Light for the Last Days

The full meaning of Atonement



I’m going to use a bit of a ‘powerpoint presentation’ this morning talking about Yom Kippur.

2021 Jewish Calendar – Jewish Religious Festival Calendar 2021

Esther has already mentioned the fact that it’s happening this week and that Jewish people will be keeping the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) on the 10th day of Tishrei in the Jewish calendar, which is also the 15th and 16th – Wednesday evening through to Thursday evening, this week.

It’s a whole day of fasting, a whole day with no food, no water in which time Jewish people will be praying and repenting for sin and hoping that they will find atonement with God.

It comes after 10 days of repentance from Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets, and it’s really the highest and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Even less religious Jews will generally keep it. And for those who are committed to Judaism, it’s really the most important day of the year for getting right with God and for having your name inscribed in the Book of Life; for a good year.

It’s written about in the Book of Leviticus chapter 23 where we’re told that:

26 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 27 “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. 28 And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. 30 And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.”

Leviticus 23.26-32

And the offering which is described Leviticus in chapter 27 is to take two goats: one to be sacrificed in the Holy of Holies, and the other, the scapegoat, on which the priest confesses the sins of the people, and which carries them away into the wilderness.

So, that’s Yom Kippur. And while we respect the dedication of Jewish people to their faith, we have to say that from a Messianic, from a New Covenant point of view, the way it’s kept today, really represents the saddest day of the year, because, although it’s a day (Yom), there is no atonement, no Kippur.

In fact, if you look at how it’s kept today in Judaism, it’s a lesson in ‘how not to find atonement with God’.

If we can understand this from a biblical point of view, we understand what the message is that goes to the very heart of the Gospel, of the Bible, the heart of God’s Word from the beginning, right through to the end.

If we understand why atonement is needed, why we can get to the heart of God’s message for humanity, this tells us, basically, what God’s problem with humanity is, how He has given a solution to it, and the solution which He’s offering to us.

So, what is atonement?

What Is Yom Kippur? – The Day of Atonement – High Holidays

Sometimes we have trouble with this long word and one way in which it has been described is ‘at-one-ment’. You can see that this ‘at one-ment’ means ‘being one with God’, ‘getting right with God’, ‘bringing us into a relationship with God’. That’s quite a clever use of the English language but the word is not in English, it’s Hebrew and that is not the real translation of the word Kippur.

The word Kippur means ‘covering’, ‘to cover’ or ‘to cover over’. In Hebrew, the verb kaffar means ‘to cover’ and in the infinitive form, kipper, it has the idea of ‘covering over’; also, of ‘propitiating a covering for sin’.

You may know that Jewish people wear a kippah covering on their head because they want to be ‘under a covering’ between them and God.

So, the word is based on the basic meaning which has to do with ‘covering’.

What do we understand by covering? What’s the significance of that?

If you go back first to the dictionary definition, it is to ‘cover over’, ‘to pacify’ or ‘propitiate’, to ‘pacify the wrath of a king’.

The idea is: if you’ve offended a great king, you bring him some gift to pacify him so that he’ll not be angry with you, and he won’t punish you.

The second meaning is ‘to cover over’, or ‘to atone for sins and persons by legal right’.

The next definition speaks of ‘payment of atonement money for a census by the blood upon the altar; of the trespass offering; the whole burnt offering, by the oil used in purifying, by the priestly ministry’.

Atonement in the Absence of Sacrifices? – Questions & Answers

In general, and underlying all these offerings, there is a conception that the person’s offerings are covered by that which is regarded as ‘sufficient and satisfactory by Yahweh’, by God.

Therefore, the purpose of the covering is that it shall make atonement and shall be made to cleanse you from all your sins, and you’ll be clean before Yahweh, before the Lord.

The famous verse in Leviticus chapter 17:

11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

Leviticus 17.11

In Hebrew this means ‘for it is the blood’, literally ‘the living being that covers over’.

There’s something about this blood that covers over and makes you acceptable to God.

And this is necessary because of the entrance of sin into the world. It wasn’t necessary before the fall when there was no sin, no separation from God and no death. It won’t be necessary in heaven where there will be no sin, no separation from God, and no death.

But it is necessary now because of what happened at the beginning.

We must go back to the very beginning. One of the problems of a lot of Christians face today is that people don’t believe Genesis.

If you take Genesis 1 to 3 out of the story, you actually have a difficulty in understanding the need for atonement and what it is because it’s all there, at the very beginning of the scriptures, where we read about how God was holy and how He put man (Adam and Eve) in the Garden of Eden, a special place where there is perfection, where everything was good, where nothing was defiling, where all they knew was good.

The Story of Adam and Eve in the Bible – Jewish History

Then Satan came along and deceived them in the person of the serpent and told them to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And as they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they knew not only good but also evil. And because of that, because they had disobeyed the one Command which God had given to them, as a result of that, the relationship between God and humanity was lost.

We can clearly see from Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve knew God because they knew when He came after the fall. They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the Garden.

Therefore, they were familiar with God’s presence; and now, they hid from Him because they knew that they’d sinned and that they were out of relationship with Him. They’d eaten of the forbidden fruit and now death came in.

We know what happened then: God cursed the serpent that it would go on its belly all its days, God curses the woman with pain at childbirth, and God curses the man with the labour of his hands and, ultimately with death which would be the result of sin.

The Bible is very clear that sin precedes death. Which, in itself, is another argument against evolution because if you get evolution, this implies you’ve had millions of years of death; then comes along Bible saying that ‘sin comes first and then death comes as a result’ and that, because of death, there is this separation, because of sin, there is this separation between God and the human race.

Even now, while we’re alive, we’re living in God’s world but not in God’s will. Now that we know ‘good and evil’, there is a separation between God and the human race.

In the second picture there you can see them trying to cover their sin with the fig leaves.

What Does the Bible Say About Nakedness?

Can they cover their nakedness with fig leaves as God comes into their presence? The idea behind this is that, somehow, they’re covering themselves so that, as it were, the nakedness, the sin can be hidden.

This idea that we can do something by our own works, that we can cover our sin is implicit in that situation. It shows us trying to save ourselves by what we think is right. Yet God says it’s not okay, you must take the fig leaves off and clothe yourselves with animal skins.

We read in Genesis how they’re clothed with animal skins and the animal skins mean that the animal they’re clothed with had to die. They couldn’t just put the skins on without the animal dying.

Therefore, the implication of the act of clothing themselves with the skins is that there is a death that covers them now. There is a sacrifice, an animal which has been sacrificed to cover their nakedness.

In this, you have a basic idea which goes to the very heart of what I’m telling you about: that God requires not our own good deeds to cover our sin but what He provides through the shedding of blood, through the sacrifice that He has appointed.

So, you have the covering with the skins of the animals which cover their nakedness.

At the same time, we find also that God promised that there would be a Redeemer who would come, that He would bruise the head of the serpent, that He himself would be bruised in the process, all this speaking about the coming of the Messiah who will provide the ultimate covering for sin through his atoning sacrifice.

Of course, at the end of chapter 3 of Genesis, we find Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden, out of the presence of God and the significance of that is that they can no longer eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life and, therefore, live forever.

Death has now come as part of human existence, and this shows us the human problem with God: that God is holy, that we are sinful, that there’s a gulf which separates us from God.

We see that religious people are always trying to cross that gulf.

If you analyse any religion, whether it’s Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism, nominal Christianity, that is always there. It is some way in which we’re trying to cross the gulf between God and human beings by doing our good works, whether it’s charity, saying prayers, attending religious services, doing things which are prescribed by whatever that religion says, in order to cross the gulf between God and humanity.

The Fall of Man: Separation from God | Share A Verse

The problem is that it doesn’t work, that, no matter how hard you try, you can never reach to God.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the [a]gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

None of us can make it to God by our own efforts, by our own religion, by our own philosophy, by anything you imagine.

If you were to line up everybody here on the west coast of the UK and tell us all we’ve got to swim to America, maybe some people who are better at swimming will get a little bit further than others, but no one will get anywhere near getting to America.

Some people do a little bit better than others as far as religious righteousness is concerned, but nobody gets anywhere near the righteousness which God requires.

Which is why we need to accept the atoning sacrifice that God has provided. That’s why we need to come, ultimately, in our understanding, to Yeshua / Jesus the Messiah.

All religion has this idea that if we do good deeds, they’re going to cancel out our bad deeds, but we need that covering from God.

Even repentance on its own is not enough.

I was talking to some Muslims the other day and saying how I know that I have eternal life through faith in Jesus.

They said: ‘Well, how can you be sure of that?’

And I explained the Gospel to them.

They said: ‘You know, we hope that if we die and Allah is in a good mood when we get there, he’s going to accept us and he’s going to accept our righteousness because we’ve repented.’

Repentance is one thing, but it must be repentance plus faith. Repentance on its own is not enough to get us to God.

We must have repentance and faith in the atoning sacrifice which God has provided.

Therefore, you need both: repentance and faith. It’s not ‘either / or’, it must be both.

Tony Pearce