The biblical name for the Day of Atonement is Yom Hakippurim meaning “the day of covering or concealing.” The sacrificial system was designed to cover sin until it was finally put away through the death of Jesus. Atonement hides rather than removes sin from God’s sight. The covering is total and allows God to look upon the Israelites as if their sin did not exist. God creates a shelter of sacrificial blood to protect worshipers from His wrath. God told the Israelites to sacrifice an animal as a substitute for his own sentence of death. This “life for life” principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system. [See Leviticus 17:11]
Yom Kippur is considered the most holy day in the Jewish biblical calendar. On this day, once a year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the nation. Yom Kippur is an excellent illustration of regeneration for those who follow God’s way of atonement through His Son, Yeshua.
The Four Elements of Yom Kippur
HOLD A CONVOCATION – this day was a worship event to draw the focus of the Jewish people to the altar of divine mercy. All attention should be given to Him.
HUMBLE YOUR SOULS – the prophet Isaiah (58:3) seems to parallel the humbling of a soul with fasting. According to Leviticus 23:29, if there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people.
PRESENT AN OFFERING – offerings were central to this day, see Lev.16 and Num. 29:7-11.
A DAY WITH NO WORK – see Lev. 23:31-32.
Leviticus 16 highlights the ceremony of Yom Kippur. Two goats would be sacrificed. One goat was slain as a blood sacrifice to symbolically cover the sins of Israel. The other goat would be brought before the priest. The priest would lay his hands on the head of the goat as he confessed the sins of the people. This goat wouldn’t be slain in the normal way but would be set free in the wilderness, symbolically taking the sins of the nation out from their midst (this goat is called the scapegoat). These two goats foreshadowed the sacrifice of Yeshua. When Messiah Jesus died on Calvary, He paid the penalty for our sins. [See John 1:29]
What was started on Rosh Hashanah, that is, repentance and self-evaluation, was completed with atonement and regeneration.
After the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the rabbis established a temporary headquarters in the town of Yavneh, a few miles south of modern Tel Aviv. This city became the site of Judaism’s reorganization. The rabbis who gathered in Yavney felt they were entrusted with the preservation of Israel. Confronted with the loss of the sacrificial altar, they turned to the Bible in search of other means of atonement. These leaders knew that if Judaism was to continue, it was their task to make Jewish religious life revolve around the synagogue, just as it once had around the Temple itself. The rabbis of the First Century decided to make substitutions to fill the gap. Tefilah (prayer), teshuvah (repentance), and tsedakah (charity / good deeds) replace sacrifices in the modern observance of Yom Kippur.
Traditional Jewish Observance
The 10 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are called the Yomim Nora’im, The Days of Awe. Most Jewish people spend their time looking inward, they evaluate their personal relationships and where needed, reconciliation is attempted.
It is customary for religious Jews to go to the Mikvah, or ritual bath, for cleansing on the day before Yom Kippur.
Giving to charity is a central theme of the Day of Atonement. In the synagogue, long tables were covered with alms plates for every charity in town. Many beggars waited outside the synagogue, certain to receive charity from worshipers eager to perform last-minute good deeds that might tip the heavenly balance in their favor and assure them prosperity in the coming year.
Leviticus 23 says that Israel is to “humble their soul.” This is taken (based on the Hebrew word oni) to “fast.” This is the only biblically mandated fast. Before sundown, when the fast begins, it is customary to have a holiday meal. The table is set with the best white linens and dishes. White symbolizes the cleansing from our sins and the hope for purity and forgiveness (see Is. 1:18). The two candles are lit and the blessings are said over the wine and the challah bread. The fast continues from sundown on the 9th of Tishri until sundown on the 10th.
Jewish people are encouraged to sustain from all luxuries for those 24 hours. No unnecessary bathing, entertainment, etc. The rabbis make it clear this fast only applies to healthy adults past bar mitzvah age (13). Anyone with a health problem, or who is pregnant or nursing, is exempted from the fast.
The evening of the holy day (Erev Yom Kippur) is probably the most holy occasion of the spiritual year. Jews flock to the local synagogues to attend Kol Nidre services. Kol Nidre is a special cantorial prayer (chanted three times, each time increasing in volume and intensity) asking God for release from any vows that have been taken inappropriately. The origin of this petition dates back to the Middle Ages when many Jews were forcibly converted into the Church, yet still wanted to maintain their connection with their people.
It is believed that judgment will come at the close of Yom Kippur. The prayers fervently request that, as Jews, we be written in the Book of Life for one more year. The holy day closes with an important Neilah service (the closing of the gates). The final blast of the shofar is sounded. It is thought that the fate of each individual is sealed at that time for the upcoming year.
The Jewish people hope for a sweet and blessed spiritual year. This is illustrated in the break-the-fast meal which follows sundown. Tasted first is the sweet wine, which is blessed in the traditional way. After that, the sweet challah or honeycake is eaten as a reminder of the sweet New Year that we hope to experience.
As believers, we don’t have to wonder; we know Messiah Jesus has paid the price God required!
Yom Kippur in the New Testament
See Acts 27:9; Rom. 3:23-26. Look at Luke 4:16-22 (from Is. 61).
The Prophetic Fulfillment
The prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur is the final atonement to be realized and received by that generation of Jews living at the Second Coming of Yeshua. Some believers fast on Yom Kippur, not because they need to obtain forgiveness, but to pray for the salvation of Israel (Rom. 10:1).
Compiled by David Brewer
Fuchs, Daniel. Israel’s Holy Days: In Type and Prophecy. Neptune,NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1985.
Glaser, Mitch and Zhava. The Fall Feasts of Israel. Chicago:Moody, 1987.
Kasdan, Barney. God’s Appointed Times. Baltimore: Lederer,1993.
Scott, Bruce. The Feasts of Israel. Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1997.