Tonight at sunset the Feast of Atonement or Yom Kippur begins. It is the culmination of the ten day period of time known as the "Days of Awe" which began at the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah. The Feast of Atonement is the holiest day of the Jewish Year. The solemnity of the feast tells us how important this day is. Yet, it can invoke a certain amount of fear, because traditionally it was the day on which the Jews' fate, if you will, was sealed for the coming year. What does Scripture say about the feast?
Leviticus 23:26-32 (KJV)
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.
And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God.
For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.
And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.
Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.
Verse 27 tells us that this feast day is a day of atonement. There was to be a gathering of the people and offerings were made. It also says that the people were to afflict their souls. Traditionally, this has been interpreted as a fast. Verse 28 adds that there was to be no work done on that day.
Leviticus 16 gives us even more information. I want to highlight just two of the passages.
Leviticus 16:7-9 (KJV)
And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
Here we see that the high priest (Aaron at the time of Moses) was to take two goats. One was killed for a sin offering.
Leviticus 16:20-22 (KJV)
And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:
And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:
And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
The high priest would take the other goat, the scapegoat, and lay both his hands on the head of the goat. He would then confess all of Israel's sins, symbolically putting them on the head of the goat. Then the goat would be taken out into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people away.
In Judaism it is believed that the Book of Life is opened at Rosh Hashanah and God examines each person to see if repentance is complete. The ten Days of Awe can be used as the last opportunity to add to the righteous works that are evidence of repentance. Then on Yom Kippur the Book is sealed for the year. This is a scary deal! It is a day of judgment.
There is, however, a way to be sealed long before the day of the Feast of Atonement. Jesus came to this earth about 2,000 years ago. He came to die on the cross as a payment for the sins of the world. Through repentance (See more here.) we turn our hearts and minds to God. Then by true faith in Jesus we are born again and are saved. This seals our eternal destiny. We will live with God forever.
However, those who have not repented of their sin will find that after death their destiny is also sealed. There will be no eternal life with God, but rather hell. The Feast of Atonement is a picture of coming judgment. We have only our lifetime to be ready for the judgment that will occur after death. Should we be afraid? Yes, if we have not put our faith and trust in Jesus.