The Day of Atonement is different from the other festivals. Considered with the timeline of Revelation, the meaning of the Day of Atonement becomes clearer.
The Day of Atonement in the Bible
The Day of Atonement, (Yom Kippur in Hebrew) is the fifth annual holy day of the “feasts of the LORD” listed in Leviticus 23:26-32:
“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 . . .
“It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.”
The Old Testament sacrifices and rituals of the Day of Atonement are detailed in Leviticus 16. This holy day is also mentioned in Numbers 29:7.
The Day of Atonement was also the day that Israel was to “proclaim liberty” at the start of the holy year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:9-10).
Day of Atonement in the New Testament
The Day of Atonement continued to be important to the New Testament Church. It was even mentioned in passing as a time marker of the season of the year when sailing on the Mediterranean became dangerous (Acts 27:9).
The most extensive mention of this holy day in the New Testament is in the book of Hebrews. There the actions of the physical high priest, who came only once a year into the Most Holy Place with the blood of atonement (Hebrews 9:6-7), are shown to be a type of the work of Jesus Christ.
Only on the Day of Atonement could the high priest sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for the people. And he had to do this every year.
Jesus, however, is the ultimate High Priest. He entered the actual throne room of God to present His own sacrificial blood to cover the sins of all people when they repent. “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
Study more about Jesus’ sacrifice and how it makes possible our reconciliation to God in our article “Sacrifice of Jesus” and related articles.
What does the Day of Atonement mean?
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 humbly 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 the book of Revelation, the meaning of the Day of Atonement becomes clearer.
Atonement and the binding of Satan
The events pictured by the Feast of Trumpets (the fourth festival) are recounted in Revelation 19, culminating in the return of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 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.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 removal of Satan and the reconciliation of humanity is foreshadowed in this fifth festival, the Day of Atonement.
The Day of Atonement and the two goats
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).
You can study the ceremonies of Leviticus 16 and their meaning for us in much more detail in our article “Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement.” See also our related article “The Holy Day Satan Hates Most.”
Atonement: becoming at one with God
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.
Learn more about how all seven festivals rehearse God’s plan of salvation in our free booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.