by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
In our continuing study on the holy days, we have seen the plan of God broaden from our personal redemption and removal of sin in Jesus Christ's offering of Himself on Passover to ridding the self of corruption in the Days of Unleavened Bread and to the founding of the church and giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Trumpets pictures the return of Christ, the changing of the saints into immortal spirit beings, and God's judgment on all mankind. But before Christ's rule on earth begins, another hurdle must be overcome: Spiritual cleansing leading to salvation must be made available to those coming out of the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord, beginning with the remnant of Israel.
The Day of Atonement depicts the accomplishment of this step in God's purpose. Christ's sacrificial work on Passover serves as the individual counterpart to this holy day, which is far broader in scope, eventually encompassing all humanity. Though Christ's prodigious feat of covering and bearing away all human sin deserves our joyous praise and thanksgiving to God, Atonement is the most solemn of the seven festivals. On this day, Christians fast—afflict their souls—to show that only when man sees himself in proper comparison to God will he have the right attitude to submit to Him. When more and more humans live humbly before God, then God's Word and Spirit will work wonders among the people of the world!
1. Is Atonement a commanded feast of God? Leviticus 23:26-32.
Comment: God emphasizes this day's solemnity by threatening death to those who fail to afflict their souls or who do any work on this day. Nothing is more important than being at one with Him!
2. What is it to "afflict your souls"? Isaiah 58:3.
Comment: Fasting puts us in a proper attitude to submit to God. When we deprive ourselves of the necessities of life, we see how dependent we are upon God's providence. This is why in a true, spiritual fast we neither eat nor drink anything for the whole twenty-four hours of the day (Deuteronomy 9:18; Esther 4:16). God desires such a humble spirit in us so we can walk in harmony with Him (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 66:2).
3. What are we trying to accomplish when we fast? Isaiah 58:3-12.
Comment: The members of Isaiah's audience were fasting for all the wrong reasons! They fasted to get things from God and hypocritically appear righteous. God says, though, that we should fast to free others from their sins, to intercede with God for their healing, to help provide for their needs and to understand His will. Fasting is a tool of godly love we are to use for the good of others, and any benefits we derive from it are wonderful blessings! On the Day of Atonement, we fast to implore God to bring to pass the greatest blessing of all upon ourselves and the world: unity, oneness, with Him!
4. Did the early church keep this Fast? Acts 27:9.
Comment: Luke, writing this over thirty years after Christ's death, makes it clear that the early church observed this holy day.
5. What unusual ritual did the Aaronic high priest perform on the Day of Atonement? Leviticus 16.
Comment: This lengthy, involved ritual depicts all the steps that must be accomplished before mankind can truly be at one with God. In short, the following must occur:
» A high priest must be pure and sinless to mediate between God and man (verse 4). Christ, having lived a sinless life, is our eternal High Priest.
» The high priest must enter God's presence with blood to open the way between God and man (verses 3, 14-16). Christ, by His own sacrifice, gains us entrance before God's throne, having rent the veil (Matthew 27:51).
» The sins of men must be covered by the offering of an innocent victim (verses 9, 15). Christ's blood covers our sins, and God is appeased, granting us forgiveness.
» Human sin must not only be covered but also removed (verses 10, 20-22). Jesus Christ, the One upon whom all sin was placed as He suffered on the cross, also bears it away—"as far as east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12; see also Isaiah 53:6; Hebrews 9:28; I Peter 2:24; I John 3:5). Isaiah writes about the Suffering Servant, the Messiah:
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, . . . because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)
6. What does Christ do immediately after returning from heaven to fulfill the Day of Atonement? Jeremiah 33:7-8.
Comment: The books of the prophets contain many similar passages to this one in Jeremiah 33 (see, for instance, Isaiah 9:20-23; 11:11-12; 27:13; 35:10; 40:1-2; Jeremiah 30:7; 31:8; 50:18-20; Ezekiel 6:8-9; 16:53-54; 36:22-28; etc). The King of kings will call the survivors of Israel and Judah back to their ancestral land, and they will return with a humble attitude, ready to listen to His teaching. He will offer them redemption and forgive their sins, which is exactly what we see in type in the Atonement offering of Leviticus 16 and also prophesied in the Seventy Weeks Prophecy in Daniel 9:24. And so the salvation of all Israel will begin (Romans 11:26)!