On the Day of Atonement, blood went on the veil and beyond. The blood of the sin sacrifice was sprinkled on it with a motion that imitated whipping a man. When Jesus gave up the ghost, the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom. Can you imagine the reaction of the priests? There they are in the holy place going about their daily functions when suddenly—“RIIIIP!!”—this very tall, double-thick veil tears down the middle from top to bottom. And as if that weren’t bad enough, then comes an earthquake to knock them off their feet! There’s not much in life that teaches humility quite like getting knocked down. The veil tore from the top. Grace comes from God to man; only the humble receive it.
Another important facet of the Day of Atonement was that it was called a Sabbath of Sabbaths.
It shall be a sabbath of rest [Hebrew—a Sabbath of sabbatism, a rest of rests] unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
This emphatic description for a day of rest is only used of the weekly Sabbath, the Sabbath year, and the Day of Atonement. Other holy days were Sabbaths, days of rest; but these were special. They were the Sabbath of Sabbaths.
One wonders how many have used the term “scapegoat” without knowing its true significance. Most have a sense of what it means—a person blamed for the wrongs of another or one chosen for punishment to satisfy a need for public justice even though they haven’t done the wrong. We equate the scapegoat with the “fall guy” or the “whipping boy.” Though these connections resonate with some of the purpose of the scapegoat, they miss much of the richness of what the goat truly represented. Before we look closely at what the term “scapegoat” actually means, let us examine what was placed upon it.
The Cleansing of the People Relieved, Aaron leaves the inner sanctuary, walks through the holy place and hands the vessel …
Abraham Heschel refers to the Day of Atonement as Judaism’s holy of holies in time. This day is the most sacred day of the holy calendar. It occurs on the 10th of Tishri, the first month of the civil year and the seventh month of the ceremonial year. A day of fasting, it stood between the two great feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles. It was on this day that all the sins, transgressions, and iniquities of the people for the entire year were covered over. It was on this day that the high priest entered the holy of holies with blood on his hands.
Nadab and Abihu offered up incense to the Lord by way of a “strange fire.” The Lord does not allow anything “strange” to approach Him. He had only one authorized ignition source in the entire tabernacle system: the fire on the altar of burnt offering. This fire had been lit by the Lord Himself on the inaugural day of the tabernacle. “Fire from heaven” is the biblical term. We call it a lightning.
Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Nadab and Abihu were the older two and, like all good sons, they were training to go into the family business. They must have shown promise, because the Lord invited them to come along with the elders of Israel for the feast on Mount Sinai. One can imagine how getting an invitation to have supper with God Almighty might cause one to become a little prideful.
When the Apostle Paul was known only as Saul of Tarsus, he sought to destroy the body of Christ. He guarded the coats of those who stoned Stephen, and the blood of that day only gave him a thirst for more. As an enforcer for the Sanhedrin, his manner and methods presaged the horrors of the Inquisition. He was violent, cruel, and passionate about persecuting Christians. Such was the man who would become one of the most prominent figures of the first century church. How could one who had imprisoned, tortured, and murdered Christians later serve them without a life-debilitating guilt?
When sin crops up in our lives (and it will), we don’t need to deny it or hide it. We need to bring it out into the light of the Son by confessing it. When we ask the Father to forgive our sins for Christ’s sake, He is faithful and just to forgive us of all unrighteousness. Once the sin sacrifice has been offered, we need to proceed to the burnt offering, consecrating ourselves to God.
The Son declared on His exit from heaven that He knew the Father had no pleasure in the animal burnt offerings and sin sacrifices. Because His heart is to always bring pleasure to the Father, He did something about it. “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God,” He said. He came to save us, but His motivation was to bring pleasure to His Father.