The prospect of a Final Judgement should not threaten any true Christian, for it is the final earthly act in God’s redemptive plan for all who believe. Judgement Day completes the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross; The Day of Atonement resolves Passover.
In my last article, I wrote about the Feast of Tabernacles, which Jewish folk all around the world have recently celebrated. The commemoration consists first of Rosh Hashanah, the blowing of trumpets, followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Then comes 7 days of living in out-door ‘tabernacles’.
For Christians, the immediate relevance of the Day of Atonement is that it presents aspects of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Hebrews 9:11-14 makes this clear:
‘When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!’
However, some clues in the Day of Atonement rituals point to a deeper level of meaning.
- John referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36). Paul likens Him to the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) and effectively links the crucifixion to Passover, not the Day of Atonement, as does Peter in 1 Peter 1:19. Why then did they sacrifice a GOAT on the Day of Atonement? Jesus used goats to represent those who were condemned, not those whom He saved: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:31-33).
- There was a second goat involved on the Day of Atonement and this animal was called Azazel (Leviticus 16:8), which most probably means ‘complete sending away’, but which some Jewish scholars regard as a name for the devil. The High Priest laid all the sins of the people of Israel upon this goat and sent it off to be lost in the wilderness. How does this relate to the Crucifixion? The most likely connection I see is to the banishment of Satan from Heaven when Jesus died and then rose again.
Jewish tradition places the full emphasis of the Day of Atonement on averted judgement. For them, Yom Kippur is the climax of ten days of repentance, called the ‘Days of Awe’. After this, the names of the righteous are written in the Book of Life while the unrighteous are inscribed in the Book of Death.
The book of Revelation contains a graphic reference to the Judgement Day of God;
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life’ (Revelation 20:11-12). Earlier, Revelation links this Book of Life to Jesus with the words, ‘the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8).
There are further connections between the Day of Atonement and the Final Judgement. The Blowing of Trumpets precedes the Day of Atonement and in the book of Revelation, the Seventh Trumpet announces the Day of Judgement. Jesus spoke of this when He said that the nations of the earth “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other“ (Matthew 24:30-31). Paul echoed his master’s words when he later wrote that ‘the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
After the Day of Atonement came the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles commemorating God dwelling with His people during the wilderness exodus. In the book of Revelation, the final dwelling of God with His people is described in terms of a new creation, a HeavenEarth:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” ‘ (Revelation 21:1-4)
The great Day of Atonement holds no fear and trepidation for those born again of the Spirit of God, for Jesus referred to himself when He said that “whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). Hallelujah!