In this week’s lesson, we are going to be taking a look at the day of atonement – also known as Yom Kippur. Now, some of you will be very familiar with this lesson as I have taught about the day of atonement on a few occasions, but for those of you who have not heard me teach about the day of atonement, you are in for a wonderful lesson. Atonement Day was (and still is for the Jews) considered to be the holiest day of the year for the Israelites as there’s much fasting and the seeking of atonement for one’s sin. We are going to be looking at the origination of this day in our lesson this week. This week’s lesson is being taught from Leviticus 16:1-16.
Instruction for the Day of Atonement
Our lesson opens up with the Lord giving command to Moses for Aaron in regards to offering up the atonement offering on this very unique day. Let us take note that scripture tells us that God spoke these words to Moses following the death of Nadab and Abihu – two of Aaron’s sons (v. 1). We saw their deaths in our lesson last week as they both offered profane fire before the Lord.
Now, what is very interesting about the Lord’s command to Aaron is that it can actually add to the possibilities of what Nadab and Abihu did that caused their offering to be profane. The Lord commanded Aaron not to enter into the Holy Place inside the veil at any time (v. 2). The reason being is that God would appear as a cloud above the mercy seat and Aaron would die.
So, it is possible that we could add that not only had Nadab and Abihu been intoxicated when they entered into the tabernacle to present their offering before the Lord, but it is also possible they tried to go beyond the veil that separated the holy place and the Most Holy Place. If that is indeed the case, just as He said to Aaron, they died.
The only person that could go beyond the veil was the high priest, at that time Aaron. You will see in scripture outside of our lesson that he could only enter into the Most Holy Place on the day of atonement (Lev. 16:29-34). (Since our lesson stops halfway through this chapter of Leviticus, I would recommend you read the whole chapter so that you can get all of the context for the day of atonement.)
Procedure for Aaron
The procedure for Aaron would begin with him entering the Holy Place on the proper day and time. Scripture tells us the day to be the tenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 16:29). (The seventh month in Hebrew is Tishri – in our calendar this runs from September to October. This year, Tishri began September 6.)
On this day, Aaron was to enter into the Holy Place, which was behind the veil. He was to enter with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and the blood of a ram as a burnt offering (v. 3). We will see that he was also to wear holy garments – these don’t appear to be the same as the ones he received at ordination. I say this because Aaron would always wear those garments but the garments mentioned in this passage of scripture appear to be special for the occasion of the day of atonement.
Before Aaron could even put the holy garments on, we are told that he had to wash his body with water (v. 4). So, Aaron was to consecrate himself – make himself right and holy as he was going to be entering into the Holy Place. (We saw the significance of doing this in the ordination of Aaron and his sons.)
The next verse of our lesson will indicate to us that the children of Israel were to give to Aaron two kids of the goats as a sin offering and a ram for as a burnt offering (v. 5). This indicates, and we will see for a certainty in the next few verses, that there is going to be an offering on behalf of Aaron himself and then an offering on behalf of the children of Israel. We know this because the Lord commanded Aaron to gather specific things for himself in the opening of our lesson, and then we see the children of Israel were to present their own offering which would be on behalf of the nation.
Atonement offerings for him and the people
Aaron was to offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and for his house to make atonement. As we saw at his ordination, even though he was the high priest, he and his house needed atonement for their sins (v. 6, 11). Aaron needed to be holy in the performance of this service to the Lord on behalf of the people. So, we have seen that Aaron needed to wash himself, wholly, and we see that he had to offer up an offering to atone for his sins.
I want to share with you that all people are in need of atonement for their sins, especially those who are spiritual leaders. We as spiritual leaders must recognize that we are not above needing to atone for our sins. Yes, we all sin, including we who are spiritual leaders – no man or woman is perfect. Never think for one second that you are above needing to atone for your sins. You can learn a lot about a person’s faith if they ever say they don’t feel they need to pray or ask the Lord for forgiveness of their sins.
Now, Aaron was then to take the two goats which the children of Israel would bring to him, and present them before the door of the tabernacle (v. 7). This was to be a public ceremony, just like the ordination of Aaron and his sons. He would then cast lots to determine which goat would be for the Lord and which would be for the scapegoat (v. 8). The goat for the Lord would be offered up as a sin offering (v. 9). The scapegoat would serve in the role of having all the sins of the children of Israel placed on it and then it would be let go into the wilderness (vss. 10, 21-22).
Seeing Christ in this ceremony
The two goats that the people presented to Aaron are very interesting and actually have a very important connection to us today. The goat for the Lord was killed and offered up as a sin offering, but let’s notice that it was not enough to atone for the sins of the people. Another goat was used as the scapegoat to have all the sins of the people placed on it. Sending it away from the people and out into the wilderness was meant to take away all the sins for the people.
Our connection to these goats and the day of atonement itself is through Christ. The writer of Hebrews summed up Christ as the connection to the day of atonement best. The writer wrote about how Christ, as our High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place once to offer up His own blood to atone for the sins of all people – those living then, those living now, and those who will live tomorrow. Christ only had to enter the Most Holy Place once to atone for the sins of man whereas the priest would have to do this yearly. This shows us the greatness of Christ (Heb. 9).
I should also point out that where Aaron had to wash himself and offer up an offering to atone for his sins, Christ did not have to do any of that. Christ was perfect; He knew no sin. So, Christ was an innocent and holy sacrifice – this is why His offering was more than enough to atone for all of the sins of mankind.
Atonement offering for the tabernacle
We will then see that the next part of the ceremony moves to the cleansing of the tabernacle. Aaron would proceed to burn incense in the Most Holy Place which would cause a cloud from the burning incense to cover up the mercy that was on the Testimony (the ark) (vss. 12-13). The cloud would act as a shield of protection for Aaron from the presence of the Lord.
Aaron would then take the blood of the bull, which was the offering for himself, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. Scripture shows us that there were specific directions for the sprinkling of the blood (v. 14). Likewise, he would then take the blood of the goats which the people presented to him, and he would sprinkle the blood of the goats on the mercy seat as well (v. 15).
Why did the mercy seat have to be sprinkled with blood? We are told in the next verse that Aaron would need to make atonement for the Holy Place because of the “uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins. We will also see that Aaron would need to do the same for the courtyard as well because it was in the midst of the uncleanness of the children of Israel.
This speaks to the corruption of the sin of man and how the world itself is even polluted and corrupted by our sin. Every time the children of Israel entered the courtyard of the tabernacle, their sins corrupted the courtyard. So, for one day a year – the day of atonement – this ceremony was done to clean the uncleanliness of the people, the tabernacle, and the Most Holy Place.
We don’t go around performing these kinds of ceremonies in our church today. Yes, Yom Kippur – the day of atonement – is still celebrated today by the Jews but it is not necessarily a practice that we participate in. The reason being that we have Christ, who again, died one time for the atonement of all people. After His sacrifice, the Lord spoke to Peter and told him that what was once considered unclean, the Lord had cleaned – in that example, the Lord used food to show this point.
So, because of Christ, everything in the world has been atoned from the corruption of mankind. Because of Christ, all of us have the opportunity to have faith in Him who has made atonement for all of our sins. Because of Christ, every last one of us has the opportunity at salvation over our sins. Christ is our atonement day, not just for one day of the year, but for everyday of our life.