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Mini Bible Study

The Day of Atonement

Two Phases, One Purpose

by F. Jaco Viljoen

The annual Holy Days all point to God’s seven-step blueprint to save mankind. They start in the spring of the year with Passover depicting Christ’s sacrifice as our Passover Lamb. The spring Holy Days that follow are the Days of Unleavened Bread, which represent true Christians coming out of sin, and Pentecost, which pictures God’s firstfruits—those called into the truth in this current age—being empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The remaining four Holy Days are in the fall, beginning with the Feast of Trumpets and ending with the Last Great Day. These represent the process of God extending His gift of salvation to all mankind.

The Day of Atonement, which occurs soon after Trumpets and before the Feast of Tabernacles, is inseparable yet distinct from the other sacred days. Before the final steps of God’s Master Plan can be fulfilled, mankind, who as a whole is currently cut off from God (Isa. 59:2), must be reconciled or made “at one” with Him.

This crucial step has two phases of fulfillment.

As you work through this Bible study, be sure to take notes. Copy the verses to help you better learn and understand what you are reading.

(1) Which passages in the Bible point out the command to keep the Day of Atonement? Leviticus 23:26-32. Which two specific and related elements of keeping the day make it unique? When we “afflict” ourselves, what does this really mean?

During Atonement, “no work” was allowed. This was unlike other Holy Days where only servile work was prohibited. Exodus 12:16 shows the type of work allowed during most Holy Days: “…no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.”

Leviticus 16:29 further explains that on Atonement “no work at all” should be done.

This complete abstinence from work is closely linked to the other unique element of this day: the command to “afflict” yourself. The Hebrew word translated “afflict” means to “humble,” “abase” or “depress.” Psalm 35:13 points out that David “humbled” himself “with fasting.” With this connection, we can see the reason no food preparation was needed on Atonement. Through proper fasting, abstaining from food and water (usually for 24 hours), we draw closer to God by humbling ourselves during Atonement (Jms. 4:7-9).

Only after mankind as a whole has been afflicted or humbled during the worst time of trial in human history (the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord) will the door be opened for everyone to come closer to God. They will have been abased and will therefore be more inclined to obey.

(2) What is the meaning of the word “atonement”?

The phrase “day of atonement” occurs three times in the Old Testament, including in Leviticus 25:9. In Hebrew, the words are Yom Kippur, which is what followers of Judaism call this Holy Day. It simply means a day of redemption.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines atonement as “reparation for an offense or injury.” It can also mean “reconciliation, redemption or amends.” A breakdown of the word reveals more of how it can be viewed in a spiritual sense. Simply put, the Day of Atonement represents mankind’s opportunity to be “at-one” with God!

During this point in God’s Plan, humanity as a whole will be able to amend—improve or change for the better—its relationship with God.

(3) Was the keeping of the Day of Atonement done away or should Christians continue to keep this solemn day in the New Testament era? Acts 27:9.

Notice the phrase “because the fast was now already past.” The Greek word translated “fast” in this verse means “abstinence (from lack of food); specifically the fast of the Day of Atonement” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). This shows that members of the New Testament Church continued to keep this Holy Day. God’s Plan is for all time and, as the fall Holy Days depict, it will eventually involve everyone.

Before all mankind can be reconciled to God, however, two events need to take place—one occurred in the past and is ongoing while the other will happen very soon!

(4) Who was the only one allowed to enter the Holy of Holies within the Holy Place? Leviticus 16:2. How often did the High Priest enter to make atonement? Leviticus 16:34.

The High Priest was ordained—appointed—to serve his fellow man concerning the “things” or business of God.

Aaron, the first High Priest in Israel, had to appear in the Holy of Holies contained within the Tabernacle. The Holy of Holies represented God’s throne in heaven. The High Priest entered once a year “to make an atonement” for all the people. While other priests served in the Holy Place just outside the Holy of Holies and in the area in front of the Tabernacle, only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.

(5) What were the High Priest’s duties on the Day of Atonement? How were they central to the meaning of the day? Leviticus 16:3-7. What did the High Priest do with the two goats? Leviticus 16:8-9.

The High Priest’s duties on the Day of Atonement reveal special understanding. He first sacrificed a young bullock as a sin offering to make an atonement for himself and his household, and a ram for a burnt offering. This was because he first had to be cleansed and reconciled before he could continue with his other required duties for the day.

He then took two identical goats and presented them to God. This act parallels the two phases of Atonement that are central to the meaning of this day.

The need for Aaron to “cast lots upon the two goats” shows that the matter of distinguishing between the two was not left to human choice. God determined which of these indistinguishable goats represented the Lord, or sin offering for Israel, and which one was the “scapegoat” (this name, a mistranslation, will be explained later in the study).

(6) The High Priest had to kill one goat—which? What did he have to do with the goat’s blood? Leviticus 16:15-16. How do these actions apply to us today? Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25; 8:1.

The goat designated to be the sin offering had to be killed even before the “scapegoat” was released. This happened because of Israel’s sins. By its blood, reconciliation to God was made possible. Similarly, Christ was crucified once for the sins of mankind, which opened the door to salvation for all time.

Not only does the goat that was slain represent Christ, but the High Priest does as well. Only He can truly enter God’s throne in heaven to reconcile mankind to the Father. As our High Priest, He “is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” to make intercession for us.

Someone who makes intercession prays on behalf of another person. Christ “was in all points tempted like as we are” but never sinned. Thus, He understands our infirmities and is a perfect mediator between us and the Father.

Christ’s death and role as High Priest represent the first phase necessary to make atonement possible. Another phase is also needed to fulfill God’s Plan.

(7) Why was the other goat released? Leviticus 16:10. What happened to the goat that was kept alive? Leviticus 16:20-22.

The “scapegoat” was presented alive in front of the Eternal at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and then released into the wilderness. It is interesting to note that both goats were needed “to make an atonement.” Each played a separate but vital role in giving meaning to the day.

The Hebrew word translated “scapegoat” is azazel, which means “goat of departure.” It shows how Satan, an immortal spirit being who departed from God, will be completely removed and unable to deceive the nations during Christ’s reign on Earth (Rev. 12:9).

The distinction between this and the goat that represents Christ are important to understand. Many in the world confuse their identities—believing that the “scapegoat” represents Christ. This is not correct.

Only after the goat representing the Lord was killed were all sins and iniquities confessed over the azazel goat. This was done by the High Priest through the laying on of hands. The scapegoat was next released in the wilderness by the hand of a “fit man.” This act points to a future action to occur, which will be covered later.

(8) What did the High Priest have in his possession as he entered the Holy of Holies? Leviticus 16:12-13.

The Holy of Holies represented God’s throne in heaven, and the High Priest was required to enter with “his hands full of sweet incense.” The ascending smoke of the burning incense covering the mercy seat depicts the prayers we offer to God (Rev. 8:3-4). As we have seen, Hebrews 4:16 instructs us to “come boldly” in prayer before God’s throne. We can do this on a daily basis, not just on Atonement.

(9) What is humanity’s predominant state of mind just prior to Christ’s Return? Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21.

Romans 8:7 gives us further insight into man’s true state of mind toward God: “The carnal mind [human nature] is enmity [hostile] against God.”

Much of mankind will be utterly unwilling to “repent”—reconsider and change—their evil deeds, even in the face of plagues and intense trials.

(10) What happens to Satan when Christ returns? Revelation 20:1-3. What happens to the many demons that follow him? Revelation 18:2.

The terms “dragon” and “serpent” are additional names for Satan, which itself means “accuser.” Satan is God’s earliest adversary who later also became humanity’s chief opponent. Soon, both he and the angels who rebelled and became demons will be removed from influencing mankind during the Millennium. This future act was pictured each time an azazel goat was released into the wilderness by a fit man. This parallels Satan being bound by an angel and cast into the bottomless pit.

As “the god of this world,” the devil has “blinded the minds” of people for nearly 6,000 years (II Cor. 4:4). Soon, he will no longer be able to accuse and seduce human beings. With Satan and his demons out of the way, mankind will be truly free to be reconciled to God.

(11) After Satan is unseated, do the effects of his influence over mankind immediately disappear? Zechariah 14:16-19.

The devil’s influence over humanity has been so strong that even when he is removed the effects of his deception will linger. Eventually, however, all nations will learn that their ways do not work. Then they will be ready to submit to Christ’s rule over them.

(12) Shortly after Satan’s influence diminishes, what actions will those surviving into the Millennium eventually take? Isaiah 2:2-4.

During the last days, “mountains”—large nations—and “hills”—smaller nations—will “flow unto” Jerusalem, God’s seat of government. In these verses, there is a noticeable change in attitudes, from following Satan’s way to a readiness of people to be taught by God and “walk in His paths.”

In today’s age, nations often revert to war to resolve their problems. Soon, however, this way of thinking will be a thing of the past, as it states in Isaiah 2:4: “…they shall beat [violently crush and destroy] their swords into plowshares”—convert their weapons—and exchange their expert skills in war craft for peaceful pursuits.

The Day of Atonement is a unique Holy Day in which God commands us to humble ourselves through fasting. We have seen that there are two phases necessary to give this day full meaning. One occurred through Christ’s death, Resurrection and role as our High Priest before God. The other is prophetic and will soon be fulfilled when Satan is bound and removed for 1,000 years.

Only after this takes place can humanity truly be “at-one” with God.