The Great Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16:1-34
And the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;…

(verses 29-31). One day in the year set apart to the most solemn representation possible of the two facts - the sinfulness of man, the righteous love of God. Atonement underlying the whole of the ceremonial Law, but the insufficiency of the dally sacrifices, set forth by the separation of one day for the special sacrifice, thus pointing to one atonement in which all other atone-meats should be perfected. Solemn warning in the death of the two sons of Aaron, proclaiming the unchangeableness of Divine Law, and unapproachableness of God in his infinite righteousness. Necessity that, while the cloud upon the mercy-seat spoke of holiness and majesty, there should be a more emphatic testimony to love and mercy. Yet that testimony must be in the way of Law and ordinance, therefore itself maintaining that God is just while he is merciful. These preliminary considerations prepare us to take the "great Day of Atonement" as a typical prophecy fulfilled in the revelation of Christ. Notice -


1. Personal perfection. For ordinary ministration, washing feet and hands sufficient. For the great day, entire cleansing. This must be. A fellow-creature, imperfect and sinful, may be employed as a channel of communication between God and us, but not as the efficient Mediator undertaking for both. The spotlessness of Jesus must be more than relative, more than character; it must be absolute, therefore, only as we see it in the Incarnation. Nor can we find satisfaction in the humanity of Christ unless we believe that it was capable of rendering to God an infinitely acceptable sacrifice; therefore, while it was flesh, it must have been free from all taint of sin. We lay our sins on him; then he must be himself absolutely sinless, or else our sins will be increased by his. Only in the pre-existence of the Second Person in the Trinity can we find a support for this doctrine of personal perfection in the man Christ Jesus.

2. Official perfection. The high priest must be clothed in spotless garments. "Holy garments." He put off his "golden garments," and put on the white linen, emblematical of official perfection. The continual repetition of the sacrifices and the priestly ablutions, together with the special priestly offerings, represented the necessary imperfection of the ceremonial atonement. The priest's office was seen in its height of dignity in the high priest's office; the high priest's office in its most solemn duty, to enter the holiest once a year and make atonement for all. But the true High Priest and the true mediation were yet to come. The ministry of Christ was a perfect offering of man to God, in his active and passive obedience, and a perfect revelation and assurance of Divine favour to man; in the facts of his earthly life, promising healing and restoration for human woes, and life from the dead; in the development of a perfect humanity by example; in the unfolding and proclamation of the heavenly kingdom, which actually commenced in his person, and proceeded in ever-widening spheres of spiritual life in his Church; in his risen glory and the bestowment of the Holy Spirit, which were the completion of his official work as Mediator, for he said that if he went to the Father (that is, as Mediator), he would send the Comforter. Thus the vail was taken away, and the way into the holiest made manifest (Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:19-23). Our High Priest is not one of an imperfect succession of Aaron's sons, but after the order of Melchisedec, coming forth directly from God, and standing in unique perfection; the pledge at once of Divine acceptance and the spiritual liberty of the gospel.

II. VICARIOUS ATONEMENT. The three facts of the day were:

1. The blood of the victims shed and sprinkled.

2. The living way opened between the throne of God and. his people.

3. The public, solemn putting away of sins and their loss, as guilt, in the wilderness.

In the true atonement, thus represented, these are the essential factors - expiation, reconciliation, restoration.

1. Expiation. The blood of the bullock, the blood of the goat, brought in before the mercy-seat, sprinkled seven times, etc. No remission of sins without blood. A tribute to the holiness of God, therefore to the perfection of the Divine government. No peace can be true and abiding which has not its roots in the unchangeableness of God. Notice how the modern feeling of the steadfastness and uniformity of nature vindicates the necessity of a forgiveness of sin which is a maintenance of Law. The sufferings of Christ must be viewed, not as the arbitrary assignment of a penalty, but as the sufferings of the sacrificial Victim, i.e., of him whose blood, that is, his life, was freely offered to seal the covenant, and who, being in the form of a servant, obeyed even unto death; made of a woman, made under the Law, therefore both having a fleshly, mortal nature, and being in a position of obedience, wherein he must, as a true Son, "fulfill all righteousness." The cross was an open conflict between righteousness and unrighteousness, in which the true representative Seed of the woman, the true Humanity, was bruised, and, as a Victim, laid bleeding and dying on the altar; but in which, at the same time, the acceptance of the offering, as proved by the Resurrection and Ascension, was a manifestation of the victory of righteousness and the putting away of sin. The universality of the expiation was represented by the offering for priests and people alike, for the holy place, for the very mercy-seat, fur all the worship and religious life of the congregation. Apart from the merit of the Saviour's blood, there is no acceptance of anything which we offer to God. The attempt to eliminate all distinctive recognition of expiation from religious worship, is the folly of our times in many who reject the teaching of Christianity. A temple without a sacrifice, without the blood which is the remission of sins, is a contradiction of the first truth of Scripture, that man is a fallen being, and can therefore be acceptable to God only on God's own revealed terms of atonement.

2. Reconciliation (verses 11-14). The true conception of salvation is not a mere deliverance from the punishment of sin, but living fellowship between God and his creature. The life of man is the outcome of God's wisdom, power, goodness, unchangeable and everlasting. He carries eternity and divinity in his very nature and existence. His future blessedness, yea, his very being, must be secured in God's favour. The burning coals of fire from off the altar, and the sweet incense beaten small, rising up as a cloud before the mercy-seat, betoken the intermingling of the Divine and human in the life of God's reconciled children. This is maintained by the offerings of faith and prayer: the light of Divine truth penetrating the mind and life of man, the heart rejoicing in God and seeking him by a constant reference of all things to him, and dependence of daily life on his mercy. When thus the will and love of God underlie all our existence and pervade it, there is an open way between this world and heaven; the two are intermingled. Man becomes what he was made to be - a reflection of his Maker's image. "I will say, It is my people, and they shall say, The Lord is our God." Christianity has the only true message of hope for the world, because it proclaims reconciliation between the infinite perfection of God and the polluted and imperfect humanity which he has redeemed.

3. Restoration (verses 20-28). The scapegoat - an emblem of the entire deliverance of man from the guilt and misery of sin. The necessity of this proclamation of a new world. Heathen minds recognized the evil of sin, but lay under the spell of fatalistic despair. "No symbol could so plainly set forth the completeness of Jehovah's acceptance of the penitent, as a sin offering in which a life was given up for the altar, and yet a living being survived to carry away all sin and uncleanness." The commencement of all renovation of character and life is the sense of entire forgiveness, perfect peace with God. The sins are gone into the wilderness, they have not to be cleansed away by any efforts of ours. Spiritual restoration lies at the root of all other. "The kingdom of God" is first "righteousness," then "peace," and then "joy in the Holy Ghost." This is the Divine order of restoration. But as the priest put his hand upon the head of the goat, and confessed over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, so in the Divine work of grace on behalf of man, there must be the living faith which blends the penitent submission of the human will with the infinite sufficiency of the Divine righteousness and power. - R.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before Yahweh, and died;

The Day of Atonement
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