by Mark Robinson
“Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple…the lot [“For the Lord”] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the western-most light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves.”
The Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed Yoma, Volume 1, Yoma 39b
The above, almost a throw away comment, from the Talmud, a work of multiple volumes and thousands of pages, is a fascinating statement. Very few in the Jewish1 and Christian world are aware of this statement from the Talmud. It is impossible to ascertain the factual correctness of this statement, but the application of this to Jesus and His fulfilling the type of the Day of Atonement is insightful. First, though, we need to briefly consider the biblical teaching of the Day of Atonement. The primary text is Leviticus 16.
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat,” vs. 2.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was the one time a year, when one man, the High Priest, was able to enter the holy of holies, where the presence of God was, and not die from being in the presence of God. The awesomeness of this day is captured by this truth. Sinful man, and we are all sinners, has no hope of mercy and forgiveness if we approach God our way.
“And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering,” vs. 5.
The High Priest was to take two goats for a sin offering. Notice that the sin offering consisted of two goats, but one offering.
“And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness,” vs. 7-10.
The two goats would be presented to the LORD and lots cast. One would end up being the blood sacrifice that God required, Leviticus 16:15-17, and this blood sacrifice was for the entire nation.
The second goat was the scapegoat and was for the people. A scapegoat as defined by one online dictionary is “a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.”
“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,” vs. 21.
All of the nation of Israel’s sins were symbolically placed on the scapegoat. This goat was taken into the wilderness and let loose, being thrown off a mountain, assuring it would not be able to make its way back into the camp of Israel, as it carried all their sins.
So this one sin offering was made up of two parts. The first being a blood sacrifice and the second being a goat who would innocently bear the sins of the people of Israel and pay their sin penalty by dying.
Isaiah 53 is among the mountain-tops of Messianic prophecy. Probably more Jewish people have accepted Jesus as Messiah from reading this chapter than any other passage in the Jewish scripture. It foretells the entire breadth of Jesus’ ministry – from His birth, ministry, death, resurrection to His return as King. It also brings insight on the Yom Kippur sacrifice and how it is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.
“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand,” vs. 10.
God was satisfied with the sin offering Messiah, Jesus, made when He died for our sins. Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 9:12 declares, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”
Not only was Jesus the perfect, eternally efficacious blood sacrifice God requires for forgiveness of sin, but He was THE scapegoat! “For Messiah also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit,” 1 Peter 1:18.
Hebrews chapter nine and ten bring in focus the Day of Atonement and Jesus as its fulfillment in vivid color and graphic detail.
Hebrews 9:24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28 So Christ 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.
It is worthwhile to read the entire chapters of Leviticus 16, Isaiah 53, and then Hebrews 9 and 10. When this is done it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur. He is our blood sacrifice and our scapegoat, who paid for the sins of the entire world, John 3:16.
What about Yoma 39b?
According to the text of Yoma 39b, there were 4 things that did not take place during the last 40 years of the standing of the 2nd Temple which was destroyed in 70 A.D. As mentioned earlier, whether historically factual or not, the mention of these in the Jewish Talmud, and its correlation with the ministry of Jesus at the beginning of these 40 years is interesting, to say the least.
1. According to rabbinic understanding the choosing of the lots for the two goats was important. If the lot for the sin offering goat was drawn by the right hand of the High Priest, it was a sign from God that the blood sacrifice was acceptable. According to this passage from the Talmud, the lot for the sin-offering goat NEVER was drawn by the right hand of the High Priest in the last 40 years of the 2nd Temple, 30 A.D. to 70 A.D. If this indeed did happen, it would be a sign that God’s Yom Kippur sacrifice, Messiah Jesus, was His acceptable blood sacrifice and was a repudiation of the yearly sacrifice that was still practiced on Yom Kippur. God did put an emphatic end to this practice when the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
2. Jewish tradition says that there was a crimson colored strap attached to the scapegoat as well as one to the horns of the altar. When God accepted the scapegoat offering for the people the crimson strap turned white (read Isaiah 1:18 where it says in part “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”) But, for the last 40 years of the 2nd Temple, it never turned white. Certainly, this would attest to the One who alone could bring us forgiveness of sins and make us righteous in God’s sight – Jesus the Messiah.
3. The western-most light was understood to be the central light of the 7 branch menorah in the Holy Place. The command was that this light should always be lit – Leviticus 24:1-4. According to the passage in Yoma 39b, this light would not stay lit for the 40 years from 30 A.D. to 70 A.D. When Jesus, in the Temple area, emphatically declared to Israel, “…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,” John 8:12, there should be no confusion that the True light, Jesus, was now present and the Holy Place light was no longer needed. No wonder it would not stay lit.
4. The final comment of Yoma 39b was the that doors of the Temple could not stay closed. These were huge doors and according to Jewish sources would require many men to open and close them. Why would they not stay closed according to Yoma 39b? When Jesus died we are told, “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent,” Matthew 27:51. The very thick veil, it is believed to be from 4 – 6 inches thick, separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place in the Temple, was torn in two! The doors staying opened enabled people to see that the way into the presence of God is now available to all. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh,” Hebrews 10:19-20.
Once again, it matters not whether the statement of Yoma 39b is historically accurate. The infallible accuracy of Leviticus 16, Isaiah 53, and Hebrews 9 and 10 establishes that Jesus is the “Day of Atonement’ that God provided for Jew and Gentile.
Your sins can be forgiven. They can be made “white as snow.” But, it only comes through recognizing that Jesus is your blood sacrifice and scapegoat. He died, unjustly, taking your penalty of sin upon Himself, that you might be forgiven your sins.
This is done simply by faith, believing (calling) on the Lord Jesus, and acknowledging His dying for your sins, rising from the grave, and being your “Day of Atonement.”
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:9-13
- There is an extremely small number of ultra-orthodox Jewish people who attempt to refute the beliefs of Jewish believers in Jesus by providing answers as to why different passages don’t speak of Jesus as Messiah. These include Messianic prophecy and texts such as Yoma 39b. The author of this article has written a response to their comments on Yoma 39b. Contact Jewish Awareness Ministries and we will send it to you.