is the same word we find in Leviticus 23:27 Leviticus 23:27Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.
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, translated as afflict. Thus, to afflict one’s soul or being refers to the humbling process we go through when we fast. This day of fasting is for the purpose of humbling ourselves before God in a repentant and obedient frame of mind—to practice self-control with God’s help as we seek Him.

This time of fasting is not for the purpose of appearing to other people to be righteous (Matthew 6:16 Matthew 6:16Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to fast. Truly I say to you, They have their reward.
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). Fasting as a display to others is hypocritical and vain. Scripture tells us that we are to fast only for the glory of God (Zechariah 7:5 Zechariah 7:5Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did you at all fast to me, even to me?
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).

Fasting typifies the kind of humble, repentant and obedient attitude we as Christians must have. Christ promised that in the ages following His first coming, His disciples would fast on occasion (Matthew 9:15 Matthew 9:15And Jesus said to them, Can the children of the bridal chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
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).

In fact the Day of Atonement is still mentioned long after Christ’s death and resurrection as “the Fast” in Acts 27:9 Acts 27:9Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
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. Paul and his gentile companion Luke were still observing this Holy Day by fasting. Many biblical commentaries acknowledge that verse is indeed referring to the Day of Atonement. Certainly, if Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, observed this day, then Christians today should follow his example (1 Corinthians 11:1 1 Corinthians 11:1Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
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) and observe this day as well.

Leviticus 16 is a remarkable chapter in portraying two of the major roles of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament high priest typified the role of Christ as our ultimate High Priest. And the goat which was slaughtered was a type of the one great sacrifice our loving Father gave for the entire world, so that, in the words of John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

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