Finding Jesus in Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

On October 8, at sundown, it will be Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement.  If you’re a Christian (follower of Jesus) you may be wondering what that means to you.    To understand the significance, it’s important to understand what this Feast of the Lord means in the Bible.

What is Yom Kippur?  What is the Day of Atonement?

The name Yom Kippur is equivalent to the English words Day of Atonement.   The root word behind “Kippur” goes back to the Hebrew word kofer, which means RANSOM.  When studying the meaning of ransom in scripture, we find it’s tied to offering a substitute.  In this way, as Christians, we can already see Jesus in this Feast of the Lord.  Jesus became our atonement for sin at the cross.  He paid the ransom (the price) for us as he hung for six hours on the cross.  The sins of the world bore a heavy weight- unbearable to imagine.

The Day of Atonement is listed in the Bible as one of the Holy Feasts of the Lord in Leviticus 23, alongside Passover, Unleavened Bread, First fruits, Feast of Trumpets and Tabernacles.  This word feast does not mean “eating a big meal”.  It means appointment in Hebrew.  It is also referred to as a convocation so that means it is a dress rehearsal.  All of the Feasts of the Lord point to Jesus in amazing ways, and all have prophetic implications.   The Day of Atonement is a Fall feast because it occurs in the Fall, along with the Feast of Trumpets and Tabernacles.  The Fall Feasts have FUTURE fulfillment, which makes them extra exciting.  In the case of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) the prophetic fulfillment could point to the Second Coming of Jesus, and to the day when Israel finally realizes Jesus is their Messiah NATIONALLY.  But, more on that later.  The Feasts are shadows of who Jesus is, what he has done and what he will do.

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) falls exactly ten days after the Feast of Trumpets.  Here’s my latest post on the Feast of Trumpets if you are interested in more information.  While the Feast of Trumpets is a day of feasting and celebration, Yom Kippur takes on a much different tone.   Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and somber repentance.  It falls on Tishrei 10 each year on the biblical calendar.  This date will vary  on the Gregorian solar calendar that runs from January to December each year.  Yom Kippur occurs in September or October on our calendars.    This year it falls on October 9, but will begin at sundown on October 8.   (Again, on the biblical calendar this date is the tenth of Tishrei and that does not change)

Leviticus 23, 26-32 says:  THE DAY OF ATONEMENT

The Lord said to Moses,  “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord.  Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God.  Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people.  I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day.  You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.  It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”

We can see clearly in these verses that the Day of Atonement is a SABBATH REST and NO WORK IS TO BE DONE.  If fact, if you go to Israel on this holiday you will find stores and restaurants closed.  You will not see cars and buses moving about.  The country essentially shuts down- at least in Jewish areas.  (There is some debate right now about changing this however.  Many non-religious Jews do not want to see the holiday observed in this way).

The Day of Atonement is a Sabbath, so it is meant to be a day of rest and prayer.  It is also a day to deny yourself.   This means denying yourself food and luxuries.  In essence, this is fasting.

Should Christians observe the Day of Atonement?

Do Christians need to do this?  It’s up to you if you want to do it.  Some Christians do this to pray for the nation of Israel, since it is related to Israel as a nation. In the Bible we see fasting used as a way to intercede for people and for nations.

Orthodox and Messianic Jews will observe this day by fasting and praying all day.  They will take the day off work to observe the Sabbath.  Since there is no longer a Temple, some people do not see the need to observe it.  However, it is still considered an appointment on God’s calendar and applies directly to the nation of Israel so most see it as important to observe.  When Christians observe it in any way, they should always remember that Jesus represents this Feast and it is by no means a legalistic observance.  We do not earn salvation by participating in any Feast of the Lord.  These Feasts can be seen as important times to meet with the Lord of Hosts- Jesus- the one who has made atonement for us.  It is also a day to remember Israel in our prayers and pray for them to receive their atonement- Jesus Christ.

What does the Day of Atonement have to do with Jesus?

If we look at the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), we see several attributes of the Christian life.  The hallmark of being a Christian is denying yourself.  Christ tells us to put others first and ourselves last.  We are to put the needs of others before our own.  We are told to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  Jesus denied himself by going to the cross for us.   The King of Kings came to earth, but not as a royal King living in a lush castle with servants.  He came as a humble baby, and lived in a lowly town in the Galilee region.  His parents lived humble lives.  Jesus came as a servant to others.   Jesus also fasted during times when he needed continued strength from his Father in heaven.  He went to the wilderness for 40 days to fast and pray before his crucifixion.

The Day of Atonement is a picture of this denial of self.  It points to resting in Jesus, and remembering we have nothing without him.  As this  holiday (Feast of the Lord) comes each year, we are reminded that a day is coming where we will see our High Priest FACE TO FACE and finally have rest on this earth.

To fully understand the Day of Atonement it’s important to know what happened on that day at the Temple in ancient Israel.

On Yom Kippur, the High Priest bore a great responsibility.  He had many duties that were arduous and complicated.  Every step he followed had to be to the letter, and nothing could be overlooked.  He had to prepare himself a week ahead.  He had to know the laws relating to Yom Kippur better than the back of his hand.   Just one error would be costly.  That one mistake could cost the High Priest his life!   Even worse, that meant the sins of the nation could not be atoned for that year.

What did the High Priest Wear on the Day of Atonement?    What rules did the High Priest have to follow on the Day of Atonement?

high priest breastplateHe had to wear eight garments on the Day of Atonement.  He wore a golden crown on his forehead.  He wore a breastplate on his heart with twelve gems, each engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel.

His outer robe was decorated with bells. In between those bells were pomegranate-shaped tassels in blue, purple and scarlet.  He also wore an apron, or vest.    He wore four garments made from white flax.   These garments were a robe, belt, turban and pants.   The High Priest had to change his clothes several times during the day.

The bells on the hem of the High Priest’s garment allowed the priest to be heard as he changed in and out of his garments.  Even though the people could not see him (because there was linen cloth separating them from him ) they could HEAR him.    This sound reminded them they had someone interceding for them before God.  Again, they could not see him, but they could hear him.

Here are some scriptures that give you more details from Leviticus 16.

The Name of God

God's name
Tetragrammaton of God’s name in Paleo Hebrew, Aramaic and Modern Hebrew

What is very interesting is that up to this day, no one was allowed to use God’s real name and say it out loud.  But, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would speak God’s name ten times out loud!  This is the only day God’s hallowed name could be spoken!  Imagine what it was like back then to finally hear God’s name spoken!  According to historical accounts, the people would immediately fall down on their knees in reverence at the sound of God’s name.

How is Jesus our High Priest?

I’m not sure if you see some awesome similarities to Jesus yet, but let allow me to point out a few.   We see the High Priest had to wear eight garments on the Day of Atonement.  That number isn’t random.  Eight in the Bible points to new beginnings.  On Noah’s Ark, eight were saved and the world was given a new beginning.   Circumcision happens on the 8th day.  The act of circumcision points to a new heart being created.  The flesh is cut away and the new heart is what remains.  A new heart means a new beginning.   God created the world in six days and then rested on the 7th day.  The day that comes after the 7th is the 8th, completing the redemption cycle.  When Christ returns he will complete the 8th day of the cycle by redeeming the earth from sin and the devil’s influence.  This is referred to as The Last Great Day.  Jesus, the High Priest, gives us new life in him- the eight garments point to this new life in Jesus.

The High Priest wore a breastplate on his heart with stones corresponding to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  We know Jesus is Jewish and he is from the Tribe of Judah.  Of course,  Jesus is the Savior for his people the Jews, who are represented by 12 tribes.   He came to make personal and national atonement for them, and for the Gentiles.  Unfortunately, Israel AS A NATION did not receive this atonement from him.  The future, however, shows a different picture.  It shows the nation eventually “looking on the one they have pierced and grieving for him as one grieves for an only child or a firstborn son.”  Zechariah 12:10.  Romans 11:26 states, “and all Israel shall be saved.”   This statement Paul makes in Romans doesn’t mean every single Jewish person of the House of Israel will be saved.  It is referring to a remnant who is alive at the end of the Tribulation Period.  This remnant will recognize Jesus as their High Priest- their atonement- their Messiah- their Deliverer.  Romans 11:27 goes on to say:  (note that the name Jacob is a reference to the nation of Israel)

“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

The High Priest’s garment had bells and pomegranates

Pomegranate Juice (2019)The High Priest wore both bells and pomegranates on the hem of his garment.   It’s interesting there are pomegranates on the hem.   Pomegranates point to royalty as they have a crown on top.  Also, when one eats a pomegranate only the seeds are eaten, not the flesh.  This is a picture of Jesus, who asks us to live by the spirit and spread the word (the seed) and to not live by the flesh.   Pomegranates are known for leaving red “bloody-colored” stains on your hands.  This points to Jesus’ blood.

The bells on the garment were how people heard the High Priest, and they knew he was making intercession for them.  They could not see him in the Holy of Holies, but they knew he was there.  Isn’t this a reminder of the Holy Spirit that we receive when Jesus becomes our Savior and High Priest?  We do not physically see Jesus, but we can hear him through the guidance/voice of the Holy Spirit.  The bells of the High Priest are likened to the “ringing” in our spirits when Jesus is speaking to our hearts and reminding us he makes daily intercession for us with the Father.

How about the fact that God’s name could only be spoken on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)?  That is mind blowing to me!  On this one special day of the year only the High Priest could speak the name of God aloud.   As Christians, we know who God is because we know his Son.  Jesus himself said,

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.  Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  John 14: 9-14

What does Jesus name mean?

Jesus is clearly saying he and God are one!  He is God’s Son and by knowing Jesus we are able to know God.   When Jesus came to earth and made himself known to the Jews and Gentiles he declared he is the Messiah.  He and God are one.  By receiving him as our High Priest who atones for our sin, we are now able to freely speak his name and call on him by name!  No longer does God’s name have to be hidden and only spoken once a year.  It is Jesus’ name that we speak aloud any time we are in need.  Jesus name in Hebrew is Yeshua and his name means SALVATION.  So, not only can we speak his name, but as we speak it, we are declaring salvation.   The great thing is that this is not a “once a year” kind of thing.  We can call on our High Priest at all hours of the day and night, 365 days a year.

I am including a lesson on the name of Jesus in this link.  It’s a powerful name indeed!

Sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement

Now, I want to go into the sacrifices offered on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  One of the first things the High Priest had to do was to confess his own sins.  Next the High Priest went to the North side of the altar.  He had an assistant with him and also the head of the priestly family.   Two goats would be standing in front of the priest and his assistants.   The goats would be facing the Temple with their backs to the people.  These goats would have been the same size and looked alike.  They would have been purchased for the same price as well.

Nearby there would be a golden lottery box.  Inside the box were two golden tablets.  They looked exactly alike but one said “For YHVH” which meant “for the service of God”.  The other tablet said, “For Azazel”, which meant “the scapegoat”   Next, the High Priest would shake the box and quickly pull out a tablet in each hand.  He did not know which tablet would come up in each hand.  If the tablet marked “For YHVH” came up in the High Priest’s right hand it was considered a good sign.   The Priest would place a tablet on each goat’s head so that one goat had the “For YHVH” tablet, and the other had the “For Azazel” tablet (also called a “lot”)

The Azazel: The Scapegoat

The High Priest would then take a piece of scarlet cloth and fasten it to the horns of the goat with the tablet labeled “For Azazel”, also known as the scapegoat.  Another scarlet cloth would be put around the neck of the goat with the tablet labeled “For YHVH”.   This is the goat that would be slain for Yahweh- for God.

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.
William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854

Now the scapegoat (the Azazel) would be turned around to face the people.   The High Priest would lay his hands on the scapegoat and confess the sins of the people over it.  All the sins of the people would be placed on the goat’s head.   Later, this scapegoat would  be led over the Mount of Olives and outside the city limits of Jerusalem.  As the scapegoat was led along this journey (which equaled about ten miles), the High Priest would be reading from the Torah at designated spots.  Finally, the High Priest and the goat would reach the last spot on the route.  This would be located at the edge of a cliff.  It was at this cliff that the High Priest removed the scarlet cloth from the goat’s horns and then he would cut the cloth in two pieces.  Next, he tied one of the pieces to the cliff and the other to the goat’s horn.  At this point, the goat was shoved off the cliff.   The goat, of course, lost its life.   Jewish tradition says that the scarlet cloth around the goat’s horns would miraculously turn white after it died.

Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

This verse shows a picture of the scarlet cloth turning to white, representing the idea that God had forgiven the sins of the people.

Jesus became the Scapegoat

This whole idea of the scapegoat taking on the sins of the people and being led outside the city limits points to Jesus in a dramatic way.   The scapegoat stood silently in front of the people while the sins of the people were confessed over it.  Obviously the goat was innocent and did not commit any of the people’s sins.  Nonetheless, the scapegoat paid the price when it was led outside the city and shoved off a cliff!    We see a picture of this in Jesus when he is questioned in front of Pilate and the Chief Priests.  Jesus did not defend himself.  He stood silently as the charges and insults were hurled.  He was led away from the city to “the place of the skull”.  This place, also known as Calvary or Galgotha, was a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls.   Like the scapegoat, Jesus carried the sins of the world with him.

Jesus is our High Priest:   Jesus Makes Atonement for Us

Hebrews 9: 11-15 describes  Jesus as our High Priest, who made atonement for us:

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining  eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!  For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”  

So, now that we know what the Day of Atonement is, and we can see how Jesus fulfills it through his life on earth, and death on the cross, let’s see what that means for the FUTURE.

The Day of Atonement is tied to the Nation of Israel

While the Feast of Trumpets is often tied to the possible rapture of the church one day, the Day of Atonement is tied to the nation of Israel specifically.   Why?  Because this is the day the High Priest would make atonement for the entire nation.

Some scholars note that the Day of Atonement could be could be when Jesus leaves the Holy of Holies in heaven, and comes to earth to make atonement for the remnant of Israel, who is finally ready to turn to him.  The nation of Israel is ready to finally welcome their Groom and say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”   Keep in mind that the Day of Atonement (like all the Feasts of the Lord) occurs every single year.  As I type this right now the nation of Israel is observing the Day of Atonement.   They will continue to observe it as time moves forward each year.  Will he return on this Feast Day?  No one knows.  We do, however, expect Jesus to fulfill this Feast in the future.  We just don’t know exactly how or when.

Sadly, atonement for Israel will come after much hardship and bloodshed.  The seven years of the Tribulation will have battered tiny Israel as the Anti-Christ has his way with the world.  The second half of the Tribulation, also known as THE GREAT TRIBULATION (or the Time of Jacob’s Trouble) will be the worst time on earth for the Jews.

Zechariah 13: 8,9 says:

“In the whole land,” declares the Lord,  “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.  This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

This tells us that 2/3 of the Jewish population on earth at that time will perish during the Tribulation.   But, 1/3 will be refined like gold and they will look on Jesus as their High Priest and atonement.

This truth makes me both sad and happy.  I am grieved about the amount of Jewish lives that will be lost.  There will also be scores of Gentile lives that are lost as well.   I am ecstatic that Israel will finally recognize Jesus as their Messiah, but it will come at a cost.  I have often asked God why so many have to die, and I often cry thinking about these things.  But, I realize God is sovereign and he knows what he is doing.  Nonetheless, I am charged to pray for the nation of Israel- God’s precious people, the Jews.  I am also charged to pray for our nation- that we would stand with God and Israel.

The great thing to remember is that there are thousands, if not more, Jewish people right now who have received Jesus as their Savior.  They are called Messianic Jews.  As the Lord’s return nears, many thousands more will turn to Jesus and call him Savior.  We also see in Revelation that 144,000 Jewish witnesses will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world.  God has a plan and it is already in full swing!

As Christians we are so blessed to have a Savior who was willing to go through Hell to keep us from Hell.  He endured a horrific death, even though he never committed a single sin.  He denied himself so we would not be denied life- eternal life!

When is the Day of Atonement 2019?

The Day of Atonement will last just one day, from sundown to sundown- October 8 sundown, to October 9, 2019 at sundown.   As you ponder, or perhaps observe this day, take some time to remind yourself that atonement is a reality for you because of Jesus.  But, there’s more to come.  We await the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets, and then the Day of Atonement.  Finally, Tabernacles will be fulfilled.  It’s something to be excited about, especially as we see our world spinning out of control.  Fortunately we know Jesus is coming back to turn pain into joy and chaos into peace.

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9.

This is how Jesus came the FIRST TIME!


“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”  Revelation 19: 11-16

And this is how he’s coming back THE SECOND TIME!   Will this happen on the Day of Atonement?   Like I said, no one knows except God himself!  Nevertheless the Second Coming is a day the world will never forget.  At that time every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord- Hallelujah!


Here are some scripture references regarding the High Priest’s garments in this link.


Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord by William W. Francis

The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread by Richard Booker

The Holy Bible, NIV version

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