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6. The Day of Atonement, by Walter Veith

Walter Veith

What happened on the Day of Atonement for ancient, literal Israel? What does the judgement of modern, spiritual Israel look like? How should we prepare for Judgement Day?

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The Day of Atonement was the highlight of the Jewish year. This solemn annual festival enacted the washing away of Israel’s sins. The sanctuary was cleansed, symbolizing the cleansing of the people’s hearts before God. This earthly cleansing represented a heavenly cleansing, when all of the sins of God’s people throughout the ages will be removed.

Leviticus 16:16 tells us about the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary:

"And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness."

Once a year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place), but only after he had made atonement for his own sins and those of the priesthood. On this day, two goats were brought before the high priest. One goat was sacrificed, and the other goat was to take the record of sins upon itself, and be set free in the desert.


The first goat was sacrificed on the altar. The priest would then enter the Holy of Holies, burning incense and sprinkling the blood of this goat around the ark of the covenant and on the mercy seat. On his way out of the sanctuary, the high priest would also apply the goat’s blood to the altars, symbolically atoning for the sins of the entire sanctuary.

The priest did this because God’s law had been transgressed. Pouring the blood on the mercy seat symbolized the forgiveness of sins through grace. The Day of Atonement in the earthly sanctuary allows us to understand what Christ’s ministry will look like in the heavenly sanctuary. Soon, the record of our sins will be wiped out forever.

Hebrews 9:22-24 says this:

"In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence (NIV)."

The earthly record was cleansed by the goat’s blood, but the heavenly record is cleansed by Christ’s blood.


The second goat, which represented Satan, was not killed. Rather, the priest laid his hands on the goat to symbolize the record of sin being removed from us and placed on Satan, the originator of sin.

Note that the scapegoat was not killed, and was therefore not the atoner. After the priest had laid hands on the scapegoat, he set it free in the desert. In the same way, Satan will receive the guilt of sin, but will not pay for our sin through his destruction. Christ, represented by the slain goat, was not responsible for our sin, but He still atoned for our sin through His death.


The ancient Day of Atonement was a cleansing of the earthly sanctuary that symbolized the actual cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. This cleansing is the cleansing of the pre-Advent judgment recorded in Daniel 8. Daniel states that this cleansing would take place at the end of the 2300- day prophecy: “And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14).

The blood of the sacrificial goat was needed for the high priest’s ministry to begin in the Holy of Holies (the Most Holy Place). In the same way, Jesus could not have begun His work in the heavenly Holy of Holies until after He had shed His own blood. The only reference to the start of this ministry is in Daniel 8, at the end of the 2300-day.

The 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8 is the longest time prophecy in the Bible and began its fulfillment in 457 BC when Artaxerxes Longimanus issued a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. When we translate the 2300 prophetic days into years and add those years to 457 BC we see that the prophecy ends in 1844. Therefore, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary began in 1844 as “then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14). Jesus entered the Holy of Holies on that date to begin His work of the antitypical Day of Atonement.

The Jews associated the Day of Atonement with the Day of Judgment. The high priest’s actions represented the cleansing of the sanctuary—the wiping out of sin and the final salvation of Israel. The Day of Atonement points to the pre-Advent judgment taking place in heaven before the return of Christ. Christ must be the Judge in heaven prior to His return to the earth, so that He can separate His followers from His rejecters at His coming.

The Day of Atonement was a very serious Jewish practice. Any Jew that did not take part in the ceremony was to be cut off from the people. It was a day of heart searching, and a day of judgment. This day was to be kept solemnly, just like the Sabbath.

"Also, the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people." (Leviticus 23:27-30 NKJV).

We are living in the time of the antitypical Day of Atonement. We must live as the Israelites did: confessing their sins so that they may be forgiven. We need to develop the habit of meeting with God, asking for humble spirits and clean hearts and minds. Confession produces pure hearts. Judgment becomes good news if our sins have gone before us to the sanctuary.

It is important to note that only confessed sins were placed on the head of the scapegoat. Sins that had not been confessed, and thus given up, could not be transferred. Unconfessed sins cannot be atoned for and sinners that knowingly refuse the gift of salvation also have to bear the guilt of their own choice. This is why it is so important that our sins are confessed before God. As we confess, we are purified and stand before God without fear for we are promised that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV).

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “ Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NKJV).

The standard of judgment has not changed. It is the infallible law of God—the Ten Commandments. James 2:12 says, “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).


In order to understand end-time events, we must first understand the judgment. Contrary to what some believe, the judgment is not a quick decision made by God either at the time of a person’s death or at the end of the world. The sanctuary service that God set up with the Israelites under Moses shows us the process of salvation. Through the rituals in that service, in particular on the Day of Atonement, we see how seriously God takes the process of judgment.

It is important to note that the millennium is not the reward. It is actually an important part of the lengthy judgment process.

Since the beginning of time, people have accused God of being unfair. When terrible things have happened, people have railed against God, blaming Him for the tragedy, the trial, and the pain.

Probably nearly everyone has had an experience in his or her life where they questioned God. The millennium is God’s answer to those questions. It is a beautiful part of the plan by which God will prove that His judgments, His actions, and His dealings have been just. It is the time when God will lay open the books of heaven to be examined.

During the millennium, we will be examining what God has been up to all this time, and why things turned out the way they did. We will be able to understand what really happened. We will be able to read the secret conversations, the private thoughts of each and every person who did not make it to heaven. We will finally be able to understand the “why” of the trials and pain of our lives.

So we see that the judgment involves more than just God judging us. In fact, the purpose of the judgment is three-fold:

To decide who must be stricken from the Book of Life because they have chosen to reject God’s sacrifice on their behalf (see Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Romans 2:5-11; and Revelation 3:5, 20:15, 21:27, 22:12).

To set the record straight about the origin of sin and to vindicate God's character and dealings with humanity (see 1 Corinthians 4:5, 6:2-3).

To mete out the reward or sentence to each person who has ever lived, either by pronouncing them worthy of eternal life, raising them in the resurrection at Christ’s Coming, and taking them to heaven, or by permitting them to perish (see Revelation 22:12). Why does God not save everyone?

Not all of these purposes are fulfilled at the same time. The first purpose is fulfilled before Christ’s Second Coming. Before He comes, Christ must judge every person and decide who will receive the reward. At Christ's Second Coming, He comes to collect those that have chosen His sacrifice and lived their lives in submission to His principles. Read about what it really means to live for Christ and to live by faith.

In the thousand years of peace that follow, known as the millennium, these people will be given the opportunity to review the judgments of God and determine their justness. In the meantime, those that have chosen to reject Christ's offer of eternal life will be dead, smote by the brightness of His coming. There will be no one left on Earth during the millennium.

After the millennium, when God returns with His people, those that have been left on earth and that chose to reject Christ’s offer of eternal life are resurrected, shown that they were wrong, and then perish forever. Only when this final phase takes place will every aspect of judgment be officially complete.

The millennium is actually an opportunity for us to make sure that God has not made a mistake in His judgment before the rejecters of His mercy receive their reward. It is like a safety measure to ensure that we're all in agreement with God's decisions concerning each person.

There will be many in heaven who will have loved ones missing. Each person will examine the records and see that God's judgments are just. The millennium serves as an opportunity for God to be vindicated in all His dealings with humanity since the beginning of time.


There are several phases to the judgment: investigation, vindication, and execution. The investigative, or pre-advent, judgment takes place before the Second Coming of Christ.

The Bible makes it clear that Christ will judge everyone before He returns: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Revelation 22:12). See also John 5:22, 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; Hebrews 10:30; and Revelation 19:11.

We know from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 that when the Lord comes, “the dead in Christ will rise first” and then those that are alive “will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (see also 1 Peter 4:17).

If Christ will know who to raise from the dead, then logically He must have already decided before He arrived who gets which reward. This process of deciding who will be rewarded and resurrected is the first part of the judgment process, known as the investigative, pre-advent, or pre-millennial judgment, and will take place before Christ’s coming.

When Jesus returns to this earth, He will reward those who have been obedient and He will punish the disobedient—those who have chosen to follow Satan's methods. The decision of who is saved or not saved will precede the coming of Christ. The reward for those who choose God's way is eternal life, and those people will be resurrected at the Second Coming.


We know that Christ will judge everyone before He returns. What tool will He use as a standard of judgment?

"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak, ye and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." (James 2:10-12).

The standard of judgment is the law of God, because “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

The law of Ten Commandments is the standard of judgment. It is also called the law of liberty because we can only be free of our sinful habits when we follow that law. God has appointed a day for judgment and Jesus Himself will judge using this law:

"He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31 NKJV).

"I said in my heart, 'God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work'” (Ecclesiastes 3:17 NKJV).


Once the pre-advent phase of the judgment has been completed and the pronouncement of judgment has been issued (Revelation 22:11-12), God's judgments will fall upon the earth. This is the executive phase of the judgment, which means the phase where the punishments are set in motion.

The first judgments to fall upon the earth after the close of probation will be the seven last plagues. The seven angels with the seven last plagues will be instructed to pour out their vials on the earth (Revelation 16). The plagues will fall and these judgments will be declared righteous by the angels of God.

"And I heard the angel of the waters saying: 'You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,
Because You have judged these things.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And You have given them blood to drink,
For it is their just due.'" (Revelation 16:5-7 NKJV)

The plagues will fall prior to the coming of Christ. Again we are warned to be prepared. Those that aren't watching the signs of the times and preparing for Christ's return will be caught unawares: Behold, I am come as a thief. Blessed is he who watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame (Revelation 16:15).

Only the righteousness of Christ can shield us from the effects of the plagues:

"He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked." (Psalm 91:4-8 NKJV)

The plagues will fall while the righteous (those who chose God's way) are still on the earth. Just as when the last seven plagues that fell on Egypt, God’s people will be shielded from the plagues, but not removed from their presence. Christ's prayer is, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are...I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:11,15 NKJV).

Christ promises protection, not removal. In Revelation 7 we read, “these are they which came out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14). God's people will pass through the tribulation, but will be delivered out of it in the end.

And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book (Daniel 12:1).

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