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Eugene W. Prewitt

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The Day of Cleansing

The Day of Cleansing

I realized more than a month ago that though I had been using the word “atonement” for twenty years, I would be at a loss if asked to give a concise definition. Was atonement forgiveness? Is atonement the same as sacrifice? Is mediation the same as atonement?

We live in the Day of Atonement. What does that mean? Is atonement the same as judgment?

While searching scripture I learned much about truth and duty. And now I know what “atonement” means for those living in the Day of Atonement.

Atonement Happened Year-round

First, many Adventists have entered into argument about the timing of the atonement. Did it occur at the cross? Is it going on now?

The Jewish Year was a prophecy of redemption history. Early in the year the Passover was killed, representing the death of Jesus. The Pentecost occurred fifty days later as a figure of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the seventh month, representing the end of time, there was a feast of trumpets that represented a warning of coming judgment. Then came the Day of Atonement.

But atonement was made long before the Day of Atonement. It occurred, for example, on both the Passover and the Feast of Trumpets. Nu 28:22; 29:5.

At the cross Jesus made “reconciliation for iniquity.” The word “reconciliation” in Daniel 9:24 is the same translated “atonement” elsewhere in the Old Testament. And it is to this atonement that Romans 5:11 refers. Atonement was made at the cross.

Atonement was also made for sins whenever men confessed them and offered a sin offering. Leviticus 4 and 5 emphasize that even unknown sins require an atonement. When men become aware of their past wrongs they were, and are still, to confess and repent.

And atonement was made for persons in connection with their cleansing from defilement. Lepers needed atonement. Persons with an open wound needed an atonement. Even buildings corrupted by fungal infections needed an atonement in connection with their cleansing.

But though atonement occurred all through the Jewish year, there was a focal point of atonement in the seventh month. The Day of Atonement differed markedly from the daily atonement business in three ways:

First, atonement was made on the Day of Atonement for unknown sins that had never been discovered – and hence, that had never been confessed, had never been objects of repentance.

Second, atonement was made for the altar and for the sanctuary itself.

Third, a non-sacrificial atonement was made with the scapegoat.

When we have established the meaning of “atonement” we will return to these three elements and to their meaning in our time.

Agents of Atonement

Atonement, in the Bible, is made with blood. This is, in fact, part of the reason given by God for the prohibition against eating blood.

Le 17:11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

Atonement may be made sacrificially, with the gift of blood mentioned in Leviticus 17:11.

It may also be made by the death of the sinner for his own guilt.

Such non-sacrificial atonement is mentioned in scripture. Phinehas executed willful sinners, led out in a purging of the camp, and this zeal for God “made an atonement for the children of Israel.”

Nu 25:13  And he shall have [the priestly covenant], and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.

But the most solemn reference to this kind of “atonement” is yet future. The Hebrew kaphar, “atoned”, is rendered “cleansed” in Nu 35:33 and as “purged” in Is 22:14. The latter passage shows that the final death of the wicked will be a kind of “atonement.”

Nu 35:33.  The land cannot be cleansed kaphar of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.

Isa 22:14  And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged kaphar from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

Day of Cleansing

This latter atonement will be made when the wicked are destroyed. The two verses just quoted give us a hint at the definition of “atonement.” It is a cleansing process, removing weaknesses and imperfections. It comes from the idea of using pitch to make a vessel sea-worthy.

Its connection with cleansing can be shown from the two verses above. But it may also be noted from the way the word is translated in Spanish. The verb for “atone”, expiacion, means “to cleanse.”[1]

But it is even easier to simply observe the connection of atonement with cleansing. Consider Leviticus 14 alone, where Lepers and infected homes receive “atonement.”

Le 14:18  . . . he shall pour [oil] upon the head of him that is to be cleansed: and the priest shall make an atonement for him . . . .

Le 14:19  And the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. . . .

Le 14:20  . . . the priest shall make an atonement for him, and he shall be clean.

Le 14:29  . . . .he shall put [oil] upon the head of him that is to be cleansed, to make an atonement for him before the LORD.

Le 14:31 . . . the priest shall make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed . . .

Le 14:53  But he shall . . . make an atonement for the house: and it shall be clean.

And in relation to the altar we find the same idea, that atonement is a cleansing process:

Ex 29:36  And thou shalt offer . . . a sin offering for atonement: and thou shalt cleanse the altar, when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it, to sanctify it.

Eze 43:20  And thou shalt take of the blood thereof, and put it on the four horns of it, and on the four corners of the settle, and upon the border round about: thus shalt thou cleanse and purge [Hebrew, “make atonement for”] it.

And on the great Day of Atonement we find that the people were to be “cleansed” so that they might be “clean” before the Lord.

Le 16:30  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.

And as if these witnesses were not sufficient, you could arrive at the meaning of atonement by thinking about the needs of the sanctuary. Does the sanctuary need to be forgiven? Is it guilty? Obviously the answer is “no.” But it is defiled. And what does it need? It needs to be “cleansed.” Daniel 8:14.

So if we put the thoughts which we have found thus far together, we get the following:

The cross was an act of cleansing sinners. It was an atonement. Since that time, whenever men would confess and forsake their sins, Jesus would be faithful to forgive and cleanse them. He has been making atonement.

But in the end time in which we are living Jesus is doing a special work of cleansing. Many unknown sins are being forgiven during this time, sins that were never confessed because never known.

Heb 9:7  But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the [ignorant acts] of the people:

And the sanctuary is being “cleansed” from its defilement.

End Time Cleansing

When are deceased men forgiven for their unknown sins? Manifestly, this happens when their names come up in the judgment. This is when Jesus confesses them before the Father and before the angels. This is when their sins are blotted from the books of record. This is when they are given “white robes.” Re 3:5.

During this same time period of the judgement there is another work of cleansing that Hebrews calls the cleansing (purging) of the conscience. Hebrews 9:9; 9:14; 10:2; 10:22. According to the logic of chapter 10, the yearly process of sacrifices that finished with the Day of Atonement was a figure of cleaning the character and life of the people.

The idea is that if the symbols had been as effective as the reality would be, the process would only have been completed once. After that the worshippers would have had no more “conscience of sins.”

But as the symbols were just that, symbols, every year was another repetition of the ceremonies.

There will not, however, be another repetition of this world’s history. And we would do well to ask what kind of cleaning is going on during the end of the earth’s history.

Jesus is doing the work. And just as there was an atonement made for the priestly families on the Day of Atonement, so in the end of the earth’s history there is a special cleansing of the same body:

Mal 3:3  And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

It is apparent that the object of this cleansing process is holiness in the lives of the priests. This kind of object requires some level of cooperation on the part of the people. And this was also prefigured in the Day of Atonement.

The people were to have an “holy convocation” and were to “afflict” their souls, and make offerings, and do no work, because it was a day of “of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God.” Le 23:27-28.[2]

The people were to fast as outlined in Isaiah 58. They were to break every yoke and to put away besetting sins such as “speaking vanity” and accusing others. Is 58:9. They were to deny themselves for the good of others. They were to give the Sabbath its proper honor.

Cleansing by Blood

This purification of their lives was the cleansing of the conscience. Someone might ask, “In what sense is this kind of cleansing accomplished by blood?”

There are several true answers to this question. But first, let’s establish that Christ’s blood does indeed cleanse from sin.

Jesus uses his own blood. What does He do with it?

Re 1:5b-6  Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6  And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

And we are to use his blood. What are we to do with it?

Re 7:14  And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

From what does the blood wash us? Not only from guilt, but also from our bad behavior.

1Pe 1:18  Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19  But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

In summary, our minds are cleaned. This cleaning of our minds is a cooperative work. Jesus sits as a purifier. We wash our robes in his blood. This same idea, that the blood cleans us when we cooperate with the process, is the subject of 1Jo 1:7-9.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. . . .  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The cleaning of our minds is not uniquely an end-time process. Men have been cleansed at all times of earth’s history. But the end of time is a special time for the church to focus on this work. It is the time when, according to the logic of Hebrews 10, the work will be finished.

What kind of cleansing could benefit the holy precincts of the heavenly temple? There, we learn from the types, is a record of sin. There, we learn from New Testament revelations, are books of record. It is these books that are cleansed.

And this cleansing of the books is also the atonement for unknown sins. When the judgment reveals that a man has been faithful, he is forgiven for the unknown sins that never plagued his conscience. These, with those sins he had confessed, are blotted from the record.

This leaves only one step in the cleansing of the universe from sin. The righteous have been cleansed. Their records have been cleared. Remaining in the universe are impenitent men and angels.

These receive the non-sacrificial cleansing. They are purged from their sins by their burning in the lake of fire. Satan, who burns there longer than others, is represented by the scapegoat.  The end of his existence is the last step in the eradication of sin from the universe and marks the end of the Great Day of Cleansing.

The Timing and Completeness of Atonement

Words often change in meaning over time. This has happened with “atonement.” Now it is used by religious persons as a synonym for reconciliation or sacrificial payment. And this may have come to be because this is how it is used in its one New Testament occurrence, Romans 5:11.

But atonement is an Old Testament idea. It occurs 65 times in Leviticus, Exodus, and Numbers and five times elsewhere in the Bible.

When one realizes that atonement is a fixing/cleansing process, it becomes apparent that it can not be fixed at a point in time. When we say, for example, that Friday is a special day of cleaning, we do not mean to preclude dishwashing on Monday. Nor do we mean to belittle the purchase of cleaning supplies on Sunday.

When are men cleansed? Their cleansing is a two-part process. One part was completed at the cross. This part invites their participation in a two-way transaction. Jesus bore our sins to make it possible for us to have his righteousness. Not everyone accepts part two of the transaction.

For them God’s grace is received in “vain.” The gift at Calvary long ago fails to move them in their “day of salvation” – the here and “now.”

2Co 5:21-6:2  For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”)

The grace showered on us has, as an object, our restoration. It is intended to make us active temples through which God can live and move. Where it fails of achieving this object it is “in vain.”

1Co 15:10  But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

What Adventists discovered was that the time when the books “were opened” in Daniel 7 was the judgment where sins were blotted from the record. The books are purged in the judgment. Names of defeated persons[3] are blotted from the book of life.

And sins are blotted from the records of the vindicated ones as Jesus confesses their names before the Father and the elect angels. They receive “white robes,” a symbol of the fact that they have indeed “become the righteousness of God in” relation to Jesus.

Those who have already died depending on Christ are represented as being “under the altar” of incense. Re 6:9. There Christ has interceded for them, mixing his holiness with their petitions. Re 8:3. (When Aaron interceded for sinners, his intercession was an “atonement.” Nu 16:46-47).

And while this purging process proceeds on high, saints on earth are washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They are cleaning up their lives in view of the ongoing judgment and soon-coming end.

So if a man says the atonement was completed at the cross, we don’t need to argue with him. He means, by atonement, a sacrificial payment. This was completed at the cross.

But neither does he have the Old Testament idea of atonement in mind. And we should. We live in the Day of Cleansing. In our day Isa 6:7 will be fulfilled. Our “iniquity” will be “taken away” and our “sin purged. kaphar”

Blood is the agent of this purging, as we have already seen. Christ’s sacrifice shows God’s mercy. It moves men to repentance. This mercy is the beginning of the cleansing process and also  the means of it.

Pr 16:6  By mercy and truth iniquity is purged kaphar and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.

Ro 2:4 The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.

Ps 79:9  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away kaphar our sins, for thy name’s sake. (See Ps 65:3)

Isa 27:9  By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged kaphar and this is all the fruit to take away his sin . . . .[4]

The Septuagint uses a version of Strongs # 2433, hilaskomai, for “atonement.”  This word is used only twice in the New Testament. The publican that beats his breast also prays saying “God be merciful 2433 to me a sinner.”  Jesus said about him that he went down to his home “justified.” In other words, the sinner asked for the equivalent to an Old Testament atonement and he received a New Testament justification.

The second use refers to Christ’s ministry as our priest. He was made like me so that he could be a “merciful and faithful high priest” “to make reconciliation2433 for the sins of the people.” As He became a priest at his ascension, as it is from there that “he is able to succor them that are tempted”, we know that this atonement is made from heaven.

Heb 2:16-18  For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

The Day of Cleansing Revisited

The three unique rites of the Day of Atonement are atonement for yet-unknown sin, the cleansing of the temple, and the scapegoat atonement.

The altar was cleansed by a “sin offering.” Ex 30:10. This shows, as can be seen several other ways, that the sanctuary is being cleansed from the sins of the people (See Le 16:16, 20, 33). The symbol well represents the fact that when sins are blotted from the record in our day, it is by virtue of the sacrifice made long before our day.

The cleansing for unknown sins shows how persons can be admitted into heaven despite unconfessed  sins on their record – if those sins had never come to their attention.

And the atonement made by Phinehas that cleansed the camp by killing the rebels shows how the end of the scapegoat rites can be called an atonement. The camp is cleansed when the guilty goat is no longer there.

While justice is served by blaming the devil for the sins which tortured Jesus, the justice is not the atonement. It is nearly a coincidence that the same devil-death that satisfies justice also cleans up the universe by bringing an end to sin’s existence. In the Day of Atonement the sending away of the scapegoat did not occur until the completion of the atonement for the sanctuary. Le 16:20, 24.

Perhaps a fourth unique element was the completeness of the atonement made on the Day of Atonement. Atonement was made for “all their sins once a year.” Le 16:34.


Now is our special time of cleansing. Now, as the blood is cleansing me, it is also making me into a priest. And Jesus is cleansing the Levites at this very time. I live in the time of earth’s history set aside for cleansing. Then to me, more than to my ancient ancestors, the following applies:

Jas 4:8  Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

[1] This is an admitted weak part of this article. I don’t know Spanish. A seemingly well-informed native Spanish speaker told me this. But none of my Spanish speaking students even knew the verb well enough to be able to define it.

[2] Additionally, in the year of Jubilee a trumpet was to be sounded on the Day of Atonement throughout the land. The Jubilee began, as a service, on the Day of Atonement. Everyone was set free and regained the land of their fathers. Le 25:9-10.

[3] The antithesis of “overcomers.”

[4][4] Currently I don’t understand the context of this passage well. Hence the partial quote of the verse.

(3) Comments

  1. Expiacion can mean cleansing (depending on where you’re from), but it is more closely related to the idea of reparations, atonement and paying a debt until you no longer owe it. In the last sense it can mean cleansing of a debt.

    • Thank you, Manny. It was Spanish speaking friends of mine that provided me that insight, but I am sure you are right that the meaning of words varies some from region to region and even from one period of time to the next.

  2. Sir, is this Daniel 9:24, or 9:27?

    At the cross He made “reconciliation for iniquity.” The word “reconciliation” in Daniel 9:27 is the same translated “atonement” elsewhere in the Old Testament. And it is to this atonement that Romans 4:11 refers. Atonement was made at the cross.
    [Note from Eugene — It should read “Daniel 9:24.” Thank you for catching this. I will fix it in the article also.

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