Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It begins at sundown on the eve of the 10th of Tishri on the Jewish calendar. If you are in Jerusalem, it is a day like no other day. It is absolutely quiet and nothing moves, except people walking. There are no cars on the roads. The only vehicles that are allowed are emergency vehicles.
One year I was in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. The silence was deafening! So much so, that even the birds could be heard singing. I was staying at the Institute of Holy Land Studies on Mount Zion and could hear casual conversations by people across the Hinnom Valley as if we were talking one to another.
The Biblical Yom Kippur
On the LORD’s “Divine Calendar” (Lev. 23), Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri). On this day, no work is to be done and the people are to afflict their souls (Lev. 23:26-32).
When the Tabernacle and Temples stood, the nation of Israel was to follow certain rituals and the High Priest was to offer specific sacrifices on this Day (Lev. 16; Num. 29:7-11). These sacrifices could atone for (cover) sin, but could never take sin away. The Holy Spirit gives a divine commentary on this Day and its services and shows how the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur and the perfect sacrifice that paid for all sin and removed sin once and for all (Heb. 9 and 10; especially 9:12, 12; 10:1-4, 12, 14, 18). For a discussion of the Yom Kippur practices during the Second Temple period, see Edersheim 1976:302-329.
Interesting Added Traditions
The Mishnah, the rabbinic commentary on the Bible as well as the Talmud, the commentary on the Mishnah, devotes a whole tractate to this day. The tractates are simply called Yoma, the Day. Perhaps this is the day the Book of Hebrews refers to when it states: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25). Most commentators suggest “the Day” is either the return of Christ, or the Day of Judgment, or the destruction of Jerusalem, but the context may indicate that it is the Day of Atonement.
Sometime during the Second Temple period, a tradition was added, based on Isaiah 1:18, of tying a scarlet wool cord, or skein, around the horns of the scapegoat that was to be sent into the Wilderness. The tradition stated that if the Lord forgave the nation of Israel sins for that year, the cord turned from scarlet to white (BT Yoma 67a, pp. 314, 315 in Soncino edition). Yet the Talmud records: “Our Rabbis taught: ‘During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [“for the LORD”] did not come up in the right hand nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white” (BT Yoma 39b, p. 186 in Soncino edition). The Temple was destroyed in AD 70. Forty years prior to that was AD 30. What happened in AD 30 to cause the cord never to change color again and show the nation of Israel that their sins were forgiven by the Lord? At Passover of AD 30, the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, died as the perfect sacrifice to take away sins forever (Heb. 10:1-10; I Cor. 5:7; I Pet. 1:18, 19). After His death, the nation in general, rejected the Lord Jesus as their Messiah and sought salvation by their own works (Rom. 10). Thus, the nation’s sins were not forgiven.
The Prophetic Significance of Yom Kippur
The Feasts of the LORD recorded in Lev. 23 are for Israel, not the Church, and provide a prophetic outline for the re-gathering of Israel back to the Land of Israel (Isa. 11:11; 27:13) and their final salvation. The Lord Jesus, in His great Olivet Discourse, describes a future period of Tribulation for the nation of Israel. At the end of the Great Tribulation, the Lord will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, in order to gather together His elect [in the context, Israel, not the Church] from the four corners of the earth, back to the Land of Israel (Matt. 24:29-31). These ten days of gathering the nation back to the Land, will lead up to the Day of Atonement, when “they will look upon Me (the LORD) whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10-13:1). When was the LORD pierced? The Second Person of the Triune God was pierced on the Cross of Calvary when He voluntarily died in our place (John 19:34; Rev. 1:7; John 10:11, 14-18). It will be on this day in the future, that Israel shall “call upon the name of the LORD” (Jesus, God manifest in human flesh) and “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 10:8-13; 11:26, 27). Then, the nation of Israel will be born in a day (Isa. 66:8).
The Book of Jonah and Yom Kippur
Before Yom Kippur begins, the book of Jonah is studied by the Jewish people. As the sun is setting at the end of Yom Kippur the book is read in the synagogue. There are two reasons for this reading. The first reason is to show that one can not run from God; and the second is to show that God is gracious and merciful when people turn to Him.
What to do on Yom Kippur?
If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Yeshua ha-Mashioch, you can rejoice that all your sins have been paid for and completely forgiven: past – present – and future sins.
If you have never trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your sin-bearer, then you need to trust Him as the One who died for all your sins and rose again from the dead three days later. The resurrection demonstrated that sin has been paid for, death vanquished and Satan defeated. The Lord Jesus offers the forgiveness of sins, a home in Heaven and His righteousness to any who trust in Him and not in their own works or merits for eternal life (John 3:16; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:9; I John 5:13).
Again for believers in the Lord Jesus today should read through the Book of Jonah. As you do, there are two thoughts to contemplate: first, “remember that we can run, but we cannot hide from God”. He knows where we are and what we are doing at all times (Ps. 139:7-10). Second: meditate on the grace and mercy of God. In Jonah 4:1-3 the people of Nineveh turned to the LORD; from the king in the palace all the way down to the beggar on the street (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32), yet Jonah was displeased with the results of his preaching and was angry with the Lord. Jonah knew his Bible. He knew all about the grace and mercy of God (4:2), yet he did not want God to show grace (giving them what they did not deserve) to these people by extending salvation and forgiveness; nor did Jonah want God to show mercy (not giving them what they did deserve) by executing judgment. Jonah was more interested in watching God nuke Nineveh, then seeing God forgive them. Thus embarrassed, he prayed to the Lord to take his life.
How many times in our daily life do we do something wrong, and we know it’s wrong from the Bible, yet we try to justify our sin, or rationalize it away? We should contemplate the grace and mercy of God in our own life, because just like Jonah experienced another opportunity, Jesus is also the God of the second (and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and …) chance (3:1). Truly He is gracious and merciful to His children.
1976 The Temple: It’s Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Christ. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.