Yom Kippur: A Day to Prepare Our Wedding Garments

—by David R. Parsons, ICEJ Vice President and Senior Spokesman


“For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” (Hebrews 7:26-27)

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and most Jews worldwide take it very seriously. It marks the day when the people of Israel are to stand before God as one and give an account for their moral lives, and then await His judgment. Recent studies show that the vast majority (85+ percent) of Israeli Jews fast on this day. The streets are empty, the TV and radio go silent. Everyone is dressed in white. It is hard to find another nation which observes such a solemn day with such respect each year.

The name Yom Kippur also means “the day of covering” – a reference to the mercy seat (kapporeth) covering the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies in the ancient Jewish temples. The High Priest had to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial goat on this mercy seat to atone for the sins of the nation. Thus, the word kippur – which means to atone, purge or cover. It comes from the Hebrew root word kaphar, which first appears in Scripture in connection with the pitch used to seal Noah’s ark in Genesis 7. This waterproof seal saved the lives of Noah and his family. So, an atonement or covering for our sins is immensely important.

In Leviticus 23, God singles out Yom Kippur as a day when the Jewish people must “afflict your soul” (Leviticus 23:26-32). This is taken to mean that we should humble and abase ourselves, weaken our own wills, admit our wrongs, and plead for forgiveness.

Meanwhile, Leviticus 16 outlines the special duties of the High Priest at the Temple on Yom Kippur. This was the only day each year when Israel’s High Priest was allowed to enter beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies, and he was to do so twice; once for Himself and once for the people. He was first tested as to whether he or his family had sin, and if he reappeared from behind the curtain it was a good sign. This then allowed him to go back in a second time to sprinkle blood on behalf of the sins of the people. His duties included having to place incense on the “censor,” lest he die, and then sprinkle blood seven times on the mercy seat.

Why test the High Priest in this fashion? Aaron, the first High Priest, had made the Golden Calf, while his sons had offered strange fire. It was God’s mercy to allow him to be High Priest and he had to prove himself anew to be serious about his important role.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that Moses had already set the pattern for the High Priest’s duties on Yom Kippur. Moses ascended the mountain twice for 40 days each time to stand before the Lord to receive the law. The first time (Exodus 24-31), he passed the test but the people were in rebellion. In Exodus 32-34, Moses went up again to atone (intercede) for the people’s sins, and this time he stayed for 40 days once more, the people were patient, and he came down with the second set of tablets. Yet his face shone so brightly from being in the Lord’s presence that the people were afraid, so Moses put a veil over his face. Now, Jewish tradition holds that he ascended on the first day of the month of Elul and came back down with the tablets on the tenth of Tishri, which is Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur in the New Testament

There are many references and allusions to Yom Kippur in the New Testament. For instance, in Revelation chapters 6, 8 and 11 we find imagery from the High Priest’s duties on the Day of Atonement, such as incense being placed on the censor, and the ark of the covenant being seen in the Temple above. There also are several New Testament references to the “Book of Life” – which are based on Yom Kippur traditions.

The Book of Hebrews, of course, has the most extensive treatment of Yom Kippur, which is held up as a core part of the Mosaic covenant that served as a yearly reminder of sin. But it presents the New Covenant as being built on better promises, because it was given through a better mediator. Here, Jesus is compared not only to the Aaronic priesthood, but to Moses as well as mediator of the covenant at Sinai.

Every covenant required a death, meaning some person or animal had to be sacrificed to seal the covenant. And just as the High Priests under the Mosaic law were tested on Yom Kippur, Jesus also was first tested by His suffering and death, qualifying Him to be our eternal High Priest and Lord of all (Ephesians 2:5-11; Hebrews 4:15). Indeed, he was perfected by his obedience in all the things he suffered (Luke 13:32; Hebrews 7:28). Then he reappeared – the Resurrection – because he was without sin, and thereby became the Judge of all men (Acts 2:22-33, 17:30-32). And when he sprinkled his blood on the mercy seat in heaven, he atoned forever for the sins of those who trust in his sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27).

Hebrews 5:7-11 affirms that Jesus … “in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek…”

It also is important to note here the biblical truth that the blood of Jesus speaks on our behalf in heaven, as that is where he sprinkled his blood on the mercy seat (Hebrews 9:23-24, 12:24).

Thus we can see the connection between Jesus being tested and dying at Passover and then fulfilling the further priestly role foreshadowed in Yom Kippur when he ascended to the Father and placed his blood on the ark in the heavenly temple on behalf of all who believe in him. Yet Yom Kippur has further prophetic significance, especially in connection with the Second Coming of Jesus. This also is borne out in the New Testament, as seen in the Parable of the Wedding Feast.

Parable of the Wedding Feast

The Parable of the Wedding Feast told by Jesus appears in Matthew 22:1-14 and is paralleled by the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:7-24. In Second Temple times, a wedding was a very sacred and joyous thing. The feasting and merriment even lasted for up to a week or more, and it was considered a mitzva (good deed) to share in the joy of the occasion. When Jesus told this parable, his hearers understand the picture he was creating because such traditional weddings were a part of Jewish culture.

Thus we read in Matthew 22 that a certain king arranged a marriage for his son, and invited the usual list of nobles and elite, but they all had better things to do, and some even killed the king’s servants. So, he sent out more servants to invite people from the highways and hedges – both bad and good. In Luke 14:15-24, it is described as a Great Banquet but presumably it is a wedding feast, as the preceding verses in Luke 14:7-14 have Jesus cautioning us to take the lowly seats at wedding feasts, lest you get bumped from the front row. So, these are very similar parables.

Now, Matthew says the initial invitees were too busy with their businesses and families, while Luke says the high and mighty all made excuses for why they could not attend. But Matthew 22 has an extra scene. Right before the wedding starts, the king comes into the waiting room and inspects all the guests. One man did not have on a wedding garment. The king confronted him, but the man remained silent and offered no excuse. Then the king ordered that he be bound and thrown into outer darkness.

This moment of inspection of the wedding garments is very instructive! The Fall festivals – Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Feast of Tabernacles – are all tied together and all portend the Second Coming of Jesus! They speak prophetically of the Coronation of Jesus as King and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast assumes the listener is familiar with the ancient Oriental custom of the host providing garments for the guests who were invited to a royal feast. In ancient times, kings and wealthy men had wardrobes filled with fancy garments (today called ‘caftans’) as a symbol of their wealth and glory. Examples can be found as follows:

  • Genesis 45:22 – Joseph gives all his brother garments, but three garments to Benjamin.
  • Judges 14:12 – Samson offers 30 linen garments and 30 changes of clothes to answer his riddle.
  • 2 Kings 5:22 – Naaman promises 10 garments plus gold and silver to Elisha.
  • 2 Kings 10:22 – King Jehu gives vestments from wardrobe in the temple of Baal.
  • Esther 6:8 and 8:15 – Haman says: “dress him in royal robes” / Mordechai is the one dressed in royal apparel.

Even today, at very posh country clubs and restaurants, there are similar strict dress codes, and small closets with appropriate dinner jackets and other attire if an improperly dressed guest warrants entry.

In the parable of Jesus, it would have been a great insult to the king to refuse to wear the garments freely offered to the guests. The man who was caught wearing his old clothing learned what an offense it was as he was forcefully removed from the celebration.

This was Jesus’ way of teaching the inadequacy of self-righteousness. From the very beginning, God provided a “covering” for our sin. Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness and shame with fig leaves, but God replaced them with skins of animals, which meant a life had been sacrificed (Genesis 3:7, 21). To insist on covering our shame ourselves is to be clad in “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). In the book of Revelation, we see those in heaven wearing “white robes” (Revelation 7:9), and we learn that the whiteness of the robes is due to their being washed in the blood of the Lamb (verse 14). We trust in God’s righteousness, not our own (Philippians 3:9). Further, the true Church is described as “not having spot, or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27).

Finally, in Revelation 19:6-9, a great multitude has gathered for the “marriage of the Lamb… and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’’

Just as the king provided wedding garments for his guests, God provides salvation for mankind. Our wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ, and unless we have it, we will not be allowed into the Wedding Feast of His dear Son.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon, commenting on the Parable of the Wedding Feast, duly noted that it is the custom in the East for a king to provide robes for his guests. These wedding garments were a sign of grace, freely given and received, and wearing it was a sign of respect for the king and for his son, the bridegroom. So why was the one man speechless? Making excuses is the easiest game in town. But here, there was nothing to be said. He could have easily put on a beautiful flowing robe provided by the king, but he simply did not care. And he stands as a symbol and warning to us all to take heed on how we prepare for our appearance before God.

At Rosh HaShana, the shofar sounds to awaken our souls to a time of awe and introspection, as we are about to stand before the Lord. On Yom Kippur, the verdict is delivered whether we are to be found naked and ashamed or worthy of His grace. If you pass muster, it is time to rejoice in your salvation and join the wedding feast, which is the Feast of Tabernacles!

We now find ourselves in that time of preparation before the Wedding Feast. This Yom Kippur, let us make sure we have clothed ourselves with the righteous garments God has provided through Jesus, our High Priest, and his very blood already sprinkled on the mercy seat in heaven.