LCN Article
Seven Lessons for the Day of Atonement

September / October 2022

Richard F. Ames

As we prepare for the annual fast that God has chosen for His people, what are some vital lessons for observing the Day of Atonement—and preparing for what it pictures?

Do you remember where you were on the Day of Atonement last year, or any particular year? I will always remember where I was on the Day of Atonement in 1973. I was in England with my wife and mother-in-law, visiting the Ambassador College campus in Bricket Wood. We were visiting my wife’s brother—Dr. Roderick C. Meredith—and I was scheduled to give the morning sermon in London on the Day of Atonement. Yes, we had both morning and afternoon services on the Day of Atonement back then!

Coming home from services, on the hour-and-a-half drive back to Bricket Wood, we heard on the radio that Arab armies had on that very day attacked the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Israel on two fronts. Israel counterattacked, and after just 18 days the war ended with Israel capturing significant enemy territory.

Since then, there has been much continuing conflict in the Middle East. Four years after that war, which came to be known as the Yom Kippur War, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel and spoke to Israel’s Knesset, announcing his desire for peace. Sadly, Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981, the day before the Day of Atonement, while reviewing a military parade.

But the day is approaching, faster than many expect, when instead of war and assassination the Day of Atonement will mark the announcement of worldwide peace and liberty, when Jesus Christ returns to planet Earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. The adversary, Satan the devil, will be dethroned after 6,000 years of his reign over human beings as the “god of this world.” Finally, the human family will be “at one” with God.

We learn lessons with each new Day of Atonement, year after year. In this article, we will briefly review seven such lessons, covering aspects of what the day means and what it pictures.

Lesson One: Satan Banished for a Thousand Years

Regarding the High Priest’s duty on the Day of Atonement, we read the following:

And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering. Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:5–10).

One goat was sacrificed as a sin offering, its blood shed for the Israelites. Just once a year, the High Priest of Israel entered the Most Holy Place to make this offering.

In modern English, we now use the term “scapegoat” to indicate someone given undeserved blame. In Leviticus, however, the “escape goat” (Heb. azazel) did indeed have Israel’s deserved blame put upon it. This is the goat, symbolizing Satan, that was cast away from the congregation of Israel. As Christians, this should bring to our minds Revelation 20, which describes the soon-coming time when Satan will be cast into the “bottomless pit” where he can no longer influence the world until he is “released for a little while” at the end of the Millennium, before the Great White Throne Judgment (v. 3). This is the thousand-year restraint of Satan, before he is released for a brief time and then thrown into the lake of fire.

Lesson Two: The World Will Be Set Free

The world has been held captive by Satan (Revelation 12:9), but the Day of Atonement pictures the future day on which God will free the world from Satan’s enslavement and give everyone access to the sacrifice of Christ—the sacrifice also pictured by and on this day! Jesus Christ told us that no one can come to Him unless God the Father draws him (John 6:44). Most of this present world is blinded, with only a relative few called to understand His plan of salvation and do their part in supporting His Work in this age. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong put it this way in his booklet A World Held Captive:

You live in a world of awesome progress, but paradoxically, of appalling evils. Why? It’s a world held captive, deceived into loving its captivity. Deliverance from kidnap in deception, human discontent, suffering and death hastens nearer. World peace, happiness and joy are just around the corner (p. i).

We know that Satan is “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). He and his demons stir up an attitude of disobedience toward God—so much so that there will be millions fighting against Jesus Christ when He returns.

How deceptive is the god of this age? There are even false prophecies spread among some professing Christian groups saying that when the Antichrist rules he will enforce the seventh-day Sabbath and the Ten Commandments! But there are also false prophecies being spread among God’s people—and I urge you not to be deceived by those whom Satan is using to create discouragement by “setting dates” for Christ’s return. When that time nears, God’s Church will know it without doubt or ambiguity.

 God’s Church has learned its lesson about setting too-eager dates anticipating Christ’s return. We know it will be sooner, not later, and we know that God will make it clear when His Church must tell the brethren that it is time to flee. Do not be deceived by men who seek attention by misusing God’s word. And know that the time is soon coming when liberty will be proclaimed through all the land:

Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family (Leviticus 25:9–10).

This is a Day of Atonement prophecy, corresponding to the scriptural Year of Jubilee, when debts were forgiven. Brethren in the United States may be aware of the Liberty Bell, a powerful symbol of a new nation’s commitment to liberty—and with its crack also a symbol of that liberty being merely a goal rather than an achieved reality. When Christ returns, the world will finally be set at liberty. Instead of remaining captive to false religions and materialism, all nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship Christ and keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16). And unlike the ceremonial cleansing accomplished through the blood of bulls and goats, true forgiveness of sins and spiritual cleansing through the shed blood of Jesus Christ will be available to all human beings as an atoning sacrifice.

Lesson Three: Peace in the World When All Nations Will Be Reconciled

How can enemy nations ever hope to be reconciled when even individuals cannot reconcile with one another? We think of Russia and Ukraine, Israel and the Arab nations, Germany against the Allies in World War I and World War II—and even within nations we see horrors like the “killing fields” of Kampuchea and the massacre of Tutsi people in Rwanda. Why do hostilities like these continue?

Some people think of themselves as righteous, but the Apostle Paul reminds us that “all have sinned” other than our Savior. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a righteous and virtuous woman, but she was not born without sin in an “immaculate conception.” Every one of us needs Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. And Paul gives us the principle by which we can be reconciled: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8–10).

And the time is coming when repentance will occur on a national scale, under Jesus Christ’s loving rule in the Kingdom of God. Some nations will briefly experiment with rebellion, but will be corrected in love. “And the Lord will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it; they will return to the Lord, and He will be entreated by them and heal them” (Isaiah 19:22).

Notice that former enemy nations will be reconciled and given special favor by God: “In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance’” (Isaiah 19:24–25).

When the whole world has Jesus Christ in common as Savior and King, all peoples will come together. Christ will bring all the nations together in peace, including the scattered Israelites (Isaiah 11:12).

Lesson Four: The World’s “Second Exodus” Will Begin

We just saw that when Christ returns, He will bring scattered nations back together as wars cease. There will be a “second Exodus.”

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ And they shall dwell in their own land” (Jeremiah 23:7–8).

Notice that a trumpet blast announces the liberation of the Israelites from captivity: “So it shall be in that day: the great trumpet will be blown; they will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, and they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13). Let us read what Mr. John Ogwyn wrote on page 41 of his booklet Revelation: The Mystery Unveiled! about this announcement of the Jubilee and the symbolism of that trumpet blast:

Satan being put away will represent the liberation of mankind. This is the fulfillment of the symbolism of the ancient year of Jubilee, when freedom was proclaimed (Leviticus 25:9–10). Note that the Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement, the day that symbolized Satan’s banishment. At this point, the remnants of all twelve tribes of Israel will begin to be regathered from their captivity to the land of Israel (Isaiah 27:1, 13).

Yes, the scattered Israelites will be brought to their own land after a time of captivity. Notice that this is a future prophecy—an exodus not from Egypt, but from other nations. We also read:

For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezekiel 36:24–27).

People in that day will have experienced terrible things at the end of the previous age, the last 6,000 years of Satan’s rule. They will have a repentant attitude and will have God’s Holy Spirit, which they will use as they repent of their lives of filthiness and idolatry.

Lesson Five: Satan’s Deceptions Must Be Avoided

We know that Satan can appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Yet he is also described as a roaring lion, seeking anyone he might devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Paul warned the Ephesians not to give Satan a place in their hearts (Ephesians 4:27). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and we must be careful always to be honest with one another—and with ourselves. We may even be so bold as to think we can get away with lying to the Holy Spirit, but the example of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 shows us that this is a very dangerous mistake. It was not sinful for them to keep some or all of the money from selling their land; the sin was in conspiring to lie as if they had given the whole proceeds.

Regrettably, many of us find it far easier to lie to ourselves. We rationalize a “small lie” or a “little disobedience” or a “just this once” breaking of a commandment. And each time we do so, we make the next sin that much easier.

Sometimes we may think we see some sin or some injustice go unpunished, and we feel stirred to accuse the sinner in a public and shaming way. But we should always remember that it is Satan who is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). If you see a sin that you think should be publicized, ask yourself what your motives are. Do you want to help the sinner? Or do you want people to think of you as more righteous—maybe even to distract them from your own sins? In Matthew 18, your Bible gives clear instructions about privately confronting a sinning brother or sister in Christ, then with the help of others, and eventually the Church (specifically, the ministry) if necessary.

But how should you react if some situation is not resolved the way you hoped it would be? One of the most insidious of Satan’s deceptions is the attitude of self-righteous bitterness. We may feel that we are justified to hold on to anger about what we think is an injustice. But Scripture commands us not to let the sun go down on our wrath (Ephesians 4:26). God is in charge. Vengeance is His, not ours (Romans 12:19). We are not judges, though we can and should be “fruit inspectors.” We should flee from any temptation to become involved in a sinful situation (2 Timothy 2:22).

What should you do if you find that you are developing an attitude of bitterness? Jesus gave us the answer: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). We must always be aware of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11) and always maintain an attitude of repentance and willingness to confess our sins (1 John 1:8–9).

Lesson Six: We Must Walk Humbly with God

God tells us that on the Day of Atonement we must “afflict our souls” (Leviticus 16:31). Those who do not do so will be “cut off” from God’s people (Leviticus 23:29). We fast, but we also examine ourselves, much as we do when preparing for the Passover. Fasting is a physical parallel of the internal humbling we should experience when we each ask ourselves, Am I still carnally minded? Am I radiating Christ’s nature to others as I should? What do I need to change in my character and my behavior?

How did King David of Israel humble himself? We read, “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting; and my prayer would return to my own heart” (Psalm 35:13). The word “humbled” in this verse is from the Hebrew anah, which means “to afflict.” David examined his own heart when he fasted. When we fast, we are to judge ourselves, not others.

We don’t need to wear sackcloth as David did. We don’t want to be like those whom Jesus condemned for drawing attention to themselves while fasting (Matthew 6:16). Rather, we should focus on our inward selves, not on making a showy display of our affliction. The prophet Isaiah gave us a good description of a fasting attitude:

Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, “Here I am.” If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday (Isaiah 58:6–10).

Can we maintain that perspective, and that hope, as we fast?

Lesson Seven: God’s Kingdom Will Reign

After Satan has been cast into the pit, God’s faithful resurrected saints will sit on thrones assisting Jesus Christ with His Millennial rule. The Apostle John saw this in a vision:

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years (Revelation 20:4–6).

When the world’s kingdoms have become Christ’s Kingdom, today’s faithful Christians—as resurrected firstfruits—will literally rule over cities, states, and nations.

Living in today’s world, we see firsthand how difficult it is to rule justly without Christ. We should be praying today for our rulers, that they may rule justly and that we may submit to their rule humbly as long as they do not try to force us to disobey our Savior. And we should be humbled, knowing that in time it will become our responsibility to rule according to the duties Christ gives to each of us. We can pray even today that our rulers will “let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). And the day is soon coming when each of us will have our own part in that responsibility!

The firstfruits born as Spirit into the Kingdom of God at the last trumpet will reeducate planet Earth to the way of true peace. The Hebrew word for “atonement”—kaphar—literally means “to cover over.” It is the same word we find translated as “cover” in the instructions for Noah to build the ark at the time of the Flood: “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch” (Genesis 6:14). The Day of Atonement reminds us that God has covered over and will cover over the sins of repentant Christians. It reminds us of what God has done in the past for us, and what He will in the future do with us.

When Christ returns and establishes God’s Kingdom on earth, Satan and his demons will be locked up and put away. Christ’s sacrifice—in this age applied to only the relative few who respond to God’s calling—will be made available for the whole world. We read that in that time all Israel shall be saved, though today they are blind as they are not now being saved: “I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25–26).

Let us all look forward to the future Day of Atonement, when Christ the King will make that glorious announcement: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants!”