Throughout the Old Testament the word atonement was used to convey the idea of reconciliation, sanctification, consecration, and forgiveness.
On the Day of Atonement, not only was atonement made for the sins of the people but atonement was also made for the Priesthood and for the golden altar of incense and for the Holy of Holies and for the entire tabernacle.
- Atonement for the people (Leviticus 16:5, 7, 15, 33
- Atonement for the Priesthood (Leviticus 16:3,6,11-14, 33)
- Atonement for the Golden Altar (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:18, 19, 20, 33)
- Atonement for the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:16, 17, 20, 33)
- Atonement for the entire Tabernacle (Leviticus 16: 16, 20, 33)
Atonement was made for these to sanctify them and to consecrate them to God and to make reconciliation so God’s presence could dwell in the midst of His people in the Tabernacle.
Much of Hebrews 9 and10 is written with the Day of Atonement in view. By drawing attention to the contrast between the temporary and eternal, these chapters show how Jesus fulfilled the things foreshadowed in the Day of Atonement.
- The eternal value of the work of Christ is compared to temporary service which was only a foreshadowing of Christ (Hebrews 9:7-12).
- Cleansing for the conscience by the blood of Christ is compared with outward ritual cleansing in the flesh (Hebrews 9:12-12; 10:1-22).
- Jesus our Great High priest is compared with the fading ministry of the high priest and priests under the law (Hebrews 9:7-12; 21-24; 19-22).
Whereas the Passover was symbolic of Christ as the Lamb of God and His death on the cross, the Day Atonement was symbolic of the entrance by Christ as our High Priest into the presence of God. The entrance of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies was representative of what Christ would do to bring us near to God (Hebrews 9:8-14; 23-28; 10:19 -22).
The Mercy seat was “the place of atonement” and specifically speaking, the Mercy Seat is where the shed blood was sprinkled in the presence of God for atonement. This made reconciliation for the sins of the people and sanctified all the dedicated things, purifying them from the sins of the people.
- By virtue of His own blood, Jesus entered into the very presence of God for us to consecrate the new and living way to God.
- The new and living way is through a pure conscience that has been purified by the Blood of Jesus through the Spirit of God. (Hebrews 9:12-14; 10:19-22)
- The blood of animals could not please God because the blood of animals had no power to cleanse our conscience from sin (Hebrews 9:9; 10:1-4).
- The Blood of Jesus pleases God because His blood cleanses our conscience from sin (Hebrews 7:11,12,19; Hebrews 9:7, 12-14, 22; Hebrews 10:1,2,10,14,17-19,22; Hebrews 12:24).
Throughout the Old Testament, atonement never foreshadowed appeasement or any act whereby God would demonstrate His wrath towards Christ as a substitute. Christ died as a sacrifice who gave himself as a sweet savor offering to God for us.
- Throughout the Old Testament scriptures, the offerings which were offered to God were to be a sweet fragrance to be accepted by Him. Never were the offerings “rejected by God” to make atonement.
- They were to be offered as a sweet smelling fragrance to be accepted by Him. When the offerings were rejected by God there was no atonement.
- There is no precedence in scripture that suggest that God turned His back on Jesus and rejected Him in our place. On the contrary, God accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as a sweet aroma on our behalf when He gave Himself as the offering and sacrifice for our sins, and for His sake (alone) God has forgiven us (see Ephesians 4:32-5:2).
- God specifically said through Moses that when His anger was against His people, He would not accept the sweet fragrance from their sacrifices and offerings.
- God’s wrath and His acceptance of the sweet savor offerings never mix throughout the scriptures.
- The atonement sacrifices throughout the Old Testament, which foreshadowed Christ, were never condemned or rejected by God. There is not one example of God “rejecting” or “condemning” any atonement sacrifice so that the people could receive forgiveness. The sacrifices made atonement (forgiveness and reconciliation) because they were accepted by God.
The O.T. sacrifices had to be perfect, unblemished and without spot, and they were accepted by God rather than condemned by Him. They were accepted as a sweet savor and this is how atonement was made. There are many examples throughout the Old Testament of God accepting the sacrifices as a sweet fragrance.
- Jesus was accepted by God for us, not condemned by Him in our place. He is our atoning sacrifice, not our guilty substitute.
- When God’s wrath was revealed, He would not accept the Sweet Savor of the offerings (Leviticus 26:31, Jeremiah 14:11-12). Yet, when God’s people returned to him in repentance, God accepted both them and the Sweet Savor of their sacrifice and offerings (Ezekiel 20:40-41).
- The sacrifices were not substitutions which were rejected by God in place of the people. The sacrifices were holy offerings which were “accepted” on behalf of the people (Lev 22:20, 21, 25, 27). By virtue of these offerings, the people were sanctified and made holy in the sight of the Lord.
- Ephesians 1:6 tells us “we have been accepted in the beloved” and Colossians 1:20-22 teaches tells us Jesus reconciled us through the Blood of His cross to present us holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his (God’s) sight.
- Again, the sacrifices were never condemned substitutes. They were accepted offerings which sanctified the people and made them holy.
The Mercy seat bears its name because of the display of God’s mercy that was demonstrated by the annual sprinkling of the sacrificial blood. It was the only seat within the tabernacle and represented the throne of God in the midst of His people. It was to be approached only on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest but not without the atoning blood. The Day of Atonement was the one day of the year that Israel’s’ faith was actively focused on the Most Holy place. It was the one day of the year that what had happened at the altar of sacrifice had to be trusted by faith as being complete and secured within the Holy of Holies. By faith they trusted the High Priest to carry out His intercessory ministry in the presence of God and that atonement had been made upon the Mercy Seat. So it is with us. We look to Jesus the one who died on the cross and rose again and we trust, by faith, that in the presence of God He lives for us to make intercession whereby He is able to save us completely and by His own Blood keeping us in right standing with God.