Yom Kippur – The Foreshadowing of Christ

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series Pastoral Soteriology

(This is a continuation of the series entitled, “A Pastoral Soteriology.”  It assumes the reading of eariler posts.)

The culmination of the sacrificial system of atonement in the Old Testament Law was demonstrated and applied in the yearly observation of “Yom Kippur,” or, “The Day of Atonement.”  While the sacrificial system tirelessly went about its business of providing blood offerings – literally twenty four hours a day – this special holy day provided the principle application of the sin offering for the entire nation.  As such, Yom Kippur demonstrated more articulately the nature of Christ’s later work of redemption than perhaps any other requirement of the sacrificial system. 

Yom Kippur was the only day of the year in which the inner most room of the Temple, the  Holy of Holies (or “the Most Holy Place”), was entered.  It was in this inner room where the ark of the covenant resided.  God’s presence literally inhabited the area above the ark, and no one was permitted into the Most Holy Place except on Yom Kippur and in the precise manner which God had established.  If one should enter that place at a different time – or in an improper manner, they would literally be consumed by fire before the Lord.  Such is what happened to Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, when they decided to take a joy ride through the Holy of Holies in Leviticus 10.

Leviticus 10:1-3 (NIV)
1 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: “‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'” Aaron remained silent.

Thus, it must be understood that in the Most Holy Place existed God’s literal presence.  What happened in this place on Yom Kippur was nothing less than a direct encounter between the high priest and God himself.  It is this magnificent presentation of the blood sacrifices on Yom Kippur which the book of Hebrews notes Christ to have completed upon his own substitutionary death; through which he served as both priest and sacrifice.  (This will be developed in next week’s post)

The entering into the very presence of God’s Name in the Holy of Holies – to apply the annual sacrifices for sin – was an act for which numerous specific instructions were detailed in Leviticus 16; both to protect the life of the high priest and to make known the holiness of God.

Leviticus 16:3-5 (NIV)
3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 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. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

First it may be noted that only the high priest may enter this inner most room.  Verse 3 notes specifically how “Aaron” was to enter, as Aaron was the first high priest to perform these duties.  Entry into the Holy of Holies was for him alone, as he had very painfully learned by the folly of his two sons.  Even the high priest’s entry into the presence of God’s Name, however, was one of special stipulation.  His own sins must first be atoned for that he may survive being in God’s presence.  Verse 3 notes that he is to enter the sanctuary area “with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.” 

The sin offering of the young bull was to atone for Aaron’s sins.  Although he was high priest, he was yet a sinner and in need of cleansing himself before he could enter God’s presence.  Before Aaron ever enters the Most Holy Place, he will sacrifice this bull for his own sins and the sins of his family. 

Aaron also would present a ram as a burnt offering.  The burnt offering is not for the forgiveness of sins, but rather is an offering which Lev. 1:13 notes to be “an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” 

Proper clothing was also required.  Verse 4 notes a sacred linen tunic, linen undergarments, linen sash and turban.  With proper sacred garments came also a ceremonial bath (v4).

The last elements of preparation were two male goats and a ram for the people of Israel.  The goats would serve as a sin offering and scapegoat while the ram would serve as another burnt offering on behalf of the nation.

The purposes of each offering are noted in verses 6-10:

Leviticus 16:6-10 (NIV)
6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats–one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.

Of the two goats, one will be sacrificed while the other will serve as the scapegoat; a goat which will symbolically carry the sins of Israel away from the people.  The high priest was to cast lots to determine which goat was sacrificed and which was to be the scapegoat.

Finally, verses 11-28 reveal the process by which these sacrifices were to be made.

First, Aaron was to deal with his own sin- and the sin of his immediate family – by the presentation of the bull.

Leviticus 16:11-14 (NIV)
11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

After slaughtering the bull, but before entering the Holy of Holies, Aaron is to “take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord.”  With these coals he also takes “two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense.”  Before any further actions inside the inner most place occur, Aaron is to create a literal smokescreen to conceal himself from the Lord’s presence.  Under normal circumstance, no one was able to see God’s presence in the inner most room, as a huge curtain completely shielded the Holy of Holies from human eyes.  On this day, however, because he must work behind the curtain, another shield was required to hide his eyes from the Lord’s presence.  As God had explained to Moses, “no one may see me and live.” (Ex. 33:20)  Thus, the high priest must enter through the curtain and put incense on the coals which immediately created a sweet-smelling smoky curtain.  This curtain of smoke shielded him from looking directly upon God’s presence “so that he will not die.”

With this protective smoke covering, he then applied the blood of the bull for his own sins by sprinkling seven times before the atonement cover (the ark).  Now, with his own sins atoned for, the priest is able to leave to prepare the sacrifice for the nation.  This completes the first of two entries into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

The atonement provision for the nation is detailed in verse 15-19:

Leviticus 16:15-17 (GW)
15 “Next, Aaron will slaughter the goat for the people’s offering for sin. He will take the blood inside, go up to the canopy, and sprinkle it on the throne of mercy and in front of it, as he did with the bull’s blood. 16 So he will make peace with the Lord for all the sins the Israelites committed against the holy place. These sins happened because the Israelites were unclean and because they committed rebellious acts. He will do the same for the tent of meeting which is among an unclean people. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron enters the holy place to do this until he comes out. Aaron will make peace with the Lord for his own sins, his family’s sins, and the sins of the entire assembly of Israel.

In the same manner as the high priest presented the bull before the Lord, he would enter the Holy of Holies a second time to present the goat’s blood for the nation’s sins.  As with the bull, the goat’s blood was sprinkled upon the mercy seat and in front of it.  This atonement provided for all manners of sin which the Israelites were guilty.

First is noted that “the Israelites were unclean.”  This refers to their natural sinful condition, or their “unwitting” sinfulness.  Next is noted their “rebellious acts,” which refers to their intentional disobedience to God’s law. 

While more is noted concerning the activities of the Day of Atonement, these are the essential sacrifices offered “for his own sins, his family’s sins, and the sins of the entire assembly of Israel.”

Verses 18 and19 refer to the high priest’s sprinkling the blood on the altar to cleanse that area, thus declaring the altar which burns the daily sacrifices as cleansed as well.

Finally, the sins of the people are transferred to the scapegoat in verses 20-22:

Leviticus 16:20-22 (GW)
20 “When he finishes making peace with the Lord at the holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he will bring the living goat forward. 21 Aaron will place both hands on its head. He will confess over it all the sins, all the rebellious acts, and all the things the Israelites did wrong. He will transfer them to the goat’s head. A man will be appointed to release the goat in the desert. 22 The goat will take all their sins away to a deserted place. The man must release the goat in the desert.

Placing his hands on the scapegoat, he confesses Israel’s sins and “will transfer them to the goat’s head.”  An appointed man will then release the goat into the desert, representing to the nation that their sins have left them.

Much more can be noted about Yom Kippur, but as essential preparatory knowledge for the next post, this sufficiently introduces the foreshadowing portrait of what Christ later completed upon the cross.  Next week’s post will engage the book of Hebrews as it reveals the process by which Christ literally fulfilled the sacrifices of Yom Kippur; symbolized by the ripping into of the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the outside, sinful world.

Matthew 27:50-51 (GW)
50 Then Jesus loudly cried out once again and gave up his life. 51 Suddenly, the curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split open.


Series Navigation<< Atonement in the Old Testament LawJesus: The Fulfillment of the Law >>

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