Great Day of Atonement – The Meaning in the New Covenant 

In the previous article we studied the Feast of Trumpets. This is the first Feast in the series of Fall Festivals that are still awaiting their future fulfillment in Christ. Many New Testament believers don’t celebrate these festivals any more in remembrance of His coming and expectation of His Return. As we explained, the Feast of Trumpets has everything to do with the moment when the Bridegroom comes to get the Bride at the sound of the Last Trumpet. Each of these Fall Feasts show us an aspect of the future fulfillment in Christ. In this second article we focus on the Day of Atonement.

The Day of Atonement, which starts this year (2019) on the evening of October 8, is the most holy day in the Jewish year. In this article though, we want to especially look at the meaning of this day in the New Covenant, because this Feast also has an important place in it. Many Christians don’t notice this day but – when you realize that Christ is still fulfilling the central role in this – that will – hopefully – change quickly. Without a high priest this day is missing its deepest meaning, but everything falls into place with the heavenly High Priest. Regarding this Day of Atonement, we will study the sequence of events thoroughly, for in the same order Christ will fulfill them at a future time.

1. The High Priest is invisible

At the end of the Feast of Trumpets the High Priest withdrew in preparation for the Day of Atonement. For a period of seven days he was not visible to the people. It is just like he is not in their midst.

2. The morning of the Day of Atonement, the 10th day of the seventh month

On this most holy day the high priest entered the temple and appeared before God in the Holy of Holies. First, a bull was slaughtered, after which the blood was sprinkled to reconcile him and his family. Then two identical goats were presented. One goat was “for the Lord” and the other “for Azazel”. The goat for the Lord was slaughtered and the high priest took the blood of this goat inside to purify, by sprinkling, the Holy of Holies in order to bring about reconciliation between God and the people. That was God’s annual commission to the high priest, and it required blood. The writer of the Hebrew letter informs us that this part of the Day of Atonement (the entering of the sanctuary) was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. After all, He became (and still is) the new High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. This High Priesthood replaced the earthly high priesthood. The earthly temple always has been a picture of the heavenly, but from that moment fhe function of the earthly temple was taken over by the heavenly Temple in the New Covenant. The letter to the Hebrews teaches us that our heavenly High Priest once and for all entered this Temple with His own blood. That means that Jesus Christ as a sacrifice is also the fulfillment of the “goat for the Lord” [1], of which the blood brings reconciliation.

3. The blood as a means of reconciliation – The Reset

When the earthly high priest entered with the blood of the goat, it was solely to bring about reconciliation between God and the covenant people. That reconciliation took place every year. Apparently, it was important to God that the people of Israel always got a clean slate. During the year, sinners could come to the temple to make a sacrifice for their sins. They would put their hands on the head of the sacrificial animal while confessing their sins. In this way they transferred it to the sacrificial animal and this animal had to be without any imperfections. Forgiveness of sins could not be received without blood and without confessing sins from the heart. Not the sacrificial animal thereby became sinful, but the blood of this sacrificial animal was applied to the horns of the altar so that the sins of the sinner passed to the altar in a spiritual way. That is why the temple also had to be cleansed with blood once a year. One goat would then die for the atonement of many. We find here that the Day of Atonement was not meant for outsiders, but as a reset for those who were trusting in their Covenant with God. Here too, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is explaining that there is a New Covenant Meaning in Christ from this passage. After all, Christ entered into the heavenly temple and He is present there – constantly in the present tense – as Mediator between God and the believers of the New Covenant. Therefore, the blood of Jesus not only brought the full fulfillment of the Passover (the blood at the doorpost so that sinners who faithfully obeyed were saved), but the Day of Atonement also did not have to be repeated every year after Calvary. Once His blood was given and once He had entered the Heavenly Temple. As long as He is there, the blood of Jesus will bring about atonement, that is, for those who repent of their sins. That is an assignment that we cannot afford to ignore. If children of God sin after their conversion and confess their transgressions, the High Priest reconciles us to God the Father through His blood. Fortunately, this process is still a “work in progress”. That requires some explanation: the confessed sins are forgiven immediately, but the process that always follows forgiveness for confessed sins will continue until at the end of our time when our High Priest leaves the Heavenly Temple and when every eye will see Him.

On the basis of each event on the Day of Atonement, you can easily determine that some aspects are fulfilled, while others are still ongoing. This means that the Day of Atonement has not yet been completed. We have actually been in the middle of the constant working of this Feast for 2,000 years and luckily so. But on a future day it will be completed, or perfected [1B], by Jesus Christ in all its fullness. After all, that will also be the Great Day on which God reconciles with all of Israel on that last Great Day of Atonement. [2]

4. The High Priest comes out – all the people see him

After the Holy of Holies and the rest of the temple had been cleansed, the high priest came out. That was always an exciting moment, because all the people were anxiously awaiting whether God would reconcile with the people that year again and the high priest was spared by God as their mediator. A great moment of relief and joy followed when they saw their high priest. That annual moment was also a shadow event. The writer of letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus Christ remains the Mediator as the High Priest, but that there will come a time when the process of reconciliation will end in the Heavenly Temple. Then Christ will no longer come back to the earth for the forgiveness of sins, but for those who are awaiting Him eagerly. [3]The Bible says here that the High Priest remains in the Heavenly Temple until He returns. Until that moment, reconciliation is still of vital importance for everyone who calls on Him. [4] The book of Revelation further states that even the remnant of Israel, who until then had not seen Jesus Christ as their Messiah, will recognize and acknowledge in the period just before His return that He was the one they had crucified [5] and denied as Messiah. Then there will be mourning, but also redemption through His blood.

5. The sins on the head of the scapegoat Azazel

After the high priest had left the temple, the sins from the sanctuary – and there will have been many in that past year – were symbolically placed on the head of the scapegoat. However, this goat was not sacrificed, neither was his blood used. This goat, on the other hand, was driven out into the desert and would never return to the camp. [6]This is the last – but very crucial – part of the ritual of the day of Atonement. We must realize God placed the rituals in a certain chronological order for a reason. They will be fulfilled by Christ in exactly the same order, and that is also the only guideline for this interpretation, for which we systematically seek support in the Bible itself. However, anyone who thinks that the scapegoat for Azazel equals Jesus Christ, who takes our sins upon him, is confronted with a distorted image of the Day of Atonement. After all, in that case Jesus would take upon himself the sins only after the Atonement had already taken place and the high priest had left the sanctuary. That interpretation is also inconsistent with the moment when He, as High Priest, offered himself and His precious blood to God as a spotless sacrifice, namely before He entered the heavenly tabernacle with His blood. [7] There is a reason that there is a second goat being sent away.

6. Note the order of events.  Whoever takes into account the sequence of events in the ritual, realizes that the fulfillment of the ritual of the goat for Azazel only takes place when the reconciliation has already been done and the heavenly High Priest has returned to the people. This shadow ritual thus points to a future event after the Second Coming of Christ. The scapegoat that was at the basis of all evil will get the consequences upon its own head and it will eventually be crushed. First this scapegoat – Satan – will be locked up in the abyss, as the Bible says. Then this old snake will be completely crushed and thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur. [8] Incidentally, within the Jewish tradition the name Azazel is also associated with Satan. [9] A side effect of this chronological sequence of events on the Day of Atonement is that it clarifies that the New Covenant fulfillment of this day still has to be completed in the future. This fulfillment in the past – as preterists claim [10] – is out of the question. We are still living in the time of reconciliation and of a Mediator who pleads for us in the heavenly Temple on the basis of His own blood. That is why we may pray to the Father “in the name of Jesus.” It is still the time of His Grace. Therefore, let us not hesitate to repent our sins and let’s keep our covenant relationship intact because we are children of our Heavenly Father.

OT event
NT event
The goat for the Lord was slaughtered
Jesus Christ died as a sacrificial lamb for reconciliation
The priest goes inside with the blood
Jesus Christ entered the heavenly Temple as High Priest with His own blood
Hebr. 8:11-12
The temple is being cleansed
This Temple is constantly pure because His blood cleanses it for eternity
Continuously until He comes
Reconciliation is achieved
Reconciliation is achieved for those who repent truthfully
Continuously until He comes
The high priest comes out of the Sanctuary
The second Coming of Christ as He leaves the heavenly Temple
Not yet fulfilled
The reconciliation process comes to an end
Judgment of them who are not reconciled with Christ
Not yet fulfilled
The scapegoat is being driven to the desert
Satan receives his punishment as originator of sin and seducer
Rev. 20:2-3.
Not yet fulfilled
Beginning Kingdom of Peace
The scapegoat is thrown into the abyss
Satan is crushed forever and thrown in the lake of fire
Gen. 3:15 & Rev. 20:7-10 & 21:4-5,22-27
Not yet fulfilled
Will take place after the Kingdom of Peace. The Atonement in Christ is now complete “for the first things have passed away”.

The construction in Judaism

The Day of  Atonement is therefore a holy day on God’s Calendar, whereby we must pay close attention to the connection between the Old Testament shadow and the reality in Christ. If we disregard this, we are in danger theologically. For example, from 70 AD, when the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, the celebration of the Day of Atonement drastically changed for non-Messianic Jews. They questioned how there could be an annual reconciliation for the sins of the people when there was no longer a Holy of Holies; no more sacrifices could be made and neither a high priest was available? The rabbis consequently developed a tradition that atonement for their sins could take place through prayer, repentance and charity. They were forced to look for a workable solution without a temple, but was it also a Biblical one? God has never changed His demand that the shedding of blood is necessary to be reconciled. Not even to this day. The construction of the rabbis was a single-handed attempt to preserve the Old Covenant – but without bloodshed sacrifices. In the meantime, the reality of the New Covenant was a fact; those shadow sacrifices had been replaced by the sacrifice and blood of God’s sacrificial Lamb – Jesus Christ. In addition, there was a new High Priest after the order of Melchizedek who resided not in the earthly but in the heavenly Sanctuary instead. Non-Messianic Judaism has ignored that. In efforts to find useful theological alternatives, the Reality in Christ can not be neglected. Therefore, Jewish traditions must be held against the Light of the New Covenant.

The construction within Christianity

Christians have also a tendency to theological reconstruction. You often hear that we are reconciled with God because His Son died for us. Passover and the Day of Atonement are actually mentioned in the same breath, but there is no justification for that. After all, these two Feasts have different meaning on God’s Calendar. The Passover festival is a Spring festival dedicated to our redemption from bondage and salvation through the blood of our Passover Lamb. But after that rescue – an awesome and once in a lifetime event – we start our walk of faith. That however, does not mean we won’t sin anymore. We should not trivialize those sins on the basis of the Feast of Passover, as “something behind us,” because then we get off track. [11] The Bible emphatically points towards the heavenly High Priest who, after His death and Resurrection, has entered the Sanctuary with His own blood and is pleading for us there, until the day of His return when He shows Himself. [12] We shouldn’t ignore this on the basis of the Feast of Passover. The Day of Atonement (fortunately) is still awaiting its final fulfillment until His Second Coming, but when that most holy day will come to fulfillment, then every eye will see Him, and every knee will have to bow. At that time, He won’t be coming for the remission of sins [13], but for His people who have been eagerly awaiting Him as they have discovered that He came as the promised Messiah 2,000 years ago. Remember, at the same time this Day of Atonement also applies to us today: as children of God we can every day make repentantly appeals to our Mediator and Lawyer for our sins, as He is also seated as High Priest at the right hand of the Father. In this way we “celebrate” this Feast every day in a New Covenant way.

next article about the New Covenant meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles


[1] See i.e. Heb. 9:11-14

[1B] Which means in Greek: brought to its end or final purpose (Telos).

[2] See i.e. Zech. 12:9, Zech. 12:10-14, Zech. 13:1,9. Jesus fulfilled the Spring festivals in all details and precisely on the day / days involved. All the more reason to expect the same also for the Autumn feasts.

[3] Heb. 9:28 (read this verse for clarity, especially in the D. Stern translation)

[4] Until the Second Coming, He performs His service in the true Tabernacle, as shared in Heb. 8:2.

[5] Rev. 1:7 and Zech. 10:12

[6] It was even ensured that this goat was thrown into the abyss so that it could never return.

[7] See i.e. Heb. 9:14. His substitute sacrifice, of course, has already happened, and thereby He fulfilled all Old Testament sacrifices, such as the peace offering of Pesach and the atoning and sin offering of Great Atonement. But He was not chased into the desert like the scapegoat for Azazel.

[8] First see what is said about the serpent in Gen. 3:15 and then in Rev. 20:210. Rev. 20 explicitly refers to Gen. 3, by using the words “the old snake”.

[9] Midrash Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer (46) and the pseudepigrapha 1 Enoch 8:1, 9:6, 10:8, 68:1.

[10] They claim that almost all prophecies and acts of salvation have already been fulfilled around the year 70 AD and that Christ has actually (spiritually) returned around that time.

[11] See earlier. Then the deep and comprehensive significance of the substitute sacrifice on the cross of Calvary is compromised as a fulfillment of all Old Testament peace, atoning and sin offerings.

[12] See i.e. 1 John. 2:1-2 and Heb. 8:2

[13] Heb. 9:28