The Profound Prophetic Significance of Yom Kippur
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
“Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. … You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings” (Leviticus 23:27–32; also Leviticus 16).
The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, both in biblical times and today. Though other feasts, like Passover, dealt with the individual, Yom Kippur was specific to the nation of Israel. In biblical times, it was the one day, once a year, when the entire nation’s sins were forgiven for the previous year.
Among the law God gave Israel at Mount Sinai was His detailed instruction for how to celebrate Yom Kippur. It was to be a feast kept forever—meaning, even today Israel should be keeping the feast. Israel was to humble or “afflict” their souls (fast or abstain from food), repent of any sin from the previous year, and rest. The high priest was to offer blood sacrifices to “make atonement” for the sins of the people, the priesthood, and the nation committed during the previous year. It was like starting a new year with a clean spiritual slate.
However, because most versions of the Bible translate the original word kippur as “atonement,” and because “atonement” is often inaccurately understood as the removal of sin or the reconciliation between God and man through Jesus’ sacrificial death, the profound meaning of what this feast is about for the nation of Israel is often lost for modern-day Bible readers.
The original Hebrew word translated as “atonement” is kippur (and its verb form kaphar). Kaphar means “To cover over, to reconcile, to conceal (sin).” The same word is found in the original Hebrew name for the Mercy Seat that covers the ark of the covenant—and it’s also the same Hebrew word for the English word “pitch” that God instructed Noah to cover the ark with, helping to protect the precious cargo inside. (Already, you can see how knowing the true meaning behind the word “atonement” might dramatically impact how we understand Yom Kippur.)
For this reason, Yom Kippur is known as the “Day of Covering.” And because it was also the day God judged the sins of the entire nation, it became known by another idiom: the “Day of Judgment.”
Yom Kippur in the New Testament?
Just after Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, during which time Jesus, interestingly, neither ate nor drank, Luke tells us He went to a Nazareth synagogue and was handed the Isaiah scroll to read. Not coincidentally, He opened the scroll and began reading from Isaiah 61:1:
The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because the He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:14–19)
Jesus then closed the scroll and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
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