On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, sins committed over the course of an entire year by every member of the Mosaic covenant community were acknowledged and paid for. There was accountability, justice, and something far greater than just a mere covering of sin. There was real forgiveness and actual temporary removal of guilt and punishment. Under this divinely mandated rule of life, the sin sacrifice was the way, as in the only way, for Jewish people to deal with the fundamental reason for their broken fellowship with God. They received the Lord’s forgiveness and were reconciled to Him. And properly observed these sacrifices were not merely human efforts to obtain favor from a Holy God, they were an obedient response to the One who had initiated and was continually sustaining Israel’s unique covenant relationship. It was appropriation of Divine unmerited favor. And how this all actually came together is succinctly laid out in Leviticus 4:3-4. It’s there we learn that the punishing of the innocent plus the forgiving of the guilty equals atonement.
This is first seen when we consider the element of substitution in atonement. Verse 3 reads, If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.
At the beginning of the atonement process to bridge the gap between God and man – was the designation of a substitute, and in the case of this particular offering a young bull without any physical imperfections. The substitute takes the place of the sinner. The substitute bears the sinner’s guilt. All of the judgment that the violator of God’s standards has incurred upon himself, or herself, is transferred to the substitute.
Secondly, this equation is fleshed out when we consider the aspect of identification in atonement. Verse 4 says that the anointed priest is to lay his hand on the head of the bull. When the priest laid his hands upon the animal – the animal not only took the place of the priest in terms of accountability before God – but the animal also became his sin. The substitute became the embodiment of sin’s repugnant offensiveness to God. This meant transmission, delegation, and representation. In short, it meant that the punishing of the innocent was securing forgiveness for the guilty.
Thirdly – this truth is seen when we consider the element of death in atonement. The end of verse 4 says, “…slaughter it before the Lord. Here we see that the sacrifice of the substitute sin- bearer served as a graphic object lesson that the penalty of sin is death. In the Hebrew Scriptures it’s clearly and repeatedly stated that, “The soul that sins will die!”
However, there’s actually a positive flip side to the death required in atonement. This action can further be interpreted as the animal giving its life to the offerer so that the offerer can continue living! In other words there’s an exchange of life taking place. The animal took the life of the offerer by identification, and because the offerer’s life was sinful, the animal died. But on the other side of the coin, the animal gave its life to the offerer so that the offerer could continue living! And it is this very exchange of life, that is the completion of the atonement process.
The punishing of the innocent plus the forgiving of the guilty equals atonement. This is seen when we consider the substitution in atonement. It’s seen when consider the identification in atonement. It’s seen when we consider the death in atonement. And it’s seen when we consider the exchange of life in atonement. So here’s an easy way to remember this, just think of the acronym S-I-D-E: Substitution, Identification, Death of the Substitute, Exchange of Life.
But what about Yom Kippur today? How is atonement secured now? Well, the book of Hebrews tells us that we have a new system of sacrifice. You see while old system of sacrifice was temporary, the new system of sacrifice is permanent. In old system Aaron was the first high priest, now Yeshua – Jesus is the only high priest. In the old system the high priest ministered on earth. In the new system the high priest minister’s in heaven. The old system used the blood of animals. The new system used the blood of Messiah. The old system required many sacrifices. The new system required only one sacrifice. In the old system the sin offering was for unintentional sins of ignorance. In the new system the sin offering is also for intentional sins of disobedience. And while the old system required careful approach to the Tabernacle – the Tent of Meeting; the new system encourages a confident, even bold approach to the throne of grace.
So based on this new sacrificial system here’s what the side door looks like today:
Substitution – Messiah died the death each person should die. Messiah as a perfect representative of mankind endured the judgment that everyone should endure. He died in behalf of us. He died in our place.
Identification – God charged the sins of the whole human race of all times to Messiah. Messiah never committed sin personally, and yet in the mind and plan of God the sins of everyone were charged to Him.
Death of the Substitute – Messiah’s human spirit was separated from His body. His divine person was separated from the person of the Father and the Holy Spirit. And while the extent of this separation was eternal in degree, it was not eternal in time because He was resurrected. And by raising Messiah from the dead, God gave testimony to the fact that He had accepted the work of His Son on behalf of sinners. The resurrection was the Divine stamp of approval.
Exchange of Life – Messiah’s death took away the penalty of sin which is eternal spiritual separation from union and fellowship with God coupled with conscious physical and emotional suffering in a location and state so terrible we have no imagined mental conception to fully put that in. It also means that His death paid the price of redemption and satisfied the offended holiness of God. His death reconciled all mankind to God. Through the death of Messiah, man is thoroughly changed in his relation to God and made potentially savable. God now views mankind differently because their sins are no longer imputed to them but to Messiah. And while this is positionally true for all, it becomes experientially true only to those who trust Him. I take it then that Messiah’s atonement is unlimited in value but limited in effect or appropriation.
How do you open the side door to Yom Kippur – FAITH. This involves believing that He died in our place instead of us to meet our need and God accepted this. It’s trusting Messiah to deliver from the penalty of sin. It’s being so convinced that these facts are true that you’re willing to stake your eternal destiny on them. It starts with assent to knowledge, followed by being convinced, resulting in active trust.
This side door to your Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) leads directly to a place in the Lamb’s Book of Life and the receiving of eternal life. And for that reason it is truly a gut yontif (good holiday)!