Yom Kippur and The Lamb of God

In all the feasts and offerings of Israel, one particular requirement stands out clearly – that the animal offerings made to God had to be perfect. All offerings for atonement, peace, and vows for example had to be "without blemish."

The most awesome festival in the whole Jewish calendar is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and God was most emphatic that this festival was carried out at His appointed time, and in His appointed way, and by His appointed high priests, as shown in Leviticus chapters 16 and 23 and Numbers 29.

The Divine Prerogative

One cannot read Leviticus 16 without noting the importance of careful attendance upon the Word of God. To neglect to carry out instructions in perfect detail could result in death for the high priest, and a failure to obtain atonement for Israel.

The gravity of the situation must have been brought home to Aaron with shocking clarity with the sudden death of his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, when they tried to "offer profane fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them" (Leviticus 10:1). No matter what sacrifice man might consider good enough to offer to God, He chooses – Divine prerogative indeed.

The time of the festival of the Day of Atonement was another important point. Aaron was not to go through the veil into the Holy of Holies "at simply any time" but "once a year" "This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year" (Leviticus 16:2,34), on the tenth day of the seventh month. He went then only with the incense or the blood of the sacrifice, and once again the Divine authority is revealed in the words "lest he die" (Leviticus 16:2).

This judgement was so drastic because of man's sin. God had said: "I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat" (Leviticus 16:2) within the veil, the veil which shut God in and shut man out because of the holiness and righteousness of a God who cannot tolerate sin. But in His mercy God condescended to meet with man at His appointed place and in His appointed time – at the blood-sprinkled "mercy seat."

The importance of the emphasis on blood is revealed in the Scripture: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11).

Significance of the Sacrifice

We all know how sin entered the human race, when God told Adam: " ... but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat the fruit of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:17), and Adam fell to temptation. Thus we all came under judgement, as the penalty for sin is death and separation from God.

God in His mercy would not leave us there, under condemnation. He had a way of reconciliation, a Divine plan of redemption that satisfied both His just and righteous judgement on sin, and met man's need for cleansing from sin.

The shedding of blood signified the death (judgement) of the sin, and provided the atonement (covering) for man. The innocent animal sacrificed pictured the Divine plan of the innocent spotless substitute dying in the place of the guilty.

On the Day of Atonement Aaron was to dress in the priestly robes of any ordinary priest, and not in his high priestly garments. When it comes to sin, we are all equal before God. He had to carry out the whole ritual alone. There was to be no one in the tabernacle with him. His alone was the terrible responsibility.

When Aaron stood before the veil, about to enter into the very presence of a holy God, on his shoulders rested the responsibility for atoning for the sins of all the people. If he had not prepared correctly, or if anything had been left undone, he would not emerge alive.

On the other hand, what of the congregation waiting outside? They had put their trust in one man – the one of God's choosing. If he failed them they would be still in their sins. So a mere man steps into the presence of God, trusting that he will receive justice and mercy, trusting God to keep His Word. The multitude of people wait expectantly. How will they know whether their sins are forgiven?

When the work of atonement is complete, Aaron removes the blood-spattered linen robes, washes himself, dresses in his gorgeous high priestly garments, and emerges to burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar. The waiting congregation, seeing the ascending smoke, know the work has been wrought in their favour, because the high priest is alive, is ministering on their behalf, and will soon appear to bless them.

So it is with the Messiah. He came to be the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29). He humbled Himself to take the ordinary form of humanity. He was sinless, spotless, guiltless. He came not only to be the sacrifice, but also the High Priest, and clad in the ordinary garb of humanity He wrought the work of atonement on behalf of Israel and all mankind. He then entered into the presence of God with His own blood "once for all" (Letter to the Hebrews 9:12).

God has never changed His means of atonement. As the One of God's choosing came, at God's appointed time, in God's appointed way, according to God's Word, both in the Torah and the Prophets, we can only concede it is all of Divine prerogative.

In the New Testament we read: "knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of the Messiah, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (First Letter of Peter 1:18,19).

Then He laid aside His spattered garments in which He had died, and rising from the dead, He showed Himself alive to many witnesses. So we know we have forgiveness of sins, and furthermore, we are reconciled to God because the High Priest is alive, He is active on our behalf, and He will next appear as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then He will bless "all who have loved his appearing" (Second Letter to Timothy 4:8). The Messiah has appeared in His humility as the Lamb of God, and Israel today is the sign of His coming again in His glory. "For the LORD shall build up Zion; he shall appear in his glory" (Psalm 102:16).