It is important, in reference to the meaning of the day of atonement, to observe the order of the rites as they are described in these verses.
A censer - See Exodus 25:38 note.
The altar before the Lord - i. e. the altar of burnt-offering on which the fire was always burning.
The high priest must have come out from the most holy place to fetch the blood, leaving the censer smoking within, and then have entered again within the veil. He sprinkled the blood seven times upon the mercy-seat, on its east side (not “eastward”), and then seven times upon the floor in front of it. If the mercy-seat may be regarded as an altar, the holiest one of the three, on this one occasion in the year atonement was thus made for it, as for the other altars, with sacrificial blood.
Having completed the atonement in the holy of holies on behalf of the priests, the high priest had now to do the same thing on behalf of the people.
The “holy place” - Here the place within the veil, the holy of holies.
Tabernacle of the congregation - tent of meeting. atonement was now to be made for the tabernacle as a whole. The sense is very briefly expressed, but there seems to be no room to doubt that the high priest was to sprinkle the blood of each of the victims before the altar of incense, as he had done before the mercy-seat within the veil; and also to touch with blood the horns of the altar of incense Exodus 30:10.
That remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness - Compare Leviticus 16:19. The most sacred earthly things which came into contact with the nature of man needed from time to time to be cleansed and sanctified by the blood of the sin-offerings which had been taken into the presence of Yahweh. See Exodus 28:38 note.
The order of the ceremony required that atonement should first be made for the most holy place with the mercy-seat, then for the holy place with the golden altar, and then for the altar in the court. See Leviticus 16:20, Leviticus 16:33. The horns of the brazen altar were touched with the blood, as they were in the ordinary sin-offerings. Leviticus 4:25, Leviticus 4:30, Leviticus 4:34.
Of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat - Some of the blood of the two victims was mingled together in a basin.
Confess over him - The form of confession used on this occasion in later times was: “O Lord, Thy people, the house of Israel, have transgressed, they have rebelled, they have sinned before Thee. I beseech Thee now absolve their transgressions, their rebellion, and their sin that they have sinned against Thee, as it is written in the law of Moses Thy servant, that on this day he shall make atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins, and ye shall be clean.”
A fit man - literally, a timely man, or a man at hand. Tradition says that the man was appointed for this work the year before.
Unto a land not inhabited - Unto a place cut off, or (as in the margin) a place “of separation.”
It is evident that the one signification of the ceremony of this goat was the complete removal of the sins which were confessed over him. No symbol could so plainly set forth the completeness of Yahweh‘s acceptance of the penitent, as a sin-offering in which a life was given up for the altar, and yet a living being survived to carry away all sin and uncleanness.
These sacred apartments had no windows to give light. The candlestick was made of purest gold, and was kept burning night and day, and gave light to both apartments. The light of the lamps upon the candlestick reflected upon the boards plated with gold, at the sides of the building, and upon the sacred furniture, and upon the curtains of beautiful colors with cherubims wrought with threads of gold and silver, which appearance was glorious beyond description. No language can describe the beauty and loveliness, and sacred glory, which these apartments presented. The gold in the sanctuary reflected the colors of the curtains, which appeared like the different colors of the rainbow. 4aSG 9.1
Only once a year could the high priest enter into the most holy place, after the most careful and solemn preparation. No mortal eye but that of the high priest could look upon the sacred grandeur of that apartment, because it was the especial dwelling-place of God's visible glory. The high priest always entered it with trembling, while the people waited his return with solemn silence. Their earnest desires were to God for his blessing. Before the mercy-seat God conversed with the high priest. If he remained an unusual time in the most holy, the people were often terrified, fearing that because of their sins, or some sin of the priest, the glory of the Lord had slain him. But when the sound of the tinkling of the bells upon his garments was heard, they were greatly relieved. He then came forth and blessed the people. 4aSG 9.2Read in context »
Such was the work that went on day by day throughout the year. The sins of Israel being thus transferred to the sanctuary, the holy places were defiled, and a special work became necessary for the removal of the sins. God commanded that an atonement be made for each of the sacred apartments, as for the altar, to “cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.” Leviticus 16:19. PP 355.1
Once a year, on the great Day of Atonement, the priest entered the most holy place for the cleansing of the sanctuary. The work there performed completed the yearly round of ministration. PP 355.2
On the Day of Atonement two kids of the goats were brought to the door of the tabernacle, and lots were cast upon them, “one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.” The goat upon which the first lot fell was to be slain as a sin offering for the people. And the priest was to bring his blood within the veil, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat. “And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins; and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.” PP 355.3
“And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited.” Not until the goat had been thus sent away did the people regard themselves as freed from the burden of their sins. Every man was to afflict his soul while the work of atonement was going forward. All business was laid aside, and the whole congregation of Israel spent the day in solemn humiliation before God, with prayer, fasting, and deep searching of heart. PP 355.4
Important truths concerning the atonement were taught the people by this yearly service. In the sin offerings presented during the year, a substitute had been accepted in the sinner's stead; but the blood of the victim had not made full atonement for the sin. It had only provided a means by which the sin was transferred to the sanctuary. By the offering of blood, the sinner acknowledged the authority of the law, confessed the guilt of his transgression, and expressed his faith in Him who was to take away the sin of the world; but he was not entirely released from the condemnation of the law. On the Day of Atonement the high priest, having taken an offering for the congregation, went into the most holy place with the blood and sprinkled it upon the mercy seat, above the tables of the law. Thus the claims of the law, which demanded the life of the sinner, were satisfied. Then in his character of mediator the priest took the sins upon himself, and, leaving the sanctuary, he bore with him the burden of Israel's guilt. At the door of the tabernacle he laid his hands upon the head of the scapegoat and confessed over him “all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat.” And as the goat bearing these sins was sent away, they were, with him, regarded as forever separated from the people. Such was the service performed “unto the example and shadow of heavenly things.” Hebrews 8:5. PP 355.5Read in context »
The ministration of the earthly sanctuary consisted of two divisions; the priests ministered daily in the holy place, while once a year the high priest performed a special work of atonement in the most holy, for the cleansing of the sanctuary. Day by day the repentant sinner brought his offering to the door of the tabernacle and, placing his hand upon the victim's head, confessed his sins, thus in figure transferring them from himself to the innocent sacrifice. The animal was then slain. “Without shedding of blood,” says the apostle, there is no remission of sin. “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” Leviticus 17:11. The broken law of God demanded the life of the transgressor. The blood, representing the forfeited life of the sinner, whose guilt the victim bore, was carried by the priest into the holy place and sprinkled before the veil, behind which was the ark containing the law that the sinner had transgressed. By this ceremony the sin was, through the blood, transferred in figure to the sanctuary. In some cases the blood was not taken into the holy place; but the flesh was then to be eaten by the priest, as Moses directed the sons of Aaron, saying: “God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation.” Leviticus 10:17. Both ceremonies alike symbolized the transfer of the sin from the penitent to the sanctuary. GC 418.1
Such was the work that went on, day by day, throughout the year. The sins of Israel were thus transferred to the sanctuary, and a special work became necessary for their removal. God commanded that an atonement be made for each of the sacred apartments. “He shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.” An atonement was also to be made for the altar, to “cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.” Leviticus 16:16, 19. GC 418.2Read in context »
The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament.” Revelation 11:19. The ark of God's testament is in the holy of holies, the second apartment of the sanctuary. In the ministration of the earthly tabernacle, which served “unto the example and shadow of heavenly things,” this apartment was opened only upon the great Day of Atonement for the cleansing of the sanctuary. Therefore the announcement that the temple of God was opened in heaven and the ark of His testament was seen points to the opening of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844 as Christ entered there to perform the closing work of the atonement. Those who by faith followed their great High Priest as He entered upon His ministry in the most holy place, beheld the ark of His testament. As they had studied the subject of the sanctuary they had come to understand the Saviour's change of ministration, and they saw that He was now officiating before the ark of God, pleading His blood in behalf of sinners. GC 433.1
The ark in the tabernacle on earth contained the two tables of stone, upon which were inscribed the precepts of the law of God. The ark was merely a receptacle for the tables of the law, and the presence of these divine precepts gave to it its value and sacredness. When the temple of God was opened in heaven, the ark of His testament was seen. Within the holy of holies, in the sanctuary in heaven, the divine law is sacredly enshrined—the law that was spoken by God Himself amid the thunders of Sinai and written with His own finger on the tables of stone. GC 433.2Read in context »
In the typical service only those who had come before God with confession and repentance, and whose sins, through the blood of the sin offering, were transferred to the sanctuary, had a part in the service of the Day of Atonement. So in the great day of final atonement and investigative judgment the only cases considered are those of the professed people of God. The judgment of the wicked is a distinct and separate work, and takes place at a later period. “Judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel?” 1 Peter 4:17. GC 480.1
The books of record in heaven, in which the names and the deeds of men are registered, are to determine the decisions of the judgment. Says the prophet Daniel: “The judgment was set, and the books were opened.” The revelator, describing the same scene, adds: “Another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Revelation 20:12. GC 480.2
The book of life contains the names of all who have ever entered the service of God. Jesus bade His disciples: “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20. Paul speaks of his faithful fellow workers, “whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians 4:3. Daniel, looking down to “a time of trouble, such as never was,” declares that God's people shall be delivered, “everyone that shall be found written in the book.” And the revelator says that those only shall enter the city of God whose names “are written in the Lamb's book of life.” Daniel 12:1; Revelation 21:27. GC 480.3Read in context »