“And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died; And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.” (Leviticus 16:1-2)
According to Leviticus 10:1 and Numbers 3:4, Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire on the altar of incense. God had kindled the fire on the brazen altar miraculously, and as we see in Leviticus 16:12-13, the fire for burning the incense was to come from the altar of burnt offering. “And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not.”
Like Balaam, a few years later, they concluded that it didn’t matter if they followed God’s command exactly, or if they modified it to suit their own goals. As a result, God killed them. II Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11, and Revelation 2:14 give pointed warnings about following the philosophy or doctrine of Balaam. After their death, God again gave Moses instructions about how the priests were to perform their duties, warning them of the seriousness of their actions. To come into the presence of God casually, without due respect would be to place their lives in jeopardy. Having seen what happened to Nadab and Abihu, they took him seriously.
“Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.” (Leviticus 16:3-4)
Before he could come into the holy place, the priest had to have bathed and have on his priestly garments. In the New Testament, this portrays the person who has been saved confessing his sin and coming before God in a spirit of humility and worship.
“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. And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.” (Leviticus 16:5-6)
In Hebrews 9:9 we are told that the sacrifices and offerings, like the tabernacle itself were a figure, an illustration or model of what Christ would do in the future. Before he could make an atonement for the people, the high priest had to offer a young bull for atonement for himself.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us Christ “…was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Because he was without sin, Hebrews 7:27-28 declares he “… needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.”
The need for the priest to offer a bullock for his own sin before he could offer a goat for the people illustrates the higher level of righteousness the priest needed to make atonement for sin.
“And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. Le 16:8 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.
And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself: And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not: And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.” (Leviticus 16:7-16)
After bringing the bullock, two goats, and a ram to the tabernacle, they were to select one goat for the sin offering and the other for a scapegoat. The priest was then to offer the bullock for atonement for his own sin, sprinkling the blood on the east side of the mercy seat and burn incense in the Holy of Holies so the smoke would cover the mercy seat. Failure to do this properly could result in his death.
Once he had made atonement for himself, the high priest could sacrifice the goat for the sin offering and make atonement for the people and for the tabernacle, which would be contaminated by constant association with sin. The second goat was not killed.
“And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.” (Leviticus 16:17-19)
During the atonement, there was to be no one present except the priest, until the job was complete. When Jesus was first resurrected, he would not allow Mary to touch him, because the atonement was not yet complete.
Once the blood had been applied to the tabernacle and the mercy seat, the blood was also applied to the horns on the brazen altar and sprinkled upon it, using his finger seven times.
“And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: 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: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:20-22)
The living goat was them brought and Aaron was to place his hands on his head and confess all the sins and violations of God’s law by the nation of Israel, placing the blame on that goat. The goat was then taken into an uninhabited area and released to carry their sin for as long as he lived.
Again this is a picture of what Christ has done for us. Not only was he the sin offering that made atonement for us, he was the scapegoat who took the blame for our sin. I Peter says, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” He said that he take our sins as far as the east is from the west and never remember them again. Unlike the goat, Christ will never die, and as a result, Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “…he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
“And Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there: And he shall wash his flesh with water in the holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering, and the burnt offering of the people, and make an atonement for himself, and for the people. And the fat of the sin offering shall he burn upon the altar.
And he that let go the goat for the scapegoat shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward come into the camp.” (Leviticus 16:23-26)
When the atonement was complete and the scapegoat had been released, the high priest was to go into the Holy place and remove his special high priests garments and bathe. He was to then put on regular priestly garments and offer individual sacrifices for the people. The person who released the scapegoat was to wash his clothes and bathe befor returning to his regular life also.
“And the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall one carry forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung. And he that burneth them shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp.” (Leviticus 16:27-28)
Because they were sin offerings, the bodies of the goat and bullock were to be carried outside the camp to be destroyed. Because he was our sin offering, Christ was crucified outside Jerusalem, and the author of Hebrews stresses that we need to go outside the traditional Jewish belief as well, in Hebrews 13:10-15.
“And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
And the priest, whom he shall anoint, and whom he shall consecrate to minister in the priest's office in his father's stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen clothes, even the holy garments: And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.
And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. And he did as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 16:29-34)
The Day Of Atonement was to be observed every year and is the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. The modern observance is much different than the guidelines given here.