Christ Our Atonement
Why should a New Testament Christian learn about the Old Testament ritual known as the Day of Atonement? Without a knowledge of this event, Hebrews chapters nine and ten are much harder to comprehend. Hebrews 9 and 10 are on the flip side of the same coin with Leviticus 16 on the other side. The Day of Atonement shows the need for a better High Priest and sacrifice for sin. Christ is the better High Priest and a better sacrifice.
■ He Was Sacrificed Once for All Time
For nearly fifteen hundred years the High Priest annually entered the Holy of Holies to use blood from an animal sacrifice to atone for his sins and that of the people. The endless line of bulls, rams, lambs, and goats giving their blood spilt upon the altar would come to an end. The Day of Atonement was not permanent. Neither was it adequate for atoning for man’s sins (Heb. 10:4). Jesus came and made Himself the sacrifice once for all time (Heb. 10:12-14). “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). And after He offered Himself once for all, He entered into the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-2; 9:1-10).
■ He was Washed at His Baptism
Just as the Priest needed to wash himself, so Christ was washed in the river Jordan by His cousin, John the Baptist. He was perfect and did not need to bring forth fruits of repentance or have his sins washed away. He did fulfill all righteousness and prophecy.
■ He Put on Human Flesh in His Incarnation
On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest removed his glorious garments and put on linen robes of a simple priest. This is a depiction of Christ laying aside His glory in Heaven and emptying Himself by humbly taking the form of a bondservant – coming in the form of a man (Phil 2:5-8). “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6,7). Jesus was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and “tabernacled” among us in His flesh (cf. John 1:14; Heb. 3:14; 10:5, 11) He is not another son of Aaron. This Priest is the Son of God.
■ He Atoned with His Own Blood
Aaron offered blood of animals. Christ offered His own blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). “Not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another” (Heb. 9:25). The High Priest’s own blood would not suffice for a sacrifice for others or even himself, for he was a sinner.
■ He Removed the Veil in His Death
Each year the High Priest entered behind the veil. In His death Christ tore down the veil of separation (Mark 15:38). Through His death we now have access to the Throne of grace (Heb. 4).
■ He Lived a Sinless Life
Outwardly the High Priest’s linen garments were without spot, but Jesus was spotless in that He had a sinless soul (Heb. 4:15, 7:26). The High Priest had to offer animal blood of his own sins. Christ only had to offer His blood for our sins. “But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance” (Heb. 9:7). Jesus’ enemies could not convict Him of sin (Jn. 8:46-48), because He committed no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22).
■ He Died for the Whole World
The sacrifices by the High Priest were for one nation – the Jews. Jesus sacrificed for the whole world. “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
■ He Serves in a Heavenly Tabernacle
In contrasts to Aaron’s High Priesthood, Jesus did not serve in an early Tabernacle but in a Heavenly one (Hebrews 9:11-12). “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:23,24).
■ He Bore Our Sins
An innocent bull and goat bore the consequences of sin for the people. Their lives were taken over and over again for mankind’s sins. But in the New Testament, God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ “bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
■ He Has Ascended into Heaven
After the sacrifices were completed upon the Day of Atonement the High Priest returned to the Tabernacle and put off the linen clothes and replaced them with his original glorious garments. Our atoning sacrifice, Christ returned to heaven and again took up the glory that He left when He came to earth.
■ He Sat Down in Heaven as High Priest
Four times the book of Hebrews mentions that Christ went back to Heaven and “sat down” next to God the Father (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The High Priest only entered the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. Christ is God and has the right to be in the Most Holy Place with the very presence of God and His Throne in heaven. Christ has “purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Christ is our High Priest who intercedes without end. “Because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24,25).
Our Role in the Atonement
Just as the Israelites played a more passive role in the Day of Atonement, sinners on this side of the cross play a more passive role in atonement for sin. Christ, our High Priest, has accomplished our atonement apart from any help by sinners.
Our response to the atonement is limited to obedient faith. We do not come in contact with the literal blood of Jesus. He said His blood was “shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). When and where is this atoning blood applied for the sinner? When he obeys God in faith as he repents and is baptized. Peter commanded, “repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Jesus shed His blood in His death. We are to be baptized in the likeness of His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6).
Because Christ is the better High Priest and gave Himself as a better sacrifice, Christians do not have to worry about being able to approach God. Therefore, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22) The mercy seat upon the ark between the two cherubim is often referred to as the Throne. Only the High Priest once a year had access to it. Because of Jesus, our High Priest and His perfect sacrifice, we now have access through Him to the Throne of God.
The Day of Atonement illustrates how Christ has made atonement for our sins. The entire Day of Atonement was a series of visual aids in which God was teaching the basic truths that we need to grasp about atonement through Christ. We need a priest. A priest needs to be prepared. Atonement can only be made by the shedding of blood. Sin must be confessed. Guilt will then be removed.
– Daniel R. Vess