The Day of Atonement and Yeshua our High Priest

Excerpt from: J.K. McKee’s Moedim published 2013 by TNN Press. This resource is available for purchase here.

The Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur

The time period between Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is commonly known as the Ten Days of Awe—when the community of God’s faithful prepares itself to corporately confess and repent of sin. The Day of Atonement is considered  to be the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The Torah specifies,

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 23:26-28).

Just as many Christians are familiar with the Festival of Trumpets, many of the same are familiar with Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, if for any other reason that they know that this is the one day of the year when Jews fast. Yom Kippur is to be a day when God’s people are commanded to “afflict” themselves, usually by fasting, and by spending the day before Him. They should be individually confessing their sins of the previous year, making peace with anyone who has been wronged, and meditating on the future.

The Day of Atonement was the only time when the high priest was really permitted to go into the Holy of Holies and spread the sacrificial blood upon the Ark of the Covenant for covering the sin of the people (Leviticus 16). Following the Southern Kingdom’s exile to Babylon, Yom Kippur was considered the only appropriate time that God’s Divine Name was to be spoken aloud—and that was in the Temple alone (m.Yoma 6:2).

Within Judaism, Yom Kippur is to be a very serious time of spiritual reflection. Hertz elaborates, “Confession of sin is the most essential and characteristic element in the services of the Day of Atonement; ‘every one entreating pardon for his sins and hoping for God’s mercy, not because of his own merits but through the compassionate nature of that Being who will have forgiveness rather than punishment’ (Philo).[1] The confession is made by the whole Community collectively; and those who have not themselves committed the sins mentioned in the confession regret that they were unable to prevent them from being committed by others (Friedländer).”[2]

In recent days within the evangelical  Christian community, there has been a substantial amount of discussion on the need for repentance and reconciliation with God. This is good. Many of the movements which have arisen have had some limited success for a season, but then fade away or lose their impact for some reason or another. While we as individuals should always be in the process of spiritual reflection, the simple truth of the matter is that there is a Biblical time when required corporate repentance and reconciliation with God are to take place: Yom Kippur. This is the day that the Body of Messiah is to entreat the Lord for mercy, as it involves fasting and traditional liturgy that really is designed to get people to think about their sins.[3]

Furthermore, concerning Yom Kippur, Leviticus 23:29- 30 describes how “If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.” The severity of the Day of Atonement cannot be overemphasized here. Those who did not humble and afflict themselves and abstain from work (in ancient times) would literally be cut off. The Hebrew verb is karat, and generally means to be “cut off, cut down” (BDB).[4]

The ArtScroll Chumash actually says, “one who works on Yom Kippur, about whom the Torah says he will be destroyed, is judged more harshly than one who eats, about whom the Torah says only that he will be cut off. One who eats is treated more leniently, because he is merely a glutton who cannot control his desires, but one who works shows that he is contemptuous of God’s wishes.”[5]

As Believers in Messiah Yeshua, we need to learn to take Yom Kippur very seriously. The Day of Atonement is intended to be a very serious and sober time. It is to be a time when we are reminded of our humanity before a holy and righteous Creator. It is to be a time when we are to reflect and confess sin. As members of the Commonwealth of Israel, Jewish or non-Jewish, we each must be reminded, in the words of Hertz, that “No other nation, ancient or modern, has an institution approaching the Day of Atonement in religious depth —‘a day of purification and of turning from sins, for which forgiveness is granted through the grace of the merciful God, who holds penitence in as high as esteem as guiltlessness’ (Philo).”[6]

Sadly, it has been our observation over the years that a few in the Messianic community do not take Yom Kippur as seriously as they should. Part of this comes because these Messianics do not really know what to do about spiritual introspection. Many Christians today believe that since they have been forgiven of their sin through Yeshua, that it is unnecessary for them to   ever ask for any forgiveness of sin again once they have been converted.

They really do not see any importance in Yom Kippur, and in the need of taking a yearly spiritual inventory, and so some of today’s Messianics have the same attitude and do not take Yom Kippur very seriously. This, I believe, is a very immature attitude because Paul teaches plainly, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We should always evaluate where we stand before Him at least once a year.

Yom Kippur is not just a day when we abstain from eating and the usual pleasures; it is to truly be the time when we are to stand in fear of an Eternal God. In no way are we to have a cavalier attitude about it, where one is “counting   down   the hours” left before breaking the required fast of the day. Many of us have to learn to take our salvation more seriously—or at least fast and pray for the salvation of others. Even if you think that you are right with God and that you have no business yourself to conduct with Him, there are lost people all over the world—especially our unsaved Jewish brethren— whom we should be fasting and interceding for!

As far as Yom Kippur’s eschatological fulfillment is concerned, a future Day of Atonement will probably be the time when the Day of the LORD occurs, that being the time when God’s wrath (Grk. orgē) is poured out upon the unsaved of Planet Earth and Yeshua defeats His enemies at Armageddon. This concept is readily emphasized in the Tanach in the various Day of the LORD prophecies.

“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty…Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it…Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger” (Isaiah13:6, 9, 13).

We are told in Ezekiel 30:3: “For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.”

There are numerous other references in Scripture to this horrible time, each of which speaks in some way of “the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:2). In its largest Biblical context, the Day of the LORD is a very short period of time (even though the terminology can be used to describe the force of God’s vindication). The prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur is probably best understood to represent this coming Day of the LORD, as the Day of Atonement is to be considered a very solemn, serious occasion between oneself   and   the   Lord   for reflection. Yom Kippur is to be a day of mourning, and the Scriptures tell us that at Yeshua’s appearing to defeat His enemies, “all the tribes of the earth will mourn” (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7).

We Messianics must observe Yom Kippur each year by afflicting ourselves and standing in awe of a holy, righteous, and Eternal God. We must take this day very seriously and confess our sin before the Lord, claiming the blood of Messiah Yeshua, and dedicating ourselves to His service for the next year. All too often, on the Day of Atonement we are reminded of how really human we are before our Creator and how much we must be humbled. It reminds us of God’s future judgment on the world when many will say, “who shall be able   to   stand?” (Revelation 6:17, KJV).

 Yom Kippur is to be a time of severity and it is an appropriate time for us to remember Yeshua’s triumph over sin, death, and Satan. It would be good for the Messianic community if we started emphasizing the events of the coming Day of the LORD at Yom Kippur as well, when we might read the Scripture passages of the judgment of the world that is prophesied—so that we might really pray and intercede for the salvation of the lost:

“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2).



[1] Philo The Special Laws 2.196.

[2] Hertz, 523.

[3] Consult the order of worship seen in “A Traditional Morning Service for Yom Kippur,” appearing in the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by TNN Press.

[4] BDB, 503.

[5] Scherman, Chumash, 687.

[6] Hertz, 523. Cf. Philo Special Laws 1.229.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.