The Great Day of Atonement

Leviticus 16  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 9
(Read Lev. 16)
The Great Day of Atonement was celebrated annually on the tenth day of the seventh month. It was designed typically to put the whole of the people of Israel in relationship with God on the ground of redemption. It did nothing vitally, any more than the blood of bulls and goats could put away sin. It was repeated again and again for the simple reason that the shadow could do nothing save point the way to what would be efficacious, till the time came when Christ entered in ONCE into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us " (Heb. 9:1212Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:12)).
The vail was never rent under the shadows. Blessed be God,
" The vail is rent, our souls draw near
Unto a throne of grace?
The merits of the Lord appear,
They fill the Holy Place. "
The early breakdown of the priesthood in the case of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, who offered strange fire against God's commandment, when fire came down from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD, had a special reaction as we shall now see.
In Lev. 16:22And the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. (Leviticus 16:2), we read that because of this breakdown, God forbad Aaron going at all times into the Holy Place within the vail before the Mercy Seat, that he die not. Very clear instructions were given when and how he was to enter, and that only on the Great Day of Atonement. " Into the second [viz. the Holiest of All] went the High Priest alone once every year, NOT WITHOUT BLOOD, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people; the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest, while as the first Tabernacle was yet standing " (Heb. 9:7, 87But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: 8The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: (Hebrews 9:7‑8)).
Whilst in a general way this solemn ritual sets forth the truth and need of atonement, it will have a special fulfillment with Israel in a 'future day. This we shall see when we consider the Feasts of the LORD in a future Chapter.
No longer was Aaron allowed to put on the garments of glory and beauty on this occasion. Arrayed in the inner linen garment, setting forth holiness, and washed with clean water, typical of moral fitness, Aaron took up his solemn office on the Great Day of Atonement.
He was instructed to furnish himself with a young bullock for a Sin Offering and a Ram for a Burnt Offering. This bullock was offered as a Sin Offering FOR HIMSELF and his house. In this he stands, not as a type, but as a contrast to our blessed Lord. Aaron and his house needed a Sin Offering, for they were sinners. Christ needed no Sin Offering, nay was Himself the Sin Offering, the perfect Sacrifice, who has glorified God at the cross.
Aaron took two kids of the goats for a Sin Offering, and one ram for a Burnt Offering of the congregation of the children of Israel. He then brought the two goats, and presented them before the LORD at the Door of the Tabernacle of the congregation. He then cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.
And just at this point we find Aaron was instructed to slay the bullock for a Sin Offering for himself and his house, taking a censer full of burning coals from off the Altar. His hands filled with sweet incense beaten small, he put the incense upon the fire before the LORD so that the cloud of the incense covered the Mercy Seat that was upon the Testimony that he died not.
" That he die not," shows how intensely solemn the whole approach to God was. Nothing short of the atoning work of our Lord can give us title to be in God's presence. It is a relief to turn from self to Christ, and find in HIM our righteousness in God's presence.
Then Aaron took of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkled it with his finger upon the Mercy Seat eastward, and before the Mercy Seat seven times.
After that he killed the goat of the Sin Offering that was for the people, and did with the blood of the goat what he had done with the blood of the bullock, sprinkling its blood on the Mercy Seat. Thus he made atonement for the Holy Place, and for the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and for the Tabernacle that was in the midst of their uncleanness. No man accompanied him in doing this, then he came out and proceeded to the Brazen Altar, took the blood of the bullock and the blood of the goat, and sprinkled seven times the Altar and hallowed it from uncleanness. Thus year by year would the children of Israel be reminded of the holiness of God, and the necessity of a sufficient and accepted sacrifice.
We can clearly see the connection between the Throne and the Altar, the Altar meeting the claims of the Throne. In the very highest way the blood of Christ met every claim of God in fullest satisfaction; nay, it glorified Him where sin had brought in dishonor, glorified Him as nothing else could.
Let it ever be remembered, the believer can go as far as the blood went. The blood could go no further. It went into the very presence of God, turning a Throne of inflexible righteousness (and still and forever remaining so) into a Mercy Seat.
The blood was sprinkled once upon the Mercy Seat, and seven times before it; once for God, that sufficed fully, seeing He alone can fully estimate the wonderful efficacy of the precious atoning work of our Lord on the cross; seven times for us, who need to be assured again and again of these things. It is not all at once that we grasp the full meaning of the precious blood of Christ. As time goes on we come into a fuller and growing appreciation of that work till we find ourselves in the presence of the Lord when our praises shall be eternal. " Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen " (Rev. 1:5, 65And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5‑6)). Thank God we stand before Him in the measure of His appreciation of Christ's work on the cross, not of ours.
And now what about the two goats Aaron was instructed to take for the people? We have seen how the goat' that was the LORD'S lot was slain, but the live goat is seen as being identified with the slain goat, whose blood was sprinkled on
the Mercy Seat. We quote two verses to make this plain. " And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer him for a Sin Offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD to make an atonement. with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness " (Lev. 16:9, 109And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. 10But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:9‑10)). The two goats are identified one with the other, and carry one great lesson.
Upon the head of the live goat, in virtue of what is set forth typically in the death of the goat which was the LORD'S lot, the High Priest laid his hands, and confessed the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, putting them in that symbolic way on the head of the goat, and then sent him away by the hands of a fit man into the wilderness. In this highly spectacular way was typified how thoroughly sin is put away-clean gone, never to be seen again. It reminds us of Scriptures that show how thoroughly God deals with sin. We read, " As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us " (Psa. 103:1212As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)). " Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea " (Mic. 7:1919He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)). " Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back " (Isa. 38:1717Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. (Isaiah 38:17)). " Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more " (Heb. 10:1717And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)).
Whilst all this may be a comfort and assurance to the individual believer, and rightly so, yet the goat going into the wilderness with the sins of the nation confessed on its head, typified specifically what will happen to Israel in a future day. As the result of the repentance wrought by the spirit of grace and supplications being poured out upon the Jewish nation, in that day when they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced (see Zech. 12:1010And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)) they will then keep the Feast of the Great Day of Atonement as they have never kept it in all their long history, and will read in this spectacular ritual, having Christ then as the key to it all, how sin has been effectually put away. Just as the let-go goat disappeared in the wilderness to be seen no more, so the blood of the Sin Offering, even the precious blood of the Christ they despised and cast out, they will see to be efficacious before God for their full and complete redemption, and " their sins and iniquities will I remember no more " (Heb. 10:1717And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)) will be the assurance of the Lord to them according to the covenant of grace made with Israel.
It was when Aaron came out of the Holy Place that the scapegoat was sent into the wilderness; and it will be when Christ shall come again to earth, and Israel purified through the great Tribulation and repentant shall welcome their Messiah, that this precious type will meet its fulfillment. Meanwhile Christ is hidden, and His people of this dispensation have their portion with Him, " blessed... with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ " (Eph. 1:33Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: (Ephesians 1:3)).
Aaron, having let the live goat go into the wilderness by the hand of the fit man, then came into the Tabernacle of the Congregation, put off his linen garments, washed his flesh with water in the Holy Place, put on his garments of glory and beauty, and came forth and offered his own Burnt Offering, and that for the people. Then Aaron's bullock, and the goat, the LORD'S lot, already slain, were carried outside the camp and there burned in the fire-skins, flesh and dung, figure of God's unsparing judgment on sin at the cross. But even in that solemn type the fat was burned upon the Altar of Burnt Offering, there was ever that which was delightful to the heart of God in the blessed redemption His Son made for sin.
This completed the ritual on the Great Day of Atonement, a most precious type of the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Key Words in the Epistle to the Hebrews
In the light of what we have been considering, it is interesting to note the key words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, key words used to contrast the glorious fullness of Christ, the Antitype with the ineffectual shadows.
Better is one key word-
Christ "... better than the Angels "; " a better hope "; " a better Testament "; " a better Covenant "; " better promises "; " better sacrifices "; " a better country "; " a better... substance "; " a better resurrection." Grammarians will tell you that " better" is comparative, but never was such a superlative comparative used, if we may employ such a phrase.
Once, or one, is another key word-
" Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many "; " once for all "; " one sacrifice for sins "; " one offering "-in contrast to the unending succession of sacrifices under the law, which could never take away sin.
No more is another key phrase-
" no more conscience of sins "; " no more sacrifice for sins "this is just another way of showing forth the complete efficacy of Christ's work upon the cross.
Eternal is another key word-
" eternal salvation "; " eternal judgment "; " eternal redemption "; " eternal Spirit "; " eternal inheritance." To these might be added " an unchangeable priesthood." " And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood " (Heb. 7:23, 2423And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: 24But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. (Hebrews 7:23‑24)).
Thus is contrasted the stability, permanence and perfection of Divine things with the temporary, unsatisfactory character of carnal ordinances. The glorious Substance, the great Antitype, the Lord Jesus, has arrived, and the shadows have fled away. That is the poverty and blindness of present day ritualism, copying the shadows when all the time the true meaning of them is unknown. The greater the ritualism the less the spiritual life. Christ is the key to the meaning of these types. How can any, who really know the Antitype, go back to shadows in which God had no pleasure (Heb. 1:66And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. (Hebrews 1:6)).