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Connections to the Day of Atonement

Jan 23, 2015

The last part of Luke 23:34 reads, “And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.” Luke records this immediately after telling us about Jesus’ word about forgiveness, thus linking Jesus’ forgiveness with the garment being dispensed to those that He was forgiving.

Jesus’ robe was symbolic of the salvation that He was bringing to the world. Isaiah 61:10 says,

10 … I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation [yesha], He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness

The “garments of salvation” are the garments of Yeshua (Jesus), because yesha is the root of Yeshua.

Furthermore, the fact that the soldiers cast lots depicts the two goats for whom the lots were cast in Leviticus 16:8,

8 And Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord [Yahweh] and the other lot for the scapegoat [Azazel].

Those soldiers who were casting lots for His garment were acting out the role of Aaron the high priest. They could do this, only because they were acting on behalf of Caiaphas, the current high priest who was a direct descendant of Aaron. Even as the soldiers did the actual crucifixion, the high priest was responsible for this, having given orders to the soldiers. So also, the soldiers were still representing the high priest when they cast lots.

The Day of Atonement Connection

We have already noted that Jesus was crucified outside the gate near the Miphkad altar where the red heifer had been burned and its ashes were being stored (Numbers 19:2-4). Although Jesus was crucified as the Passover Lamb, He was also fulfilling the prophecy of the red heifer as well.

In those days there was a bridge from the eastern gate to that altar on the Mount of Olives. It was built upon two layers of arches across the Kidron Valley.

In the time of Jesus, there was a double-tiered arched bridge supporting a roadway which led from this eastern gate of the Temple to the top of the Mount of Olives. That double tiered arched bridge was built by the priests to span the Kidron Ravine. This bridge was constructed by the priests for sacerdotal purposes and it was known as the Bridge of the Red Heifer. It connected the single gate in the eastern wall of the Court of the Gentiles with a sanctified road that led up to a Third Altar of the Temple located near the summit of the Mount of Olives. It is this altar referred to by the Book of Hebrews [Heb. 13:10-13] that was associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.


The same article shows a drawing of this arched bridge over the Kidron Valley, based on the description in Mishnah Parah 3:6,

Kidron Valley pic.png
This drawing is a reasonable facsimile of the bridge across the Kidron Valley. It was two tiered with the upper pillars located over the lower crowns of the arches in order to prevent any physical contact with a bone, a grave, or a tomb in the valley below. The bridge connected the Temple Mount with the “Broadway” known as the Descent of the Mount of Olives.

On the Day of Atonement the second goat was led over this bridge on his way to the wilderness. So we see how many streams of prophecy converged when Jesus was crucified. He was the Passover lamb, the red heifer, and the two goats on the Day of Atonement—all at the same time.

The high priest in the temple offered the blood of the first goat upon the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place at the ninth hour of the day—the time when Jesus died on the cross at Passover. Upon emerging from the temple, he shouted to the people, “Don’t touch me; don’t touch me,” for he did not want to be rendered unclean before the ceremony was finished. He then washed his hands and then said, “It is finished.”

It is interesting that his words on the Day of Atonement are used in the gospel narratives. After Jesus’ resurrection, He told Mary “touch me not” (John 20:17 KJV), because He had not yet ascended to sprinkle His blood on the mercy seat in heaven. Also, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was repeating what the high priest said after concluding the work with the first goat on the Day of Atonement.

As for the second goat, the high priest walked through the crowd saying many times, “Behold, Israel, your sin is being removed from you as far as the east is from the west!” (Psalm 103:12). The people responded, “Take him away, take him away!” This second goat was then led through the gate, crossing the bridge, going past the Miphkad altar, and on into the wilderness to remove sin from the people.

So when the people at Jesus’ trial shouted, “Away with Him, away with Him” (John 19:15), they were duplicating the scene from the Day of Atonement in regard to the second goat.

The Red Cord

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was accustomed to wrapping a red cord around the head of the second goat. Toward the end of the ceremony, he would cut off a piece of that cord and hang it on the temple door. When the cord turned white on its own accord, the work was finished (Isaiah 1:18), and the priest sat down on a chair set up on the platform outside the door of the temple.

When Jesus fulfilled these prophecies, He did not have a red cord on His head, but did have a crown of thorns, as we will see. The blood from his head simulated the red cord. There is also a statement from the Talmud in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem, which says,

The Rabbis taught that forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple the lot did not come up in the [high priest’s] right hand nor did the tongue of scarlet wool become white…. (Tractate Yoma 39b)

Christians have explained the meaning of this phenomenon to show that Jesus’ death on the cross removed sin and that the red cord was no longer necessary, since animal sacrifices had then ceased. Secondly, they said, it ceased to turn white, because the Jewish rejection of Jesus meant that their sins were not forgiven on the Day of Atonement. That is, their sins remained “as scarlet” (Isaiah 1:18).

Rabbi Singer wrote a lengthy article attempting to counter the Christian argument. Part of his argument states,

This is a preposterous notion. In fact, if evangelicals wish to engage in this sophomoric approach, a far more congruous argument could be made here using their same line of reasoning. We can, utilizing the same course of logic, conclude that the reason the scarlet strip of wool did not turn white was due to the fact that masses of wayward Jews had followed the false messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, rather than attributing the reason for the scarlet strip of wool not turning white to the rejection of Jesus, it can be more steadily asserted that the reason this transformation didn’t occur was due to the fact that many Jewish people had shamefully embraced Christianity. In fact, such an interpretation would be far more consistent with the whole of the Talmud.


Rabbi Singer’s second argument is this:

The second point, however, presents a far more serious problem for Christian apologists. If in fact, as the “Hebrew-Christian” insisted, the reason that the scarlet wool strip did not turn white was “because Jesus was the final atonement,” and there was thus no longer any need for animal sacrifices, why then are the same animal sacrifices coming back? Christians have very little room to maneuver on this matter, because the Bible is quite clear that the animal sacrificial system will be restored in the messianic age…. Clearly, God has not done away with them as evidenced by the fact that these elaborate Temple rituals [in Ezekiel 43-44] will be restored with the advent of the messiah.

Rabbi Singer does not dispute the text of the Talmud which says that the red cord ceased to turn white around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. His argument focuses fully on the interpretation of this phenomenon, giving the Jewish perspective. He attributes it to the fact that so many Jews considered Jesus to be the Messiah, and he says that animal sacrifices were not replaced by a greater sacrifice.

The fact is, modern evangelical Christianity has indeed taught that animal sacrifices will be reintroduced when a third temple is built in Jerusalem. I have talked to preachers who insist that Ezekiel 43 and 44 are to be interpreted according to the Old Covenant, rather than in light of the New. The Scofield Bible note on Ezekiel 43:19 says,

Doubtless these offerings will be memorial, looking back to the cross, as the offerings under the old covenant were anticipatory, looking forward to the cross. In neither case have animal sacrifices power to put away sin.


Scofield believed that God would institute animal sacrifices in the messianic age as a “memorial,” though not actually having “power to put away sin.” Even so, the view lends credence to Rabbi Singer’s argument, because Scofield agreed that animal sacrifices would indeed be brought back. Indeed, the Jews have every intention of performing animal sacrifices in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, and they do not see it as a mere “memorial” of what was done in times past.

The book of Hebrews says nothing of such future memorials, arguing that the old has been replaced by the new. Why would God want people to remember a system of worship that was fatally flawed from the start? There is no need for such memorials to a flawed system of worship, for Hebrews 8:7 says,

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.

It was for this very reason that the New Covenant was necessary. Hebrews 8:13 concludes,

13 When He said, “a new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

If God will want men to remember, or memorialize, the Old Covenant and its “obsolete” system of worship, how could it possibly “disappear”? Further, Hebrews 10:1-4 says,

1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

If God were to reintroduce animal sacrifices as a “memorial,” its purpose would run contrary to that of the New Covenant. Since the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, the Old Covenant worshipers needed to be reminded of their sins each year (on the Day of Atonement). The whole point of the passage above is to show that we do not need such a “memorial” any more, “because the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins.” In other words, we no longer have a constant sense of guilt, because the blood of the perfect Sacrifice has resolved the problem.

In conclusion, though, we see how the events at that Passover, wherein Christ was crucified, was the main event being fulfilled, but at the same time on a secondary level we also see elements of the Day of Atonement being referenced in the gospel narrative. This was necessary because the Day of Atonement involved two goats, picturing both the first and the second work of Christ.

This is the 137th part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones