January 15, 1970, is a day I will never forget. As my father turned on a craggy, old battery-operated radio, an announcement crackled over the speaker: the Nigerian Civil War was over!
Without hearing the rest of the report, my dad screamed the news at the top of his lungs. Spontaneous shouts of joy erupted from all corners of the dense forest where we had been hiding for over three weeks after being forced to flee our hometown. People emerged from their hiding places, many crying out for joy that they had survived. Some danced and others embraced one another.
Although the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra, where I lived at the time, had failed in its nearly three-year attempt to secede from Nigeria, the relief and jubilation was infectious. After 30 months of grueling warfare and over one million lives lost, the intense suffering had ended. I remember as a nine-year-old boy that—even in defeat—the general mood was one of relief that the conflict was finally over.
If the losers of a war can celebrate, imagine the jubilation that comes with victory!
August 14, 1945, is a day the world will not soon forget. Japan, the last of the Axis Powers (also consisting of Germany and Italy), surrendered. This signaled an end to World War II, the worst and most brutal global conflict in history.
In New York City, huge crowds gathered in Times Square. Spontaneous celebrations sprung up everywhere, which featured popping champagne bottles, showering confetti, and specially made “victory cakes.” The merriment spread far and wide. In San Francisco, boisterous parties lasted for three days!
Mankind naturally rejoices when peace is restored after the death and destruction of war.
Soon all of Earth’s inhabitants will experience one of the greatest victorious moments of all time. That future event will be when Satan the devil and his demons are imprisoned and no longer able to negatively influence the world.
Revelation 20 details what will happen: “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, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more…” (vs. 1-3).
In the Bible, God commands us to observe and look forward to this event by observing the Day of Atonement, one of seven annual Holy Days.
Humanly, one would expect jubilant celebration on a day picturing Satan being bound. After all, our archenemy, the originator of conflict—the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4)—will have been defeated and removed. This sounds like a moment for feasting!
Yet this is not the case. Atonement is a fast day—one in which we go without food and water. Notice: “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be a holy convocation unto you; and you shall afflict your souls…” (Lev. 23:27). Verse 31 calls observance of this day “a statute forever.”
To afflict your soul means to fast. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines the Hebrew word for “afflict” as “to depress.” Elsewhere in the King James Version, the same word is translated “abase self,” “deal hardly with,” “humble” and “weaken.” These words describe the effects one experiences when going without food and water for at least 24 hours.
So why—on a day that would seem to lend itself to euphoric celebrations—does God command a fast?
Putting the Holy Days in their proper chronological order paints a picture of God’s master plan of salvation. Doing this also reveals another unique feature of Atonement—which is linked to why we fast on it.
In the spring, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread represent Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, which allows us to strive to lead sinless lives. Then there is Pentecost, which pictures the time when salvation was opened to the firstfruits (Jms. 1:18).
Fall brings the Feast of Trumpets, which represents Christ’s triumphant return to Earth. Soon after is Atonement, which occurs right before the Feast of Tabernacles—a type of the coming 1,000-year peaceful reign of the kingdom of God. Finally, there is the Last Great Day, which represents the Creator resurrecting all those who have ever lived and offering them a chance for salvation.
For Holy Days and festivals, the physical actions commanded by God are a type of past or future events. For example, Passover lambs in ancient Israel pictured Christ’s future sacrifice. Also, the rams’ horns blown on the Feast of Trumpets point to the seven plagues to come before Christ returns. Each time, the symbols specifically match the day.
Yet Atonement is different. It contains a review of all the events that come before it. Leviticus 16 describes what the high priest Aaron, and all those who would hold the position after him, was to do in order to enter the holy place. These were instructions for the Day of Atonement.
Verses 3-6 describe how the high priest was to wash himself, that he should wear pure white linen garments, and that he had to sacrifice a young bullock to “make an atonement for himself.” This process allowed him to be purified so he could stand in as a type of Christ.
Also, in verse 5, he was to “take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering.” These two goats represented Jesus Christ and Satan, which was determined by casting lots (vs. 8).
This act shows how mankind, without direction from God, is unable to discern the difference between these two spiritual beings. (Note that the King James Version uses the term “scapegoat” for the devil’s symbolic animal. This is a gross mistranslation. The original Hebrew word is azazel, which Strong’s simply defines as “goat of departure.”)
After this, the animal standing in for Jesus was sacrificed as a sin offering. This action is analogous to His crucifixion—a review of events pictured by Passover.
Once this was done, the high priest—representing a risen Christ—brought the blood of the slain goat into the holy place: “And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel” (vs. 19).
The time the high priest spent before the mercy seat could be likened to a review of Pentecost—where after opening up salvation to the firstfruits, Christ acts as a High Priest for all Christians. He intercedes for us by presenting His shed blood before God’s throne in heaven.
Afterward, Aaron was to come back to the goat that represented Satan—an action that mirrors Trumpets and Christ’s Return.
Leviticus 16 continues with the priestly duties that apply specifically to the events of Atonement: “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness” (vs. 21-22).
At Christ’s Second Coming, He will place the guilt on Satan as the instigator of all iniquity and put him in a supernatural prison known as the bottomless pit. At that time, mankind will no longer be deceived by the devil (Rev. 12:9) and will be able to live God’s Way during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ and the saints (again, pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles).
With Satan out of the way, those alive on Earth will have access to the forgiveness of Christ’s sacrifice and instructions on how to live God’s Way.
While this information paints a picture of what occurred during that time and what the Holy Days picture, to fully answer the question, “Why a fast?” one must first understand why Atonement contains a review of the events that the Holy Days picture.
The spiritual benefits of fasting are better appreciated by looking at the physical benefits of this exercise.
Evart Loomis, internationally known physician, author and lecturer, summed up the process: “Fasting is the world’s most ancient and natural healing mechanism. Fasting triggers a truly wondrous cleansing process that reaches right down to each and every cell and tissue in the body. Within 24 hours of curtailing food intake, enzymes stop entering the stomach and travel instead into the intestines and into the bloodstream, where they circulate and gobble up all sorts of waste matter, including dead and damaged cells, unwelcome microbes, metabolic wastes, and pollutants. All organs and glands get a much-needed and well-deserved rest, during which their tissues are purified and rejuvenated and their functions balanced and regulated. The entire alimentary canal [which includes the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines] is swept clean. By rebuilding immunity, health is naturally restored and disease disappears” (Building Healthy Lungs Naturally).
Fasting allows accumulated toxic wastes—which inhibit the body’s smooth operation—to be more quickly eliminated since the organs have greatly enhanced capability during the process. Think of it this way: under normal circumstances the body can only process so much waste since a significant amount of energy is used for digestion. The unprocessed toxins are stored to be dealt with at another time.
Eventually these poisons build up and begin to have a negative effect on a person’s system. A fast provides the perfect rest for our digestive systems, which allows the body spare time and energy to attend to this “backlog” of accumulated toxins!
Our bodies were programed to attack this waste through a process known as autolysis, which is the “enzymatic digestion of cells by enzymes present within them. The cells most susceptible to autolysis tend to be dying or dead cells” (Online Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary). This is also known as self-digestion.
Fasting for an extended amount of time gives your body a well-deserved break and permits it to cleanse itself. It rewards you with greater mental clarity, healing, and a feeling of physical liveliness. A fast gives your body an exhaustive “cleansing” with the aim of repairing any imbalance in it.
Sin can be compared to the backlog of toxic waste that gets stored in the body. Just as a physical fast affords the body an avenue to eliminate physical toxins it has accumulated, it also provides the opportunity for spiritual benefits, since one ceases from fulfilling his own appetite and focuses more on God. As with enzymes that remove waste matter, afflicting or humbling yourself and seeking God’s will and forgiveness cleanses you of sins that you would not have otherwise seen.
Know that fasting in and of itself does not forgive any of our sins. Instead, it is just the beginning of the process. Going without food or drink allows God to better show us the iniquity in our lives, just as physical fasting allows toxins to be released. From there, we must wholeheartedly seek forgiveness and repentance so that the Father can purge those sins from us—or flush them from our spiritual alimentary canals, so to speak.
Interestingly, the Day of Atonement—a commanded fast—was the annual event when ancient Israel’s sins were forgiven. Notice what the high priest was to do with the blood of a sacrificed animal that represented Christ’s shed blood: “And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel…And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel” (Lev. 16:16, 19).
Through fasting—along with intensive prayer, Bible study, and meditation—we can draw closer to God and better see the “toxic” places in our lives where we are falling short. With the purging effects of forgiveness and repentance, we can be more “at one” with God.
This restores our spiritual health!
Revelation 20:3 explains that Satan is bound so “that he should deceive the nations no more.” Up until that point, the vast majority of those on Earth will have been ignorant to God’s Plan for mankind. They will have been utterly deceived by the devil.
At Christ’s Second Coming, He will begin working with those living on the planet. What will be one of the first necessary orders of business? Explaining the salvation process—a review of everything occurring until that point.
Fasting goes part and parcel with this. For man to accept Christ’s salvation, he will have to wholeheartedly trust in Him rather than relying on his own thinking.
Going without food or drink is a tool for achieving this—as God’s servants have long understood. King David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting…” (Psa. 35:13). Moses acknowledged this connection when he reminded Israel of how God “humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna…that He might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord …” (Deut. 8:3). See also Ezra 8:21.
Those alive on Earth will have to realize their mortality and need for God. Being filled with food gets in the way of this. When satiated, man tends to forget his frailty and dependency on Him. God summarized this concept by stating, “…they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten Me” (Hos. 13:6).
Moses warned Israel of the same danger: “Beware…lest, when you have eaten and are full…then your heart be lifted up” (Deut. 8:11-14).
Everyone alive will need to learn this lesson before Christ and His saints can work with them. They will have to realize that, just because Satan is bound, their lives will not automatically run smoothly. Also, they will have to admit that they are clueless on how to live without God’s help and that they can do nothing without Him (John 15:5). Only at that point will they be ready to learn the incredible plan in store for them.
Consider. The world would not be able to appreciate the victory of Satan being bound until they fully understood what was occurring. Remember that mankind cannot even tell the difference between Christ and the devil without God revealing the answer!
These facts make up a major reason fasting is commanded on Atonement. It symbolizes the need for mankind to wholeheartedly turn toward their Creator. For Christians today, the act binds Satan’s ability to influence them. It also reinforces the need to get “self” out of the way and wholly rely on God to lead our lives.
The commands of the Bible are always multilayered and rich with meaning. The same is true regarding the reason God requires fasting on Atonement.
Consider where this command falls on the calendar. It is during one of the busiest times of the year. We are all preparing for the Feast of Tabernacles and have a huge task list: finalize travel arrangements, make sure the car is working, send dress clothes to the drycleaner, request that the post office holds the mail, shop for items we will need…on and on it goes.
All this stressful busyness can make it easy to focus wholly on the physical. A loving God knows this. He tells all His people to stop and put everything in perspective—to get their minds right. Just as all of mankind will need a review of God’s Plan, we too should reflect on our calling and all that God has given to us. Doing so on this day helps us better see our part as firstfruits and be more equipped to reflect on the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Remember, we will be teaching the world how to live godly lives!
At Christ’s Return, there are many immediate orders of business—with Satan and his demons being bound near the top of the list. All alive will need to “afflict,” “depress,” “abase,” “deal hardly with,” “humble” and “weaken” themselves and turn to God.
But God does not want man to live his entire life cowering in fear and wearing sackcloth and ashes. He is a Being of joy and happiness. Soon after the devil’s imprisonment, there will be a massive celebration. It will be the grandest triumphant victory parade for the King of Kings and the saints.
We get a glimpse of this event in Zechariah 9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes unto you: He is just, and having salvation…” (vs. 9).
A lesser fulfillment of this verse happened at Jesus’ First Coming when He entered Jerusalem on a donkey (Luke 19:36-38).
Yet the context of the verse in Zechariah reveals that it is dual—everything around the scripture applies to Christ’s Second Coming.
The future victory parade at His Return will dwarf not only His First Coming, but also previous celebrations marking the end of the Biafra-Nigerian civil war in my native country, the conclusion of WWII, and all other conflicts. It will mark the end of a 6,000-year battle and Satan’s reign of terror!
Having had firsthand experience of the devastating effects of war and the resultant human suffering, disease and hunger, I can assure you it will be a celebration like no other.
As we observe another day of “affliction,” review and meditate on your part in God’s overall Plan—and look forward with great anticipation to the grand victory celebration signifying the start of our reign with Christ!