As we approach Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jewish believers in Jesus will be joining in the nationwide fast, but with a different twist. Unlike the rest of Israel’s Jews, they will not be fasting to atone for their sins, because they know that Yeshua their Messiah has already taken care of all that, once and for all. No—their fast is one of intercession for their dear brothers and sisters who do not yet know Him and the atonement He has bought for them at great cost.
A one man job
Yom Kippur is a day instituted by God for the people of Israel to get all of their sin confessed and paid up, to wipe the slate clean, via a ceremony involving the High priest, a bull, and a couple of goats. On this day and this day alone did the high priest (and only the high priest) have permission to enter the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. To get too close to the Ark without permission was a fatally dangerous enterprise. All of the Yom Kippur activities had to be done very precisely, exactly as God had ordained in Leviticus 16, in order for the atonement to be successful.
But now there is no temple, no Holy of Holies, no Ark and no high priest to carefully perform all of these ceremonial duties with bulls’ blood and scapegoats… What are the people of Israel to do?
After the temple was destroyed around 70 AD, the devastated Jewish leaders arrived at their solution: to substitute prayers for sacrifice, referring to a few places in Scripture like Psalm 141:2, which says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
Hosea 14:2 is another passage used to suggest the words of prayer can suffice instead of the blood of animal sacrifices:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows of our lips. (Hosea 14:1-2)
(Or as some translations put it, pay with “the fruit of our lips”). Just as Daniel in exile prayed towards Jerusalem three times a day when the temple was far away and sacrifices were impossible, Jewish people now pray three times a day facing Jerusalem in lieu of the sacrifices. Today the idea that prayer is as good as sacrifice has become accepted… even though the Bible says there is no atonement without blood:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Leviticus 17:11)
A clean slate
The Ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are a time of concentrated prayer and reflection, asking for forgiveness and turning back to God in repentance. As people seek God for exoneration, Israelis wish each other an “easy fast”, and “a good signing”: that their names would be written in the book of life. But we who know Yeshua know that there is a new and living way to enter the Holy of Holies, and receive atonement for our sins—not just once a year, but any time we like!
We don’t have to wait for an annual event, we can just come boldly into the throne room of God and ask for forgiveness based on the blood of Yeshua, whenever we need our conscience cleansed. Yeshua is our high priest, who perfectly performed all the duties necessary to accomplish peace with God for us, once and for all.
Today in Israel, people will fast from sunset to sunset, dress in white to go to the synagogue services, and refrain from driving and regular activity as they reflect on their sins. There are other traditions such as swinging a sacrificial chicken over the head to atone for the family, and giving gifts to charity. There is the idea that God is checking over everyone’s life, the way a car might have a yearly look-over, and deciding if you should be written in the Book of Life, Death, or be in limbo while your good and bad deeds are judged. All of these ideas have the same notions of penitence for sin, but they do not really deal with the problem. Why?
The writer of Hebrews expands on what is written in Leviticus 17: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)
It is necessary, in order to pay for sin, for blood to be shed. A life for a life. This is why the blood of Yeshua is now the only way for Jewish people and all people across the world to receive forgiveness.
“He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:12-14)
But the light of this truth is dawning in Israel. Please join us as we pray this Yom Kippur, for the Lord to reveal the truth about the atonement Yeshua has bought for us.