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Day of atonement—fulfillment and consummation

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Archives / 1979 / May

 

 

Day of atonement—fulfillment and consummation

Desmond Ford
Desmond Ford, Ph.D., is currently serving as a professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.

 

 

Interpreters have not always given an identical emphasis to their comments on the Day of Atonement. Most have applied its symbolism to Calvary. Others, such as Kellogg in his commentary on Leviticus in The Expositor's Bible, have applied it eschatologically. Such an eschatological application has been the fruit of scholarly research over several centuries.

Frederick Nolan, noted linguist and theologian of the nineteenth century, only echoed Sir Isaac Newton when he asserted that the attention of antiquaries and scholars had often been drawn to Day of Atonement references in the last book of Scripture in connection with its description of the final events of history. After declaring his own belief that the imagery of the seventh seal (Revelation 8) was derived from the great Day of Atonement and the Jubilee, Nolan stated, " 'The analogy between this description, and the service of the Temple, upon one of the most solemn festivals of the Mosaic ceremonial, is so obvious that it has often excited the attention of the antiquary and scholar.' " 1

Contemporary writers such as Joshua Spalding and John Tudor have taught that the ancient Jewish feasts of the seventh month were symbolic of the final restitution of all things. The latter wrote: " "The temple of God is then opened, and the ark of his testament seen, xi.19; and the voice issues from the throne, xvi.17; both expressions equally denoting the holy of holies, which was only entered once a year, on the day of atonement. This period is therefore our day of atonement, and requires our particular notice, to know what events we may expect, answering to the type.' " 2

Elsewhere—in speaking of Revelation 8:1-5 and 11:19—Tudor affirms that " 'all the imagery in this poem was taken from the Day of Atonement' the golden censer, the incense, the deep affliction, the temple opened, and the ark seen 'indicating the opening of the veil on the day of atonement.' " 3

Similarly, Sir Isaac Newton saw in the references to the "seal" and "mark" in chapters 7 and 13 of Revelation an allusion to "a tradition of the Jews that upon the day of expiation [Day of Atonement] all the people of Israel are sealed up in the books of life and death." He also says: "The same thing is signified by the two Goats, upon whose foreheads the High Priest yearly, on the day of expiation, lays the two lots inscribed, For God and For Azazel; God's lot signifying the people who are sealed with the name of God in their foreheads and the lot Azazel, which was sent into the wilderness, representing those who receive the mark and name of the Beast, and go into the wilderness with the great Whore." 4

The viewpoint that the Day of Atonement has eschatological implications has not been a passing fad. In his article dealing with the scapegoat, in the Biblical Cyclopaedia or Dictionary, John Eadie wrote that forgiven sins on the Day of Atonement were symbolically "rolled back on Satan, their prime author, and instigator." "The tempted are restored, but the whole punishment is seen to fall on the arch-tempter. Hell is 'prepared for the devil and [his] angels.' "

On the other hand, almost every exegete of Hebrews chapters six to ten, and also chapter thirteen, has seen symbols of our Lord's atoning work on the cross and His ascension into the heavenly sanctuary as man's high priest in the Day of Atonement ritual. No one would dare contend that the slaughter of the Lord's goat could mean anything other than the sacrifice "once for all" of Christ on Calvary.

Yet other writers have included both Calvary and the last things in their discussion of the Day of Atonement. For example, consider the following: "As in the typical service, the high priest laid aside his pontifical robes and officiated in the white linen dress of an ordinary priest; so Christ laid aside His royal robes, and garbed Himself with humanity, and offered sacrifice, Himself the priest, Himself the victim. As the high priest, after performing his service in the Holy of Holies, came forth to the waiting congregation in his pontifical robes; so Christ will come the second time, clothed in garments of whitest white. . . . He will come in His own glory and in the glory of His Father and of all the angelic host who will escort Him on His way." 5

"Still bearing humanity, He [Christ] ascended to heaven, triumphant and victorious. He has taken the blood of the atonement into the holiest of all, sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat and His own garments, and blessed the people. Soon He will appear the second time to declare that there is no more sacrifice for sin." 6

Is there a way of reconciling these diverging viewpoints? The same problem, we should remember, exists for the interpretation of that sole passage in Scripture which echoes all the key terms of the Day of Atonement chapter—namely Daniel 9:24. In dealing with this text, scholars fall into the same three categories that also exist in the literature on the meaning of Yom Kippur. A large group apply the promises of Daniel 9:24 to Christ's finished work on Calvary, another influential group (such as Keil, Leupold, etc.) apply it to the end of all things when the Judgment and the Second Advent will wipe out all sin and usher in everlasting righteousness. Yet a third group have applied the passage to both advents.

The answer to this twin problem lies in what Dr. G. E. Ladd has called "the pattern of New Testament truth." He points out that Scripture includes promise (Old Testament), fulfillment (the Gospels and Epistles); and consummation (Revelation). Or to put it another way, the life, ministry, and death of Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises, but His final work at the end of the age consummates those same promises.

Ladd writes: "Dodd is right in his emphasis that the event in history in Jesus Christ is an eschatological event which in some way is related to the age to come and has significantly changed the structure of the timeline. This is reflected in the fact that while believers continue to-live in this age, the death of Christ means deliverance from the power of this evil age (Gal. 1:4). Furthermore, God has brought new trans forming powers to renew the minds of believers by virtue of which they need be no longer conformed to this age (Rom. 12:2). Here are two sides of the redemptive event in Christ: the meaning of His death and a new indwelling power which in some real way delivers believers from this age even while they continue to live in it. This can only mean that in Jesus Christ, the powers of the age to come have intervened in this age without having destroyed it, which is another way of saying that the God who will intervene in the cosmic apocalyptic event at the end of the age has already intervened in Jesus Christ to bring the blessings of the age to come in advance." 7

Because the Old Testament views the kingdom of God as a single event, we can rightly interpret its types and prophecies only through insights gained from the New Testament. Furthermore, according to the writings of the apostles, God's ideal purpose was that Christ's death, which ratified the covenant of grace, should have been followed speedily by the worldwide proclamation of the good news and the return of Christ (see Matt. 24:14, 34; 10:23; 16:28). Thus the kingdom as inaugurated and the kingdom consummated could quickly have merged. The fact that believers would be tardy and that apostasy would prevent the fulfillment of God's ideal plan was predicted in highly symbolic language in Daniel, not to be understood until the time of apostasy—the Dark Ages—was over. Second Peter 3:11, 12 still challenges every Christian that it is in his power to hasten the end of all things.

With these things in mind we are now better able to apply the prophecy of Daniel 9:24 that was given by the angel Gabriel in his explanation of Daniel 8:14. Both verses point to the antitypical Day of Atonement, the judgment of all men and nations finally resulting in "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13, R.S.V.). Let it be particularly noted that the earlier prophecies of Daniel had also reached their climax in a description of the kingdom of God that would "stand forever" (chap. 2:44), that "everlasting kingdom" bestowed after "the Ancient of Days came and opened his court and vindicated his people" (see Dan. 7:22, 27, R.S.V. and T.L.B.).* These earlier verses parallel and explain the "ever lasting righteousness" of Daniel 9:24. It is the positive promise after the description of the abolition of all transgression, sin, and iniquity. Literally, the Hebrew of Daniel 9:24 reads: "to shut up transgression, seal up sin, and cover up iniquity." The language seems to evoke a symbolic portrayal of a prisoner incarcerated in a dungeon that is then sealed and finally covered and buried by an avalanche that blots out all signs of both dungeon and prisoner.

What is the meaning of "to anoint a most holy place" (Dan. 9:24, R.S.V.)? Its eschatological reference is undoubtedly to that which is portrayed at the close of Scripture—the descent of the Holy City, that God might dwell forever with His people. The New Jerusalem is described as a cube, which was also the shape of the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary. We read concerning it: " 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away' " (Rev. 21:3, 4, R.S.V.).

When the earthly tabernacle was erected in the days of Moses, it was first anointed, and then the glory of God descended to dwell as the Shekinah of the Most Holy Place (see Ex. 40). When our Lord cleansed the Temple at the beginning and end of His ministry He was acting out the purpose of His mission to cleanse the hearts of men that He might dwell therein, in harmony with the ancient covenant promise of Leviticus 26:11, 12 so often repeated throughout Scripture till its complete fulfillment in Revelation 21:3.

What is the meaning of the chronological periods linked with the cleansing of the sanctuary and the final atonement in Daniel 8:14 and 9:24? These will be the objects of our study in the next article of this series. In summarizing what has been said to date on the meaning of the Day of Atonement, we would cite one who was deeply dedicated to the study of the ancient Jewish parables of redemption: "Thus in the ministration of the tabernacle, and of the temple that afterward took its place, the people were taught each day the great truths relative to Christ's death and ministration, and once each year their minds were carried forward to the closing events of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, the final purification of the universe from sin and sinners." 8

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Notes:

* Verses marked T.L.B. are from The Living Bible, copyright 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, 111. Used by permission.

1 Quoted in L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 3, p. 609.

2 Ibid., p. 507.

3 Ibid., p. 504.

4 Sir William Whitla, Sir Isaac Newton's Daniel and the Apocalypse, pp. 315, 316.

5 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 33.

6 Ellen G. Whites, in Signs of the Times, April 19, 1905.


7 G. E. Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, pp. 91, 92.

 

8 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 358.

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