Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the second fall feast and considered the holiest day of the year. It’s the day the Jewish high priest entered the Holy of Holies in the temple and offered sacrifices for the sins of Israel. This regeneration completes the repentance begun during Rosh Hashanah ten days earlier. It is a time of joyful optimism that Israel has been made right in the eyes of God for another year.
Yet the system has some obvious flaws. Hebrews 10 explains that the old way could not take away guilt. “Just the opposite happened: those yearly sacrifices remind them of their disobedience and guilt instead of relieving their minds. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats really to take away sins (TLB).” The old system illustrated the need for a perfect sacrifice, made once, to cover all sin. The Day of Atonement points out the need for Messiah, and Jesus Christ completed it on the cross. Now, “he cancels the first system in favor of a far better one. Under this new plan we have been forgiven and made clean by Christ’s dying for us once and for all…there is no need to offer more sacrifices to get rid of them…Now we may walk right into the Holy of Holies where God is, because of the blood of Jesus (TLB).”
Yet Yom Kippur is not a fully realized holiday. There remains prophecy that has not yet come to pass. Just as Rosh Hashanah predicts a future day when Israel will look in repentance to the one they have pierced (Zech. 12:10), so Yom Kippur looks to the day God will regenerate his chosen people. “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins’” (Rom. 11:25-27). I am thrilled that God has allowed for a time for Gentiles. He’s allowing me into the kingdom! But at the second coming, God will turn the hearts of Israel back to himself. That is the future fulfillment of Yom Kippur.
Since the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, this High Holy Day is no longer observed with the sacrifices of Bible times. Today its defining feature is a Biblically-prescribed fast (Lev. 23:26-32). The holiday begins with a festive meal similar to the one eaten at Rosh Hashanah. Sweet wine, honey cake and other sweet foods are eaten, again in hopes of a sweet new year. Challah is shaped as a ladder, hand, or bird with the hope that prayers and atonement will reach heaven. At sundown, a twenty-four hour fast begins, in which no food drink or luxuries may be partaken of. Jews spend much of the evening and the next day in synagogue services, seeking atonement for another year before breaking the fast at sundown with another sweet, light meal.
What an excellent time to pray for the salvation of Israel! May God’s chosen ones come to understand during these harvest days of thankfulness for God’s physical provision that he has provided spiritually as well. Atonement has already been made for them! That will be my own prayer this year as my kids and I participate in this ancient holiday for the very first time.