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The Day of Atonement
“And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died; And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on…And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house…Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness. And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel…And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. And he did as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 16:1-34)
The most important and most instructive of all the typical ceremonies of the Old Testament was the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement pictured, foreshadowed, and typified the sin-atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our great High Priest, our substitutionary Sacrifice for sin, our Scapegoat, our Altar, and our Mercy-seat, through whom alone sinners have access to and find acceptance with the holy Lord God.
Mercy and Truth
In order for the holy Lord God to deal with sinful men and women in mercy, grace, and peace, without compromising his character and violating his justice, there had to be a Day of Atonement. A holy, just, and true God could never allow fallen, sinful man to live before him, unless a suitable atonement is made for man’s sin. Justice must be vindicated. Sin must be punished. Else God and man can never come together in peace. Therefore, God ordained that a Day of Atonement be observed in Israel once a year, as a picture and pledge of the great Day of Atonement to be accomplished at Calvary by the slaying of the Lamb of God for the redemption of God’s elect. And the Lord God gave Moses meticulous, detailed instructions about how the Day of Atonement was to be observed in this 16th chapter of Leviticus.
1. The Day of Atonement was ordained and initiated by God himself. This was no human invention (Job 33:24; Leviticus 23:27-28; 25:9).
2. The Day of Atonement was set for a specific time each year (v. 29) — “The seventh month, on the tenth day of the month.” God’s great Day of Atonement was set, fixed, appointed, and determined by God himself. Nothing was left to chance. And nothing was left to the will of man.
3. There was only one Day of Atonement each year. And our Lord Jesus Christ was to make only one offering for sin. — “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). — “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28).
4. The sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement were only typical. They could never put away sin (Hebrews 10:1-4).
5. All those typical, ceremonial sacrifices were fulfilled by Christ and have ceased because Christ fulfilled them (Hebrews 10:11-14, 18). — “There is no more offering for sin.”
6. All that was done on the Day of Atonement was done for a specific, chosen people and resulted in God’s blessing upon those people (Leviticus 16:17, 24, 30).
The High Priest
The atonement was made by a specifically appointed man, Aaron, the great high priest of Israel. — “Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.” (v. 3). Israel’s great high priest was a divinely chosen man. And the Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, is a divinely chosen man, the God-man (Psalm 89:19; Isaiah 42:1-4).
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was robed in garments of humility. — “He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on” (v. 4). On this great day Aaron laid aside his gorgeous, glorious garments and put on the garments of humility. So, too, our Great High Priest, the Son of God was clothed with humility when he came to make atonement for sin as our dear Savior (John 1:14; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-11).
Israel’s great high priest was a ceremonially holy man (vv. 3, 4, 6, 11, 12).
“Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.” (vv. 3-4)
“And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.” (v. 6)
“And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself: And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil.” (vv. 11-12)
Though Aaron was a sinner like us, he had to be a ceremonially holy man to act as God’s high priest, picturing the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to approach God as the high priest of his people, Aaron had to have in type, and Christ had to have in reality, these four things…
In all his work on the Day of Atonement Aaron acted alone. — “And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel” (v. 17).
No one else was present. No one was allowed into the holy of holies but Aaron. Aaron was alone with God to make atonement for the people. The whole nation was entrusted to one representative man. The whole nation rested upon the shoulders of one man. If that man succeeds, the nation shall live. If he fails, the nation must die! — So it was with our all-glorious Christ (Psalm 69:20; Isaiah 63:3-5).
In the all things, Aaron, the high priest, typified our great, sin-atoning High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Slain Goat
Next, God the Holy Spirit gives us a picture of the goat that was slain as a victim for a sin-offering to God. This goat represents the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. Christ is both our High Priest and our Sacrificial Lamb, the victim, not of man’s will, but of God’s justice!
“And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.” (v. 5)
“And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” (vv. 7-10)
This sacrificial lamb was an innocent victim, because no sinful man could ever make atonement for sin (Psalm 49:7). The sacrifice was taken from among the people, because divine justice must be avenged upon and compensation must be made by man, for man sinned. And the Lord’s sacrifice was chosen and ordained by God himself (Proverbs 16:33).
So, too, our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s own dear Son, was chosen and ordained of God to be his Sacrifice for us (Acts 2:23; 4:26-28; 13:29; 1 Peter 1:18-21). And, like the sacrifice here in Leviticus 16:15, our dear Savior was slain by divine order as a sacrifice for sin (Zechariah 13:7).
Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Substitute, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed for us. He was and is a sacrifice of infinite merit, a sacrifice for a particular people — “The Israel of God,” and a sacrifice that actually made atonement and put away sin (Galatians 3:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-14).
Then, the blood of this slain goat was sprinkled upon the mercy seat seven times.
“And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat.” (vv. 14-15)
The blood was on the mercy-seat as a covering to hide God’s broken law, a propitiation to cancel the sins of the people, and a reconciliation to unite God and his chosen. That is what Christ, our Sacrifice, the true Mercy-Seat, is to his redeemed (Romans 3:24-26).
Having died in our place, the Lord Jesus Christ entered immediately into heaven itself and offered to the holy Lord God the merits of his own precious blood, obtaining eternal redemption for us. His sacrifice was perfect and complete. His sacrifice was final and accepted. His sacrifice made a way of access for sinners to come to God. And his sacrifice made certain that all for whom he died would come (Hebrews 9:12; 10:9-22).
The sacrifice of our dear Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is a sacrifice of infinite, perpetual merit and efficacy before God (Romans 8:32-35; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 1 John 2:1-2).
The Lost Scapegoat
Both the high priest and the slain victim represent the Lord Jesus, who is both our Savior Priest and our Sacrifice, the Lamb of God sacrificed for us. Next, look briefly at the lost scapegoat described in verses 20-22.
“And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”
The scapegoat is a picture of the complete removal of our sins by Christ. The first goat, the Lord’s goat, the slain victim, gave us a picture of the atonement. The second goat, the scapegoat, gives us a picture of the result of the atonement. Here we have two very instructive pictures.
1. The Transfer and Imputation of Our Sins to Christ (v. 21; Isaiah 53:4-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
2. The Removal of Our Sins by Christ (v. 22).
Because Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, died in the place of his elect, suffering all the terror and wrath of God’s holy law and justice against our sins, the guilt of sin is gone (Hebrews 10:14), the punishment of sin is gone (Romans 8:1), the memory of sin (in so far as God’s holy law and justice is concerned) is gone (Jeremiah 50:20), and sin itself is gone for chosen, redeemed sinners in eternal union with the Son of God (1 Peter 4:1-2; 1 John 3:5).
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.” (Micah 7:18-20)
The People’s Response.
At the close of the day, when the work of atonement was finished, Aaron took off his linen garments and put on his glorious, gorgeous garments again. Then, on the basis of atonement made, he lifted up his hands and blessed the people (Numbers 6:24-26). And when the people saw what God did for them, they had a threefold response. — They repented. — “Ye shall afflict your souls” (v. 29). — They rested. — “Ye shall do no work at all” (v. 29). — And they rejoiced (Leviticus 25:9). The jubilee trumpet then, portraying the gospel trumpet today, sounded the sweet proclamation of liberty to all who were bound, the clearing of all debt, and complete restoration of all that was lost.
The Act of Faith
May God the Holy Ghost give us now, and day by day, and hour by hour, as long as we live in this world, grace to perform the act of faith symbolized in verses 21 and 22. — Lay your hands upon Christ the Scapegoat’s head, confess your sins, and watch them go away.
And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”
Charlotte Elliott was a bitter, unwed woman. Her health was completely broken at 30. And her disabilities had hardened her. Her parents were believers; but she was full of bitterness.
On one occasion the famous Swiss preacher and hymn writer, Cesar Malan, was a guest in her parents’ home. As her father and Malan spoke to one another about the goodness, mercy, grace, and love of God in Christ, Charlotte erupted in a violent outburst, terribly embarrassing her family before their honored guest. — “If God loved me, he would not have treated me this way!” Her parents left the room in embarrassment. The preacher stayed behind.
“Charlotte,” he said, “you are tired of yourself; and you are holding to your hate and anger because you have nothing else to hold to.” She replied, “What, then, is your cure?” He answered, “The very Christ you despise.” Charlotte softened a bit. “What shall I do?” she asked. “Come to Christ. Come to the Savior, with all your fear and shame and pride. Ask him to have mercy on you and give you his grace.” She replied, “Just come to Jesus Christ as I am?” “Yes,” he said, “just as you are.”
Charlotte Elliott did just that. She came to Christ, just as she was. Fourteen years later, she wrote her spiritual biography in a one of the most well-known hymns of the English language.
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
That is the message of the Day of Atonement.