Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. It is a solemn day to afflict our souls, but it is also a joyful day in knowing that God will forgive our sins. It commemorates the day when God forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf.
On this day—and only this day—the high priest of Israel would enter the holy of holies with the blood of an unblemished lamb and would make atonement for the whole nation. The priest would spend the prior week in seclusion, and the night before the great day would stay up all night in prayer and study of Torah. It is interesting to see how Yeshua also stayed awake in prayer the night before He was crucified.
It is customary for some Jewish men to receive symbolic lashes as a sign of humility and repentance. We, of course, know that Yeshua—Who was most humble—was whipped by the Roman soldiers and received the lashed that we deserved.
The Jewish people partake of a final meal before the holy day. Yeshua also partook of a final mean—A Passover—with His disciples before He was led away to die on the cross.
The rabbis teach that Yom Kippur erases all the sins we have committed against God. We know and believe that Yeshua, the Lamb of God is the One who took away all our sins forever.
In the writings of the rabbinic sages, specifically Maimonides, Yom Kippur is distinctively marked by these four main components:
The sacrifice of an unblemished lamb by the high priest of Israel.
Our repentance by confessing our sinful deeds and turning away from our wicked ways.
The essence of the day itself is marked by God’s affirmation of His infinite love towards us.
Our return to the Lord and our desire to receive God’s infinite love and cleansing from sin.
Let’s now look at scripture to see Yeshua’ fulfillment of these four things in our lives:
His sacrifice – “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV).[i]
Our repentance – “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17).
His affirming love – “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Our return – “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22).
Notice that God provides His part and we are required to respond with ours. He offered His only begotten Son as a spotless sacrifice for our sin, but we must repent of our sin and turn from our wicked ways. He affirmed His infinite love and drew us towards Himself by sending His Holy Spirit, but we must receive His love and cleansing from our sin.
The Day of Atonement is a package deal. If we stop at the first level, then our focus will continually be on our action of repentance. Many people get stuck here, as their lifestyle involves external garments, such as their behavior. They are always trying to do what is right, continuously repenting and feeling guilty when they miss the mark.
However, it is when we receive the full package that includes the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit—which is the truth of His love—that we are cleansed, sanctified, and born again of the Spirit of God. Transformation occurs from within, and our garments are exchanged for those of the spirit, which is the fruit of the spirit. But this requires a desire and a wanting to receive Him, not just satiation of His moral expectations. This creates a fine line between religion and relationship, for it is the relationship that brings the cleansing that leads to transformation.
In every relationship, it is good to have mileposts or highway markers that keep us on track. For this reason, God established an annual cycle that continually reminds us to confess and repent of our sins:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
And, it continually reminds us to return to Him when we have drifted away so that we might receive a fresh anointing and cleansing of the Holy Spirit:
“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Not that we lose our salvation, but sometimes our relationship can grow cold or mundane. Yom Kippur is, therefore, a perfect time of renewal, and it fits God’s created purpose in our lives.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.