What Relevance Does Yom Kippur Have Today…if any?

(Portions for this article taken from God’s Appointed Times by Rabbi Barney Kasdan, published by Messianic Jewish Publishers www.messianicjewish.net. Used by permission.)

Yom Kippur has long been considered the most holy day in the Jewish biblical calendar. Once a year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the nation. In a word, Yom Kippur illustrates regeneration for those who follow God’s way of atonement. 

Throughout the Second Temple period to today, Yom Kippur has maintained a special relationship to the Jewish people. In Temple times, the observance of the Day was more clearly defined. It centered on the sacrifices. In 70 C.E., however, the Temple was destroyed; hence, rabbis and theologians have been confronted with some perplexing problems.

How do we celebrate Yom Kippur without the proper place of sacrifice? How do we have Yom Kippur without the proper Kapparah sacrifice? The rabbis of the first century decided to make substitutions to fill the gap. Tefilah (prayer), Teshuvah (repentance) and Tzedakah (charity) replaced sacrifices in the modern observance of Yom Kippur. This explains why the modern observance is so different than it was in biblical times.

YOM KIPPUR IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Yom Kippur contains important truth for followers of Yeshua the Messiah. In fact, if any holy day deserves special recognition by believers, Yom Kippur should be at the top of the list! In the well-known passage in Romans, Rabbi Saul of Tarsus ex-plains the significance of atonement in the context of Yom Kippur.

All have sinned and come short of earning God’s praise. By God’s grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before him, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua. God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death. (Romans 3:23–25, CJB).

The word translated “kapparah” (propitiation) is somewhat misunderstood today since it is not commonly used. Kapparah means “atonement,” a term any Jew of the first century could relate to. Messiah Yeshua was executed as our kapparah, our sacrifice, the fulfillment of what Yom Kippur is all about!

Since the theme of atonement is so central to the message of the New Testament, it should not be surprising to discover other references to Yom Kippur within its pages. While speaking of the dangerous weather that had developed, Shaul/Paul states that “it was already past Yom Kippur” (Acts 27:9).

In Luke 4:16-22, Yeshua is called to the Torah in his local synagogue of Nazareth. After reading the powerful passage from Isaiah 61, he delivered a simple yet stunning message, claiming to be the Messiah, the anointed one, who would set the captives free. The fact that this passage speaks of the Messiah as the liberator of the Jewish people led other rabbis to speculate that Messiah would appear on a very special Yom Kippur in the Year of Jubilee (see Leviticus 25:10).

The World will endure not less than 85 Jubilees, and in the last jubilee the Messiah, Son of David, will come (Talmud Sanhedrin 97b).  

THE PROPHETIC FULFILLMENT

Atonement was typologically foretold in the sacrifices and service of the holy day. Yom Kippur in the New Testament takes on special significance as we see Yeshua presented as Messiah, taking upon himself the sins of his people, as did the unblemished Yom Kippur goat, sacrificed in the Holy of Holies. Yet Yom Kippur, as the other holy days, is not to be limited to only a historical lesson. It has a prophetic truth to teach all.

The prophet Zechariah spoke of a future day of repentance when God will pour out his spirit in the latter days and they will look to the one who is pierced (Zechariah 12:10). This fits the description of Rosh HaShanah in the prophetic sense, a time of repentance. What follows in chapter 13 is quite relevant. Zechariah says:

On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity (Zechariah 13:1).

After Rosh HaShanah comes Yom Kippur. After repentance comes regeneration. Such is the promise for all Israel as she will supernaturally experience the fulfillment of Yom Kippur and the return of Messiah Yeshua. This corroborates the word given to Rabbi Saul:

For brothers, I want you to understand this truth which God formerly concealed but has now revealed, so that you won’t imagine you know more than you actually do. It is that stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Israel, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness; and that it is in this way that all Israel will be saved. As the Tanakh says, “Out of Zion will come the Redeemer; he will turn away ungodliness from Ya’akov and this will be my covenant with them...when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:25–27).

This is the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur, the final atonement realized and received by that generation of Jews (and non-Jews) living when Yeshua returns for his followers.

 

A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR FOLLOWERS OF MESSIAH

For believers in Yeshua, both Jewish and non-Jewish, the observance of Yom Kippur can hold special significance. The repentance started at Rosh HaShanah comes to a culmination with Yom Kippur, ten days later. As with the traditional Jewish community, those ten days (Yomim Nora’im) can take on spiritual meaning as we meditate on the meaning of the high holy days. Although there are not many customs directly relating to the ten days, using this time to seek forgiveness from anyone we have wronged in the preceding year, enhances relationships with both people and God. Traditional readings from the book of Jonah, Hosea 14 and other pertinent passages can increase one’s appreciation of the season.

Since Yom Kippur is a Shabbat, the general customs for the Sabbath are in order. Yom Kippur will be a fast day for most, so a late-afternoon holiday meal becomes more vital before the evening service. The table is set with the best white linen and silver. Throughout the high holy days, white holds a special meaning as it symbolizes our hope for purity and forgiveness. The wine is blessed with the kiddush; the challah similarly with the motzi. A sumptuous dinner is then served which may include sweet dishes to represent the sweet new year of forgiveness. As the sun sets that evening, the fast begins.