In this paper I will examine in a necessarily abbreviated manner (because the material is worthy of volumes), the Old Testament feast of Yom Kippur, the related Jewish traditions, and then the fulfillment of this feast by Jesus the Mashiach (Messiah). I will provide references for further study so the interested may dive deeper into the bottomless treasures of YHWH’s feasts, established as a lasting ordinance for all His peoples throughout time. The word Kippur or Kapher, means “to cover,” in Hebrew. Yom = “day,” thus the “Day of Covering” or “Day of Atonement.”
Yom Kippur is the sixth Feast of Israel commanded by God to Moses in Leviticus 23:26-32:
26 The LORD said to Moses, 27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves,[d] and present a food offering to the LORD. 28 Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. 29 Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. 30 I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. 31 You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. 32 It is a day of Sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath.”
In Leviticus 8 we learn of the ordination of Aaron & his sons to the priesthood and in chapter 9 they begin their ministry to offer sacrifices at the tent of meeting before the Lord. The very presence of God was dwelling in a tent, so God would tabernacle with his covenant people! This is YHWH, the Holy creator of the universe. Some did not get it. Aaron’s sons Nadab & Abihu did not show the proper respect to the awesome true God and were consumed by fire.
Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke of when he said:
‘Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.’”
Aaron remained silent (Lev. 10:3).
It was right after this that God gave instructions to the awestruck Aaron through Moses as to how to approach the Lord God on Yom Kippur, in Leviticus 16. The Holy of Holies could only be entered one day in the whole year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was on this day that the High Priest would make atonement for the entire nation of Israel. Please read Leviticus 16 to get the full picture of what the sacrificial Day of Atonement entailed. It involved the sacrifice of a young bull, a ram, seven male lambs, two male goats, and a ram. Of the two goats, one would be sacrificed to YHWH and the other was to be the “scapegoat” (Azazel), released into the wilderness with the sins of Israel placed upon its head. (One interpretation is that Azazel was the name of a desert satyr demon. Some say it was another name of Satan. However, it is also similar to azel, which means “escape.” Some, like Alfred Edersheim suggest it means to “let go.” Compare this to Pontius Pilot offering to release either Barabbas or Jesus to freedom, or to the ritual in Leviticus 14:1-7, where one bird is killed and the other set free.) On the scapegoat, a scarlet cloth was tied to its horn, and it is said that this cloth would turn white if the sins of Israel were indeed forgiven. The priests also tied a crimson strip to the door of the Temple, which according to tradition would turn white if God had forgiven the sins of Israel.
Alfred Edersheim, in his classic book, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services (pp. 240-263) provides a vivid picture of the elaborate rituals involved on Yom Kippur. On this day, the High Priest would take off his richly adorned, golden, gem-covered priestly garments and dress in simple, pure white linen (like grave clothes worn by our Savior when He made atonement for the world). The priest made 43 trips between the courtyard and the Holy of Holies and sacrificed the aforementioned animals. He took 5 baths. The only time the holy name of God YHWH could be pronounced was during this day, and it was spoken 10 times, and each time the hearers would fall to the ground in worship. The resource A Family Guide to Biblical Holidays (pp. 322-324) has a list of 40 steps the priest had to accomplish on that day. It was an Olympian undertaking.
The High Priest would then, on the Day of Atonement, go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial bull and goat upon and before the Ark of the Covenant, in a series of rituals, described in fascinating detail in The Feasts of the Lord by Howard & Rosenthal (pp. 121-125). If you go to John 20:11-12, you will see an incredible fulfillment of this sacrifice in Jesus, the Christ: “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” She was seeing a picture of the atonement cover, the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, and the blood between the angels came from the body of Jesus Christ Himself! He made atonement for us all, and fulfilled the feast of Yom Kippur!
Regarding Yom Kippur in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 16, you find instructions to the priests. In Leviticus 23:26-33, you find instructions to the people; and in Numbers 29:7-11, you find instructions on the sacrifices. As always, God’s truths go all the way back to the beginning. The first Day of covering and the first atonement through blood sacrifice occurred in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sinned. After the curses in 3:14-19, God made the first animal sacrifice to “cover” the nakedness of Adam and Eve, before they were banished from the garden (3:21).
God’s people Israel could fulfill the requirements of the feast of Yom Kippur while God was with them in the tabernacle and later in the Temple built by Solomon. But there was a 70-year interruption of sacrifices because of the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians. The sacrifices then continued from about 517 B.C. to A.D. 70 when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. It is fascinating to note that, according to the Talmud (Mas Yoma 39b), the scarlet cloth tied to the horns of the scapegoat no longer turned white after A.D. 30, 40 years before the destruction of the Temple. We know that this is because the true Lamb of God took the sins of the world upon Himself and made atonement for us all forever through His death and resurrection! When Jesus came and died for the entire world, He became the blood sacrifice that fulfilled the lasting ordinance of Yom Kippur.
So what have observant Jews done since that time without the proper sacrifice (Kaparah-“propitiation”)? In The Feasts of the Lord, Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal (p.126) report that “As Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was coming forth from Jerusalem, Rabbi Joshua followed after him and beheld the Temple in ruins. ‘Woe unto us!’ Rabbi Joshua cried, ‘That this, the place where the iniquities of Israel were atoned for is laid in waste!’ ‘My son,’ Rabbi Yohanan said to him, ‘be not grieved; we have another atonement as effective as this. And what is it? It is acts of loving-kindness, as it is said, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice” [Hos. 6:6] (Avot de Rabbi Nathan 4:18].”
Since the days of the Temple, Jews now celebrate Yom Kippur with the substitutes of Tefilah (prayer), Teshuvah (repentance), and Tzedakah (charity). A rare few will sacrifice a chicken (kaparot) and give the chicken to the poor.
Yom Kippur is considered the most holy and important Feast of Israel. (It’s like Christmas or Easter for the Christian, where folks who haven’t set foot in a church for a year suddenly show up for their important connection with the Lord.) This is why, for example, the Yom Kippur War of 1973 was initially so devastating for Israel: The whole country had shut down to worship the Lord in observance of the Day of Atonement.
Yom Kippur is known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is the only biblically required fast in the Scriptures. Most fast without even water for 25 hours. No washing or bathing is allowed. Perfumes, deodorant, cosmetics, and marital relations are prohibited. You cannot wear leather shoes. The point is to “deny yourselves,” as it is written in Leviticus 23:26-28.
Here we must digress to examine the structure of the Feasts. There are seven feasts ordained by God in Leviticus 23. Three occur as a unit, grouped in God’s favorite numbers (3 in 1) in the spring: Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, which Jesus fulfilled in His earthy ministry. (Covered in my last paper). Then 50 days later, in early summer, comes Pentecost, which stands between the sets of 3 in 1 and was fulfilled by the coming down of the Torah in Exodus, which established the covenant with Israel as a nation and then the coming down of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, which established God’s church.
Then we have the last three feasts in the fall: Rosh Hashanah (Trumpets), Yom Kippur, and Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles). The last three Feasts are a unit; they are connected in celebration and theology to the now near future of the Church and Israel. God set it up so those with “eyes to see” could fathom; spring = early in time, summer = middle of time, and fall = toward the end of time, aka, the last days. In God’s Prophetic Calendar (p.95), the author states, “The last three feasts in God’s prophetic calendar, Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles all look into the future from our present position in the church age.” Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven feasts. The last three await His coming.
The Jews also celebrate the last three feasts as a unit. In the seventh month of Tishri, on the first day is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This feast begins what is known as the Yamim Noraim, the “Days of Awe,” or Repentance. According to “Judaism 101” (www.jewfaq.org) and (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), good on-line sources for all things Jewish, Rosh Hashanah begins the time when God writes your name in the book of life or book of death. During the 10 days of Awe, your actions can alter God’s decree. Those actions include “teshuva, tefilah, and tzedakah,” that is, repentance, prayer, and good works. During this time you seek to reconcile yourself to people you have wronged and prepare yourself for the Day of Atonement, which is your reconciliation to God. (On a side note, if you can get a copy of the Israeli DVD, “Ushpizin,” although it is really focused on the last Feast of Succoth, it explores reconciling yourself to those you have wronged in a rather adorable and entertaining manner).
Just before the beginning of Yom Kippur, a festive meal is eaten and candles are lit. It is customary to wear white clothes during this time (as Jesus’ grave cloths were white). The holiday is spent in synagogue and in prayer. The Yom Kippur services begin at sundown, called the “Kol Nidre.” A ram’s horn (shofar) is blown to assemble the people for worship. Some Orthodox Jews spend the whole night in synagogue reciting the entire book of Psalms. Five services are held at the synagogue during Yom Kippur, with varying liturgies but all focusing on the confession of sins. In the fourth service, the book of Jonah is read to emphasize repentance of sins, which has an interesting connection to Jesus, as He said that no sign would be given to those asking for a sign, but the sign of Jonah (Matt. 12:38-40, Luke 11:29-32). (And Jesus is the Lamb of God, slain for the atonement of the world!) In the last service is the ritual of the closing of the gates, “Ne’ilah,” which represents the closing of the books and the sealing of God’s judgment.
Jesus uses that very imagery in the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. The 10 foolish virgins ran out of oil and left to get more . . . “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
For Christians, the series of three fall feasts represent future manifestations of Jesus as expounded upon in Old and New Testament prophecies. There are many Messianic Christian resources that see the Feast of Trumpets as a picture of the Rapture.
1 Thessalonians 16: ”For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
I personally don’t have a clear understanding of these things from the Spirit, but what I do understand is that these three feasts are connected to Christ’s second coming. The Feast of Succoth represents the kingdom of God on earth, where we all live together in tabernacles. That’s all I can say in this short summary, but I hope it will point you to further study. Many see the Day of Atonement as the day the Lord will set foot on the Mount of Olives. In Isaiah 52 it states:
13 See, my servant will act wisely]; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him[c]—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,[d]
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
When you see a reference to sprinkling, you see the Day of Atonement when the blood was sprinkled onto the Ark of the Covenant. All will see the Lord of glory because He will appear to all the earth where he was taken up into heaven 2,000 years ago (Acts 1:11). Matthew 24:30 states: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
There’s that trumpet call again. Yom Kippur also permeates the prophecies of Zechariah: “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (13:1). The fountain that sprinkles and cleanses all is our Lord Jesus.
There is so much more to explore regarding the Feast of Yom Kippur. I have just scratched the surface. The more you look, the more you discover. This is how it is with God’s Word. I hope I have given you enough to point you toward the bottomless treasure of the Feasts of Israel.
Bible quotations from New International Version (2010), BibleGateway.com
Carlson, Jeff. “Yom Kippur: Meeting Jesus in the Feasts of Israel.” CD of teaching presentation at Oakhill Church, Grand Rapids, MI. (02-07-2010)
“Days of Awe.” Judaism 101. http://www.jewfaq.org
Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple: It’s Ministry and Services (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).
Howard, Kevin / Rosenthal, Marvin. The Feasts of the Lord (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1997).
Kasdan, Barney. God’s Appointed Times. (Baltimore, Maryland: Lederer Publications, 1993.)
Lehman, Strauss. God’s Prophetic Calendar (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc. 1987).
Robin Scarlara & Linda Pierce. A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays (Madison, Tennessee, Family Christian Press, 1997).
“Yom Kippur.” Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org