The Day Of Atonement

Leviticus 16

Jerry A. Collins

Webster defines the word atonement to mean reconciliation; the reconciliation of God and man through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ; satisfaction made. The use of the Old Testament word atonement in Leviticus 16 means to cover over, so as not to be seen. In this case it is the thought of covering sins from the eye of God suggested by verses like Psalm 51:9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquities. This is not suggesting that it is possible for any one of us to hide our sins from God. God is omniscient and omnipresent meaning He knows everything and is everywhere. David writes in Psalm 139:7-8 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there. If I make my bed in the grave, behold you are there. We cannot hide our sins from God and therein lies the problem for us.

In Leviticus 16 Israel Practiced the day of Atonement for the people of Israel. This was a national day of mourning and repentance of sin. On this special day god provided for all the sin and defilement that might be encountered in the camp and later in the nation of Israel. It is the holiest day of the year in Israel or Judaism even to this day. On this day the sins of the people are placed upon a scapegoat which is driven into the wilderness to die, so that the wrath of God can be satisfied by the covering over of the peopleís sin through this yearly ritual.



The point here is that noone may enter this area of the Tabernacle and later the Temple when he pleases. To enter what is called the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, unwarranted, would automatically incur the death penalty. Jesus also said this same person is a thief and a robber, for he comes by a different way of access. he shall not be permitted Jesus says (John 10:1). In the Holy of Holies is the mercy seat the place forming the throne of God over the ark of the covenant. It was on this mercy seat where the presence of God hovered that the blood of the day of atonementís sacrifice would be sprinkled signifying the covering over of the peoples sin. We are also reminded of Aaronís two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who were slain by the Lord for approaching His presence inappropriately (Chp. 10). This ominous reminder here would underscore for Aaron the necessity for a very meticulous obedience to the instructions he is about to receive as he conducts the ceremony of atonement on behalf of the nation before God.

God takes sin seriously. Sin is not something we should be playing around with in our lives. The reason it is serious is because it cannot go unjudged. God cannot wink at it, ignore it or overlook it. When we sin it produces consequences. God knows those consequences will come in the form of judgment. It does not matter when, how or what. What matters is that they will be judged because Godís holiness demands they must be judged. The only way that judgment can be averted is through atonement.


A young bull would be offered to de-sin Aaron. Then a whole ram would be burnt for a gift. Then he would be clothed with simpler linens and garments of the main priests. All of this procedure was to ensure that the High Priest was clean during the ritual. In the course of his daily sacrifices Aaron represented God as the High Priest. So his garments were usually of greater beauty and splendor that the regular priests. But when he performed the ceremony for the day of atonement, he went in before God in simplicity and humility. We are reminded of Jesus Christ taking off His garments and stripped down to the garb of a servant so as to cleanse the feet of the disciples (John 13).

Our positions of influence should be displayed with humility and servanthood. It is using the positions of influence we can have as a platform for servanthood rather than being served that models the example of Jesus Christ the great High Priest.


In 6-10 we have the choosing of the two goats and the choosing of one of them for the Lord and the other for sending away. The one that will be sent away is the one who carries the sin of the people into the wilderness. The goat killed had its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat so that the guilt and sin of the people would receive mercy from God rather than being judged by the law which the ark underneath the mercy seat contained (11-19). Then the live goat would ceremonially receive the sins of the nation upon its head (20-22) and be sent out into the wilderness. Jewish writings says that these goats were led 3 1/2 miles away into the wilderness and then pushed over a rocky cliff so that they would die. The point being to ensure that this goat that had the sins of the people placed upon it would not return to the camp ever again. The possibility of these goats returning to the camp and defiling the people by bringing their sin back to them may have motivated these kinds of injunctions about the scapegoat.

Of course, today, we have no worry about our sins coming back to haunt us. Christ the perfect and sufficient sacrifice has permanently wiped them away and freed us forever from the guilt and judgment our sinfulness produced. Jesus death was sufficient for we read in Hebrews 9:26 ...He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. He died once for all and there is no chance of them returning upon us to condemn us again before the Lord.


This is to be a yearly period of spiritual cleansing for the nation. Six times in these verses the word Make Atonement is used to stress the point that the people were to give themselves over to the business of God covering over their sin so they could continue to have fellowship with Him as He dwelled whit them. The Day of Atonement cleansed the people from impurities that defiled them. These impurities included their personal sin (vs 16), those of disobeying the commandments of God. This day stressed that there is no atonement, no covering over, except by blood. Jesus Christ did not have to purify Himself before making the atonement for our sins--as did the high priest in the Old Testament--for he was righteous. His atonement was made once for all.

This day of atonement cannot be practiced today because (1) after 70AD the temple was destroyed and entrance into the area prohibited--hence the wailing wall where they lament the fact that they cannot make the perfect sacrifice because they need to be in a proper place and (2) this is providential because the perfect sacrifice was made in Jesus Christ so there is no need or place for the old again. Daniel 9:25-26 clarifies that the Messiah will be cut off. Isaiah 53 says that the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all.


1. CHRIST IS SUPERIOR TO AARON Hebrews 7:26-28 Aaron was a sinner and our Lord is sinless. He did not need an offering for himself. Aaron died, but Christ lives forever. We have no need for priests any longer.


Aaron ministered in a small earthly sanctuary, entering the holy of Holies once a year. The people could never enter this place. Christ tabernacled among us in his flesh and after offering himself entered into the heavenly sanctuary.


Aaron and the priests could offer only the blood of bulls and goats but Christ offered his own blood.


The best you could hope for with the sacrifices of the day of atonement was that the impurity of sin would be put off for another year. Christís death put away sin altogether.


Aaron could only draw near to God toward the holy of holies but once a year. Christís death tore the veil in two which formerly had kept men apart from god signifying that every believer has full and unlimited and constant access to God.

Once and for all Christ made atonement for all the sins of the world, past, present and future as the sacrificial lamb. As the great high priest he entered into the mercy seat of the presence of God with his atonement that we might receive mercy instead of judgment which our sin deserved. As the scapegoat he was lead outside the camp to die for our sins. So in this one holy day of Israel it is Jesus we celebrate and remember. World faiths are wrong.