Yom Kippur is the moed/appointed time that occurs on the tenth day of the seventh Scriptural month. It would actually be more correct to call the day Yom Kippurim, or Day of Atonements, as Scripture always has the plural form. It is considered to be the most solemn day of the year and is a day of total rest from work. Offerings were made and it was commanded that “ye shall afflict your souls” (See Lev 23:26-32). Because of this command, it is considered to be a day of fasting and denying personal pleasures. It is worth noting that YHWH states that Yom Kippur “shall be a statute forever throughout your generations”!
Atonement means “to atone by a substitution”, with the word atone being a contraction of the words “at” and “one”. So we could say, for this appointed day, that atonement means “to become at one with YHWH, through a substitutionary sacrifice”. It is commonly said that atonement also means “to cover” – so sin, and the uncleanness that sin brings, is covered over or removed from the sight of YHWH.
Yom Kippur was the only day of the year when just one man could enter into the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle/temple. Within the Most Holy Place, blood from a goat and a bullock would be sprinkled by the high priest upon the Mercy Seat (lid) of the Ark of the Covenant. This made atonement for the transgressions, sins and uncleanness of the children of Israel. The high priest, Aaron being the first, had a very precise set of rules that had to be followed for the atonements to be acceptable and for the priest to remain alive (See Lev 16). YHWH always expects His people to follow Him in the way that He commands! The atonements made were for the holy sanctuary, the tabernacle of the congregation (presumably the temple later on), the altar, the priests and, finally, for all the people of the congregation (Lev 16:33).
There was one very different sacrifice made on Yom Kippur, where two goats were selected by the priest. One would be killed as a sin offering, but the other goat was to be presented alive before YHWH. This second goat, translated as the “scapegoat” (from escape goat) by William Tyndale, had the sins of the whole congregation of Israel placed upon it and was later led away by a man who released it into the wilderness. This singular sacrifice with two goats, one killed and one yet alive, represents the death and resurrection of Yeshua. It shows that sin is atoned for through death, but it is also removed and taken far away.
Yom Kippur was also the day that the Jubilee year was announced with trumpets. This occurred every fifty years and meant that all land would return to its original owner’s family, all Israelite “slaves” would be freed and the land would begin a one-year rest, with no sowing or reaping.
Yom Kippur is not really mentioned in Scripture aside from the Torah passages we’ve discussed. It is mentioned in passing in Acts 27:9 as “the fast”, but that’s it. The book of Hebrews discusses elements of the day, with the key lesson being that Yeshua has become the great High Priest in the heavenly temple by the order of Melchizedek. This is great news for his people, Israel! He doesn’t have access through “the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). He doesn’t need to enter the Holy Place once every year for His people, but has entered just once with the perfect sacrifice of Himself (Heb 9:24-28 & 10:12-14).
Hebrews 10:13 hints at a possible prophetic application for this moed/appointed time, where it states that Yeshua is “expecting … His enemies be made His footstool” now that He is sitting on the right hand of the Father. Many believe that a future Yom Kippur will be a day of judgement upon the nations.
So, should Yom Kippur still be observed by us today – especially since Yeshua has made His perfect sacrifice? I believe so. Firstly, it is another of those “forever” commandments, which seems pretty clear to me. Secondly, because a day of afflicting/humbling our souls before YHWH can only be a good (and important) reminder for us. Although we are atoned for, we still sin against our great GOD. This is not good, and not the way we are called to live. A day of repentance is the least of things we should be doing.