Leviticus 16

The book of Leviticus is primarily a book about atonement. To “atone” is to make things right with God by cleansing and covering over sin. So this book of Scripture was Israel’s manual for what to do about the problem of sin — a problem you and I share with the ancient Israelites. The detailed instructions for atonement reveal the seriousness of God about dealing with sin, and the volume of blood required for the ceremonies and sacrifices reveals the depth of sin.

Once a year the high priest of God’s people would perform a series of special ceremonies to atone for the sins of the nation. It was called the “Day of Atonement” (or “Yom Kippur”).

The ceremonies began with the high priest taking a ceremonial bath, symbolizing the fact that he must be clean before God. Then he would offer a sacrifice for himself and his family. In doing so, even the priest had to admit that he was a sinner. God would accept the blood of the innocent bull as a covering for his sins. Of course, this was just a symbolic preview of what Jesus would accomplish once and for all when He shed His blood to atone for the sins of all humanity.

The priest would then go behind the thick veil that hid the Holy Place where the presence of God dwelled. Once there he would sprinkle blood on the “mercy seat” and God would accept the blood as atonement for Israel’s sins.

In the highly symbolic ceremony that followed, two live goats were presented as sacrifices. One would be killed and offered as a blood sacrifice, symbolizing that sin requires the punishment of death. The sending of the second goat (the “scapegoat”) into the wilderness symbolized the fact that God had removed their sins far away from them.

God established the Day of Atonement “as a statute forever” (v.29). Jesus perfectly and completely fulfilled the Day of Atonement and all the symbolism of the ceremonies. According to Hebrews 9:11-14, Jesus, as our great high priest, went behind the veil to sprinkle His own blood on the mercy seat of heaven in order to atone for our sins. Like the first goat, He died for sin. Like the second goat, He carried our sins far away, “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). What a Savior!