Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is observed on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei and comes at the close of ten days of repentance.
The name Yom Kippur has appeared in medieval rabbinic literature. In the Torah this holiday is called Yom-ha-Kippurim (the Day of the covering or concealing of sins). The word “kippur” comes from two Hebrew words, “kofer” (ransom) and “kapore” (cover or concealing).
“The Lord said to Moses, “the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord. Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:26-28).
This entire day, from evening until the following evening, is dedicated to repentance, prayer and reading the Scriptures. On this holiday, it is prescribed that one is humble, refrains from any kind of activity with the exception of attending prayer services, and completes fasting within 25 hours as a sign of repentance before the Almighty Judge. Jewish people believe that on Yom Kippur their sins certainly will be forgiven. But, nobody expects that this forgiveness will be granted to them because of their righteousness or due to their own merits. Everybody is waiting for the manifestation of mercy of the Most High, “Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a day of Sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:29-32). Therefore, Yom Kippur is also called Shabbat Shabbaton, a Sabbath of Sabbaths.
It is thought that on Yom Kippur sins against God are forgiven. But Yom Kippur itself doesn’t redeem sins against human beings unless one makes peace with everyone whom he offended. Therefore, Jewish tradition advises to start the process of repentance long before the holiday. If you have committed an offense against a person, you must sincerely ask him for forgiveness. The sufferer should also be merciful if the remorse is sincere. A person shouldn’t only ask for forgiveness, but also as far as it is possible, he should compensate for all damage caused, both material and nonmaterial in nature.
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem in all its grandeur and beauty on Mount Moriah, all the solemnity of this day was focused in the Temple through festive worship and sacrifices.
After the deaths of Nadab and Abihu who tried to bring unauthorized fire into the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 10:1-2), God gave certain commands. They describe in detail the conditions under which the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur to fulfill the commandment of bringing incense before the Ark of the Covenant. Everybody who violated this law, whether he was high priest or simple cohen (priest), was severely punished by God.
Preparations began seven days before the Day of Atonement. During this time, the high priest didn’t go outside of the Temple courtyards. Tradition says that the night before Yom Kippur, the High Priest didn’t sleep and wise men read the books of Scripture to him.
The first action that the high priest performed at the beginning of Temple service on Yom Kippur was purification from his own sins. The requirement of Yom Kippur was purification of the high priest’s and priest’s households (families) by bringing a sacrifice. When the High Priest laid his hands on the head of the sacrificial animal, he confessed his sins and asked for forgiveness on behalf of all the cohens’ family.
The high priest sacrificed a young calf for his sins and for the sins of the priests. And for the sins of all people, one of the goats, “He is to cast lots for the two goats – one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat” (Leviticus 16:8).
The priest sacrificed the goat to which came the lot for the Lord. The priest would then sprinkle the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies with its blood.
The high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies dressed in white as opposed to one of his four special garments (blue robe, a golden plate, breastplate of precious stones and the ephod). These garments which were given to him for the glory and greatness had to be left outside. The high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies in a state that didn’t involve even a hint of pride or sense of grandeur in the presence of the Lord.
“He is to put on the sacred linen tunic with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments, so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on” (Leviticus 16:4). White linen dress is a sign of purity and holiness which has special meaning throughout the Scriptures, “Then one of the elders asked me: These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from? I answered: Sir, you know. And he said: These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Revelation 7: 13-15).
Each time the high priest entered behind the curtain in the Temple by which the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies were separated and where the Ark of the Covenant stood (the place of God's presence), he did not know his fate. It could be that God would not accept the sacrifice of Yom Kippur due to the lack of sanctity of the high priest or due to the disobedience of the people. Therefore, on this day a huge crowd gathered in the Temple and waited for the end of the service. When the high priest appeared alive on the temple porch, it was a sign of acceptance of the offering. If the offering would not have been accepted, the high priest might die and would have to be pulled out by the rope tied to his leg because no one else had the right to enter the Holy of Holies.
The other goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat symbolized the devil himself who is the cause and the source of sin. This is confirmed by further instruction, “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is 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 16:20-22).
The goat with the sins of all the people was sent to a “remote place” which literally means “a land of decision”, “a land of judicial verdict” or “a land of destruction”. According to legend, the goat was hurled down from a cliff and crashed on the rocks.
Hurling down from the heaven is a punishment that, according to the Scripture, will be done to Satan, “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down” (Revelation 12:9-10).
It is written that Satan (the devil) will not only be hurled down from heaven, but will be cast into the abyss, “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time” (Revelation 20:1-3).
And finally, it is said that the evil spirit that deceived all the nations at the end of times, will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). In all these cases in relation to Satan were used words “to throw”, “throwing”, “hurl down”.
Thus, sending the goat to the wilderness and throwing it off a cliff symbolizes overthrowing the power of Satan, the cleansing of all sins and annulment of all the consequences of human’s transgressions as a result of their full repentance, as well as the aspiration to get closer to God.
The Talmud tells us that in the period of the First Temple when the Ark of the Covenant stood in the Holy of Holies, God's presence was so tangible that it was expressed through constant miracles which took place in the Temple. One of those miracles is connected with the goat that was sent into the desert. A strip of scarlet-dyed wool was tied to the horns of the goat and when the animal was taken out of the gates of the Temple courtyard, one of the cohens tore the strip of wool in half; one half he hung over the gate and the other half was tied again to the horns of the goat. If the repentance of the people was sincere and upright, at the very moment the goat was thrown off a cliff, the strip of red wool that hung over the gate would turn white in accordance with Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”.
Additional evidence of God’s acceptance of the offering was the changing of colors of shimmering curtain (paroches). The curtain was palm-size in width and it was weaved of colored threads. It separated the Holy from the Holy of Holies.
Talmud, Josephus Flavius and Philo of Alexandria testify that when Yeshua lived on the earth unusual things happened. One year when the offering was taken, a strip of red wool turned white and another year when the offering wasn’t taken, a strip of red wool remained red. It started to happen when Yeshua was born. And in 30 AD when He was crucified, died and rose again, the strip and the curtain of the Temple stopped changing in color for forty years up to the day of destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. These claims were made not by Christian or Messianic sources, but by Jewish Orthodox sources which never accepted Yeshua. It’s a miracle that these facts have reached us and they weren’t destroyed by rabbis who were standing against Yeshua the Messiah. For forty years up to the day of destruction of the Temple, God was showing everyone that He would no longer accept the Temple sacrifice. It’s sad that the majority of Jewish people didn’t understand the main reason for this; that is, the perfect sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah was already brought for all ages!
Matthew 27:51 also tells us that at the moment Yeshua died, the curtain of the Temple was torn apart from top to bottom. In that, Almighty God Himself was showing us that He opened free access to Him in heaven.
The book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur in synagogues. This book reveals the essence of ??the Day of Atonement; forgiveness of those who have repented and return to the right path. In terms of the pagan city of Nineveh mentioned in this book, it becomes clear that God forgives if He sees repentance from a sincere heart. Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh that the town would be destroyed because of their wickedness. And all the citizens of the town, from king to slave, heeded the voice of the prophet and repented; and by doing so, they saved themselves from the wrath of God.
The first Messianic communities continued to celebrate this holiday together with the Jewish people. Acts 27:9 describes autumnal fasting and this festival as tradition. Believers knew that when the fast started, the weather and wind direction changed. Because the fast is mentioned matter-of-factly, it tells us that the celebration of Yom Kippur was the traditional annual celebration. But, it was celebrated in a completely new way in which Yeshua became the sacrifice for sin and subsequently Yeshua became both the “scapegoat” and our High Priest.
On the feast of Yom Kippur, 25 hours of full abstinence from food and drink was compulsory whereas all the others fasts on the calendar for the Jewish people were optional. Gentiles who heard the word “fasting”, knew that it referred to the fasting that happened in the 7th month, as all devout Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and other nations celebrated this holiday together with the Jews and Messianic Jews.
In the New Testament, in the Epistle to Hebrews (in the 9th and 10th chapters) it is written whom Yeshua has become for us, “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11-14).
Yeshua has become the sacrifice and scapegoat on whom God laid the sins of the whole of Israel, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. (Isaiah 53: 6).
Yeshua has become our High Priest; our heavenly intercessor before the Father. Yeshua appeared alive to His disciples, thus letting them know that His sacrifice is accepted by God. He is a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek, the King of truth, of righteousness, of peace (Psalm 110:4; Hebrew 7:11-22). Our High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and opened it for all God's children. Every day we can celebrate the Day of Atonement wherein we can enter into this grace which destroys all the devil's shackles and worldly fetters.
Yeshua as the sacrifice has the power not only to cover our sins, but also to change our sinful nature into the righteous one, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). Therefore, for the children of God, Yom Kippur is a holiday of liberation and sanctification! And our liberation is for joy in presence of God and in serving Him!