Atonement – How can I be sure?

By Raymond Cohen

The most solemn of all Jewish Holy Days are those which commemorate Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). These occur in the seventh month (Tishrei) and cover a span of ten days. The ram’s horn (shofar) sounds and calls the people to a most solemn, soul-searching experience in which we are to seek the forgiveness of God for sins of commission and omission. Many will spend all day in the synagogue or temple of their choice. Many will afflict their souls by abstaining from all food and water for a 24-hour period. Prayers will rise heavenward for dear departed loved ones, and the traditional chant of ‘Kol Nidre’ will fill the air. It is a time for greeting your friends and relatives with the traditional, “May you be inscribed for a good year.” These are days of deep solemnity, for when the ram’s horn is sounded it warns of impending danger; it gathers God’s people together for a solemn service.


This has been the manner in which all of Judaism has celebrated the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement for the past 1900 years. However, for 1500 years before that Israel celebrated the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement in an entirely different manner. Our present manner of worship dates from the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70 because with the destruction of this temple Judaism was no longer able to worship in the manner prescribed by God. The Torah says that the High Priest must offer up the sin offering, the blood of the lamb or goat, within the Holy of Holies. He must sprinkle this blood on the Mercy Seat seven times. For God has said, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). Only when this was done by the High Priest, in the manner prescribed by the Torah, could Israel experience atonement for sin, forgiveness for sins, and reconciliation with God.

When the temple was destroyed it became impossible to keep the observance of this Holy Day in accordance with the Torah, so an expedient had to be found. A replacement had to be sought after, one in which the scholars of Israel could honestly justify the circumstances that had come upon Israel – no temple, no priesthood, no sacrifice. The expedient is found in the term “you shall afflict your souls.” According to the rabbinic scholars this could be met by fasting. One of our prayers at this time of the year implores God to accept the diminishing of our souls by fasting, as the sacrifice offered up by our fathers when the temple was still standing. The expedient found ready acceptance with the populace inasmuch as there was little else that could be done. However, many pious Jews to this day still recognize that God requires a blood sacrifice to atone for sin and they use a chicken as the sacrifice, whirling it overhead three times while asking God to accept it as a substitute for their sins.

Nowhere in God’s Holy Word, the T’Nach, do we find that God has lessened His requirements for this Holy Day. According to His Word we must come to Him through the High Priest and the blood of the sin atonement or sin offering. This situation is a perplexing one. God’s requirement has not changed, yet He has allowed the temple and the priesthood to be destroyed. The very means by which I can have my sins forgiven, God has taken away. It is no wonder that men have devised the means of fasting to replace the sin offering. The problem is too vexing – or is it? Would God ask us to do something and then take away our very means of complying with His will? Instead of making all sorts of excuses for God we must face the issue and say emphatically, “No.” If the answer is “no” then God must have made provision for us to keep His word to the letter even though the temple and the priesthood are no more!


For the answer to this problem we search the T’Nach and find that the prophet Daniel wrote: “And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself” (Daniel 9:26). The prophet Isaiah wrote: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5, 6).

Here the answer is clearly set forth. Messiah Himself would be the sin offering. He would offer up His body and His soul for your sins and mine.

Do you suppose it was sheer accident that Jesus offered Himself up as the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” just 40 years before the destruction of the Temple? Should we not make inquiry into the New Testament to see if God did fulfil His word and give us an eternal sin offering, one which He is pleased to accept as our atonement?

Likewise it is recorded in the Psalms that Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). We find that God has provided a high priest and a sin offering; and to show His Chosen People that this was good in His sight, He allowed the temple and the priesthood to be destroyed. He has narrowed the search down to the Messiah, the one who came nearly 2000 years ago and gave Himself as the atonement, the covering, the sacrifice.


I know that when this Holy Day of Yom Kippur has ended and if I were to stand outside the synagogue and ask the celebrants as they leave, “Did God forgive you your sins?” the answer would be, “I don’t know.” Surely that is not what God wants for us. He wants us to be sure that our sins are forgiven and that we have been reconciled to Him in the only way possible, through the blood of the Lamb of God.

The Jewish Apostle wrote of Him: But Messiah being come an high priest of good things to come by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:11, 12). So Messiah was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:28).

The dilemma is this: Shall we go on following the expediencies of men, or shall we follow the Word of God? Shall we justify ourselves by saying, ““It was good enough for my father””; or shall we ponder the facts and admit our error for almost 2000 years? It is extremely difficult to admit that we might be wrong. It is equally difficult to depart from former traditions, but the stakes are very high.

Your eternal soul is the price that you pay. Wouldn’t you prefer a firm foundation, one which cannot be shaken by men’s ideas, philosophies, or ideologies? That foundation is available to you. It is the Jewish Messiah Jesus. “For other foundation can no man lay then that is laid, which is Jesus the Messiah” (1 Cor. 3:11). You can celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with a joyous heart, knowing you have forgiveness for your sins and reconciliation with God. You can know for certain that your name is inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life. You can know with surety that heaven is your eternal home.

The Shepherd of Israel, 236 West 72nd St., New York.

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