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Tuesday
Mar122013

Theological Term of the Week


Day of Atonement
The most solemn holy day of Old Testament Israel, when the high priest performed rituals to atone for the sins of the people. A sin offering was offered for the high priest, for the whole priesthood, and for the nation of Israel, and a scapegoat was sent into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people. The rites performed foreshadowed the priestly sacrifice made by Christ Jesus, when Christ opened the way into the presence of God for his people, and bore their sins away so they could be truly forgiven.

  • From scripture:
  • “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. [12] And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil [13] and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. [14] And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

    [15] “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. [16] Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. [17] No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. [18] Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. [19] And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

    [20] “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. [21] 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. [22] The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:11-22 ESV)

    These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, [7] but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. [8] By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing [9] (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, [10] but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

    [11] But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) [12] he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. [13] For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, [14] how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:6-14 ESV) 

  • From The Atonement: It’s Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris:
  • [T]he day was one of special importance and solemnity. The careful performance of rites which took place once a year only must have impressed on the worshippers the truths that sin matters and that something must be done about it if it is not to separate people from God. That it was prescribed at all seems a tacit admission that the sacrificial system did not remove all sin, though this conclusion does not seem to have been drawn in Old Testament days. But the writer to the Hebrews drew it. He makes a good deal of the fact that the Day of Atonement shows that the sacrifices normally offered could not remove sin (Heb. 9:7-9), and indeed he goes further and says that even the Day of Atonement could not do this (Heb. 10:1-4).

    There are two specially noteworthy features of the observance of this day. The first, of course, is that on this day and on this day alone in all the year there was admission to the Holy of Holies. … Only the high priest could enter and he only after taking the most stringent precautions. But at least it did hold out the hope of access into the very presence of God, if only by a representative. 

    The other is the placing of the sins of the people on the scapegoat. … The sins were laid on the goat, and taken into the wilderness so that they saw them no more. 

Learn more:

  1. The Bible: Leviticus 16
  2. GotQuestions.org: What is the Day of Atonement?
  3. Ligon Duncan: Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement
  4. Sinclair Ferguson: The Day of Atonement Was a Copy of Christ’s Atonement
  5. Bob Deffinbaugh: The Day of Atonement
  6. S. Lewis Johnson: The Day of Atonement, Part 1, Part 2
  7. Mark Dever: Day of Atonement (audio)

Related term:

Filed under Salvation

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