The Feasts of Jehovah: The Day of Atonement


The Feast of Trumpets foreshadows the regathering of Israel. Having been reassembled in her land, there will then be national repentance, as pictured in the Day of Atonement. A repeated order for that solemn day was, “Ye shall afflict your souls” (e.g., Lev 23:27).[1]


The foregoing assumes that after the Church Age God will resume dealings with Israel. Presently, the nation is experiencing a divinely imposed blindness; that blindness is neither total nor final (Rom 11). It is not total, exemplified in the fact that Paul got saved, and illustrated from Elijah’s day, when 7,000 refused to bow to Baal (vv1-10); this blindness is “in part” (v25). It is not final; it is in place only “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (v25). The blindness will be lifted, and in tribulation days many from the nation will be genuinely blessed (e.g., Rev 7:1-8).

After the Lord’s appearing, Jews in general will leave their adopted lands and head for Israel, but only true believers will be admitted to enjoy kingdom blessing. There will be a sifting process “in the wilderness” (Eze 20:35). Among the immigrants there will be “the rebels” who “shall not enter into the land of Israel” (v38). Unbelief debarred a previous generation from entering Canaan (Heb 3:19), and these too will experience divine judgment.


Genuine Jewish believers will “afflict their souls,” for “every eye shall see him, and they which have pierced him, and all the tribes of the land shall wail because of him” (Rev 1:7 JND). Graphically, Zechariah depicts every family convulsed with grief: “And the land shall mourn, every family apart” (Zec 12:12). The repentant nation will then benefit from the Messiah’s sacrifice, for “in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (13:1). They will then admit the shocking offense of their forefathers in rejecting the Christ. They had perceived Him to be “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” on account of blasphemy. Now they will comprehend the true reason for His suffering: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa 53:4-5).


It is then that “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom 11:26). It is then that their “fall” will give way to their “fulness” (v12). It is then that “a nation [shall] be born at once” (Isa 66:8). It is then that the iniquity of that land shall be removed “in one day” (Zec 3:9).

Leviticus 16 outlines the elaborate sacrificial ritual connected with the Day of Atonement, but chapter 23 makes the simple statement, “Ye shall … offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord” (v27), followed by the instruction, “Ye shall do no work in that same day” (v28). Obviously, chapter 16 anticipates the cross, whereas, within the structure of the feasts, chapter 23 sees the day as foreshadowing Israel’s repentance. The reference to the offering demonstrates that while afflicting their souls will be necessary for their restoration, the foundation of their blessing will be the sacrifice of Christ. The ban on “any work” is a reminder that, as ever, divine blessing is never experienced on the basis of activity. Irrespective of the dispensation, blessing is founded on the work of the cross and received on the principle of faith, allied with repentance.

Calvary will be central to their thinking. Prominent in the passage that describes their repentance is this: “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zec 12:10). As already hinted, the language of Isaiah 53 will flow from their lips, as they confess to being like wayward sheep, but that Jehovah “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v6).


A study of Leviticus 16 is a topic on its own, and although space is limited, we cannot ignore it altogether even though we have been concentrating on the Day of Atonement in relation to the other feasts. Knowing the chapter is essential for understanding much of the Hebrews epistle. There, the writer concentrates on contrasts between the ineffectiveness of Old Testament ritual and the sufficiency of Christ. First, every Aaronic priest was flawed, for he offered a sacrifice daily, “first for his own sins, and then for the people’s” (Heb 7:27). On the Day of Atonement, he had first to “make an atonement for himself” (Lev 16:6). By contrast, our Great High Priest is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb 7:26). On the Day of Atonement, the priest required both cleansing and linen garments to make him a suitable type of what Christ is intrinsically (Lev 16:4).

Another major contrast is in the permanence of what was accomplished at Calvary. The ancient priest went into the most holy place “once every year” (Heb 9:7). Christ “entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (v12 RV). Old Testament sacrifices were “offered year by year continually” (Heb 10:1). The Lord Jesus offered “one sacrifice for sins for ever” (v12); “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ [was] once for all” (v10).

Another distinction is that Israel’s annual ritual served as “a remembrance … of sins every year,” and did nothing for the conscience (Heb 10:2-3). Satisfied by the work of the cross, God declares, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (v17).


Having offered for himself, the priest’s activity then centered around two goats, the two constituting a single sin offering (Lev 16:5). The first goat foreshadowed the Lord’s death, with its blood being sprinkled before and on the mercy seat. It pictures His work of propitiation which both satisfies God and gives us a standing before Him. The body was burned “without the camp” (v27), portraying our Savior “suffer[ing] without the gate” (Heb 13:12).

A comprehensive confession of the nation’s sins was made over the scapegoat and these sins were put “upon the head of the goat”; it was then led to “a land not inhabited” and abandoned (Lev 16:20-22). It is a stark reminder of another aspect of Calvary, the Psalm 22 perspective: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (v1). It typifies the loneliness and sense of desolation that He experienced as He bore our sins. The solitary aspect of His work is typified again in that the high priest alone functioned in the sanctuary that day, with “no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in” (Lev 16:17). Says Peter of the Lord Jesus, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pe 2:24).

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.