Day 049: The First Day of Atonement… and the Last (Leviticus 16-18)

23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. (Leviticus 16:23-24)

In Leviticus 16, we read about the institution of the Day of Atonement (Hebrew Yom Kippur) which even to this day in Israel is the most solemn observance on the calendar. Years ago, someone showed me the word “ATONEMENT” like this:

It emphasized that what happened on the Day of Atonement was for the purpose of reconciling the people back to God, in effect making them “at one” with God again.

The Day of Atonement points us forward to Christ. I’ve understood that on a basic level ever since seminary. However, a passage from Tim Keller’s Jesus the King helped me understand this on a whole new level.

Keller recounted a sermon he heard while a student at Westminster Seminary. Ray Dillard, an Old Testament professor talked about the extensive preparation the High Priest had to undergo in order to be ready for this one day. Here is an excerpt:

A week beforehand, the priest was put into seclusion–taken away from his home and into a place where he was completely alone. Why? So he wouldn’t accidentally touch or eat anything unclean. Clean food was brought to him, and he’d wash his body and prepare his heart.

The night before the Day of Atonement he didn’t go to bed; he stayed up all night praying and reading God’s Word to purify his soul.

Then on Yom Kippur, he bathed head to toe and dressed in pure, unstained white linen. Then he went into the holy of holies and offered an animal sacrifice to God to atone, or pay the penalty for, his own sins.

After that he came out and bathed completely again, and new white linen was put on him, and he went in again, this time sacrificing for the sins of the priests.

But that’s not all. He would come out a third time, and he bathed again from head to toe and they dressed him in brand-new pure linen, and he went into the holy of holies and atoned for the sins of all the people.

King’s Cross, p. 82

All this was done in public. There was a thin screen that gave the priest a small measure of privacy. But still, the crowd gathered in front of the Temple would see him bathe, dress, go in, come back out, and repeat. Three times.

It had to be a public ritual because the priest was their representative. They were cheering him on as he atoned for their sins before God.

With all this in mind, consider the details of Jesus’ last day on earth:

  • The night before Jesus was crucified, He did not sleep. Instead, He stayed up all night in prayer.
  • Instead of being cheered on by the people, Jesus was reviled and cursed, betrayed and abandoned.
  • Instead of coming before the people three times after He was purified, Jesus was presented by Pilate three times before He was crucified.

Keller writes:

And when He stood before God, instead of hearing words of encouragement, the Father forsook Him. Instead of being clothed in rich garments, He was stripped of the only garment He had, He was beaten, and He was killed naked.

King’s Cross, p. 84

And instead of being ritually bathed and made clean, he was spit upon and made vile.

Oh, my God! What you did for me to atone for my sins. What You endured on my behalf! The bruising for my iniquity! The piercing for my transgressions! The punishment You bore to bring me peace. The stripes on your back by which I am healed. Oh God, what can I say except thank you. Thank you that your atonement resulted in my at-one-ment with you.

In Leviticus, we see the first Day of Atonement. But with all respect to my Jewish friends, in Christ we see the last.





One response to “Day 049: The First Day of Atonement… and the Last (Leviticus 16-18)”

  1. Brandon Heath Haren Avatar
    Brandon Heath Haren

    Thank you, my brother. I needed this today!

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