Has Yom Kippur lost its true meaning?

The Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur. In Rabbinic literature it is just known as Yoma – the day, the most sacred day on the Jewish calendar. Biblical dating is the tenth day of the seventh month. It culminates in rabbinic tradition known as “the Days of Awe”. It begins with the sounding of the shofar, the wake-up call, then 10 days of repentance, introspection, seeking God, asking for forgiveness and then the Day of Atonement, when traditional Jews and even secular Jews will fast for more than 24 hours, will spend many hours in the synagogue in the evening of Yom Kippur and then during that day, asking for forgiveness, confessing sin. The scripture calls on the children of Israel as a whole to afflict themselves, to humble themselves, which has been understood almost universally through the centuries as meaning to fast. Then there is a turning from sin but the heart and soul of the biblical ceremony focuses on the high priest and different animals of sacrifice and in particular two goats. 

We read it in Leviticus 16:7-10 lay out these two goats. Then it says in Leviticus 16:15-16 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus shall he make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so shall he do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleanness.” There is one goat that is sacrificed and this goat is for atonement and cleansing, the cleansing of the Holy Place itself which is defiled, the tabernacle and the temple, because it’s in the midst of the people of Israel. It gets defiled, it gets uncleaned. It would be just like if you’re in the midst of a group of smokers, you don’t smoke yourself but when you leave, you smell like smoke, you smell like cigarettes because you’re around it. The concept is that Israel’s sin would then pollute the Holy Place, which needed to be cleansed because of Israel’s sin. One goat for atonement, for cleansing of sin and then the other goat which is sent into the wilderness.  

Leviticus 16:20-22 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” This is a picture of substitution. it’s a picture that we see throughout the scriptures, substitutionary atonement – the innocent taking the place of the guilty. With some of the animal sacrifices, the worshiper himself would lay his hand on the animal, confess his sins over the animal and then that animal would be killed. What a clear picture of one life being substituted for another. That’s what happens on atonement. They have atonement – one goat dying – and the other goat carrying the sins, iniquities, transgressions of the children of Israel into the wilderness. It ended up being called the scapegoat because it was the goat that escaped into the wilderness. 

With the destruction of the temple which God tells us explicitly in 2 Corinthians 7 would be because of Israel’s transgressions and the destruction of the temple would be God’s rejection of his people. It would be a judgment on that whole system. The second temple has been destroyed since 70 AD, almost 2000 years ago. Traditional Jews think about it and mourn over it every single day. Traditional Jews from as long as 2000 years ago have not been able to carry out the command of the Day of Atonement, which means either there is no national atonement for Israel or God has brought about a better way and declared judgment on our sin and our guilt and yet displayed his mercy. That’s what we need to see. Our repentance is important but without a substitute carrying our sins away, without a substitute cleansing us, without a substitute taking our place, there is no atonement according to the Hebrew Scriptures. You can read them from beginning to end and you’ll see that God never instituted anything to take the place of the sacrifices and the goats on the Day of Atonement but he did provide us with a better way. He did provide us with the fulfillment, that which the goats, that which the day of atonement was pointing to, that which the sacrificial system was pointing to, namely that the Messiah would come, the perfectly righteous one, and he would be, as it says in Isaiah 53, an “asam” (Hebrew for “guilt offering”) to take our sins. He would be our substitute, the perfectly righteous one whose merit was enough to pay for the sins of the whole world. He would take our place dying on the cross and thereby carrying away our sins and fulfilling the images of both of these goats.

Matthew 26:28 As Jesus is having the last supper with his disciples, he says as they’re drinking the wine “for this is my blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” He was saying that his blood provided the atonement. The animal sacrifice has had their place but they were only pointing to something much more important and lasting. Ephesians 1:7 says “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” I mean a forgiveness that takes away the guilt. I mean the forgiveness that comes with absolute assurance that you are in a right relationship with God and that if you were to die at this moment your slate would be absolutely clean. I’m talking about a forgiveness that comes with a love for holiness and a love for purity because having been forgiven much, you love much.

The Talmud actually points to something that could confirm what I’m saying. You say “The Talmud is rabbinic tradition. The rabbi’s didn’t believe in Jesus being the Messiah.” I understand that. I’m not pretending they did but we learned this from the Talmud that there were various traditions that arose around the Day of Atonement, for example the priests would cast lots. We know this from Leviticus 16 that he would cast lots for the goats and if the the goat for the Lord (the sacrificial goat) came up in the right hand, that was a good sign but if instead the goat that would be cast off into the wilderness came up in his right hand, that was a bad sign. Then the temple oil stand, oil lamps would be lit from the westernmost across to the others and according to tradition, if God accepted the the sacrifices on the day of atonement, if he was pleased with the repentance of the people and he accepted the intercession of the high priest, then the oil lamp that was lit first would be the last one to go out, the opposite of what should have happened. That goat that was sent out into the wilderness, a scarlet thread would be tied to its horns. Ultimately they just threw the goat off a cliff and then there would be a scarlet thread that would be tied around the doors of the temple. And if the sacrifices were accepted, the scarlet thread returned white as in Isaiah 1:18 “though your sins be as scarlet, I’ll make them as white as snow.” And the Talmud says that there was a godly high priest Shimon Hatzadik (Shimon the righteous) and for all the forty years of his high priesthood, every single year, all of the atonement signs came up positive and that meant that the sacrifices were accepted and God forgave the people. Then after his priesthood (he was a couple hundred years before the time of Yeshua), some years it would be positive, some negative and everyone would be ashamed and grieved. But then it says this from the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39b: 40 years before the temple was destroyed, the lot never came into the right hand (meaning the lot for the goat for the Lord never came up in the right hand), the red wool did not become white, the Western light did not burn, and the gates of the temple opened of themselves, till the time that R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them saying “Temple, temple why do you alarm us? We know that you are destined to be destroyed. For of you have prophesied Zechariah ben Iddo (Zechariah 11:1) ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon and the fire shall eat your cedars.’” Isn’t this fascinating? Yeshua dies in 30 AD, the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The Talmud says the last 40 years before the destruction of the temple, the sacrifices on the day of atonement were not accepted and the New Testament records that the veil that was separated from the holiest place was torn in two from the top down when the Messiah died on the cross for us. God was showing that a new and better way was opened up. Could that be reflected in the temple doors opening themselves? What do we make of this? Those who recorded this did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah but to me this is a confirmation that once he died on the cross, God was saying “No more of these sacrifices and offerings because I have provided the one who fulfills the purpose of the sacrifices and offerings.” The end of the old is here, the beginning of the new is here. My Jewish friends, either you have no atonement because the essential elements of the atonement are not available to you and have been since the year 70 AD or God has provided a better way through the Messiah, the righteous one who took our place. When you turn to Him with repentance and faith, God will forgive you and give you a brand new heart and the beginning of an amazing new life.