Yom Kippur and the New Testament … Jesus Leading WorshipAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Apocrypha, Church, eschatology, Hebrews, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Worship, Yom Kippur
As noted yesterday I am sharing a series of blogs focusing on the Israel’s worship and Jesus’s participation within it leading up to Pentecost this coming Sunday (May 15). Today I share an edited version of something I wrote literally on the Day of Atonement in 2015. This is a good time to share it on my blog.
As you are no doubt aware today (in 2015) is the great Day of Atonement. I confess that it is to our shame that Protestant Evangelicals and Restorationists, in particular, have very little understanding of the calendar of God’s People.
The New Testament documents being produced exclusively by Jews (or Jews and a proselyte – many contemporary scholars think Luke was an actual Jew or at the very least among the “God-fearers” converted by Paul) it is no surprise that various “high holy days” find their way woven in to the fabric of the NT documents. We often miss this because we do not know the traditions of the holy days themselves. But they were part of Jesus’s own worship and the early church was intimately familiar with them. It would seem that those urging a “restoration” of New Testament Christianity would have a special interest in these days precisely because they were simply assumed in the first century church.
What follows is not by any means either exhaustive or complete but simply an attempt to call attention to themes of the liturgical calendar that are written like neon lights in the writings of the apostles but often overlooked.
Jews have historically referred to this day as “the Fast.” This is because this is the only day on which fasting is commanded in the Hebrew Bible. So ingrained is this in Jewish consciousness, but not in our own day, we can read explicit references to the Day of Atonement in the NT and not recognize it. Luke writes, “Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even THE FAST had already gone by …” (Acts 27.9). This is the Day of Atonement. This incidental reference to Yom Kippur, with zilch for explanation, clearly demonstrates that Luke made the assumption his readers/hearers that they would know what this was all about (contrast when Mark offers editorial commentary for his readers assuming they would NOT know, cf Mark 7.3-4). Is it not very interesting that (if Luke is addressing gentile believers) his readers have come to view time, even for sailing, not thru the Roman calendar but thru the Israelite’s Temple calendar.
At any rate there are significant allusions to Yom Kippur, and its themes, in the NT. Hebrews is full of them. I want to note just a few …
There are a number of scholars that have argued that Hebrews is a sermon delivered to a messianic congregation on the Day of Atonement itself. The argument is that such a social setting explains far more in the homily than any thing else. I do not think we can be dogmatic about it but clearly the liturgy of Yom Kippur is embedded in the sermon. I will note a few examples.
The Messiah is said to have “entered a sanctuary” and “to appear before God” on “our behalf” (9.24f). This is an unmistakable reference to the High Priest entering into the Holy of Holies each year on Yom Kippur. The High Priest enters to perform sacrifice, and intercession, on behalf of the people. The Messiah, our Human in Heaven, is presently doing this (yes Hebrews insists that Jesus is a Human as our present High Priest). He, like the High Priest in the sanctuary, is hidden from view at this moment. When the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies no one can see what he is doing and the people anxiously wait for his emergence.
At the Temple thousands of pious Jews would be gathered together as the Priest entered into the sanctuary. They would “wait” for him to come out as he performed his duties. He will emerge from the Presence of God. The Hebrews Preacher says in 9.28 … “[He] will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those eagerly waiting for him.” This is an unmistakable reference to the part of the ceremony where (as noted a moment ago) of the High Priest coming OUT of the sanctuary to joy of the worshipers.
The Preacher compares the period of waiting between the going in and the coming out of the Holy of Holies by the High Priest to the followers of the Messiah. Our Priest is presently IN the sanctuary worshiping on our behalf!! We wait “eagerly” for his emergence from the Presence of God.
Following Hebrews 9.24ff and its reference to the Yom Kippur liturgy, we have a series of references to “the Day.” We are to hold fast, encouraging one another, not forsaking the assembly (duhhhh we are supposed to be gathered with all those sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the High Priest to emerge from the throne room of God, the Holy of Holies!!!) … “all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10.23-25). The Preacher is still applying Yom Kippur liturgy to his congregation. “The Day” is of course, what we call the “second coming,” more accurately the “appearing,” but his “appearing” is nothing more than the emergence of the Priest from the Sanctuary. It marks the End of the Priest’s sanctuary activity.
The Hebrews Preacher conceives the “Christian” life as a Yom Kippur worship service. Since the Hebrews Preacher never uses the word “Christian” it may be more accurate to say that he (or she?) sees the “new/renewed covenant” life as an extended Yom Kippur worship “service.” It is life between the entering of the Holy of Holies and the exist by the High Priest Jesus.
How deeply ingrained is the so called “Old Testament” into the worship of the people of God. Jesus, the True Worshiper, leads the gathered people of God in a “day of atonement” worship service.
As an aside, if you pick up a Mishnah and flip thru it to the tractate on Yom Kippur it is titled simply “Yoma” … that is THE Day … just as Hebrews does.
And Briefly – Revelation of John
In Revelation 11.19 we have a glimpse into the Holy of Holies that the Messiah goes to bring our worship. What did John see? “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of the covenant was seen within in his temple …” Another Yom Kippur allusion.
Final Thoughts: Insight from Ben Sira
I conclude this extremely brief look at the most sacred day of the year in the life of Israel and how it shows up in the life of Jesus and the early church with these thoughts.
If you would like to read what those “waiting eagerly” were expecting to see then we need to turn to the book of Sirach 50. Here Ben Sira describes the High Priest, Simon, entering the sanctuary and the burst of joyous celebration as he existed (Sirach is either describing the daily tamid or the day of atonement but the point is the same). The trumpets are blown loudly as he comes out (doesn’t Paul says something about a trumpet at his appearing?). “And all the people together quickly fell to the ground on their faces to worship their Lord, the Almighty, God Most High” (Sirach 50.17). Then Simon lifts his hands over the congregation and pronounces God’s shalom upon God’s people. Sirach 50 is clearly operative in Hebrews (Luke also alludes to the passage in the ascension scene of Jesus) and helps us in understanding what the Preacher simply assumes on the part of his listeners.
So, today is Yom Kippur. If you attend a synagogue you would hear readings from Leviticus 16, Psalm 27 and the Book of Jonah is read in entirety. It is a day where we recognize both our sinfulness AND God’s incredible grace not only to us but to all he has made.
As followers of the Lamb we will read these texts because, as the Hebrews Preacher reminds us, we are living our entire new covenant life between the beginning of liturgy of Yom Kippur and the End of Yom Kippur. The Christian life is, according to Hebrews, literally experience within a “worship service” in which our Human High Priest is conducting behind the curtain and thru him we boldly enter in. As the Preacher note in 12.18-28 we, the gathered before the Presence of God people, are taken into that sanctuary, the very throne room of God, and participate in the most amazing Yom Kippur experience possible.
Just a few thoughts to help us appreciate the significance of the Jewish culture that pervades New Testament Christianity. How can we embrace NT Christianity without embracing its Jewish character?
As the Priest would say to the eagerly expectant people as he “appears” …
May Yahweh bless you, May he make his face shine upon you, May he give you shalom …
On this day as we remember what God promised to do and what Jesus is doing right now spend some time reading Leviticus 16, Psalm 27, Jonah, and throw in our texts from Hebrews. And if you are Berean … Sirach 50.1-21.
Atonement is Peace. Jesus is OUR shalom and he is IN the Holy of Holies worshiping for you … and for me … and we are worshiping thru him.