Yom Kippur: Where do we find atonement for our sins if we have no Temple?

A beautiful painting of a Jewish priest blowing the shofar (ram's horn) for Yom Kippur.

A beautiful painting of a Jewish priest blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) for Yom Kippur.

It is almost sundown here in Israel, and we are about to begin Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In the Scriptures, the Israelites were commanded by the Lord to fast and pray and bring their sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem, and then to ask for the Lord’s forgiveness for all the sins they and their nation had committed that year.

Only the sacrifice of a perfect animal, done with a humble, repentant heart, and with faith in God’s mercy and grace, would bring about forgiveness of sins.

  • “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11)

This Hebrew Bible precept was later underscored in the New Testament.

  • “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)

The problem is: What do we find atonement in the modern age if we don’t have a Temple in Jerusalem?

How can we make sacrifices and receive forgiveness of sins — and thus the right to enter the holiness of heaven and live with the Lord in heaven forever and ever — without being able to sacrifice a perfect lamb at the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Lord designated all sacrifices to occur?

The destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. was a huge blow to Judaism. It deprived Jews of the place to receive atonement from God.

The good news is what the Hebrew Prophet Daniel told us in Daniel 9:24-26.

Daniel told us that:

  • the Messiah (or “Annointed One”) would come at a certain time in history “to atone for wickedness” and “to bring in everlasting righteousness”
  • the Messiah would be “cut off and will have nothing”
  • then Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed — as Daniel noted, foreign invaders “will come and will destroy the city and the sanctuary”

Consider that seriously. Daniel told us something extraordinary — that a coming Messiah would bring atonement for our sins before the Temple would be destroyed.

In retrospect, that makes perfect sense: Why would the Lord take away the Temple before providing a new way for atonement?

The Hebrew Prophet Isaiah gave us many more details about the Messiah’s role of suffering and dying as our atonement. Consider these passages from Isaiah 53:

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

13 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

When I was younger, and as I processed these and other Hebrew prophecies of the Messiah — that He would be born in Bethlehem Ephratah, that He would live and minister in the Galilee, that He would do miracles and teach in parables, that He would be the Savior not only for the Jews but be a “light to the nations” — and as I realized that the Messiah had to come before the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 A.D., I came to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. His death and resurrection proved that He is the “Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him,” as He said in John 14:6. Jesus’ shed blood provides the only atonement for sins for Jews and Gentiles today.

Jesus (Yeshua, in Hebrew) represents the “New Covenant” — the new deal, as it were, between God and man — that the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah told us to wait for in Jeremiah 31.

I received Jesus the Messiah as my Savior and Lord when I was young. By the amazing grace of the God of Israel, He helped me humbled myself, confess my sins to my Abba Father, believe in my heart that Jesus died and rose again, and confess with my mouth that Jesus is the Lord. Then, at that moment — just as He promised in the Scriptures — Jesus atoned for my sins, and gave me eternal life. My name was written in the Book of Life forever and ever. Not because I deserved it. Not because I earned it. Not because I could buy it. Rather, the Lord God gave me this atonement and eternal for free, because I received the Messiah by faith.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12)

It is my earnest hope you will discover — or rediscover — the eternal atonement provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for yourself and your family this Yom Kippur. I’m praying for you to find His amazing love, grace and forgiveness, and the hope and joy that only He can give us.

May the God of Israel bless you and write your name in the Book of Life forever.

To learn more about the remarkable Hebrew prophecy of the coming Messiah found in Isaiah chapter 53, please click here.

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