The God of the Hebrews (Yahweh) wanted to wean Israel from the man-made gods that demanded human sacrifices, brutal, and cruel tortures to their bodies. Apparently, these Hebrew people did need something to keep them occupied, on a day when they could not work to earn more than they needed. Then, there also was the question, “How should they remember God and express their appreciation to God?” The answer was: have daily burnt offerings, three feasts and a “Big Day of Atonement,” to be repeated, annually. Why have such an elaborate system for people with a simple faith? The answer was and still is: man is exposed daily to sin and does need constantly washing. Jesus gave this answer to Peter, who would not let Jesus wash his feet. And it was much more than a simple act of humility. In order for Peter to keep his feet clean and holy, in the sinful world, which his feet daily touched, his feet needed daily washing. Now, let us read the incident between Jesus and Peter, then the “Day of Atonement” shall become more real to us. It ended with the command to stay clean!
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet,and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him,”If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.”
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am (John 13:3-17).
The Greatest Day in a Jew’s Life was the Day of Atonement
The “Day of Atonement” reminded the Israelites that God loved them and covered their iniquities and transgressions for another year. Did the blood of the animals change the nature of sinners? Definitely not! Man is not a robot, programed to run from heaven. God created man with the ability, even without the law, to discern right from wrong (Romans 2:14-15). Man let evil in and did not resist the devil or his own passion (Genesis 3; 4:6-16). God does not interfere with the human will in this life; it is man who resists the Will of God for his human existence.
The LORD spoke to Moses, after the death of the sons of Aaron, when they drew near (disobeyed) before the Lord and died; and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is upon the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the loud upon the mercy seat. But thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and shall have the linen breeches on his body, be girded with the linen girdle, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water, and then put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
And Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats, and set them before the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent into the wilderness to Azazel.
Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house; he shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall make a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small; and he shall bring it within the veil and put the incense of the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat which is upon the testimony, lest he die; and he shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times.
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood within the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat; thus he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions all their sins; and so he shall do for the tent of the meeting, which abides with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. There shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he enters to make atonement in the holy place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar which is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar round about. And he shall spinke some of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
And when he has made an end of atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel,and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.
Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there; and he shall bathe his body in the water in a holy place, and on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and the make atonement for himself and for the people. And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn upon the altar. And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. And the bull of the sin offering whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be carried forth outside the camp their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned with fire. And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you; for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the LORD. It is a sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute for ever. And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy lien garments; he shall make atonement for the sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priest and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be an everlasting statute for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins. And Moses did as the LORD commanded him (Leviticus 16:1-34).
The Final and Last Day of Atonement was Completed with Jesus the Christ
The reader might recall my series on the Lamb of God. We shall seek to understand, at length, the work of the Holy Spirit. How and why the Holy Spirit came about in the following chapters. We are blessed with the insight of the writer to the Hebrews on “Christ’s Atonement.”
For since the law has but a shadow of the things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For if is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin-offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’ as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”
When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin-offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are consecrated. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these there is no longer any offering for sin (Hebrews 10:1-18).
Yes, Christ Ended the Sacrifices, But Christ did not End the Law that Qualifies Man to Serve God
We shall return to the role the Law does play for man in another chapter. At the present, let us follow the writer to the Hebrews and heed his warning on what it means to be a follower of Christ? Christ’s warning was no different from the warnings of Moses and from all the people of God, who were sent to correct Israel’s sins and their transgressions. The individual and the personal accountability has not changed:
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from and evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant which he was consecrated, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.
“For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls (Hebrews 10:19-39).
The Atonement only Worked for People who Obeyed the Law
The Law is God and God is the Law! And both are Spirit! Man must obey and follow the “Words” from the mouth of God. It is when man’s spirit willingly stops sinning, that “atonement” has taken affect. The same principle applies to the “Atoning Blood of Christ.” Man must cast out the evil within him before God the Father, Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit can operate in the heart of a human being. That was why a whole generation of Jews had to die, including Moses, before the new generation learned to live and to serve God through the Law. Moses confirmed the Covenant by sprinkling blood on the people.
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:3-8).
And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and Israel.” And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments (Exodus 34:27-28).
But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all the commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, I will do this to you: I will appoint over you sudden terror, consumption, and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be smitten before your enemies; those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not harken to me then I will chastise you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like brass; and your strength shall be spent in vain for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit (Leviticus 26:14-20).
But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery which they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity; then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. But the land shall be left by the and enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my ordinances, and their soul abhorred my statues. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God; but I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”
These are the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD made between him and the people of Israel on the Mount Sinai by Moses (Leviticus 26:40-46).