What was the significance of the Day of Atonement in ancient
"This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month,
on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls [by fasting],
and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger
who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement
for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins
before the LORD" (Leviticus 16:29-30).
On the Day of Atonement each year the nation of ancient Israel was
figuratively cleansed from its sins. This figurative cleansing was
only a type of a spiritual cleansing that will occur first for the
people of Israel, and then for the rest of the world, after Christ
How will this universal reconciliation with God be brought
Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts
in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the LORD. Thus says the
LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language
shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, 'Let us
go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (Zechariah
Starting from Jerusalem, in a restored and spiritually cleansed nation
of Israel (Ezekiel 37:21-28), Christ will begin the process of extending
this reconciliation to all peoples until the whole world repents and
is at one with God.
What is the real and permanent atonement for a person's sins?
"In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1
John 4:10, New Revised Standard Version).
"This righteousness [justification] from God comes through faith
in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified
freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his
blood" (Romans 3:22-25, NIV).
Jesus died as the reconciling sacrifice for the sins of every human
being so that humanity-the entire world-can at last be reconciled
to God. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten
Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting
life" (John 3:16). The Day of Atonement represents the fifth
step in God's master plan for the salvation of mankind.
This part of God's plan was depicted on the Day of Atonement in ancient
Israel by two special sacrificial animals that were ceremonially set
apart to represent reconciling the people to God, for figuratively
cleansing them of their sins. But no animal sacrifice is adequate
to cleanse us from our sins. "For it is not possible that the
blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).
Two goats were figurative bearers of guilt. Both had all the sins
of the people symbolically placed on them. One goat was left alive
but banished to a wilderness. The other, representing Jesus, was killed
as a sacrifice for sins (Leviticus 16:6-10, 15-16). In this drama
the banished live goat represented Satan's part in the people's sins.
The slain goat, picturing Christ, represented Him taking on Himself
the penalty for the people's sins.
Ceremonies on this day even pointed to the cleansing, or forgiving,
through an atoning sacrifice, of sins committed in ignorance.
"But into the second part [of the tabernacle] the high priest
went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself
and for the people's sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit
indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet
made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing"
Why was the "Holiest of All," the inner room of the tabernacle
that symbolized direct access to God, not opened to the entire congregation
"while the first tabernacle was still standing"? Because
the atoning sacrifice of Christ had not yet been made. Only His sacrifice,
not the sacrifice of animals, can truly atone for our sins. Anciently
the Day of Atonement signified that Jesus would become the atoning
sacrifice for humanity.
How do we know Christ's death is the atoning sacrifice for
"... We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only
but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2, New
Revised Standard Version).
Paul confirms that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to
himself, not counting their trespasses against them ..." (2 Corinthians
5:19, NRSV). The American Heritage Dictionary, electronic edition,
defines the theological meaning of the word atonement as "reconciliation
or an instance of reconciliation between God and human beings."
The Day of Atonement points to the time in the future when God will
reconcile humanity to Himself through Christ. "Atone," in
English, means literally "at one." The Day of Atonement
represents the time when humanity will at last be at one with God,
no longer separated from Him.
Why is atonement for mankind necessary? It is required for two reasons.
First, "the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers,
so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ
..." (2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV). Second, humans are "darkened
in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of
their ignorance and hardness of heart" (Ephesians 4:18, NRSV).
People's hardness of heart, caused by a combination of ignorance and
human nature together with Satan's influence, has led them to sin
and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23).
When will God remove Satan's influence?
"And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key
to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the
dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound
him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked
and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any
more until the thousand years were ended" (Revelation 20:1-3,
Immediately after Christ returns, God will banish Satan for 1,000
years. This will fulfill God's earlier pledge, in the presence of
Adam and Eve, that the coming Seed (the Messiah) would "bruise"
(impair and disable) Satan's "head"-his leadership and influence
over mankind (Genesis 3:15).
How will God begin to remove mankind's hardness of heart?
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand
slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but
everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, NIV).
With Satan banished and his deceptive and destructive influence removed,
Christ will begin dispelling the hardness of heart caused by ignorance
and human nature by teaching everyone how to repent. The Day of Atonement,
as a Christian festival, reminds us that the atoning sacrifice of
Christ is not only for individual Christians in this age but for the
forgiveness and reconciliation of all people. This atonement paves
the way for Christ to gather all people-as many as are willing-into
God's Kingdom during Jesus' 1,000-year reign after Satan's banishment.
United Church of God
Help Keep Us On Line
Donate to Grace and Truth Ministries