By Melissa McLaughlin

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and 10 Days of Awe

The Day of Atonement, in Hebrew known as Yom Kippur, is the second of three fall Feast Days (or Festivals) listed in the Old Testament. The Day of Atonement was established by God in Leviticus 16. (Also Leviticus 23:26-32 and Numbers 29:7-11.)

The first fall Feast Day is The Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah in Hebrew). The Feast of Trumpets is held on the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew civil calendar, the month of Tishri.  The Feast of Trumpets inaugurates 10 days of repentance, soul-searching, introspection regarding sin, expressing remorse for sin and asking God for forgiveness.

The Day of Atonement follows on the tenth day of this seventh month, Tishri. The Day of Atonement marks the tenth and final day of repentance and is the most solemn and highest holy day of the Jewish calendar. This sacred period is referred to as High Holy Days or Days of Awe (in Hebrew Yamim Nora’im).

For Christians, The Day of Atonement foretells Jesus’ finished work on the cross. The Day of Atonement was the only day God allowed the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies, the place where His Presence dwelled, in order to offer a special sacrifice for sins. The curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Tabernacle was torn in two the day Jesus died on the cross for our sins. (Matthew 27:50-51) This signified the sacrifice for sins was now complete and from this point forward we could draw near God’s Presence through the atoning blood of our Savior.

The period from The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah or Yom Teruah) to The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is referred to as 10 Days of Awe. During this time, God’s people are called to remember His powerful holiness, bow down in reverent awe and repent of sin.

What happened on The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)?

On The Day of Atonement the High Priest offered a blood sacrifice to the Lord, to cover or atone for the sins of the people. This sacrifice then restored the relationship between God and His people that had been broken by sin during the previous year.

Two goats were offered. One was a blood sacrifice for the sins of the people.

This first sacrifice appeased God’s wrath. Unlike human wrath or anger, God’s wrath is better understood as God’s just judgment or righteous ruling for sin. Sin is serious. Sin is rebellion against a good God. Furthermore, sin cannot be permitted in the presence of a holy, perfect, pure God. The blood sacrifice satisfies the required payment of justice before a just God.

The second goat was released into the wilderness as a “scapegoat” which symbolized the peoples’ sins being carried away. Never to be seen again. (Psalm 103:11-12)

This special, once-a-year sacrifice on The Day of Atonement was above and beyond the daily individual sacrifices for sin and represented the seriousness of the peoples’ sins.

Why is Atonement Needed Anyway?

Can you think back to the last time you were wronged?

An injustice or hurt

A betrayal or lie

An abuse, theft or murder

When a wrong has been done, our immediate response is, “That’s wrong. The guilty one needs to be brought to justice and pay for this.”

Even our easily corrupted hearts desire justice, fairness and rightness to be carried out. We seek a rightful consequence, penalty or repayment.

Why this cry for justice?

Where do human beings get this inborn desire for justice? From our Creator God. The One who created us, is Himself righteous, just and true.

Unlike our biased earthly justice, the justice of God is perfect. And since God sees all and knows all, He can exact absolute justice.

The Justice of God

God does not give a wink, turn a blind eye or sweep our sins under the carpet. His just judgments cannot be bribed or bent like the judges of mankind. For He is Sovereign God, Righteous Judge, Supreme Ruler. And He is altogether good. To allow for evil or sin in His presence, He would cease being good.

Consequently, the penalty for sin must be paid. This is God’s righteousness and justice.

Sin Separates us From God

God revealed His righteousness, goodness and justice to His people from the beginning.

When Adam and Eve first rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, they were cast out and separated from God. Since that day, our innate sin-nature has separated humanity from our Creator. We stand bare and helpless, in need of One who can bridge that immeasurable gap.

Sacrifice for Sins

God outlined His laws of righteousness in the book of Exodus. Sin is not overlooked. Every sin is accounted for. The guilty must pay a penalty to atone for their wrongs.

Why pay a penalty for sins? Sin is the choice to defy or go against God. Since evil cannot exist in His perfect Presence, something must be done to restore our relationship with God or we remain permanently separated from the very God who gave us life and breath.

Salvation by Substitution

To account for this, God in His mercy, allowed a substitute to take the place of the sinner. In the book of Leviticus God instituted the system of animal sacrifices, which ultimately pointed ahead to Jesus Christ, the final sacrificial Lamb.

Why a blood sacrifice? God is the Creator of life and to oppose Him brings death. The death of the animal was offered as a substitute sacrifice, paying the penalty in our place, for our sins.

What does this mean for Christians today?

Though we may not formally celebrate The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, we can remember the powerful symbolic meaning that points to Christ through this Old Testament Feast Day.

  • God is holy. God is absolutely just, righteous, perfect and good.
  • Sin cannot exist in the presence of a holy God.
  • Sin separates us from God.
  • A just penalty must be paid for sin.
  • God made a way of salvation by substitution.
  • We are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
  • Jesus is that Messiah! Our Savior, King and LORD!

May we repent and believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and LORD. Christ is the once-and-for-all sacrifice sent by God to pay the penalty for our sins (the atoning blood sacrifice), that our sins may be taken away forever (the scapegoat). (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29b

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:19

Additional Resources:

This year The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah or Yom Teruah) was from sundown September 18th to sundown September 20th, 2020.  This began the 10 Days of Awe. The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) will be sundown September 27th to sundown September 28th, 2020. The Messianic Sabbath website lists information about dates of additional Biblical Feast Days.

To participate in global prayer and simulcasts during the 10 Days of Awe and The Day of Atonement, read more on The Return website.

What is The Day of Atonement in the Bible By Mary Fairchild of Learning Religions

What is the significance of The Day of Atonement By Compelling Truth

What is the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible? By Melissa McLaughlin

What is the Main Message of the Bible? By Melissa McLaughlin

For a deeper look at the Day of Atonement and its New Testament applications, read more in this study of the book of Hebrews By Melinda Inman – Outside the Gate