“‘And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, […] on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins’” (Leviticus 16:29-30).
Under the law, the Israelites were constantly offering sacrifices, never permanently clean from the sin that plagued them day by day. The priests were always busy in the tabernacle (or later the temple), slaying sacrifices and pleading with God for pardon on behalf of the repentant sinner. But one day out of the year was special. On this day, it wasn’t one particular sin for which the priests would seek atonement: all the sins of all the people would be cleansed. This was known as Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement.
The Day of Atonement was special for quite a few reasons. Aside from being the day of cleansing for the entire congregation at once, it was also the one day out of the year the high priest could enter the Holy Place. If he attempted to go there at any other time, he would instantly perish. But this day, God made an exception. It’s intriguing that, on this day when the priest came symbolically bearing the sins of all the people, a holy God would let him into His presence. One might expect God to want the priest as far from Him as possible. But he came begging forgiveness, begging cleansing—and God would willingly grant it. He would accept the priest’s intercession on behalf of the people and make atonement for them all.
This day has obvious parallels to Christ and what He does for those who believe in Him. According to the New Testament, He is our great High Priest. He not only took the sins of all the world on Himself, He also offered Himself as the perfect atoning sacrifice. There is no longer any need for bulls and goats; Jesus is the sacrifice that lasts not just for a year, but for the entirety of time. God accepted His Son’s plea for atonement, just as He listened to the human high priests. Now the sins of everyone are cleansed, if they choose to place their faith in Christ. Our Day of Atonement endures to eternity.