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The Day of Atonement is different from the other festivals. For one thing, God commanded His people to fast (not eat or drink, Esther 4:16) on this day to draw close to Him, while all the other festivals involved enjoying food and drink. (In the New Testament, Atonement was even referred to as “the Fast” in Acts 27:9.)
Also, the rituals God gave ancient Israel for the Day of Atonement are unique, intriguing and often misinterpreted. But considered in conjunction with the prophetic timeline in Revelation, the meaning becomes clearer.
The events pictured by the Feast of Trumpets are recounted in Revelation 19, and the next prophetic event begins in Revelation 20:
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years” (verses 1-2).
The apostle John describes Satan as the one who “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Satan uses his evil influence to broadcast ungodly attitudes and sinful thoughts to gullible humanity (Ephesians 2:2). We cannot shirk our personal responsibility for our sins and just blame Satan (James 1:14), but we can recognize his subtle but pervasive influence that has thwarted most people from having a close relationship with their Creator. He has been driving a wedge between man and God from the time of Adam and Eve.
After Jesus Christ’s return, Satan must be removed in order to pave the way for reconciliation of humanity and God. With Satan around, real, lasting peace is not possible.
The rituals God gave ancient Israel for the Day of Atonement included one involving two goats. The high priest was to present them before God, and God would show which one was “for the Lord” to be sacrificed (representing Jesus Christ) and which was for Azazel (the Hebrew word translated as “scapegoat” in the New King James Version). The goat for Azazel was left alive.
“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 shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land which is cut off; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness…
“And he that letteth go the goat for Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his flesh in water” (Leviticus 16:21-22, 26, Jewish Publication Society).
The connection between the goat for Azazel and the binding of Satan in Revelation 20 becomes more clear when you note that most scholars believe Azazel is the name of a demon inhabiting the wilderness (Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 326).
With Satan removed, humanity will find it easier to see how awful sin is and how wonderful our merciful God is. Over time each person will come to recognize his or her own sins and will have the chance to repent and seek God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. Atonement and unity with God will become the norm rather than the exception.
The removal of Satan helps make possible the sixth step in God’s plan, a utopian world pictured by the sixth festival, the Feast of Tabernacles.