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The Day of Atonement

Lesson Twenty-Seven

Bible Introduction Course


The small harvest pictured by the spring Holy Days represents those called first in God’s Master Plan. These very few were redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, came out of sin, and became empowered by the Holy Spirit to become firstfruits from the time of Adam to the present age.

The four remaining fall Holy Days represent salvation being offered to the rest of the world—the overwhelming majority of all mankind. In the previous lesson, we saw that it is absolutely necessary for Christ to return in order to save mankind from self-destruction, by establishing His rulership over the earth. This brings us to the next step in God’s Plan. This step is vital in order to secure world peace and tranquility. It involves what will happen to Satan and his demons at that time.

From the time that Satan began to manipulate humanity in the garden of Eden, he has continued to sway civilization. He has inspired suspicion, animosity, and hatred between different nations, races, religions, as well as civil strife among those of the same nation, race and religion. During the course of history, Satan has possessed the minds of many tyrants and dictators, engineering wars, conflicts and campaigns of genocide.

When peace does finally come to this world, such an influence as Satan could never be allowed to continue to manipulate civilization. What, then, will happen to Satan during this time?

The Day of Atonement, observed shortly after the Feast of Trumpets, reveals the answer to this question. Satan and his demons have ruled this world for the 6,000 years of man’s existence, but they will be replaced when Christ returns to this earth. The Day of Atonement not only reveals such prophetic details, but also shows what Christ has been doing since the time He ascended to heaven. These and other vital points become clear upon carefully studying the lessons contained in the meaning of this day.


Day of Atonement

(1) Where in the Bible do we find the command to keep the Day of Atonement? Leviticus 23:27; Numbers 29:7.

Comment: Like the other Holy Days, Atonement called for a commanded assembly and for an offering to be made. Yet, this day introduced one particular point unique from the other Holy Days, in that the people were to “afflict” their souls.

The word “afflict” originates from the Hebrew term anah, which can mean to “abase or humble.” To better understand how this term is used, we have to let the Bible interpret itself. The real meaning of the phrase “to afflict one’s soul” becomes clear, as we observe how this is used in other scriptures. In Psalm 35:13, we find that David humbled his soul with fasting. The word “humbled” in this verse originated from the same word, anah, which was also translated “afflict” or “afflicted.” Of course, the word “soul” means one’s physical being, as shown in Lesson 9. Therefore, the phrase “to afflict one’s soul” means to humble oneself through fasting—abstinence from food and water for a period of time. This is confirmed in Isaiah 58:3.

(2) In what other way was the Day of Atonement unique from the other Holy Days? Leviticus 23:28.

Comment: This verse mentions that no work was to take place on this Holy Day. The other Holy Days specified that no servile work was allowed, but for Atonement, no work of any kind was to take place. This difference involved the labor in feeding the multitudes on the other Holy Days. But since Atonement was a time of fasting, such work would not be allowed.

(3) Was Israel required to strictly fast on this Holy Day and to observe it forever? Leviticus 23:29-31.

Comment: God is very explicit about the observance of this fast. In Leviticus 23:32, He further defines the time to begin fasting on the evening of the ninth day of the month, from evening to evening, covering the entire Day of Atonement. (Verse 32 also confirms that each new day always begins at sunset.) As with all the feast days, Atonement is commanded to be observed forever.

(4) Was the Day of Atonement still being observed by the Church during the time of the apostles? Acts 27:9.

Comment: All the Holy Days either stand or fall together. We have already seen that Christ and the New Testament Church observed Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost. This indirect reference to Atonement falls within the pattern of the first-century Church’s observance of all God’s Holy Days as He commanded. (To learn more, read our booklet God’s Holy Days or Pagan Holidays?)

Satan’s Fate

(1) What will happen to Satan shortly after Christ returns in glory to reign on the earth? Revelation 20:1-3.

Comment: These verses show that Satan is bound in a bottomless pit for a thousand years, unable to deceive the nations. The very being who has deceived the whole world (Rev. 12:9) is now removed for the duration of the millennium. With Satan put away, humanity can at last be at one with God—giving new meaning to “at-one-ment.”

(2) When Satan is put away, what happens to the many demons that follow him? Revelation 18:2.

Comment: Babylon becomes a place of destruction, symbolic of the place of restraint in which Satan and the demons will be confined. This shows that Babylon becomes “the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit…” Similar to Isaiah 13:19-21, this verse is explicit in describing the fate of Satan’s entire demonic realm.

(3) Shortly before Christ’s Return, do many upon the earth maintain an unrepentant state of mind while still under the influence of Satan? Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21.

Comment: Satan is unrepentant of his actions, and broadcasts this same mindset to the masses of humanity under his influence. Satan works even more directly with world leaders, as he has always done. He sends forth three unclean spirits (directly and through the leader of the beast power and the false prophet), in order to influence world leaders to mobilize their armies (Rev. 16:13-14) to fight against Christ.

(4) Even after Christ has returned and Satan has been put away, does the residual effect of Satan’s past influence continue to maintain its hold on many for a period of time? Read all of Ezekiel chapter 38. Write down verses 8-12, 21-23.

Comment: Gog and Magog represent Mongolia and China with surrounding regions in eastern Asia. Tubal and Meshech are leading peoples of Russia. Modern Persia (Iran), Ethiopia and Libya, along with Gomar and Togarmah (other Asiatic peoples), will be in league with this vast army of invaders. In Ezekiel 39:2, we find that only one-sixth of them survive their efforts to invade the region of Jerusalem. It will require seven months to bury them (vs. 12) and seven years to dismantle and dispose of the implements of war (vs. 9). This will occur shortly into the Millennium, as is evident from Ezekiel 38:8, 11. Yet, after this event, the whole world comes to finally realize that God is in charge: “…I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord” (38:23).

After a period of time, the influence of Satan will diminish as the world is taught by Christ and the saints who rule with Him. After this instruction, the world will learn, as we find recorded in Isaiah 2:4: “And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Duties of High Priest Reveal Meaning of Atonement

God gave detailed instructions as to how to keep Atonement. The sequence of these steps is significant and reveals far more than most realize. The setting of these steps occurs at the Tabernacle, in which the Holy of Holies represented God’s throne room; it contained the Ark of the Covenant, over which was found the mercy seat. The priests served within the Holy Place or the long entrance room within the Tabernacle, which contained the showbread table, the oil lamps (called the candlestick) and the altar of incense. The priest also served in the area in front of the Tabernacle, where the altar and laver were located. Only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, and this occurred once a year, on the Day of Atonement.

(1) What precaution was Moses to give Aaron about entering the Holy of Holies? Leviticus 16:2.

Comment: Aaron was not to enter behind the veil to the Holy of Holies any time he might choose. His two sons (Nadab and Abihu) referred to in verse 1 had lightly esteemed God’s instructions and regulations and died as a result. Leviticus 16 reveals the time and sequence in which Aaron was required to enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.

(2) What was Aaron (and the future high priests) required to do first on the Day of Atonement? Leviticus 16:3-4.

Comment: He was to take a young bullock for a sin offering for himself and for his house (vs. 6), and a ram for a burnt offering. Both the bull and the ram were to be offered at designated times, later in the day’s sequence of events. After bringing forth these animals, he was to wash himself and put on the attire made especially for the high priest to wear on Atonement.

(3) After preparing the designated animals to be offered and putting on his special attire, what was Aaron to do next? Leviticus 16:5-7.

Comment: The two goats constituted the central meaning of what was to take place on this day. Another ram was made available for a burnt offering. After presenting the bullock to be offered for himself, Aaron was to bring the two goats to the door of the Tabernacle to be presented before the Eternal.

(4) What was Aaron to do with the two goats? Leviticus 16:8-9.

Comment: He cast lots to determine which goat would be the one to represent the Lord—the sin offering for the people of the congregation—and which goat would be turned loose in the wilderness. This was a matter that only God could decide, since the two goats appeared indistinguishable.

(5) Why was one of the goats destined to be released? Leviticus 16:10.

Comment: The term “scapegoat” (vs. 8, 10) comes form the Hebrew word Azazel. In Hebrew references, Azazel was the name for an evil demon—namely Satan. The term literally means “the goat of departure.” This is descriptive of Satan departing from God upon sinning and becoming an adversary. Even “scapegoat” is a misnomer for the goat that was released. In modern English, “scapegoat” means one who takes the blame on behalf of others. Such a mistranslation could have only been inspired by Satan, who sees himself as being falsely blamed.

The Azazel goat was taken to the wilderness, away from the congregation of Israel, just as Satan will be put away from humanity during Christ’s 1,000-year reign.

(6) Did Aaron kill the bullock next? Leviticus 16:11.

Comment: After killing the bullock, a sin offering for himself, he took hot coals from the altar with incense and entered into the Holy of Holies behind the veil (vs. 12) with the smoke ascending from the incense to cover the mercy seat (vs. 13). Incense represents the prayers offered up to God (Rev. 8:3-4). The fact that incense was required to approach the throne of God clearly shows that it is through prayer that we can approach God—especially with fasting, as is done on the Day of Atonement. While in the Holy of Holies, the high priest sprinkled some of the blood from his sin offering before the mercy seat (vs. 14).

(7) Was the goat selected as the sin offering to be killed? Leviticus 16:15-16; Hebrews 3:1, 4:14-16.

Comment: The blood of the offering was also brought within the veil and sprinkled before the mercy seat just as the blood of the bull. This goat represented Christ, who would one day be slain for the sins of mankind. After offering this goat, the high priest himself represented Christ, since he was making intercession for the people. This is precisely what Christ has been doing as our High Priest, since ascending to heaven nearly two millennia ago.

The blood of the goat was also sprinkled on the furnishings of the Tabernacle (vs. 17-19) to cleanse it from the accumulated sins of Israel. Only by casting lots for God to decide the matter could the high priest determine which goat represented Christ and which one represented Satan. This shows that mankind cannot distinguish between the two. Satan is a master counterfeiter (II Cor. 11:12-15) and palms himself as the true God.

(8) What was to happen to the live goat? Leviticus 16:20-22.

Comment: After the live goat was brought near to the door of the Tabernacle, Aaron laid both hands upon it, confessing the sins and iniquities of all the children of Israel. The goat was then taken into the wilderness by the hands of a fit man. Again, refer to Revelation 20:1-2: “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years…” Certainly, what was acted out in these rituals on the Day of Atonement represented what was to occur in the future shortly after the Return of Christ.

(9) What happened after the Azazel goat was released? Leviticus 16:23-26.

Comment: Aaron left his special attire in the Holy Place, washed himself, and put back on his regular priestly garments. He had to wash himself because of coming into contact with the Azazel goat, just as the fit man had to wash himself before coming back into camp. At that point, Aaron offered the ram as the burnt offering for himself and a ram as a burnt offering for the people. After this, the bullock and the goat for the sin offerings were taken outside the Tabernacle perimeter and burned completely (vs. 27-28).

(10) How do we know the above events were to occur at the time of Atonement? Leviticus 16:29-34.

Comment: After the detailed instructions for this eventful Holy Day, we find repeated the command to fast on this day and that it is to be a Sabbath of rest forever. Here, we find summarized the fact that the furnishings of the Tabernacle, the priests, and all the congregation of Israel were atoned for on this day.

In Summary

As we have seen in this lesson, fasting is the tool by which man can draw close to God and become at one with Him. How appropriate that the Day of Atonement is a day of fasting.

The lessons we can learn from the Day of Atonement are extremely vital. The prophetic meaning of Atonement will not be fulfilled until Satan is put away and can no longer influence humanity. Only then can mankind be “at one” with God.

To learn more about the subject of fasting, read our article “What You Need to Know About Fasting.”

Next In The Bible Introduction Course:

Lesson Twenty-Eight: The Feast of Tabernacles

Christ’s gospel focused on the good news of the coming kingdom of God. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures the rule of the government of God on earth under the reign of Christ, which will continue for one thousand years. After this millennial reign, other crucial steps in the Plan of God must occur in sequence, such as the second and third resurrections, to be discussed in Lesson 29. This 1,000-year period is only the beginning, as the saints of the First Resurrection are set up and trained for even greater things ahead.