Yom Kippur and Judgment day

by Desmond Ford



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The most solemn occasion in Israel's prophetic calendar was Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. Other holy days in the Jewish ceremonial year included feasting; but this convocation was the annual official fast. No work was to be done on this "sabbath of sabbaths." Instead men "afflicted their souls" by penitential prayer, believing that on that day Heaven was investigating their lives prior to the decision of the judgment for life or death. 1

The Day of Atonement was a sealing time. "May God Almighty seal you to a new year" was a common Jewish greeting as Yom Kippur dawned. Not only was it at the beginning of the new year, which came nine days earlier, but this special ceremony also marked the ushering in of the jubilee every half century. It also was the precursor of the Feast of Tabernacles, the feast marked by unparalleled rejoicing. Once the solemnities of the Day of Atonement were over, all was unexcelled joy and happiness.

Another unique feature of Yom Kippur was the scapegoat. The original He brew term refers to Azazel, a recognized name for Satan, the chief of the demons. This identification is strengthened by the fact that only "when Aaron . . . finished making expiation for the sanctuary" (Lev. 16:20, N.E.B.) did the goat for Azazel figure in the ritual. It was not slain but sent into the wilderness, which was regarded as the dwelling place of wicked spirits. As the Israelites watched the scapegoat disappear from the camp into the desert, they believed that their sins were no more. It had been demonstrated in figure that Satan, not God, was the instigator of all evil, pain, and death.

Scripture devotes more space to the Day of Atonement than to the record of Creation. Of the uses of the key term "atonement" in connection with the tabernacle, more than half occur in Leviticus, and the largest cluster of these are found in the sixteenth chapter—the chapter describing the ritual for Yom Kippur. Repeatedly we read that the atonement was made "because of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel." The altar of the courtyard, the holy place, the Most Holy, and all the people were on that day "cleansed" from the guilt resulting from "all their sins." (See Lev. 16:16, 19, 33, 34.)

Never was there a better parable of the great judgment day than on this occasion. For one time during the year the whole of Israel ceased all worldly activities to stand penitentially before the Most High. Their only hope lay in the blood sprinkled by the priest, their representative and mediator. Any who did not join in fasting and prayer were "cut off," and as the goats for Jehovah and Azazel became the center of attention, all the worshipers asked themselves, "To which of these opposing supernatural powers am I reckoned as joined this day?" Would one be accounted among "the seed of the woman" or "the seed of the serpent"? Was one to be numbered with Abel, or with Cain; with those who call on the name of the Lord, or those who by their lives despise Him? Each worshiper, though standing in a great assembly, found himself alone as he pondered whether he would be sealed for life or for death.

In only one other place in Scripture do we find the key terms of the Day of Atonement all linked together sins, transgressions, iniquities, atonement, sanctuary, Most Holy Place and that is in the book of Daniel. This apocalyptic book is preeminently a book of judgment, with each chapter revealing God judging wickedness and rewarding righteousness, punishing the proud and vindicating those who worship in true humility. Central to Daniel's presentation, both in its narrative portions (chaps. 1:1, 2; 5:2, 3, 5) and in its chief prophecies (chaps. 8:13, 14;9:24-27; 11:31; 12:11), is the theme of the sanctuary. Actually, the sanctuary is under discussion in this book even where it is not immediately discerned. For example, the tests regarding worship mentioned in chapters three and six, as well as the onslaught on "the times and the law" (chap. 7:25, R.S.V.), concern that holy law of God, the center of the entire sanctuary ritual. Likewise, although the tenth chapter does not mention the sanctuary by name, it is present in the trouble the Israelites were having over the rebuilding of the Temple at the time of their restoration. Daniel is fasting and praying, according to chapter ten, because of the hindrances to the restoration of the sanctuary being encountered by the returned exiles. Similarly the prophet's prayer in the ninth chapter is an impassioned plea that Jehovah will cause His face "to shine upon . . . [His] sanctuary that is desolate" (verse 17).

It is in this book also that we read the promise of the cleansing, or vindicating, of the sanctuary. Daniel 8:14, which contains this promise, is undoubtedly the key verse of the book, the climax of the symbolism given in vision to Daniel. 2 Certain rabbis rendered the concept ex pressed in Daniel 8:14 as "then shall atonement be made for the sanctuary." 3 The Hebrew verb translated "cleansed" in the King James Version, and "justified," "vindicated," "restored," and "made victorious" in other versions, sets forth what many commentators on Daniel have acknowledged to be the theme of the book vindication, both of Jehovah and of His worship and worshipers.4 Daniel 8:14 is the only verse of the book that contains the actual word, though the idea is found in every chapter. Some, in translating the book of Daniel, have deemed it appropriate to use the term even where the Hebrew word is not present. 5

How interesting it is to discover that the only time Christ put His finger on a specific Old Testament passage and instructed His people to understand it was with reference to this passage of Daniel 8:13, 14. (See Matthew 24:15, which paraphrases Daniel 8:13 and 9:24-27.) Paul and John, also, in their setting forth of eschatological matters, draw from the same passage. (See 2 Thess. 2:3, 4; Rev. 11:2). The same two New Testament writers draw on Day of Atonement imagery in speaking of justification (which is, in a sense, an anticipation of the last judgment, bestowing upon the believer God's verdict of ultimate acceptance because of Christ's shed blood), and the judgment itself (which is the ratification of justification and which is conditional on perseverance). (See Romans 3:25, which in the original Greek refers to the mercy seat prominent in the Day of Atonement ritual, and Revelation 11:19; 15:5; 8:1-4; 20:1-3, which also draw heavily on the imagery of Yom Kippur.)

Immediately following the prophetic chain of symbols concerning Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and Antichrist comes Daniel 7:9-13, describing the opening of heavenly records and the divine court sitting in judgment. Similarly Daniel 8:14 comes in an identically corresponding position following references to Babylon (verse 1), Medo-Persia (verses 3, 20), Greece (verses 5, 21), Rome, and Antichrist (expressed by a symbol similar to the little horn representing Antichrist in chapter seven; see verses 9-13 and 23-25, and compare with verse 23 the prophecy regarding Rome in Deuteronomy 28:49, 50). Thus the cleansing of the sanctuary, or its vindication, set forth in Daniel 8:14 parallels the judgment scene of Daniel 7:9-13. Similarly the very last verse of Daniel, which alludes to the "days" of Daniel 8:14, and which is the climax of Gabriel's explanation of the Daniel 8 vision, also speaks of the judgment at the end of time when the righteous will receive their allotted destiny. Many commentators have seen in Daniel 12:13 (as also in Daniel 12:1, which refers again to the heavenly records) a reference to the last judgment. (Compare the wording of Psalm 1:5.)

Although in Daniel 8:16 Gabriel was instructed to make Daniel understand the vision concerning the sanctuary, he did not complete that commission in his initial visit. As recorded in Daniel 9:22- 24, his next visit was intended to give further light on what had hitherto been left unexplained—the nature of the cleansing of the sanctuary. Thus he admonishes the prophet to consider what is called preeminently and repeatedly in Daniel "the vision," namely the vision of Daniel 8. (Compare Daniel 8:26; 10:1, 14.)

Let us turn to Gabriel's continuing explanation of Daniel 8:14: "'I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. . . . Consider the word and understand the vision. Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place'" (Dan. 9:22-24, R.S.V.).

This, with the inclusion of verse 26, which was the term for the sanctuary as a whole, is the only passage in the Bible that incorporates in one place all the key terms of the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus 16—sins, transgressions, iniquities, atonement, Most Holy Place. Other passages of the Word at times use as many as three of these together (such as Psalm 51:1-3, a Day of Atonement prayer) but only Daniel 9:22- 26 has such complete linkage with the central ritual of the Jewish tabernacle and its description in Leviticus.

At this point a question immediately occurs to Bible students: Does not Daniel 9:22-26 point to the atonement on Calvary rather than to the great judgment day? Certainly the cross of Christ is in focus here, but because Christ Himself could quote from Daniel 9:24-27 in connection with the end of the world (see Mark 13:14), we must also inquire whether the atoning work of Christ at the first advent is the only thing in view in Daniel 9:22-26.

The key lies in the fact that the Old Testament views the kingdom of God as a single event. The prophets did not distinguish clearly between the first and second advents. Even the New Testament itself sets forth Christ's first coming as the manifestation and arrival of the kingdom of heaven. Scholars these days are familiar with such language as inaugurated eschatology (the first ad vent) and consummated eschatology (the Second Advent). Daniel 9:22-26, like a photograph revealing a double exposure, sums up the atoning work of Christ as it was fulfilled at the cross and as it is also fulfilled in our High Priest's final work of atonement in the judgment. 6 Only as a result of the latter will sin actually be come no more, transgression and iniquity be finished, and everlasting righteousness without a remaining vestige of evil be ultimately established. Simultaneously all prophetic vision will have been sealed by its fulfillment, and the dwelling place of God will be set up in the midst of redeemed Israel as typified by the anointing of the tabernacle in the long ago. 7 Concerning all these glorious things we shall say more in our next article.




1 Leviticus 23:32 speaks of a sabbath rest much stricter than was required on other ceremonial sabbaths. See also verses 25-31 of the same chapter. Jewish writers from ancient times saw in the day a
mirror of the last judgment.

2 "Hereafter, all is explanation. ... In the third vision the imagery is laid aside. . . . The fourth vision, the last and longest of them all, drops the symbolism entirely." S. B. Frost, Old Testament Apocalyptic—Its Origin and Growth, p. 183.

3 Calvin's Commentary on Daniel says concerning Daniel 8:14: "Some translate it 'then the sanctuary shall be expiated.'" Volume 2, p. 110.

4 See, for example, E. Heaton, Daniel, pages 35, 195, 197, 212. Cf. R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 781.

5 See K. Taylor, The Living Bible, Daniel 7:22.

6 See such commentators as Leupold, Keil, Kliefoth, et cetera. James Barr, writing on Daniel in the revised Peake's Commentary, says the reference of Daniel 9:24 is to "the eradication of sin, the completion of atonement, the establishment of an everlasting right order and a holy sanctuary." Fausset, a more conservative writer, speaks similarly. See James F. Barr, Commentary, on Daniel 9:24-27.

7 Keil, Fausset, et cetera, recognize in the final promise of Daniel 9:24 the antitype of the original sanctuary anointing, namely the presence of God forever among His people. Thus the New Testament, a perfect cube, is described in terms reminiscent of the Holy of Holies, where dwelled the Shekinah.