Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the priest would “make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness” (Levitcus 16:16). Again, this “cleansing of the sanctuary” (Daniel 8:14) was accomplished with blood. Only on this day did the High priest go through the inner doors into the Most Holy Place: “Into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered…for the people’s sins committed in ignorance” (Hebrews 9:7). This, like every other sacrifice, represented the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.

The question naturally arises: if a sacrifice was made when the sinner confessed his sins, why was another sacrifice needed later? Note that in Hebrews 9:7 the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement was for “the people’s sins committed in ignorance.” In Leviticus 16:16 it says that atonement was made on the Day of Atonement “for all their sins.” Besides the specific sins the sinner had confessed when he offered his sacrifice, he also had many other sins, some which had been forgotten, sins that he committed after he brought his sacrifice, others which he did not realize were sins, and his general sinful nature. These sins also required atonement, and like all forgiveness, there must first be repentance. But since these sins were “committed in ignorance,” repentance of them would be determined by his general attitude toward sin on the Day of Atonement.

This attitude toward sin was indicated by his behavior on that day: the people were to “afflict (their) souls and do no work at all.” “It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls” (Leviticus 16:29, 23:32).[1] This was crucial, because “any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people” (Leviticus 23:29). And so this was a day of judgment in which repentance of all sin, known and unknown, was determined by an inward attitude (afflicted in soul) and an outward symbol of obedience (keeping the "Sabbath of solemn rest").[2] It was not enough to make a profession of repentance at some point in time and expect that to cover all future behavior. The forgiven sinner had to continue in the same attitude of repentance and submission.

The Bible does not teach “once saved, always saved,”[3] but rather “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor and immortality" (Romans 2:7). The Day of Atonement symbolized the total eradication of every record of sin that has been confessed and forsaken. “When we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7). These sins, being forgiven, are removed from us, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). But even in the depths of the sea there is still a record of those sins, symbolized by the pollution of the sanctuary by blood. In addition there were the “sins committed in ignorance,” discussed above. During the heavenly Day of Atonement, there is a judgment made in favor of those who have continued in faith, and every record and trace of all their sins is permanently obliterated.

Continue to next section: THE SCAPEGOAT

[1] The Day of Atonement was the most solemn of all the feasts. On other feasts the people were to do “no customary work” (Leviticus 23:8,21,25,35) but on the Day of Atonement they were to do “no work whatsoever on pain of death” (Leviticus 23:30,31). In fact, the Day of Atonement is referred to in Leviticus 16:31 as the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" (literal translation).

[2] The keeping of the Sabbath is not a commandment that “makes sense” like refraining from murder or the worship of idols, but is simply based on the fact that God said to keep it. As such it symbolizes willingness to obey all His commands. “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath” (Exodus 16:28,29).

[3] Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). He declares, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:28,29). However, He never takes away our freedom of choice and we ourselves can, by continuing in sin, decide to leave His hand. The following texts make it clear that those who have accepted Christ’s salvation can later leave Him and be lost. Hebrews 6:4, 10:26, 35-38, 1 Timothy 1:19, 6:20,21, Matthew 18:23-35, Ezekiel 18:24, Romans 11:17-24, 1 Corinthians 9:27, 15:2, Colossians 1:22,23, 1 Thessalonians 3:8, 2 Peter 1:10, 2:20,21, 3:17, 1 John 5:12,13, Revelation 2:4,5. For an excellent treatment of the doctrine of perseverance see Robert Shank, Life in the Son by (Bloomington, MI, Bethany House, 1989).