1. Preliminary observations
   a. Sources
   b. Date
   c. A Day of affliction
   d. Atonement
   e. A reminder of sin
   f. Rejection/Acceptance
2. The reason for the institution of Yom Kippur
3. The high priest’s garments
4. Preliminary preparations
5. The bull (a sin offering)
6. The goats (a sin offering)
   a. Introduction
   b. One sin offering
   c. The first goat - ‘For the Lord’
      i. For all Israel - Sin forgiven
      ii. For the Holy Place - Heaven cleansed
   d. The second goat - ‘For Azazel’
      i. Sin bearer
      ii. Sin remover
   e. Waiting for acceptance
7. The rams (burnt offerings)
8. Sacrifices burned
9. The Year of Jubilee
Appendix - A comparison between the Old and New Covenants

1. Preliminary observations

a. Sources

Leviticus chapter 16 is the essential OT passage that deals with the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement as they relate primarily to the high priest and the offerings that were to be presented before the presence of God.

Lev 23:26-32 deals with Yom Kippur in the context of the other six annual Israelite festivals. Though there isn’t too much we can get from this passage, it’s important to read as it looks at the fast from the viewpoint of the Israelites and what they were expected to do.

In the NT, the letter to the Hebrews is a good exposition of Leviticus chapter 16 (and it will be referred to repeatedly throughout this study), though it does also refer to the entire sacrificial system. The writer is concerned to show Jesus as both the Offerer (the High Priest - Hebrews chapter 7) and the Offering (the goats - Heb 9:23-10:18).

Finally, extensive reference has been made to the Mishnah (specifically the tractate Yoma) which deals with the ceremonies of Yom Kippur as the rabbis remembered them (c.200AD) after the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed (c.70AD). The value of using such a source may be wondered at but it gives us some informative illustrations of how the Jews interpreted the Scriptural commands and how they had also added some traditions of their own to safeguard the Day against abuse. The problem with all Jewish sources of later celebrations of festivals is that we can think that, because a tradition was part of the ceremony, it has to be fulfilled by Christ.

But this need not be so.

Therefore, I’ve tried to add illustrations from the Mishnah where relevant and where they don’t detract from the Scriptural commandment and its fulfilment in Christ. To be honest, some of the information contained in the Mishnah about the Day is, to me at least, extremely interesting and illustrates how seriously the Rabbis took the ceremonies that were to secure, every year, national acceptance of the Israelites before YHWH.

b. Date

Yom Kippur took place on the 10th day of the 7th Jewish month which is called Tishri - roughly corresponding to the time of mid to late September in our calendar (Lev 16:29, 23:27). It was the sixth of the seven annual festivals that Israel were commanded to observe that began with Passover and ended with the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus chapter 23).

In one sense, the positioning of Yom Kippur here is strange seeing as it comes immediately before (five days before, in fact) the most joyous festival of them all. In the seventh month there’s situated both the lowest and highest points of the Jewish calendar.

c. A day of affliction

It was to be a ‘day of affliction’ (Lev 16:29,31, 23:27,29,32) for the entire nation.

This ‘affliction’ was taken primarily to mean ‘fasting’ - Yoma 8:1 states that

‘On the Day of Atonement, eating, drinking, washing, anointing, putting on sandals and marital intercourse are forbidden...’ - though the word used (Strongs Hebrew number 6031) simply means something that’s depressed and is used in a wide variety of applications that are too numerous to catalogue and mention here.

TWOTOT comments, after listing various uses of the word, that

‘...another theological theme frequently connected with this word is self-inflicted inner pain expressing contrition and often accompanied by fasting. These are commanded by God...for the day of Atonement’

This ‘inner pain’ (that is, conviction of sin) was extremely important if the Israelite was ever to realise the importance of the ceremonies that were to be offered on the Day. Though fasting is primarily the outward action that’s observed, without an inner state of humility at the sin of the nation before God the action would have been meaningless.

As is so often the case with ‘ceremony’, it’s too easy to substitute an action for a state of heart and think that the action is, in itself, what God requires from us. But individual and corporate humility was fundamentally important to the success of the Day.

The Rabbis were insistent that (Yoma 8:9):

‘If a man said “I will sin and repent, and sin again and repent”, he will be given no chance to repent. [If he said] “I will sin and the Day of Atonement will effect Atonement”, then the Day of Atonement effects no atonement...’

so that ‘high-handed sins’ were seen not to be forgiven. Therefore there was the need for humility not just on this Day but in the entire year between one Yom Kippur ceremony and the next.

This concept of ‘humbling oneself’ before God was the main concern of the OT legislation. There could be no joviality or festivity when atonement for sin was being made - to do so would have made light of the seriousness of sin - see the command in Lev 16:29-30 which states that

‘...you shall afflict yourselves...for on this Day shall atonement be made for you...’

In this context, though, the following festivities of the Feast of Tabernacles are easily apparent. Having had the burden of national sin dealt with through the sacrifice of the Day, there could then be a celebration that acceptance before God had been secured.

And that’s a good reason to go loopey in one’s praise of God!

d. Atonement

The Heb word for ‘atonement’ (Strongs Hebrew number 3722) has a root meaning of ‘covering’ though there’s not universal agreement amongst scholars. Therefore, TWOTOT begins by saying that

‘There is an equivalent Arabic root meaning “cover” or “conceal”. On the strength of this connection it has been supposed that the Hebrew word means “to cover over sin” and thus pacify the deity, making an atonement...It has been suggested that the OT ritual symbolised a covering over of sin...’

before going on to state that

‘There is, however, very little evidence for this view’

However, in Gen 6:14 (my italics), we read that Noah is commanded concerning the Ark

‘...make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch...’

where the italicised word represents the same Hebrew word as that used when speaking of the atonement of sin (even though TWOTOT distinguishes this use of the word - which is identical - from the other occurrences, thereby eliminating the necessity for seeing a reference to the concept of ‘covering over’).

Others have seen in the word ‘atone’ the concept of two parties being made ‘at-one’ in a deliberate play upon the word. Though the picture this hyphenation conjures up is an easy way to remember what atonement secures, it is, perhaps, too strong a phrase to use when it implies a harmony based upon offence that has been removed rather than covered.

There seems little reason to doubt the basic meaning of ‘covering’ (especially when TWOTOT fails to give a simple underlying meaning that’s relevant to its use in the sacrificial system).

Yom Kippur was, then, a day when covering was made - the blood of the animal sacrifices ‘covered’ the sins of the nation - it masked their disobedience by the life of an innocent victim, but it couldn’t forgive sin (Heb 10:4). It was the daily sacrifices that dealt mainly with individual sin but Yom Kippur dealt with the collective sins of the nation of Israel and secured acceptance before God.

We often speak of ‘Atonement in Christ’ (and even the title of one of the best books I’ve read on the work of the cross is entitled ‘The Atonement’ - see my references for details), but we should realise that ‘covering’ doesn’t appear to be an adequate description of His work. The OT sacrificial system ‘covered’ sin until the One was to come who was not just going to ‘cover’ but ‘forgive’ and ‘remove’ once and for all time (Heb 7:27, 9:25, 10:11-12).

When we look in to the NT, the OT concept of covering sin in connection with Jesus’ work on the cross doesn’t appear, the writers tending to use absolute and unambiguous words that indicate that, though there once was sin, there now no longer exists any past committed sin in the lives of those who have been forgiven.

‘Atonement’ is, in my opinion, an inadequate term for the NT work of Christ, but as authors still use that word to convey the sum total of the cross, we must be aware of its different meaning when used with reference to Old and New Testaments.

e. A reminder of sin

The writer to the Hebrews points out that, while the annual festival of Yom Kippur continued to take place, there was a perpetual reminder of sin - that is, that sin had not ultimately been dealt with as it would be when the Christ came (Heb 10:3).

When the commandments were given concerning Yom Kippur, no mention was ever made of the Israelites to bear in mind the need for an annual provision for their corporate failure to live sinlessly before God according to the Law, but it’s a relevant inference from the text.

Whilever there’s sacrifice offered and sin having to be ‘covered’, then there can only be the realisation that the ultimate offering has not yet been made that man may once again become acceptable to God and fellowship with Him as He did in the Garden of Eden (that is, face to face - see also the study ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ part 2 section 1).

f. Rejection/Acceptance

The annual ceremonies of Yom Kippur settled the verdict on the nation of Israel by God. If the offering was accepted, that meant acceptance for the nation - but if it was rejected, the nation would have found itself separated and alienated away from the blessing and life of God.

The Jews regarded the outcome of Yom Kippur so seriously that, as has been previously noted above, they took steps to safeguard each step of the ceremonies so that nothing could be left to chance. Indeed, they were quite wise in this respect to underpin and safeguard the outcome by preventing any possibility of failure to arise.

But they did go too far and think that, somehow, Yom Kippur was instituted with the possibility that, at the end of it, Israel might find itself alienated from the provision and blessing of God. When we read the passages carefully that deal with the Day, we see that God made no provision for failure.

Notice this - as far as God was concerned, the outcome of Yom Kippur was certain and never in doubt for there’s never a clause that says, for instance

‘if the offering is accepted’


‘the sacrifice might make atonement’

Therefore, Jewish traditions which are cited by commentators and preachers (and which may or may not have their source in Jewish writings - see below) such as that of tying a rope round the high priest in case he died in God’s presence (so as to pull him out) cheapen God’s command, for He didn’t intend the high priest ever to be slain and failure to be the end product.

When we come to the NT fulfilment of the Day of Atonement we have to ask ourselves whether, perhaps, it’s possible that our high priest’s offering might not be acceptable to God so that, being deluded by comforting words that we’re acceptable to God through Christ, we find ourselves rejected and alienated away from the presence of God.

Of course, no provision is made that the cross could ever have failed - the statements in the NT are, rather, that the work has been achieved and there’s no debate as to whether the final outcome was ever in doubt.

2. The reason for the institution of Yom Kippur

In Lev 10:1-2 we read the story concerning Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, who offered ‘unholy’ fire before the Lord and who were slain for their transgression. The Scriptures don’t plainly inform us as to the two men’s sin and why what they did was considered to be such an act of rebellion that they paid for it with their lives.

But, having said that, there are a couple of indications in the text of the reason:

Firstly, Lev 16:1 speaks of ‘unholy fire’ being offered before the Lord. That is, fire that hadn’t been taken from the altar of burnt offering seems to have been used to burn the incense before the Lord. This fire wasn’t what had been set apart for the Lord’s use and would have been something different to the fire that had come from the presence of God to consume the previous offerings (Lev 9:24).

The warning to that and each subsequent generation of both Israelites and priests was that God must be approached properly, in the way that He chooses and not our way (Prov 16:25).

Secondly, we may wonder at why Nadab and Abihu should ever consider that God would have found an offering acceptable when it clearly contravened the commandments as set out in the book of the Law. Lev 16:8-9 give us an indication of the reason. Here, the Lord commands Aaron and his remaining sons not to drink alcohol when they minister to Him, so hinting at the possibility that Nadab and Abihu’s judgment had been impaired through intoxication.

Therefore, having minds that had been clouded in perception, they’d used what wasn’t to be used in the service of God. This incident doesn’t, of course, legislate against the consumption of alcohol (the Bible is very plain in its teaching elsewhere that wine and other drinks are not in themselves sinful - only the excessive use of them - but they do fog the mind to make clear and accurate decisions - Prov 20:1, 31:4-7) but is instructing the priests to make sure that, when they come to appear before the Lord, they’re level headed and knowing what He commands to be done.

From that day onwards, God commanded Aaron, in mercy, not to come into the Holy of Holies at any or all times (Lev 16:1-2). Only once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he was to follow a precise procedure for the atonement of the people’s sins, was he to come within the veil and into the presence of God in case he should die.

While the Tabernacle remained, access into God’s presence was restricted to just once a year and, even then, only the high priest was allowed to enter - not for fellowship with the Lord but to secure atonement on behalf of the people (see also ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ part 2 section 1)

3. The high priest’s garments

The high priest’s garments were made ‘for glory and for beauty’ (Ex 28:2). They comprised of (in the order of being put on - Lev 8:5-9)

On the great Day of the year when the high priest entered into God’s presence to secure atonement for both himself and for the nation, he was commanded not to come dressed in glory or beauty. Lev 16:4 tells us that

‘He shall be girded with the linen coat and shall have the linen breeches on his body, be girded with the linen girdle and wear the linen turban: These are the holy garments’

These four items of clothing are those that have been set in the above list to the left of the other four.

The high priest laid aside all the glory of his garments and put on those parts that represented humility - for it was in humility that he was to come before the Lord to atone for the iniquity of his people. He came, not as a king, but as a pauper. Paul wrote concerning Jesus (Phil 2:7) that

‘...[He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant...’

and (Phil 2:8)

‘...being found in human form, He humbled Himself...’

Also in II Cor 8:9, he wrote that Jesus

‘...though...rich, yet for your sake He became poor...’

When Jesus came to earth, He likewise laid aside all His ‘glory and beauty’ (He didn’t lay aside His deity, only His glory and beauty - Is 53:2) that had been rightfully His (John 17:5) and, in the humility of humanity, satisfied the requirements of the Day of Atonement.

Therefore, as we now come to begin to consider the ceremonies of Yom Kippur, we can initially see that Jesus is, from the very beginning, considered to be the greater High Priest who’s the fulfilment of all that the Law was only a shadow.

An interesting scene takes place in the residence of the high priest shortly before Jesus is to be crucified (Mtw 26:57-65). Those who had seized Jesus had brought him here to be examined by Caiaphas, the current high priest according to the law of Moses.

Being anxious to have Jesus confess that He claimed to be the Messiah, he put Him under oath by saying to Him

‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if You are the Christ...’

a possible echo back to the legislation of Lev 5:1 where a witness who hears a public adjuration to testify must speak the truth or else it be reckoned to him as sin.

Therefore Jesus has no choice but to answer in the affirmative - indeed, the reason behind Caiaphas’ citing of the Scripture was that if, as happened, Jesus confessed Himself to be the Messiah, he could justify the death sentence while, if He denied it, he could also condemn Him for speaking a lie. His silence on the matter (Mtw 26:63) would also have been tantamount to an admission of guilt or, at the very least, a transgression of the OT Law.

However, here the two high priests stand face to face - Caiaphas (the high priest of the Old Covenant) and Jesus (the High Priest of the New).

Upon hearing Jesus’ confession, Caiaphas, unthinkingly, rends his garments (Mtw 26:65) something that it was forbidden for him to do. The Law commanded that his clothes should remain in one piece so that his consecration to God would be preserved (Lev 21:10-12) and that he wouldn’t die (Lev 10:6). But here, the consecration (Caiaphas’ separation to God to do His service) is torn away from him by one act of carelessness (see also Ex 28:31-32, 39:23 which refer to the tearing of the high priest’s garments - but here they have to do with the priestly clothes).

Here, then, one high priest tears away the priesthood from himself while the other takes up the Priesthood that has been given to Him by promise (Heb 7:15-22) in order to secure an eternal work of ‘atonement’.

4. Preliminary preparations

The Rabbis realised that, in theory, the outcome of Yom Kippur meant acceptance or rejection for the entire nation of Israel before God (as we’ve seen in section 1, though, God made no provision for failure. As far as He was concerned, the offerings of Yom Kippur were going to be accepted to continue Israel in the covenant relationship they had with Him), so they wrote into their service a number of preliminary preparations that were designed to safeguard the outcome.

Seven days before Yom Kippur, the high priest was taken from his house into a chamber where he was segregated from Israel - another priest was also selected who stood by in readiness in case anything should happen that rendered him ineligible to perform the day’s ceremonies (Yoma 1:1).

The high priest had to carry out duties within the Temple throughout that seven day period in order to get acquainted with the sacrificial procedure (in NT and inter-testament times, the high priest wasn’t necessarily ‘from the line of Aaron’ but chosen by the Romans who occupied and controlled Israel), while the elders of the court repeatedly went through the day’s ordinances with him (Yoma 1:2-3).

On the eve of Yom Kippur (that is, sunset. The Jewish day begins when there are three stars visible in the evening sky), the high priest wasn’t allowed to eat much as ‘food induces sleep’ (Yoma 1:4) and, throughout this night, the priesthood were to make sure that he stayed awake.

The reason was, partly, the legislation in Deut 23:10-11. Should he render himself ‘unclean’ by an emission of semen during slumber, and over which he would have had little control, he could bring disaster upon Israel and rejection from the blessing of the Lord. Even though there was a second priest standing by in case anything untoward happened, the importance placed upon the first choice being the one who offered the sacrifice was absolute.

They had a number of methods in order to keep him awake. By reading certain Scriptures aloud they drove sleep away (even though some may have found this to have had rather the opposite effect!) or causing him to walk bare-footed on the cold pavement outside the chamber after snapping their fingers before him to arouse him (Yoma 1:6-7).

When sunrise came, the high priest went about a number of routine tasks before coming to the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement.

It should be noted here (though we don’t suggest that this is a Scriptural fulfilment) that since the time of the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus hadn’t slept, and the movements first to Annas’ house, then to Caiaphas’, to the hearing before both the Sanhedrin and the Romans, would have prevented much opportunity for it.

When the sun rose on Jesus on the crucifixion day, He’d probably been awake for near on 24 hours.

5. The bull (a sin offering)

The first offering of the Day (apart from the normal sacrifices which the high priest would have offered) was a bull to atone for his own sins (Lev 16:11-14). It was the normal offering for a transgression of this kind (Lev 4:1-3), though the application of the blood was different and certain details are omitted in Lev 16 that would normally take place (for example - the laying on of hands). This may be because these instructions had been previously mentioned in the main section of Leviticus dealing with sin offerings and so there was no cause for them to be repeated.

The high priest slaughtered the bullock and received its blood in a basin. One was standing by (presumably a priest) to continually stir it in order for it not to congeal while the high priest took glowing cinders from the altar of burnt offering and placed them in the fire-pan (Yoma 4:3).

He also took two hands full of incense and placed them into the ladle that was brought to him. Then, with the ladle in his left hand and the fire-pan in his right, he entered the Holy of Holies.

Shortly before the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, the Rabbis had hung two veils to conceal the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place (Yoma 5:1) though, for a great length of time, there was only one (II Chr 3:14, Ex 40:3). Just when this arrangement was instituted is unclear. The Mishnah makes the statement without any indication and, the way it appears, they seem to have always considered that it had been like this. The NT writers speak of ‘the curtain’ (Mtw 27:51) rather than ‘curtains’ so perhaps it was shortly after the incident cited in Matthew’s Gospel that the twin curtains were put up.

However, Shekalim 8:4-5 speaks only of a single curtain being hung so it’s not impossible that the twin curtains which provided a corridor were only set up once a year for this particular day. Alternatively, the two curtains could have been regarded as being one in much the same way as the two goats dealt with later were regarded as two aspects of the one offering.

Whatever the actual explanation, it seems to be indeterminable.

The high priest entered the corridor at the south opening, walking along until he reached the north opening into the Holy of Holies.

Keeping the curtain on his left, he followed it round until he came to the two poles of the Ark (don’t forget that there was little or no light within the Holy of Holies - save the shining of the presence of God if He was there - so having the curtain as a guiding route was extremely necessary for him not to collide with the Ark of the Covenant). He placed the fire-pan between the two poles and heaped up the incense on the burning coals so that the whole place became filled with smoke (Lev 16:12-13, Yoma 5:1) - how the high priest didn’t suffocate to death in that enclosed space is probably a valid consideration, but the corridor that he’d walked down would have provided some ventilation. And the actual time spent within the Holy of Holies would have been rather minimal - he was there to offer sacrifice and then get out, there was no provision for him to have fellowship with God.

The exact method when only one curtain was hung is uncertain but the sheer weight of it and the high priest having his hands full would have made for some difficulty.

The high priest came out to the one who’d been continually stirring the blood of the sin offering and took it into the Holy of Holies, sprinkling it before the Lord (Lev 16:14), in all eight times (once upwards onto the front of the mercy seat and seven times downwards onto the ground in front of the Ark - so the Rabbis taught in Yoma 5:3).

Note that, when the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, there was no longer an Ark in the Holy of Holies, it having been either captured as a spoil of war or having been hidden by the Jews when the approaching armies surrounded the city (see Shekalim 6:1-2).

Instead, an outcrop of rock of Mount Moriah projected up from the floor (called ‘Shetiyah’ - literally ‘Foundation’) and this was used as the place where the fire-pan stood (Yoma 5:2). The high priest would then have sprinkled the blood towards the empty space where the Ark should have been.

The offering of the bull (Lev 16:6) was

‘...a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house’

Before the high priest could atone for the sins of the nation, he had to be cleansed, to be made free from sin before the Lord, for the nation’s offering to be acceptable - otherwise he may impart his own sin to the spotless and sinless offering when he laid his hands upon it.

Heb 7:26 says that Jesus, our High Priest, is

‘...holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners...’

and Heb 4:15 reads that

‘...we have...a High Priest...who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’

There is, therefore, no need for Jesus to offer anything to God for His own sins and we find no mention of any fulfilment with regard to this offering in the NT- Jesus was already spotless, acceptable to Him both as the ultimate Offerer and the ultimate Offering.

6. The goats (a sin offering)

a. Introduction

Two male goats were given to the high priest by the congregation of the people of Israel. These represented their offering to God to make atonement for their sin (Lev 16:5).

Lots were cast over the two goats (Lev 16:7-10), one being designated ‘for the Lord’ (a red thread was bound about its neck - Yoma 4:2), the other ‘for Azazel’ (a red thread was bound about its head - Yoma 4:2). This took place before the first sacrifice was slaughtered (the bull of section 5).

The Hebrew word that’s translated ‘for Azazel’ by both the RSV and GNB (translated as ‘the scapegoat’ by the NIV, NASB and AV) is of uncertain meaning. However, it seems best to follow the partial interpretation that translates it as ‘for utter removal’. Although it’s quite true that the goat was a scapegoat (it had sins placed upon it which were not of it’s own doing), the translation ‘for utter removal’ conveys more of the meaning of the possible etymological root of the Hebrew word, as far as I can determine.

The phrase certainly had no original reference to a desert demon called ‘Azazel’ to which the goat was dedicated, or to satan himself.

b. One sin offering

Yoma 6:1 tells us that

‘the two he-goats of the Day of Atonement should be alike in appearance, in size and in value, and have been bought at the same time’

Though there were two goats, the Rabbis taught that they should resemble one another as closely as possible because they were considered to be two different aspects of the one offering.

This was in accordance with the Scriptural instructions for, in Lev 16:5 (my italics), it says that there should be

‘...two male goats for a sin offering...’

Notice that the passage does not say ‘for sin offerings’ which would have taught that there were two but ‘for a sin offering’ which indicates one.

In other words, only one sin offering was commanded to be offered to make atonement for the sins of Israel, even though there were two aspects represented by the individual goats. Though one offering is sufficient to remove the sins of Israel, there needed to be two goats because it wasn’t possible for the single goat to take upon itself both aspects that the dealing with sin required.

Is 53:10 refers to Jesus when it says that He will make

‘...Himself an offering for sin [that is, one sin offering]...’

Jesus, the sacrifice, represents both aspects (both goats) of this one, perfect, sin offering that we’re about to discuss in greater depth.

c. The first goat - ‘For the Lord’

The first he-goat was killed by the high priest, it’s blood being caught in a bowl. He then brought the blood within the veil and sprinkled it on the mercy seat (the covering of the Ark of the Covenant) and before the mercy seat (Yoma 5:4 tells us that the Rabbis taught that he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat once, but before it seven times. The Scriptural account lends weight to their interpretation - see Lev 16:15 and Cp v.14). Blood was also applied to the horns of the altar (of incense - or so the Rabbis interpreted it - see Lev 16:18-19, Yoma 5:4).

The first goat satisfied the need for the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22, Lev 17:11). This sacrifice made atonement for the Holy Place (Lev 16:16) and for all Israel (Lev 16:17), looking forward to the offering of Jesus who was to come:

i. For all Israel - Sin forgiven

The Law concerning the sacrifice
Lev 16:17 - ‘...he shall make atonement...for all the assembly of Israel...’

The fulfilment in Christ
The sins of mankind needed to be forgiven so that they could stand cleansed from sin before the Lord. The blood shed on Calvary cleanses all men who, by faith, avail themselves of it.

The Scriptures
Is 53:5 - ‘...He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities...’
Heb 9:12 - ‘[Christ’s] own blood [secures] an eternal redemption’
I John 1:7 - ‘...the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin...’
Eph 1:7 - ‘In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses [or ‘sins’]...’
Rom 3:24-25 - ‘...Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins...’
It’s already been noted (but it’s worth repeating) that it was only the blood of the sin offering that was ‘poured out’ at the base of the altar (Lev 4:7, 4:18, 4:25, 4:30). So the relevance of Jesus’ words in Mtw 26:28 are apparent where He announces that
‘...this is My blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins...’
The cross, then, is God’s altar where Jesus’ blood is poured out to secure forgiveness of sins and, as such, is the ultimate fulfilment of the OT sin offering.

ii. For the Holy Place - Heaven cleansed

The Law concerning the sacrifice
Lev 16:16 - ‘...he shall make atonement for the Holy Place because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins’

The fulfilment in Christ
God’s dwelling place had uncleanness imparted to it by the sin of Israel (the Tabernacle was set up in their midst) so that they had need to be cleansed. In like manner, if God was to dwell in the midst of His people, their sin had to be dealt with so that a covenant relationship could be re-established.
This has to do ultimately with the cleansing of heaven.

The Scriptures Heb 9:23 - ‘...the heavenly things themselves [had need to be purified] with better sacrifices [than the blood of bulls and goats]’
Before mankind could enter into the presence of God, all uncleanness/sin had to be dealt with so that man would not be consumed on account of their sin by God’s presence and holiness.
Note that the earthly Tabernacle was a shadow/illustration/type of the heavenly one (Heb 8:5, 9:24) and the implication is that there’s a ‘real’ Tabernacle in heaven. This doesn’t mean that we should think of the heavenly one as having skins of goats etc., but that there’s a way of approach to God (outer court, inner court, Holy of Holies) that exists which had to be illustrated in the layout and construction of the earthly Tabernacle.

d. The second goat - ‘For Azazel’

The live goat was then brought before the high priest. He laid both hands upon it and confessed over it all the iniquities, transgressions and sins of the people of Israel, putting them upon the head of the goat (Lev 16:20-21). The thought of ‘transference’ was present here, in that all that Israel had done wrong was mediated onto the head of the goat by the high priest.

A man who was standing by then led the goat into the wilderness and released it (Lev 16:21). In later times, the Rabbis had the goat pushed over a ravine (possibly named ‘Tzok’) about twelve miles from Jerusalem, but the Scriptural account commands that the goat be ‘let go’ in the ‘wilderness’. Though this procedure is entirely fanciful, it does make interesting reading (Yoma 6:4-6).

‘And they made a causeway for [the goat] because of the Babylonians who used to pull its hair, crying to it
“Bear [our sins] and be gone! Bear [our sins] and be gone!”. Certain of the eminent folk of Jerusalem used to go with him to the first booth. There were ten booths from Jerusalem to the ravine [which was at a distance of] ninety ris (which measure seven and a half to the mile).
‘At every booth they used to say to him “Here is food, here is water” and they went with him from that booth to the next booth, but not from the last booth; for none used to go with him to the ravine; but they stood at a distance and beheld what he did.
‘What did he do? He divided the thread of crimson wool and tied one half to the rock and the other half between its horns, and he pushed it from behind; and it went rolling down, and before it had reached half the way down the hill it was broken in pieces. He returned and sat down beneath the last booth until nightfall...’

The reason for this additional ‘ceremony’ (for want of a better word) may have been the return of the goat on one occasion which was considered to be a bad omen of events soon to happen. So, in order to prevent such an occasion arising again, the Rabbis worked out an elaborate ritual to remove the goat completely from the face of the earth.

Again, the Rabbis were concerned to know that the goat had reached the wilderness and devised a few procedures that would give them an indication that this had happened (Yoma 6:8). One such miraculous sign - recorded by Rabbi Ishmael - was that

‘...a thread of crimson wool was tied to the door of the Sanctuary and when the he-goat reached the wilderness the thread turned white...’

Whether this ever had taken place is uncertain, but what is certain is that both these procedures concerning the removal of the second goat were unScriptural!

It says plainly in Lev 16:10 that this second goat makes atonement for Israel even though there’s no shedding of blood. But it must be remembered that both these goats represent one sin offering, and blood is shed in the offering of the first goat which is reckoned to be the blood of the second animal also.

This second goat was both a sin bearer (Lev 16:22) and a sin remover (Lev 16:8,10) which looked forward to the fulfilment in Christ.

i. Sin bearer

The Law concerning the ‘sacrifice’
Lev 16:21-22 - ‘...[the high priest] shall put [all the transgressions, all their sins and all their iniquities] upon the head of the goat...The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land...’

The Fulfilment in Christ
Christ became the bearer of all His people’s sins.

The Scriptures
Is 53:6 - ‘The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’
By the laying of hands on the goat, sin was transferred onto its head. The picture here is of God imparting sin onto Jesus as He hung on the cross.
Is 53:11 - ‘...by His knowledge shall...My Servant...make many to be accounted righteous; and He shall bear their iniquities...’
Is 53:12 - ‘...He...was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many’
Heb 9:28 - ‘...Christ...offered once to bear the sins of many...’
I Peter 2:24 - ‘He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree’

ii. Sin remover

The Law concerning the ‘sacrifice’
Lev 16:22 - ‘...the goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land...’
and the RSV’s transliteration of ‘for Azazel’ possibly meaning ‘for utter removal’ (Lev 16:8).

The Fulfilment in Christ
Christ, bearing the sins of the people, removed them far away from their midst.

The Scriptures
John 1:29 - ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’
I John 3:5 - ‘You know that He appeared to take away sins...’
Rom 11:27 - ‘...and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins...’
Is 53:8 - ‘...He was cut off out of the land of the living’
Cp Lev 16:22 quoted above which speaks of ‘...a solitary land’. That is, a place where no living thing exists - it wouldn’t be inappropriate to refer to it as being removed from the place of life. Separation from God, spiritual death, is a ‘solitary land’ where there’s no life and is what Jesus experienced on the cross (Mtw 27:45-46).

The Bible is quite plain, therefore, with its language that Christ, firstly, took upon Himself the sins that each man and woman has committed and that, secondly, through this act He removed them from each individual - thus fulfilling the two aspects of atonement that the second goat accomplished.

e. Waiting for acceptance

The congregation (and, subsequently, the nation) of Israel waited outside the Holy Place to see whether or not the sacrifice had been accepted by God (Lev 16:17). That their acceptance or rejection before God as a nation depended on this one day of the year is certain, but what’s equally certain is that God never intended that the offering should even once be rejected.

However, for the Israelite, if the offering was accepted by God, the high priest would reappear out from the Holy of Holies.

It was considered to be a matter of life or death for the high priest. So much so that, in later times, the Jews are attributed with a tradition that a rope was tied around his waist to drag him out in case God slew him - a tradition that has no Scriptural foundation and which actually denies the expected acceptance of the offering in Leviticus chapter 16!

Besides, if the high priest had been rejected by God and judged while He stood before His presence, then there wasn’t much point in dragging him out as the entire nation would have been rejected by God and, therefore, alienated away from the blessings that were promised under the Old Covenant.

This ‘tradition’ - along with a great many others - is hard to tie down to any ancient writing and I mention it only because I’ve heard it repeated from both christians and Jews alike. Whether the tradition really did take hold in Jewish practice after Moses and before the Temple’s destruction or whether it was attributed to the Temple period centuries after its destruction (in a work such as the Talmud) isn’t easy to determine as most references only mention that it occurred ‘in later times’ without any indication as to when they might be.

Looking at Jesus, we see the final and perfect High Priest who, having entered into the true sanctuary in Heaven to secure an eternal redemption (Heb 9:24), appeared three parts of a day later on the Sunday morning in resurrection power from the grave, showing all who are willing to see that the Father has accepted the blood of His sacrifice and that through this we’re forgiven.

7. The rams (burnt offerings)

Aaron then discarded his linen garments, bathed his body and put on his full high priestly dress (Lev 16:23-24) as the atonement for sin had taken place.

Now he offered his burnt offering (a ram) and the nation’s burnt offering (also a ram) to make atonement both for himself and for that of the people (Lev 16:24).

But what atonement can there be that hasn’t already been secured by the sin offering of the goat?

The atonement here is, firstly, that which removes and nullifies the effects of sin. Though sin may be forgiven, its consequences need also to be dealt with (see here). In this case, sin segregates man from fellowship with God so that the burnt offering restores that relationship and man becomes acceptable once more to Him.

Secondly, in the general Levitical instructions regarding burnt offerings, Moses was told that the reason for such an offering (Lev 1:3) was

‘...that [the offerer] may be accepted before the Lord...’

The burnt offering, therefore, restored a right relationship with God in which He was free to pour out His covenantal blessing upon that individual or the nation.

Both these aspects should be considered as parts of the one atonement rather than as two separate functions. To gain Divine favour and to be restored into a right relationship with God, not only does sin need to be dealt with (the goat offering) but the ‘offence’ of sin must also be removed. To put it in a present day context, a person may ask and receive forgiveness from his fellow man - but there always remains some sort of change to the relationship that didn’t exist before the offence. It’s this that must be removed so that the relationship that once existed can be re-established.

In the OT sacrificial system, the sin offering and burnt offering frequently went together - the sin offering first to effect one’s sin being covered, then the burnt offering to remove sin’s effects and to restore the covenant relationship (for example, Lev 9:2, 10:19, 14:19, 15:15 and Num 6:11).

Jesus, the perfect sin offering, is also the perfect burnt offering (though, being our High Priest, there needed to be no fulfilment of the burnt offering for Himself, only a burnt offering for the people - see previous comments in section 5). It was His death that nullified and removed the effects of sin - which is separation from God, spiritual death (Gen 3:22-24, Is 59:2, Mtw 27:46).

When Jesus breathed His last on the cross (Mtw 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45)

‘... the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom...’

That is, the veil, that separated the Holy of Holies where the high priest went once every year and behind which God dwelt, was ripped in two showing that Christ had opened up a route of direct access into the presence of God by His sacrificial work.

The writer to the Hebrews, after outlining the fulfilment of the Day of Atonement in Christ, exhorts His readers (Heb 10:19-22) that

‘...since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary [that is, the Holy of Holies] by the blood of Jesus...let us draw near...’

Living in God’s presence is not just a futuristic event in Heaven when we die but a reality now. The veil having been rent proclaims that the work has been done to remove any barrier (both sin and its effects) that could possibly come in the way between man and fellowship with God (see also ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ part 2 section 1).

8. Sacrifices burned

After the burnt offerings were sacrificed to remove and nullify the effects of sin, the high priest came to the remaining parts of the bull and goat that had had their blood sprinkled. When the sacrificial portions had been cut away and burnt on the altar of burnt offering (Lev 16:25), he tied the carcasses around poles that were subsequently taken out of the city to the place where they were burnt (Lev 16:27, Yoma 6:7).

There then followed some ‘cleaning up’ ceremonies such as the washing with water (Lev 16:28), the removal of the ladle and the fire-pan from the Holy of Holies (Yoma 7:4 - though it does seem strange to me that, in fear of his life he enters the Holy of Holies to secure atonement but then, almost casually, strolls in to remove what he’s not been able to carry out with him at an earlier time) and the high priest’s reading of the Scriptures to Israel (Yoma 7:1).

It’s quite possible that it’s our wonderfully logical Western minds that have been responsible for being too hesitant in seeing a further allusion to Christ’s work in the burning of the sin offerings. For, after sin and its consequences have been dealt with, we don’t expect there to be a return to a fulfilment through the cross. But Scripture isn’t tied down to such limitations.

The writer to the Hebrews comments (Heb 13:11-12) that

‘...the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood’

The final aspect of the day’s sin offerings was that they were disposed of outside the camp - that is, they were burnt away from the organisation where God’s people dwelt. The Mishnah records for us (Yoma 7:2) that

‘He that can see the high priest when he reads cannot see the bullock and the he-goat being burnt; and he that can see the bullock and the he-goat that are being burnt cannot see the high priest when he reads: not that it was not permitted, but because the distance apart was great and both acts were performed at the same time’

Though the Mishnah insists that

‘...the distance apart was great...’

the main reason for being unable to see both simultaneously was that one was performed within the Temple while the other outside - and the Temple retaining walls stood in the way.

But, what’s important to note here is that the remnants of the sin and burnt offerings were burnt outside the camp of Israel, away from their habitation.

In similar manner (John 19:20)

‘...the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city...’

but not in the city. When Jesus was taken to be crucified, according to Jewish custom it took place outside the city walls and, according to Roman custom, it would likely have taken place somewhere beside a major trade or travelling route.

The final destination of the sacrifices looked forward to the final destination of the One who gave His life as the price for man’s freedom, who suffered outside the walls of Jerusalem (the place where God’s people were encamped).

9. The Year of Jubilee

The year of Jubilee (every fiftieth year calculated, presumably, either from the beginning of the first year that Israel were to be able to grow crops in the Promised Land or from the day that God commanded them was to be the beginning of the year for them in Ex 12:1-2) which proclaimed both release and rest to the Israelite, began on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9) and, as such, imparted even more meaning to Yom Kippur in the context of the work of the cross.

We won’t go into the fulfilment of Jubilee here as it’s the next subject to be dealt with - suffice to say that, until sin has been adequately dealt with, man can never live in the perfect rest and release of God that the year of Jubilee brought in.

Appendix - A comparison between the Old and New covenants

The letter to the Hebrews is so full of references to both the sacrificial system of the OT and the fulfilment of it in Christ’s death, that we can often gloss over some of the more obvious comparisons that it lists for us.

Therefore, this compiled list has been put together to try and highlight the differences between the two sacrificial systems, the similarities and the fulfilments that Christ’s death brought about.

1. The High Priest
6:20 - Jesus, the High Priest of the New Covenant is after the order of Melchizedek. 7:11 - Aaron and his sons were High Priests of the Old Covenant. His sons were after the order of Aaron.
7:3 - Like Melchizedek, Jesus continues as a High Priest forever (see also 7:24) 7:23 - The Old Covenant High Priests were prevented from serving in the Tabernacle because of death.
7:11,18-19 - A High Priest needed to be raised up who would not minister in the imperfections of the Old Covenant. 7:11,18-19 - Perfection was not possible under the levitical system.
7:15-16 - Jesus received the High Priesthood because of the power of an indestructible life (see 7:14 - He was born in the wrong tribe to be a minister of the Old Covenant). 7:15-16 - The Old Covenant High Priest was appointed according to the legal requirement of bodily descent from Aaron.
7:20-21 - Jesus received the priesthood by God's promise with an oath in which God is unable to change His mind. 7:21 - The Old Covenant High Priest took his office without an oath from God concerning their eternal ministry and by natural descent.
7:24 - The New Covenant has one High Priest 7:23 - The Old Covenant had many High Priests
7:26-28 - Jesus, being a perfect High Priest, has no need to offer up sacrifices for Himself. The New Covenant relies on a perfect mediator between God and man. 7:27 - The Old Covenant High Priest was never perfect and needed to offer sacrifices for his weaknesses. The sacrificial system relied on an imperfect mediator (see also 7:28, 9:7).
8:1-2 - Jesus is the High Priest in the heavenly tabernacle. His ministry is in the reality of heaven (see also 9:24).  8:4-5 - The Old Covenant High Priest could only minister to God in the copy of the Heavenly Tabernacle that was set up on earth
8:6 - Jesus' ministry is superior because it is established on better promises. 8:6 - The promises of the Old Covenant were inferior, so too was the ministry.
7:27 - Jesus offered Himself to God as a sacrifice for the sins of His people. The Old Covenant High Priest didn't.
2. The sacrificial system
9:12 - Jesus' blood was offered up to God in the heavenly tabernacle. 9:12 - The blood of calves and goats were offered to God in the earthly tabernacle. 
9:12 - Jesus' blood secured an eternal redemption for all who believe 10:4 - The blood of calves and goats could never take away sins (see also 10:11).
10:12 - Jesus' blood was offered once for all. 10:11 - The blood of calves and goats is offered repeatedly. 
10:14 - Only one sacrifice was necessary (see also 9:25-26, 10:17-18). 10:3 - Year after year, the sacrifices were offered which remind everyone that sin has not been dealt with. 
9:23 - The true heavenly tabernacle has been purified with the offering of the spotless blood of Christ. 9:23 - The copy of the heavenly tabernacle was purified with animal blood.
10:10 - The offering of the body of Christ sanctifies all who believe. 10:8 - The bodies of sacrificial animals can never sanctify.
10:22 - Our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. 9:14 - Our consciences are purified from dead works. 10:14 - We have been perfected for all time. 9:9 - The sacrifices and offerings could never perfect the conscience of the worshipper (see also 10:1).
3. The Covenant
10:14,16 - The New Covenant brings perfection to all who are a part of it. 10:16, 8:8-9, 7:19 - The Old Covenant made nothing perfect and, by talking of a New Covenant, God was showing that he Old Covenant was imperfect and temporary (see also 8:13).
10:18 - There is no longer any need for any offering for sin - it has been dealt with. 10:3 - There remains the need of an offering to take away sins.
10:20 - We have gained access into the eternal dwelling place of God and freedom of access into His presence (see also 10:19). 9:7 - Once a year only was there access into God's presence. And then, only for the High Priest.
9:15 - Through this New Covenant we have received the promised eternal inheritance.  10:1 - What was promised to Abraham was only foreshadowed in the Old Covenant.
10:21, 7:25 - We have a great High Priest who is eternally in the presence of God, interceding on our behalf. 9:7 - The Old Covenant High Priest could only intercede in the presence of God once every year (though he could not delay in the Holy of Holies).
4. Access into God's presence
9:12 - Jesus entered once for all into the presence of God to offer His blood as a sacrifice (see also 9:26). 9:7 - The Old Covenant High Priest entered every year to atone for sins with the blood of animal sacrifices (see also 9:25).
10:19-20 - Access is open into God's presence to all who through faith have availed themselves of the blood of the sacrifice. 9:7-8 - Access into God's presence was limited to the High Priest and him only once every year.