The Dramatic Prophecy of Yom Kippur

By Dr. Anne Davis

Excerpt from The Remnant Part IV: The End of Time Revealed in Israel’s Annual Festivals

Before I begin to suggest prophetic symbolism, let us review the traditional Jewish observance of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the sixth of seven annual Jewish festivals that are proscribed in Scripture. Yom Kippur follows Rosh Hashanah after ten days of intense introspection and soul-searching known as the Ten Days of Awe. You will remember that Judaism perceives three categories of people who are judged each year on Rosh Hashanah, and who will be judged again at the end of time. There are the righteous whose names are already written in the book of life, and there are those who are evil in their unrighteousness and therefore condemned. However, the middle category describes most of the people who are not yet completely righteous but who desire to become righteous in the eyes of God. They are the ones who undergo intense soul-searching during the Ten Days of Awe to uncover their sins that require repentance. Thus, the Jewish tradition promotes annual introspection and an increasing righteousness throughout one’s life.

There are three passages in Scripture that describe Yom Kippur: Leviticus 16:1-34; Leviticus 23:26-32; Numbers 29:7-11. Stop now and read these verses on your own. Then fill in the information you discover in the chart below. Place repeated information on the same parallel line. You will be looking for the following categories: offerings, high priest, goat for a sin offering, scapegoat, cloud of incense, blood for atonement, and the Sabbath.

I trust you have carefully read these three passages about Yom Kippur and have filled in the information you discovered on the chart. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of building your own critical thinking rather than simply reading my thoughts, which this article offers.

As with all the annual festivals, numerous traditions emerged that contributed to the significance of this holy day. We will explore some of these traditions as we proceed to consider their prophetic implications.

Troubling Questions

There are three driving questions that propelled this study on the prophetic nature of Yom Kippur, the annual festival known in English as The Day of Atonement.

First, there are Ten Days of Awe that precede Yom Kippur, but the New Testament Book of Revelation records only seven years of a Great Tribulation before the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom. The traditional Christian understanding equates the seven years of tribulation with the Ten Days of Awe. However, how can the numbers 7 and 10 point prophetically to the same event?

Second, Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement when God will forgive the sins of His people. However, the Hebrew words mean “day of covering”, which refers to God merely “covering” the sins, not removing them. A complete removal of sins is required for all of God’s people to come into His presence in righteousness, which will not occur until the end of time. Therefore, how can Yom Kippur point to the final judgment of God’s people? A common understanding among Christians finds the Great White Throne Judgment occurring at the end of time. Many Christian theologians have concluded that only the “damned” will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment since all of God’s children will have supposedly been brought into His presence during the Millennial Kingdom represented by Yom Kippur. Again, this study will disagree.

Third, during the Temple ceremony on Yom Kippur there were “two goats for a sin offering.” One goat was for the Lord, and this was the animal that was sacrificed and whose blood atoned for the sins of people who were not yet righteous in the eyes of God. The other goat was also called a sin offering but it was “presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it [the goat], to send it [the live goat] into the wilderness as the scapegoat.” We will explore in more detail the concept of atonement and what the live goat represents. You will find that my conclusions about the live goat are new and startling.

Ten Days of Awe

Returning to the prophetic nature of the fall festivals, I have suggested that at the time of the first fall festival of Rosh Hashanah God will select a remnant, which is a form of judgment for the purpose of selection. Following Rosh Hashanah comes ten days before another judgment occurs on Yom Kippur. These ten days are observed today by Jews as a time of deep introspection when people confront all their sinful thoughts and actions that have taken place during the preceding year. Repentance must occur in the heart, and forgiveness is sought by all those who have caused harm in any way because of their sinful actions.

If these Ten Days of Awe are prophetic of the Millennial Kingdom as this study suggests, then one reason for the Millennial Kingdom is to bring people to God through repentance of sins, which promotes righteousness. What better way to accomplish this advancement in righteousness than a Kingdom that will be a light unto the nations with the Messiah as King and a righteous remnant serving him in his administration? This suggestion, that the 10 days of awe are prophetic of the future Millennial Kingdom, reinforces the idea that God’s progressive work is bringing all His people into His presence in righteousness.

Food for Thought

What I have proposed about the Ten Days of Awe is a suggestion for you to consider. Together we are in an area of biblical studies that the Christian community has not yet addressed. We can easily see from Scripture what the Millennial Kingdom will be like, but many questions remain. Who will enter the Millennial Kingdom with the Messiah and why? Furthermore, what is the purpose of the Millennial Kingdom since it does not represent the end of time? The Book of Revelation claims that “when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth,” which indicates that there is more to God’s plan to redeem His people after the Millennial Kingdom ends. This article is exploring the Scriptures to gain an insight into what will happen after the Millennial Kingdom.

The Mystery of Yom Kippur

I will now turn briefly to some of the startling ideas I uncovered in my research on Yom Kippur. “Since Yom Kippur means ‘the day of covering’, how does this special Day of Atonement offer a different kind of sin offering and whose sins will be covered?” Furthermore, “What is the symbolic meaning of the scapegoat in the Yom Kippur ritual?” These two questions will lead to an incredible and provocative proposal of what will happen after the Millennial Kingdom ends and I will suggest how God is progressing in His plan to bring all of His people into His Righteous Presence.

Sins are covered

I have long been troubled by the Hebrew term יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים (Yom HaKippurim), which is generally translated “Yom Kippur” in Hebrew, or “The Day of Atonement” in English. Atonement means to compensate for, or make right, a sin that is contrary to God. However, the full name of this Hebrew festival, Yom HaKippurim, means “the day of the covering”, which suggests that God will merely be covering the sins, not removing or canceling them. Thus, sins are still present although God will have “covered” them.

The resulting image suggests that sin continues to lurk in one’s life and can be activated again until, and unless, the person completely changes so sin will no longer have the potential to operate. Furthermore, if one sin is covered, there are other sinful traits that can still affect the person because, until all sins are completely and permanently removed, a person will not be righteous in God’s eyes. Therefore, Yom Kippur, “The Day of the Covering,” cannot refer to the end of time and can only be one chapter in a much bigger picture of God’s work.

The concept of covering our sins originates in the creation account. Before the fall of Adam and Eve “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” The symbolism of “naked” conveys exposure to God’s vision and judgment. However, after their disobedience by eating the forbidden fruit, their sin was exposed. So, “the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed [covered] them” (Gen 3:21).

We see in both the Old and New Testaments that God’s covering of sins is available to God’s children in their daily lives. However, removal of sins will probably not occur until the Great Tribulation for the remnant, and the end of time when the rest of God’s people will finally be able to come into God’s Righteous Presence in a completely righteous condition.

We can only enter the presence of God in a righteous condition, which means we must be completely without sin not only in action but also in thought and speech. That is, our heart, which represents the inner part of who we are, must be sinless and holy. Why? Because God is a Righteous God and the consequence of sin is death. So, if we come into God’s presence with even one sin that has not been removed, we will die.

Yom Kippur is only Part of a Progressive Plan

We often wonder, “What is God doing and where is he leading us?” Certainly, we know that God is slowly but progressively drawing His people closer to Him. He gave Israel the Law at Mount Sinai and then guided them through a process of testing as well as through the words of His prophets. With the coming of the Messiah, God not only gave believers in Christ an account of Yeshua in the New Testament, but He also gave His Holy Spirit to those with faith in His son.

The role of the Holy Spirit is to guide God’s people in the ways of righteousness, which is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” We can draw near with confidence because Yeshua the son is now our High Priest who can mediate for us with God the Father.

Yeshua is sinless, so his ability to enter God’s presence is the fulfillment of the role formerly played by Israel’s high priest. Therefore, we can see a progression in mankind’s ability to draw near to God through faith in the sinless High Priest, who can now enter the presence of God the Father. However, that progression will not be complete until the end of time when all of God’s people can also enter God’s presence, so Yom Kippur offers an opportunity for us to penetrate a deeper understanding of how God is in the “process” of drawing all of His people to Him.

The Broader Purpose of Yom Kippur

Now we can turn again to Yom Kippur which is known as the Day of Atonement. Atonement is returning or restoring something, which has been corrupted, to its original holy condition that is right with God.  This is an action that only God can accomplish. However, as we have seen, God has developed a procedure that allows (indeed requires) us to participate.

To encourage righteousness God worked first with Israel through the Law and the Prophets, and He is now working with believers in Christ to whom He has given the Messiah and the gift of His Holy Spirit. The more His children choose to participate, the closer they can come into His presence and the greater will be their blessings.

Therefore, Yom Kippur seems to prophesy of a future atonement that God will accomplish. However, we have numerous challenges.

  1. We have already seen that the Hebrew word for Kippur means to “cover” and not to remove, so Yom Kippur does not prophecy of the end of time. 
  2. Furthermore, we have seen that there can be multiple fulfillments of prophecy, so we must ask if there will be additional atonements from God after the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur.
  3. Finally, given the possibility of atonement that may “follow” Yom Kippur, we must consider that God’s atonement “during” Yom Kippur may only apply to some of His people, not to all of them.

Since I have concluded that all of God’s people will eventually be able to come into His presence in the very end of time, this possibility of God’s selecting certain righteous ones during Yom Kippur becomes important in this study. The selection cannot be the original remnant because God will have selected that remnant during the Great Tribulation (signified prophetically by Rosh Hashanah), and they will have entered the Millennial Kingdom in leadership roles. As we progress through this study, I will share with you my conclusions about the part that Yom Kippur will play in the prophetic progression of bringing all of God’s children into His presence.

Coming into the Presence of God in Righteousness

This is where all of God’s people are headed. We learn from Scripture that now the angels in heaven reside in the presence of God. After the resurrection of Yeshua, the Messiah appeared in the presence of God. In the end of time, the Gospel of Luke informs us that God’s people will not die “because they will be like angels, and will be sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Therefore, at some time in the future God’s people will be resurrected to new life in complete righteousness. At that time, they will be a new creation and they will be able to dwell in the presence of God. When and how that will happen is the subject of this study.

A Startling Proposal

With this introductory information you are now ready to consider a startling proposal about the prophetic symbolism of Yom Kippur. What follows will be an entirely new perspective that has not yet been considered by the Christian community, but you will be viewing the continuing work of God that will occur after the Millennial Kingdom ends.

The Scapegoat

There are numerous possible interpretations about the meaning of the live scapegoat that was sent into the wilderness at the time of Yom Kippur. However, I must admit that I have drawn a different conclusion based on my perception of the artistic nature of biblical Hebrew together with my understanding of ancient methods of searching the Scriptures. The two methodologies are related because the ancient methods draw heavily on the artistry of the Hebrew language. I do not propose that my interpretation is correct, but merely share with you what I believe I have uncovered. You must weigh the evidence yourself and come to your own conclusions. Your perception of the meaning of the scapegoat could have a significant impact on how you conduct your life and how you relate to others.

Let us first review the various interpretations of the meaning of the scapegoat and the word Azazel (the Hebrew word for the scapegoat). Then I will share with you my thoughts.

  1. The rabbis, as recorded in the Talmud, interpreted “Azazel” as azaz (rugged) and el (strong). Therefore, they concluded that Azazel referred to the rugged and rough mountain cliff from which the goat was cast down in the Yom Kippur ritual before the destruction of the Temple.
  2. According to Maimonides, Azazel symbolically represented the “extreme” point of being “outside the camp”, and the goat’s exile was intended to instill fear that the same fate awaited those who refused to repent.
  3. Many modern scholars have accepted the opinion originally suggested by Nachmanides that Azazel was one of the goat-like demons called se’irim that haunted the desert. Many Israelites had offered sacrifices to this creature, so their guilt needed atonement.
  4. The Book of Enoch, a non-canonical Jewish religious work known to the New Testament author of Jude (see Jude 1:14-15), offers another explanation of Azazel. He was the leader of the rebellious giants before the flood, who taught men the art of warfare and the making of weapons. He showed women the art of deception, and he also revealed to the people the secrets of witchcraft.
  5. Another common interpretation today views Azazel as Satan himself, who rules the wilderness of the earth.
  6. Many Christian scholars think Azazel comes from the verb azal meaning “to go away”, which is “to banish”.

There are so many possible interpretations that one must conclude we simply do not understand the spiritual or prophetic significance of the live goat that was a sin offering. Most suggestions propose a literal meaning such as a place, a demonic creature, one of the giants, or Satan himself. The last suggestion, that Azazel means “to banish”, offers no information about who was banished or why. Only Maimonides gives a non-literal spiritual meaning for us to consider, that the goat’s exile was intended to instill fear in those who refuse to repent. However, all these suggestions have left me unconvinced, and instead have prompted many questions which I will share with you now.

  1. Scripture tells us that “all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Therefore, how can a live animal act as a sin offering on the Day of Atonement, which seeks forgiveness of sins?
  2. Instructions for Yom Kippur in Scripture require “two male goats for a sin offering.” Why were there two offerings for the forgiveness of sins? Wouldn’t one have sufficed?
  3. Why was the live goat banished to the wilderness? Do the concepts of “banishing” and “wilderness” have some spiritual significance that can help us unravel this mystery?
  4. Why were goats the animals chosen to sacrifice? Is there some meaning in the Hebrew word for “goat” that can shed some light?
  5. Since there were two goats instead of one, could the spiritual significance of the number two give us some insights?
  6. Finally, rather than relying on the English text, which is, after all, merely an interpretation in its translation, perhaps we can glean some understanding from the Hebrew.

Unraveling the Mystery of the Scapegoat

We must begin our search by reading the most significant passage about the scapegoat, which can be found in Leviticus 16:5-10. We will tackle these verses in small parts.

5 He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Leviticus 16:5

Note the two types of offerings.

A sin offering was for seeking forgiveness from God. However, there were requirements. Unintentional breaking of God’s commandments could be forgiven through an atoning sacrifice, but intentional sins could not be forgiven. For an intentional sin one was required to bear the penalty. For an unintentional sin one could only bring a sacrifice for an offering “if” the person had first repented of the sin and had come in a clean and righteous condition.

A burnt offering was the most common of all the sacrifices in Israel and served numerous purposes. However, it was generally considered as a gift to God, and the sweet aroma was perceived as floating up to God to convey humble obedience and love. Now we are ready to tackle the next verse.

6 Then Aaron shall offer a bull for a sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. Leviticus 16:6

The importance of the family is critical for understanding the Hebrew Scriptures. As the high priest, Aaron would be entering the Holy of Holies, so he had to come into God’s presence in a holy condition. The sacrifice of a bull was a sin offering for atonement, which sought forgiveness of sins not only for Aaron but also for his family.

7 He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the doorway of the tent of meeting [the Tabernacle].

8 Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. Leviticus 16:7-8

The English word “scapegoat” was first used by William Tyndale in his 1530 Bible that he translated into English from Latin. The Hebrew word is עֲזָאזֵל (Azazel), a word that appears nowhere else in Scripture except in relation to the live goat on Yom Kippur. The term “scapegoat” is an interpretation, which conveys someone who bears the blame for others. We can see how Tyndale drew this conclusion because Scripture tells us that the live goat was “a sin offering”. But why a live goat and not a blood sacrifice? Is this a different kind of sin offering?

9 Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the Lord fell, and make it a sin offering.

10 But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. Leviticus 16:9-10

This is perhaps the most perplexing verse. We have one goat for a traditional sin offering because there are people who are not yet righteous in God’s eyes. They still need a substitute offering for forgiveness of sins and atonement for their sinful condition. However, the second goat called Azazel is presented alive before the Lord.

Atonement (righting a wrong by the forgiveness of sins) was also made for this second goat, but as we shall see the sins are not simply covered but will be prophetically removed. This atonement will apparently be achieved by sending the second goat into the wilderness. Is the purpose of this action the death of the goat? If so, how does that accomplish the forgiveness of sins?

The Two Goats Represent Two Groups of People

We must remember that the focus and purpose of Yom Kippur is the repentance of sins by God’s people, which allowed God to cover their sins. The blood sacrifice of the first goat accomplished this purpose in the traditional way, by the sinner offering a substitute that would receive the penalty of death for his or her sins. However, we are perplexed because the same purpose of removing sins applies to the second live goat as well, which is atonement for forgiveness of sins. “Aaron shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering.” Thus, both goats signified the same principle of repentance by the people that was followed by atonement from God. This is the only place in Scripture where a live animal served this function, which is indeed troubling.

I suggest that the two goats represent two groups of people. The sacrifice of the first goat is certainly associated with those who still need a blood atonement for the forgiveness of sins. For Israel, this atonement was accomplished by bringing an unblemished animal to the Tabernacle (later the Temple) as a substitute for the sinner, who had to come with a sincere desire to repent and repair a relationship with God. The animal would then have been sacrificed on the altar. With the coming of the Messiah, Yeshua became the substitute blood offering. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,” and “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Thus, the first goat seems to be easy to understand. It is a traditional blood offering so sins can be covered.

However, the atonement that was achieved by the sacrifice of the first goat was conducted in a unique ceremony that only occurred once a year. Therefore, if the ritual on Yom Kippur is prophetic, then there must be something that distinguishes the Yom Kippur sin offering from both Israel’s regular sin offerings and the sin offering provided by faith in the Messiah. I suggest that the distinguishing feature is the second goat. If the first goat represents a group of people who still need the blood covering of atonement, then perhaps the second goat represents a second group of people. This is the conclusion that I have drawn from this study, but let me offer clues to help you identify this second group of people.

Interpreting the Live Goat

I draw your attention to a phrase in the Hebrew text, Leviticus 16:10. Let us first consider the English translations in several Bible versions.

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE: The goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the Lord.

KING JAMES VERSION: The goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord.

NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION: The goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the Lord.

NEW JERUSALEM BIBLE: The goat on which the lot “For Azazel” has fallen, will be placed alive before Yahweh.

I take issue with the customary translation of “presented” before the Lord (“placed” in the New Jerusalem translation which carries a similar meaning). The Hebrew in the Masoretic text is

חַי לִפְנֵי יְהוָה  יָעֳמַד(ya’amad chai leefnay Adonai). The literal translation is “will stand alive before the God”. The word “stand” is significant because it represents righteousness. The translation “present” makes sense if one is visualizing a goat (“present the goat”), but if the goat is metaphorically representing a group of people, then the correct translation of עֳמַד meaning to stand is appropriate (the goat “stands” signifying righteousness). Moreover, this second goat stands “alive” before God. Only those who are standing in righteousness can come into the presence of the Lord to “stand alive” before Him. This intriguing perspective of the Hebrew text contributes to a revolutionary understanding of a second unique group of people represented by the live goat.

Unsaved Brothers of the Remnant are still in the Wilderness

We will now consider the symbolism of the wilderness. “The goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it and to send it into the wilderness as the Azazel [translated into English as scapegoat].” The wilderness is a symbol for the world that is ruled by Satan, but is also the place where God gave His people the Law and prepared them to overcome God’s enemy to possess their inheritance, the land of Canaan. I suggest that those represented by the live goat will return to the world with their unsaved brethren because their brethren still need a sin covering. This helps us understand the role of a growing righteous remnant that has been sent into the wilderness to witness to their unrighteous brethren.

Because my conclusions are so revolutionary, I encourage you to read my 4-part series on the remnant which you will find on Amazon where I carefully and methodically offer supporting evidence for all of my suggestions. The four books are available on Amazon in three versions: a printed paperback, a kindle edition, and an audio/Audible version that is synchronized with the kindle edition.

Remnant Part 1: Israel’s Inheritance

Remnant Part 2: A Remnant of the Church

Remnant Part 3: The Remnant in the Great Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom

Remnant Part 4: The End of Time Revealed in Israel’s Annual Festivals

We often wonder, “What is God doing and where is he leading us?” Certainly, we know that God is slowly but progressively drawing His people closer to Him. He gave Israel the Law at Mount Sinai and then guided them through a process of testing as well as through the words of His prophets. With the coming of the Messiah, God not only gave believers in Christ an account of Yeshua in the New Testament, but He also gave His Holy Spirit to those with faith in His son.

Please give us your thoughts on this article!

  • Did you agree?  
  • Did you disagree?
  • Do you have something to add?

Do you have a personal experience you would like to share?

Dr. Anne Davis is a professor of Biblical Studies who enjoys working with graduate students to enhance their exegetical skills for exploring the depth of Scripture.

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