The Day of Atonement foreshadows two significant events: Jesus’ sacrificial death, and Israel’s repentance at the Messiah’s return. “They will look at Me whom they pierced” and repent, the Lord declares in Zech. 12:10. God will deal with the nation’s sins and remember them no more (Isa. 43:25; Jer. 31:34). Isaiah prophesied that the nation would be born spiritually in a day (Isa. 66:8; Rom. 11:26-27). This will be the prophetic fulfillment of the Day of Atonement as Israel comes face to face with its Messiah at the end of Daniel’s “70th week” (Dan. 9:24-27), a seven-year tribulation period that begins with the rise of an evil world ruler known in Jewish theology as Armilus and in Christian theology as Antichrist. Throughout the tribulation, many Jews will turn to Christ in the midst of great persecution, acknowledge Him as Lord and receive Him as Savior. At the same time, God will pour out His wrath on a wicked and Godless world. At the end, perhaps on the very Day of Atonement, the Jews will receive their Messiah as He comes in power and great glory as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Note the similarities between the work of the high priest on the Day of Atonement and the work of Jesus in His sacrificial death:
- The high priest does all of the work – offering 15 blood sacrifices, lighting the candles, etc. Jesus, our “great high priest” (Heb. 4:14), did all the work of redemption so that salvation is by grace alone through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
- The high priest humbles himself, wearing simple white linen clothing. Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a man (Phil. 2:5-8).
- The high priest must be spotless, having his sin atoned for before he may enter the presence of God behind the veil. Jesus was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21).
- The high priest enters the Holy of Holies only once a year, taking the atoning blood of bulls and goats behind the veil into the presence of God. Jesus offered His own blood once and for all, and the veil of the Temple – symbolizing the separation between holy God and sinful man as well as representing the body of Christ – was torn in two (Matt. 27:51).
- The blood the high priest takes into the Holy of Holies can only cover sin. Jesus’ death at Calvary took away sin (Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 25-28; 10:4; John 1:29).
In addition to the high priest, the goats also foreshadow the work of Messiah. Both goats have to be spotless, as Jesus was sinless. The goat “for YHWH,” whose blood is shed, symbolizes the substitutionary death of the Messiah. The goat “for azazel” symbolizes the finished work of Jesus in taking away our sins, never to be remembered again. Just as the high priest takes the blood of the goat “for YHWH” into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the people, Jesus entered the heavenly Holy of Holies with His own blood as the once and final payment for our sins.
Finally, in Lev. 25:8-17, God gives instructions for the Year of Jubilee (every 50th year). He tells the Jews to sound the trumpet on the 10th day of the seventh month, which is the Day of Atonement. Why not the first day of the seventh month – or, for that matter, the first day of the first month to mark the beginning of this special year? The reason becomes clear when we see the results of the Day of Atonement. In the Year of Jubilee, land reverts to its original owner, slaves are set free, all debts are cancelled, and the land rests. What a marvelous picture of the results of Christ’s sacrificial death. Jesus cancelled our sin debt, redeemed us out of the slave market of sin and set us free, promised us a place in heaven, and gave us rest. The sorrowful self-denial of Atonement is turned to joy as Jesus, the Lamb of God, invites us to enter His rest.