The book of Hebrews is brimming with Priestly metaphors, comparisons and content.
It is difficult to comprehend this letter or the thoughts of the people reading it without a basic knowledge Hebrew Priestly rites.
Let’s begin by looking at the Day of Atonement. There is no better way to see the work of the High Priests and how Christ is a greater than they.
The Jewish day of repentance, or Yom Kippur as it is called today, is held on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which is nine days after the first day of Rosh Hoshanah (sometime in September or October).
Traditionally, the High Priest began that day by ritually cleansing himself and putting on symbolic garb.
The first layer would be his elaborate robe with breastplate, signifying how he carried the people close to his heart.
The second layer was an ephod (or elaborate vest of sorts) hung from his shoulders, representing the twelve tribes of Israel and his power to represent them.
After completing his dress he sacrifice animals for his own sin and on his own behalf. It was vital that, before he atone for the sins of the people, his were covered. He may have sacrificed twenty-two different animals before he ever reached the main event.
After this custom, he ritually bathed once again, removing his tarnished garment – tainted from his own sin.
The Priest then put on a white linen garment – with no decoration or ornament whatsoever – and perform the sacrifice of atonement.
This sacrifice symbolized Christ, Who, in His true and perfect work of atonement, was stripped of all His glory and beauty and became the humblest of humble. He dressed Himself in human flesh – pure, but plain and unadorned.
After the sacrifice, the High Priest took coals from the bronze altar, where the final sacrifice would be made, and put them in a gold censer with incense to carry it into the Holy of Holies where it remained for the duration of the sacrifice.
He then went out and took a bullock purchased with his own money, and after slaughtering it and offering the sacrifice, he had another priest assist him in catching the blood.
Swirling some of the blood in a small bowl, he carried it into the Holy of Holies where he sprinkled it on the mercy seat. When the Priest was done with the sacrifice of atonement, he redressed himself in the beautiful and glorious robes once again.
The people could hear the tiny bells on the edge of his robe as he moved about once again.
When he came out of the Holy of Holies, two goats were waiting for him by the bronze altar. In a small urn were two lots to determine which goat would be used for which purpose. One lot was marked for the Lord and the other for Azazel, or the scapegoat.
Each lot was drawn and was tied to the horn of one of the goats. The animal designated for Jehovah was killed on the altar, its blood caught and sprinkled in the same way as the bullock’s.
The Priest would then come back out and place his hands on the goat that remained,symbolically resting the sins of the people on the goat’s head. This the scapegoat was taken far out into the wilderness and turned loose to be lost and never return.
The first goat represented satisfaction of God’s justice (expiation), in that sin had been paid for. The second represented satisfaction of man’s conscience, because he knew he was freed of the penalty of sin.
Reading Hebrews chapter nine and understanding its symbolism, with this basic knowledge of the Day of Atonement, is much easier with a greater understanding of the sacrifice Christ made on man’s behalf.