“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny [anah] yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you—because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:29–30, also 23:27).
God set aside one day of the year to keep us ever-mindful of the great cost of our sin, the significance of His coming Day of Judgment and our part in His great plan of salvation.
The 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei is Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the holiest day of all appointed days of the Lord, and the one day of the year when Israel was allowed to make atonement (receive forgiveness) for their collective sins as a nation, as well as for their individual sins.
While it may seem like God gave this holy day only to Jewish People, Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) as final atoning sacrifice observe it for significant spiritual reasons. Let us count the ways:
Yom Kippur reminds us of the personal cost of our sin.
Receiving forgiveness from sin comes with great personal costs, and God’s sacrificial system is a dramatic illustration of that cost.
Throughout the year, the men of Israel bought their own pure and unblemished animals—lambs, birds, goats, and bulls—and brought them to the Temple court. There, they laid their hands on the animal and confessed their sins, thereby transferring their transgressions onto the blameless animal before personally killing it. Imagine killing an animal that you paid for every time you take tell a fib or even break a law that you weren’t aware of.
Yet, it is blood that gives life. And since the wages of sin is death, something living has to die. So, in God’s system of reconciliation, blood makes atonement for sin (Leviticus 17:11).
Blood poured all day every day in the Temple of Jerusalem. Yet that blood only atoned for unintentional, accidental sins and only for a time, not for eternity.
On Yom Kippur, however, even intentional, willful sins were atoned for, but still only for a time, not for eternity. On this day, the High Priest killed a blameless goat as the sacrifice. But also on this day, he laid his hands on another unblemished goat and transferred the sins of the nation to it.
Bearing the weight of the sins of the people, this “scapegoat” was set free in the wilderness, taking the sins of the nation with it (Leviticus 16:21–22).
Yom Kippur reminds us of the indescribable cost of Yeshua’s sacrifice as payment for our sins.
Today, there is no Temple to perform these atoning sacrifices, and so no scapegoat is sent forth to free the people of Israel of their sins either. But there is God’s Suffering Servant, Messiah—the blameless, spotless, unblemished “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” as Yochanan (John the Baptist) said.
As our Lamb of God, Yeshua “poured out Himself to death” and became “an offering for sin,” bearing the iniquities of the people, and “by His stripes (wounds)” we are healed from the eternal suffering that our sin requires (Isaiah 53).
The people of Israel understood that this Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53 is Messiah.
“He, Messiah, shall intercede for man’s sins, and the rebellious, for his sake, shall be forgiven” (quoted in the Jerusalem Targum on Isaiah 53:12, an Aramaic translation of the Scriptures read in synagogues to the people).
And in the Midrash (a collection of Jewish commentaries) also states that this Suffering Servant is the long-awaited Messiah:
“And when Israel is sinful, the Messiah seeks for mercy upon them as it is written, ‘By his stripes we were healed,’ and ‘he carried the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.’” (Genesis Rabbah on Isaiah 53:5, 12).
The apostles understood that this Suffering Servant is Yeshua. Rabbi Shaul (Paul) said,
“God presented Yeshua as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Yeshua sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (Romans 3:25).
Yom Kippur reminds us of our responsibility in God’s Plan of Salvation to repent and believe.
What are we supposed to do now that Yeshua has become our final sacrifice?
Many Bible teachers say that we don’t have to do anything, just accept Yeshua’s sacrifice as our own. But that’s not all there is to it.
The Bible says we also need to do teshuva, which is a Hebrew word meaning to turn or repent. God accepts no sacrifice from us, not even the sacrifice of Yeshua, without us also turning down His path and turning away from our own.
This is also what the sages and prophets of old said:
“The LORD is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices” (Proverbs 21:3, see also Hosea 6:6–8).
This opportunity to repent is not just for the people of Israel.
“God has also granted to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
In the Book of Jonah, we see just how much God loves Gentiles. He told Jonah to go to the wicked people of Nineveh (Gentiles) and tell them to repent of their sins so that they may be saved. This focus on repentance is why the entire book of Jonah is read in synagogues around the world on Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Shaul (Paul) confirmed that faith in Yeshua and repentance of our sins are inseparable: “I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike–the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Yeshua” (Acts 20:21).
Yom Kippur helps us prepare for God’s final Judgment Day
What happens when we don’t repent?
We experience judgment, if not now then sometime in the future, either on earth or in eternity.
If Israel had repented on Yom Kippur like God allowed them to do (or on any day of the year) from their worship of false gods, scheming against each other, and willful disobedience of most of His laws, He would not have sent King Nebuchadnezzar to capture Jerusalem and take the Jewish People captive into Babylon. Moreover, even when God allowed the people to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple, Israel never again had the freedom to rule itself. The people continuously lived under the reign of another nation’s authority.
The same is true in the spiritual realm. If we don’t truly repent, we will continuously live under the reign of our flesh and the ruler of this world. If we do repent as well as accept Yeshua’s sacrifice on our behalf, God will write our names in the Book of Life so that we will live under the sovereign authority of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings in heaven forever.
Jewish tradition says that God closes this Book of Life and seals His judgment each year on Yom Kippur.
As Believers in Yeshua, our final sacrifice, we understand that God writes us in His Book of Life when we repent and believe in Yeshua any day of the year. As Yeshua Himself said at the beginning of His ministry, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).
By observing Yom Kippur each year, we remind ourselves how important it is to repent because the day is coming when God will seal the Book of Life and His judgment on each of us forever.
At the Great White Throne Judgment, “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
How We Observe Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur is a Shabbat, so no work is performed, nor do we ask others to work for us. We also observe the day by fasting from food and pleasurable activities because that is how we fulfill Leviticus 16:29 and 23:27 to deny (anah) ourselves on this day.
By denying ourselves, we experience a small portion of the personal cost of our sin, even though that portion is so miniscule in contrast to the indiscernible sacrifice of our Messiah Yeshua on the execution stake.
This self-denial follows ten days of deep self-reflection that began ten days ago with the trumpet blasts on Yom Teruah. During these ten “Days of Awe” as it is known in the Jewish community, we count the ways we have disobeyed our Father in heaven and transgressed our fellow man.
Moreover, we take steps to truly repent (turn from those sins) and follow God. This may mean beginning to repay what we owe someone, apologizing, forgiving, or doing whatever we need to do to make things right again on earth with our neighbors as well as in heaven with our Father.
We do this because it is written:
“Repent and Live!” (Ezekiel 18:32)