What is the meaning behind Yom Kippur?

With Yom Kippur –the Jewish Day of Atonement – fast approaching, what are Jewish people to make of it? It was a feast appointed by the L-d in the Torah so that is surely where we should begin.

Leviticus 16:29-30 reads:

Leviticus 16:29-30

“And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the L-d.”

On Yom Kippur, the high priest was to offer a bullock as a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering, and two goats for a sin offering also. Of the two goats, one was to be released and one was to be slain, for the national sins of Israel. As to which goat would fulfill which role, this would be determined by lots. Here then we find that G-d both requires propitiation of sin (that is, satisfaction to be made for sin by blood, symbolized by the goat that would be put to death), and also that G-d is abundantly merciful to forgive sin (represented by the goat that would be set free).

 It was understood also by worshipers in the Old Testament that animals would be put to death in their place. In other words, if a man should sin, although G-d judicially would require his blood (for all that sin must die, following Adam), an animal would die in his place as a substitute.

In some elements of Judaism for the last thousand years or so, a chicken is used instead of the prescribed scapegoat in a ceremony called Kapparot. The Kapparot prayer states:

“This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster (hen) will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.”

So the Scriptural idea of substitutionary atonement has echoes in modern Judaism, which makes it all the more strange when rabbis argue that the Messiah dying for the sins of his people is somehow a concept foreign to Judaism. The truth - as proven from Jewish religion and history - is that substitutionary atonement is etched into the very fabric of the nation. 

But we notice that Jews on Yom Kippur will beg and plead to be forgiven for their sins, and will seek to make amends with other people - apologizing for sins they have committed in the previous year. They will fast to afflict their souls, according to the command that G-d gave to his people in ancient times, and hope for forgiveness.

Yet immediately following Yom Kippur, many Jews find themselves relaxing, having congratulated themselves that they’ve supposedly been written into the Book of Life for another year, and returning to their usual lifestyle – and so they immediately begin to commit the same sins that they had just repented of!

How can this be right? Is it not mocking G-d to assume that sins can be forgiven and the sinner simply return to his usual sinful lifestyle? The truth is that G-d not only required external observance of ceremonies, but also an internal regeneration. That is, G-d required the Israelites to have circumcised hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16), meaning that they would be changed from the inside out to be holy inwardly.

They ought to have delighted in the L-d in their heart, not merely obeyed external ceremonies. Hence G-d gave the Israelites physical circumcision as a sign of the spiritual change he required from them.

This change was only possible if an Israelite realized that he could not be justified before G-d  being judged in his own person (Psalm 143:2), and instead needed a righteousness given to him by G-d (Psalm 32:1-2) and received by faith (Genesis 15:6).

This faith, specifically, was in the Messiah who would redeem men from the curse of sin (Genesis 3:15) by being born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) before the AD 70 fall of Rome (Daniel 9:24-27), being G-d as well as man (Psalm 110:1, Psalm 45:6-7, Isaiah 9:6), dying the death of crucifixion (Psalm 22:16), and rising again from among the dead (Psalm 16:10) in order to atone for sins and so justify many (Isaiah 53). Of course, this Messiah can only be Jesus Christ of Nazareth - and Jews today must recognise this.

Jews who swing a chicken above their heads and hope for forgiveness, while rejecting the true atonement for their sins - the Messiah Jesus – are reduced to empty observances that can never take away sin.. Jews who observe outward ceremonies (which in any case are distorted from what G-d had commanded in the days before Messiah) without an inward change of heart are reduced to hypocrisy. And Jews who seek repentance for ten days and then return to indulging their sinful ways are making a mockery of true religion.

Jesus is the only answer for Jewish people, and therefore you must truly turn from your sins in repentance, and believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah as G-d’s true atonement from heaven for his people.


We make it easy for you to compare the Tanakh with the New Testament by providing free access to it on this site, so you can examine these scriptures and decide for yourself.


If you have any questions, we would love to talk and hopefully discover, together with you, G–d’s good message to us.

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