The Meaning of the Day of Atonement


The Sabbath and the Seven Feasts in Three Times hold great significance for the salvation of mankind; they are not simply part of the Old Testament law. God saves the people of Zion who keep the feasts; He calls the people, who made a covenant with Him by sacrifice (worship) at the feasts, His consecrated ones (Isa 33:20–24; Ps 50:1–5). In the last days, God will gather His children who endure hardships in order to keep the feasts. They will be given praise and honor among all the peoples of the earth (Zep 3:14–20).

Those who keep the feasts of God, cherishing God’s laws, decrees, and regulations, will receive blessings and glory according to God’s promises in the Bible. Among the feasts of God, let us study the meaning of the Day of Atonement.

The Origin of the Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement, which falls on the tenth day of the seventh month in the sacred calendar, is one of the Seven Feasts in Three Times. In the Old Testament times, only the high priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement, to atone for all the people’s sins.

The Day of Atonement, like all the other feasts in three times, originated from the work of Moses. While the Israelites were in the desert after leaving Egypt, God called Moses up Mount Sinai to give him the laws for the people. Moses fasted forty days on Mount Sinai and came down from the mountain after receiving the tablets of stone on which God Himself had written the Ten Commandments.

The Israelites, who had been waiting forty days for Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai, thought he had surely died. Since the Israelites thought they lost their leader, they proposed making a god to lead them to Canaan. Subsequently, they made an idol in the shape of a golden calf and worshiped it; they ate, drank, and indulged in pagan revelry. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw this, he was so stunned and enraged that he threw down the stone tablets, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. That day, a war broke out in the camp, and 3,000 people died. Afterward, the Israelites deeply repented of their sins and took off all their ornaments, and Moses pleaded with God for forgiveness on their behalf (Exodus 32 and 33).

As a result of their earnest repentance, God allowed Moses to come up Mount Sinai again to receive the Ten Commandments for a second time. God’s willingness to forgive the sins of the Israelites was evident by the fact that He gave them a new set of the Ten Commandments. Moses went up Mount Sinai, and after fasting forty days, he received the Ten Commandments for a second time; God appointed the day that Moses came down from the mountain as the Day of Atonement (Exodus 34).

The Principle of Atonement Shown in the Regulations for the Day of Atonement

In the Old Testament, sin offerings were presented to God on the Day of Atonement; a bull for the priests and a male goat for the people. There was another goat used for a different purpose. The high priest took the two goats and cast lots for them, one lot for God and the other for the scapegoat. After the goat whose lot fell to God was sacrificed as a sin offering, the priest placed his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins, and sent it away into a solitary place in the desert.

“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat. . . . When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.” Lev 16:6–10, 20–22

The regulations for the Day of Atonement recorded in Leviticus contain the principle of the forgiveness of sins. In the Old Testament times, whenever the Israelites sinned, they brought an animal to the priest as a sacrifice for their sins. Then the priest slaughtered the animal and put some of its blood on the altar of the sanctuary. When the priest made atonement for the people, their sins were temporarily transferred to the sanctuary, and on the Day of Atonement all their sins were placed on the head of the scapegoat. Then the sanctuary was purified, and the scapegoat carried all their sins to a solitary place in the desert where it died. In this way atonement was made for all the Israelites’ sins.

Christ is the reality of the goat sacrificed as the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, and the devil is the reality of the scapegoat. Throughout the year, all our sins and transgressions are temporarily transferred to Christ, who is the reality of the sanctuary. They are then transferred to the devil—the progenitor of sin—on the Day of Atonement. Carrying all our sins, the devil is kept in the Abyss until he is cast into the lake of everlasting fire.

The Realities of the Sanctuary, the Sin Offering, and the Scapegoat

We sinned against God knowingly and unknowingly, being tempted by Satan who tried to exalt himself above the throne of God. Nevertheless, God bestowed His atoning grace on us by putting our sins upon Himself as the reality of the sanctuary.

A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary. O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. Jer 17:12–13

Our sins are temporarily transferred to God, who is the sanctuary. They are then transferred to Satan, the devil, who is the scapegoat. Both the sanctuary and the goat for a sin offering represent Christ. It was not by the blood of animals but by the precious blood of Christ that our sins committed in Heaven could be atoned for.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. . . . But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. . . . Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . Heb 10:1–4, 9–11

The law is a shadow of the good things that are coming. Jesus Christ is the reality of the sin offering in the Old Testament; by being sacrificed on the cross for our sins, He fulfilled the sin offering for the Day of Atonement—a bull or a male goat. He accomplished a once-for-all atonement through His precious blood, transferring all our sins and transgressions to the devil. Thus, Christ opened the way for us to go back to Heaven.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jn 1:29

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace . . . Eph 1:7

Without Christ’s atoning sacrifice, there would have been no way for us to be forgiven of the sins we committed in Heaven. By God’s sacrifice, our sins have been transferred to the devil, and the glorious way for us to return to Heaven has been opened.

Just as the scapegoat eventually died while wandering in the desert, Satan the devil, who is represented as the scapegoat, will suffer eternal punishment in hell after being bound in the Abyss.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. . . . And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Rev 20:1–10

Just as the scapegoat was sent into the desert to die, our sins and transgressions are returned to the devil, who will pay for all of them by being thrown into the lake of fire—the second death. This is the profound meaning contained in the Day of Atonement, which we observe today.

The Meaning of Sacrifice in the Sin Offering

Without Heavenly Father and Mother’s sacrifice, we cannot be saved. We can never attain salvation by wealth, honor, knowledge, or anything else. Only through the sacrifice of Father and Mother can we be forgiven of our sins and live with the hope of returning to Heaven. We should always keep this fact in mind so that none of us will fall away from Their grace. Let us look at some verses that describe the holy sacrifice of Father and Mother.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? . . . Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. Isa 53:1–8

God willingly chose to be pierced for our transgressions and punished to bring us peace. At His second coming, He again walked the path of sacrifice to redeem us from sin by teaching us the law of the New Covenant.

According to the Old Testament law regarding sin offerings, the Israelites had to distinguish between male and female animals; whenever they sinned during ordinary times, not only male goats but also female goats were used as sin offerings. This is a shadow showing that there are times when Father bears our sins and other times when Mother bears our sins.

“ ‘When a leader sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the commands of the LORD his God, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering a male goat without defect. He is to lay his hand on the goat’s head and slaughter it at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered before the LORD. It is a sin offering. . . . In this way the priest will make atonement for the man’s sin, and he will be forgiven.’ ” Lev 4:22–26

“ ‘If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. . . . If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he is to bring a female without defect. He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. . . . In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven.’ ” Lev 4:27–35

Father suffered for our sins and transgressions, and Mother is still in the flesh, protecting Her children while fighting the spiritual battle against Satan until the end to lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven. Who on earth could endure such a painful life?

Nevertheless, if we betray the love and grace of Heavenly Father and Mother and fail to repent, can we go to Heaven? No, we can’t. That is why God started His preaching by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17). From now on, as mature children of Father and Mother, we should live a life of repentance every day and produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Let Us Produce Fruit in Keeping With Repentance

The Day of Atonement in the New Testament is the day to confess before God and repent of all our sins and transgressions, including the sins that we committed throughout the year. Sinners tend to hide their sins; however, we must not conceal our sins. When we confess and repent, God answers our prayers and forgives the guilt of our sins (Ps 32:3–5).

True repentance means not repeating the same sin again. We have been freed from sin through the sacrifice of Father and Mother. However, if we sin again, there is no longer any sacrifice left to atone for our sins. How can we expect to be saved while we cause Father and Mother to suffer for our sins all over again?

We must not be foolish to repeat the sins we committed in Heaven again on this earth. Some may continue living in sin and hide God’s glory, because they have not yet realized for whom Father and Mother have suffered and endured such great pain. If they are continually dragged away by their own evil desires, they will pay the price for all their sins in the end. If people who have been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and who have shared in the Holy Spirit fall back into sin, they are crucifying Christ all over again. There remains no more sacrifice to atone for their sins (Heb 6:4–6).

Having a firm determination not to be wicked sons or daughters who crucify Father and Mother again, let us live holy and godly lives as the people of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. We, the people of Zion, should always give thanks and glory to Heavenly Father and Mother, who forgive all our sins and transgressions and lead us to live a life of repentance.

Let us not grumble like little children who only want to receive love. Rather, as members of Christ’s body, let us think about how to participate in the great work of repentance and salvation that Father and Mother are now accomplishing. I earnestly ask all of you to make every effort to save all people around the world, as God’s mature children.