The ten day period of repentance, starting at Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, ends at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The name tells it all.
The LORD said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:26-32)
It’s the most solemn day in the Biblical calendar, the holiest day in the Jewish year. For the Jew it’s the real day of reckoning, it’s the end of the Days of Awe, when you find out if you have made the grade, hit the mark, earmarked for Death or Life. In Biblical times, when the Temple in Jerusalem still stood, the High Priest would make the annual sacrifice for the people of Israel. Yom Kippur literally means the “day of covering”, in the sense of your sins being covered, or pardoned, at least for a while. This was the only way ancient Jews could be reconciled to God for their sins until Jesus came along and showed a better way, the guarantee of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22).
When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, sacrifices could no longer be offered and, outside salvation offered by the death and resurrection of Jesus, there was no way back to God. So instead the rabbis and sages instituted a system of good works to get back into God’s good books, a man-made tradition that’s still with us, in the form of the anxiety of are we righteous enough to get into the Book of Life?
At the end of this solemn day, with the final blast of the shofar, according to Jewish tradition the gates of heaven that had opened on Rosh Hashanah are now closed, your fate sealed and unknown unless you have the misfortune to come knocking at the gates during the forthcoming year (i.e. you’ve died)! To complete our link with the past, it was also said to be this day when Moses descended Mount Sinai for the second time, with brand new stone tablets.
A question you are asking. What have these two autumn festivals got to do with Christians living today? First a short recap. We have followed the events from Egypt to Sinai, spanning Passover to the Day of Atonement on the Biblical calendar. We also saw how the final events in the life of Jesus took us from Passover to Shavuot and how these spring festivals form the context for the death and resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Church. But what about the autumn festivals? What do they tell us about Jesus? Actually quite a lot … in a prophetic sense.
Prophetically, the autumn festivals speak to us not of the life and death of Jesus, but his return, the Second Coming. Although messianic theologians agree in principle that this is so, the actual timetable of events is heavily dependent on your view of the end times, regarding such contentious issues as the rapture. Here is the general gist of it, starting with a Scripture.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed”. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
The last trumpet, the last trump, the last shofar. Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Teru’ah, the Feast of Trumpets, so there’s a connection here. The Talmud tells us that on this day the dead will be raised (Rosh Hashanah 16b), so Jewish and Christian expectations are identical. It is reasonable to assume that, if there is to be a rapture of the Church, Rosh Hashanah is a fair bet for that actual day, but I’m not going to second-guess our God, who tells us that it is not up to us to know such things.
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”. (Matthew 24:36)
So it could just as easily be on April 24th, February 9th or July 1st. Who knows? Who cares? Just be wise virgins and be prepared … always!
Yom Kippur also has prophetic significance. It is associated with that great and terrible day, the Day of the Lord, or the Day of Judgement.
“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Acts 2:20)
On this day will come the blowing of the Great Trumpet, Shofar HaGodal, and Jesus Christ will return to Earth, the Second Coming. As I said earlier, although it will enrich our walk with the Lord if we view these events in a prophetic sense rather than a literal sense, otherwise we may end up one of those poor folk who spend these holy days up the top of some mountain, in order to be the first to be swept heavenwards when Jesus returns!
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book How the Church Lost the Way)
What is the Biblical significance of Yom Kippur?
Written by: Miriam Emenike
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