The Encourager

The Encourager

“The Christian's Day of Atonement; by Jeff Curtis”

The Christian’s “Day of Atonement”

by Jeff Curtis


The Day of Atonement was part of the Mosaic Law, and the Mosaic Law is no longer applicable today. Does the Christian living under the new covenant have a “Day of Atonement”?


One could say that our “Day of Atonement” occurred on the hill of Golgotha around two thousand years ago. There our Savior, Jesus Christ, died to make atonement for the sins of mankind. He died as a sin offering, taking the sins of all mankind on Himself. We can rejoice that Jesus has made it possible for our sins to be taken away.


In another sense, we could say that every day is, for mankind today, a “day of atonement.” Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the acceptable time,’ behold, now is the “day of salvation’” (2Cor. 6:2). The “day of salvation” sounds very much like the “day atonement.” When does it happen? “Now”! Today! Every day is “the day of salvation” in that every day salvation is available to anyone who will “call upon the name of the Lord” (Rom. 10:13) in the biblical way. The day on which Jesus made atonement for our sins by dying on the cross made possible the day anyone can experience salvation or atonement.


The laws in Leviticus make it obvious that the faithful Israelite was to offer a sacrifice for his sin whenever he did wrong. In addition, sacrifices for sin were offered at the tabernacle on a daily, a weekly, and a monthly basis. Since all these sin offerings were made regularly, and since Leviticus 4 assured the Israelites that they would be forgiven if they presented those sacrifices according to God’s directions, why was an annual “Day of Atonement” necessary? Wouldn’t all the sins of the people have been removed before the Day of Atonement occurred? While the Bible doesn’t plainly answer that question, at least two answers are possible.

One idea is that the Day of Atonement was intended to forgive sins that had been somehow overlooked during the year. Maybe people had not noticed these sins or had forgotten them; maybe they had never recognized them as sins. For example, someone could have unknowingly entered the tabernacle area in an unclean state. The Day of Atonement might have been designed to deal with such sins for which sacrifices had not been previously made. While this view seems possible, the scope and extent of the sins forgiven on the Day of Atonement, and the manner by which forgiveness was attained, seem to argue for a more comprehensive answer.


A second answer is that the daily atonement achieved by regular sin offerings resulted in a kind of forgiveness, but it was a temporary, conditional forgiveness. Maybe the daily sacrifices succeeded in removing sins from individuals but not in obliterating them. The sins were piled up or stored in the place of cleansing, the tabernacle. Then on the Day of Atonement, the special rituals took those “stored up sins” and altogether removed them.


The sin offering made for the people in the most holy place may have resulted in God’s forgiving the guilt of the people’s sin. The live goat turned loose in the wilderness with the nation’s sins on its head indicated that the punishment for that guilt had been taken away as well. If this second answer is correct, then the Day of Atonement was necessary for each day’s atonement to be effective.