One of Israel’s annual feast was known as Yom Kippur. The theme of the feast is centered on atonement. It was a day that atonement was made for the priest and his family, the community, the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting, and the altar. It was a solemn day.
It was only on that particular and singular day of the year that the high priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple and stand before the presence of God’s glory.
The author of Hebrew highlights this:
Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. Hebrews 9:6-7 NASB
The Ark was the most significant object in Old Covenant worship. When the high priest approached the ark with blood, he was fulfilling something that was representative of Christ finished work. When the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the mercy seat, the glory of God appeared.
The purpose for the Ark of the Covenant was to symbolize God’s visible throne on earth. It was like heaven on earth. His manifest presence would dwell in a cloud between the wings of the cherubim above the Mercy Seat. It was also from there that he would commune with Moses and the high priest who heard His voice from between the wings of the cherubim (Num. 7:89)
“You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. Exodus 25:21-22 NASB
The cloud that sat on the Ark typified the presence of God. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s visible presence on earth.
Interestingly during the lifetime of Jesus on earth, when the priest went into the Holy of Holies the room was empty. The ark of the covenant was not there, and neither was God’s presence. The ark went missing at some point in Israel’s history.
The climax came when Jesus died on the cross.
Do you remember what happened in the Temple on the day of Passover?
And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Mark 15:38 NASB
When the temple veil was rent in two it exposed the fact of the empty vain worship that had been going on for 400 years. The Holy of Holies was empty. Jesus spoke about this with the woman at the well. He spoke about the coming of the true worshippers. The presence of God no longer resided in the Temple. A new body was to host his presence and that is the body of Christ.
On the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Passover sacrifice Jesus fulfilled Passover as the real lamb of God who was cut off from Israel as he surrendered himself to death as a sacrifice for sin. In doing so atonement was now no longer achieved through the two goats as offered at Yom Kippur.
Unlike Temple sacrifices or the Yom Kippur events where sin is only covered over for a time, the Messianic sacrifice came with the promise of forgiveness of sins through grace given by God. This was a one time event for each person’s lifetime and not a continual series of annual observances and animal sacrifices.
The Day of Atonement speaks of blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifice was centrally tied to the sin issue. The substitutionary death of an innocent lamb was required, since an atonement (covering) for sin was to be made only through the blood:
‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ Leviticus 17:11 NASB
The Old Covenant was just a forerunner of something greater, a type and shadow that stood as a provisional measure until the fullness of time when God would institute the New Covenant. The author of Hebrews says the “law made nothing perfect,” “it was only a shadow,” and it had many faults. It only covered sin, it didn’t take sin away!
Jesus fulfilled the anti-type of Atonement as the High Priest and the sacrifice!
The New Covenant is far superior to the Old Covenant in that it affords true forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Atonement means to cover. It does not pay for or do away with; it covers. That means that is still there but behind the scene.
There is no atonement (covering) for sin under the New Covenant. There is no need for one. The sin issue was settled at Calvary. The Messiah was not our atonement– He did away with our atonement. To say we have an atonement, is really inaccurate and is never taught in the New Covenant. Jesus has reconciled us to God. He no longer covers our sins, He takes them away:
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 NASB
The Old Covenant was a shadow of good things to come. The New Covenant is the substance. Under the Old Covenant, the payment for sin was anticipated; under the New Covenant, it is realized! Under the Old Covenant, the sacrifices were provisional and recurring. Under the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus is eternal and totally sufficient. Under the Old Covenant, men’s lambs could only cover sin, but under the New Covenant, the lamb of God took away sin!
There is no blood sacrifice, no Temple, no priesthood, and no adherence to the Levitical protocols. Christ has been offered as a sacrifice for sin. His is the only sacrifice for sin today. His sacrifice has ensured that the essence of atonement has been fulfilled; We are the delight of the Father and that we have been reinstituted into a kind of life that exists without the sting of sin and pangs of death.
There is nothing that we could have done to achieve this new state. This is John says:
“…He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” 1 John 2:2b
No amount of self-punishment or crying can atone for sin. Jesus finished work has done more than atonement. It was a dealt blow to sin. Now we have the victory. In this new creation truly old things have passed away including “Atonement”