Perhaps we think of Yom Kippur as the day that sins are cleansed. It was also the day in which the Holy Place, the Tabernacle, and especially the Altar were cleansed. Leviticus 16:16 connects Yom Kippur with the sanctuary in our midst becoming defiled. The Altar and the Tabernacle whic were to cleanse us became defiled in the process. But cleanness and uncleanness are not simply “moral” categories. The moral was a narrower category called “sin.” The categories of “clean” and “unclean” are related to our subjection to time, decay, change, and death and their incompatibility with One who is Eternal, Sustaining, Unchanging, and Life.
Because this change from unclean to clean is significant, the risk was substantial. The ritual surrounding the cleansing of the Tabernacle could go wrong and destroy those who were attempting to carry it out.
The priest would take sacrificial blood “inside the veil” into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.
When the priest entered the Holy Place the courts of the Temple were cleared of people. The crowd waited outside the gate, hopefully back far enough to be safe from danger. When the Priest had come back out, and cleansed the altar, when the house was fully prepared, the High Priest would open the gates and welcome the people back in.
In Ezekiel 43 there are instructions for cleansing a New Sanctuary established when the Presence of the LORD has returned to His People. In these instructions are seven days of purification offerings that must take place before whole burnt offerings and peace offerings can resume.
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the time of Messiah’s ascension and reign as being the time for the cleansing of the Heavenly Tabernacle (Hebrews 9:23). There is an unfathomable mystery here. At least we can say this connection between Yom Kippur and the Heavenly Tabernacle tells us something crucial about Messiah’s present work and our future hope. When Jesus went to His “Father’s House” to “prepare a place for us” He was not simply going there to dust the furniture and change the sheets. He had come to earth to make sinners fit for Heaven. He has returned to Heaven to make Heaven ready to receive sinners, to receive us, people subject to time, decay, change, and death, so we can be forever with the One who is Eternal, Sustaining, Unchanging and Life. It is just like God to create a Day in which we are to remember our sins and make it impossible on that Day not to also consider our hope. We stop and reflect over our failures this past year only to be stunned awake by memories of our future. Yom Kippur and Heaven, they are closer than they might seem.