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5 Things Christians Should Know about the Day of Atonement

  • Danika Delello Contributor to
  • Updated Sep 25, 2020
5 Things Christians Should Know about the Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, additionally recognized as the Day of Atonement, is the most revered day of the year in Judaism. Its fundamental themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally commemorate this holiday with all-day fasting and extended prayer, and typically most of the day spent in ceremonies at their synagogue.

Following briskly on the heels of the Jewish New Year comes the most important holiday of the Jewish calendar. Unlike the New Year’s feast, however, the Day of Atonement is a holy day of a much more somber nature.

For 2020, Yom Kippur will be Sunday, September 27th through Monday, September 28th.

There are five things Christians should know about the Day of Atonement.

1. What is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)?

Yom Kippur is Hebrew for Day of Atonement; it is a holy day ordained by God in Leviticus 16 and 23.

Originally on the tenth day of the seventh month, Yom Kippur is now observed in the first month. It concludes the Ten Days of Awe, which began with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

This year, Yom Kippur spans September 29th through 30th, from sundown to sundown.

2.  What are the biblical origins of Atonement?

The Day of Atonement was the only day on which the high priest could enter the tabernacle’s inner sanctuary and come before the ark of the covenant, according to Leviticus 16.

First, the high priest had to observe purifying rituals and dress in special white clothing. He then burned incense before the mercy seat and offered sacrifices for himself, his family, the nation of Israel, and even the tabernacle and alter.

A lottery between two goats was held. One goat was condemned as a sin sacrifice for the nation, and the remaining goat was called the scapegoat.

With his hands held on the head of the scapegoat, the high priest confessed nation’s sins. The scapegoat was then taken to the wilderness and released, symbolizing the removal of sin.

3.  What does Yom Kippur mean?

Jews for Jesus, an organization for the evangelization of Jewish people, says that “by abstaining from work and indulgence, we are meant to enter a state of introspection and repentance, attending to the sins and misdeeds we have committed and acknowledging our dependence on God for redemption.”

The Day of Atonement was a time for the Israelites to seek the Lord’s forgiveness for sin.

During Old Testament times, that forgiveness could be found. Each year that God’s people followed his edicts, their sins could be absolved once more.

Now, the temple is gone and sacrifices cannot be made.

However, the Jewish attitude on this holiday is still one of optimism as they seek atonement.

According to the Jewish educational website,, “Instead of a High Priest bringing the sacrifices in Jerusalem, every single Jew performs the Yom Kippur service in the temple of his or her heart.”

4. How is the Day of Atonement celebrated today?

Faithful Jews continue to set aside the day for prayer, fasting, and penitence. They abstain from working, eating, and other pleasures per rabbinical traditions in the Talmud.

Worshippers participate in a lengthy schedule of liturgy and readings, as well as a thorough confession of sins.

A trumpet (or shofar) is blown to signal the end of the day, and the people feast in gratitude for God’s forgiveness.  

Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles, can participate in the spirit of the holiday.

Jews for Jesus writes: “Many Jewish believers view Yom Kippur as a time for identification with our Jewish people, introspection for ourselves and intercession for loved ones, knowing all the while that Jesus is the One that makes us at one with God.”

5. What follows Yom Kippur?

Following the heaviness of Yom Kippur comes the most joyful of the Jewish holidays: Sukkot. Also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot is a week-long celebration of God’s provision.

Sadly, many Jewish people fail to see God’s ultimate provision in the gift of His son, Jesus Christ.

Christ came as the final sacrifice and atoned for the sins of all mankind. For all those who believe, he is the scapegoat who removes their sins from them forever. 

Photo: Menorah, Shofar, prayer book and prayer shawl for the high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Publication date: September 29, 2017