Back in the Old Testament when there was a tabernacle or temple standing, it included a room called “the most holy place” or “the holy of holies.” This was where the ark of the covenant was and a heavy veil separated it from the rest of the inner temple. It wasn’t a place that people, even the priests, could just walk into.
and Yahweh said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother, not to come at all times into the Most Holy Place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark; lest he die: for I will appear in the cloud on the mercy seat. (Lev. 16:2, WEB)
The only time someone could enter this most holy place was on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. Even then only the high priest could go in and only if he followed the proper rules for entering a place God had sanctified.
But why bring this up now? We don’t have a temple or a priesthood or sacrifices anymore. And many Christians will say all that Old Testament stuff belong in the past. Or does it? There actually is a temple today, for “you are a temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16, WEB). There’s a priesthood, too, because Jesus Christ is the High Priest and He has “an unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:24, KJV). We’re even included in that because we’re meant “to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet. 2:5, WEB). So given these facts, what can we learn from Yom Kippur today?
Temples Defiled By Association
When I was re-reading Leviticus 16, I was surprised to notice that the high priest was told to “make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins” (Lev. 16:16, 33 WEB). I knew he was to make atonement for himself and “all the assembly of Israel,” but hadn’t noticed the holy place needed atoned for as well (Lev. 16:17, 30). There was something about being in the midst of an unclean, sinful people that defiled even the part of the temple where God’s presence appeared.
Today, the church body is described as a temple of God (there’s also a temple talked about in heaven, which we’ll get to later). The Greek word used in those passages is always naos (G3485), which refers to the inner sanctuary rather than the entire temple complex (which would be hieron, G2411). We are now God’s most holy place. And like the other holy of holies, we can become defiled by choice (see 1 Cor. 3:16-17) or by the sinful world around us. Read more