The devil doesn’t like any of God’s holy days, but the Day of Atonement is particularly onerous to him. How should Christians today view this day?
When I was young and just learning to celebrate God’s annual holy days, the Day of Atonement was difficult for me to appreciate. While all of God’s commanded assemblies are collectively termed “feasts” (Leviticus 23:2, 4), the one observed on the 10th day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar—the Day of Atonement—had no feasting at all!
Instead of enjoying nice food and drink as our family did on the other holy days, this day was a day of afflicting our souls by fasting. This meant we were not to eat food or drink liquids for a full 24 hours (Leviticus 23:32; Esther 4:16).
While I recall a minister teaching that this holy day was a time for feasting on spiritual food, that explanation didn’t help my empty stomach. As a tall, skinny youngster with a rapid metabolism, going without food and drink for this length of time was … well, unpleasant to put it mildly. My soul truly was afflicted—which was and is the intent of fasting.
When the seemingly extra-long day finally came to an end and my spirit revived as I ravenously partook of food and drink, I can remember feeling relieved that it would be a whole year before we would observe this day again.
So I quickly learned the “being afflicted” part of the Day of Atonement. What took me a little longer to learn was the positive meaning of this day for me and all of mankind. (Parents who are teaching their children to observe the Day of Atonement should do so by letting them fast for only part of the day—gradually longer each year until they are old enough to do it for the full 24 hours.)
The positive side of the Day of Atonement
One of the great meanings of this holy day is found in its name. It is a day when atonement is made. To atone for something means to make amends, reparation, restitution or compensation for something. This day teaches us that humanity will be offered atonement for its sins and given a chance to be reconciled to God.
While Christians, who have been called to repentance now, can be forgiven of their sins whenever they repent (1 John 1:9; Acts 3:19), the Day of Atonement focuses on how the amazing blessing of the reconciliation of the world to God will be offered after the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, once Jesus Christ has returned. This most generous and undeserved gift of reconciliation is made possible by Jesus Christ.
The Bible teaches that the result of sin is death and that everyone has sinned (Romans 6:23; 3:23). As such, we all deserve death. The forgiveness of our sins upon our repentance is made possible because Jesus gave His life in our stead. God the Father “made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
As the Scriptures note, Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). We are “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10).
When we come to understand the magnitude of this astounding gift of reconciliation and forgiveness that will be offered to the whole world—which we are reminded of on the Day of Atonement—this holy day takes on profound meaning. What an amazing blessing God is offering to humanity!
Emphasizing just how significant it was to observe this holy day, God told the ancient Israelites that anyone who didn’t observe the day by fasting or who worked on it would be “cut off from his people” (Leviticus 23:29-30). Observing this day was obviously very important back then and still is today.
Fasting helps us realize that the meaning of the Day of Atonement is critical to our future and the future of the whole world. Physically, we are reminded that we can’t survive without food and drink. Similarly, without the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to God, we have no spiritual future!
Why Satan hates this holy day
As our adversary, Satan constantly works to deceive us and to get us to sin, which sabotages our relationship with God (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:9). Because he is actively trying to keep humans from becoming members of God’s eternal family, Satan certainly isn’t pleased with a holy day that pictures our reconciliation with God.
In addition to the overall meaning of reconciliation with God on the Day of Atonement, there are two more aspects of this holy day that likewise anger Satan.
First, fasting done right, that is, in genuine humility, draws us closer to God and causes Satan to shy away from us. As James explains: “‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:6-8, 10, emphasis added).
It must be especially infuriating for Satan to see humans humbling themselves before their Creator—so much so that he can’t stand being around such conduct. And if he can’t bring himself to be around humans who are drawing close to God, he doesn’t have the opportunity to work against them as he normally does.
Thus, the meaning of our reconciliation with God includes the departure of Satan from us. This departure, of course, is only temporary. Satan will soon be back to do his dirty work and to try to deceive us if he can. But for one day—the Day of Atonement—Satan loses a lot of his influence on those who humble themselves before God.
The bad news for Satan is that this holy day pictures a time when he will be restrained from deceiving people for 1,000 years.There is still one more meaning behind the Day of Atonement that is good news for humans and bad news for Satan. The bad news for Satan is that this holy day pictures a time when he will be restrained from deceiving people for 1,000 years.
Describing this future event, John wrote: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:1-3).
With Satan restrained and unable to deceive people, everyone will have the opportunity to clearly understand God’s way of life, repent of his or her sins, and receive salvation. This is wonderful news for humanity.
For Satan, however, it is surely going to be a time of frustration and anger because when he is restrained, he will be helpless to prevent thousands upon thousands of people from reconciling with their Creator and receiving eternal life.
A clearer perspective
As I grew older, it became easier for me to fast, and I learned what great news the Day of Atonement represents for us humans and what bad news it represents for Satan. I still miss food and liquids when I fast, but I now observe this holy day with respect and understanding. And to be honest, I enjoy it just a bit more knowing what it means for Satan and why he hates it so much.
Sidebar: Two Goats and the Day of Atonement
Under the Old Covenant with ancient Israel, a special ceremony involving two goats was prescribed for the Day of Atonement.
One of the goats was killed as a sin offering, and the high priest would go into the holiest part of the tabernacle and sprinkle some of this goat’s blood on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:15-16). This goat and the ritual associated with it prefigured the New Covenant means of reconciliation with God—the sacrifice of Jesus, who would pay the penalty for our sins.
The high priest would lay his hands on the second goat and confess over it all the sins of the people. Then it was released in the wilderness (Leviticus 16:21-22, 34; Hebrews 9:7). This goat represented Satan and his deception of people (1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9).
The placing of sins on the goat’s head indicates Satan’s role in leading people into sin. The Day of Atonement pictures the future binding of Satan for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3).
For further study of this unique ceremony, see the article “Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement.”