Leviticus 16:2-34 • Into the Holy of Holies


Few businesses these days let you through their employees’ entrance without an identification badge. “Authorized Personnel Only” signs quickly inform us that access is restricted. In the government and military branches, some places are “Top Secret” or “Restricted Access.” The penalties for violating such restrictions are often severe.

The tabernacle of the Israelites was a highly restricted area. Only Aaron and his descendants were allowed inside the tabernacle to offer sacrifices. (Aaron was a Levite—that is, a descendant of Jacob’s son Levi. To be a priest, one must be a Levite. On the other hand, not all Levites were priests. Only a particular family of Levites, the Kohathites, could become priests. Other Levites, however, were involved in the maintenance and transport of the tabernacle.) Penalties for violating access to the tabernacle and its contents were so severe as to result in leprosy or death. Certain rituals inside the tabernacle were so specific that improper administration likewise resulted in death (Leviticus 10:1-7).

The tabernacle was a restricted area for the Israelites because God’s presence was there. God’s presence is one of holiness. Man’s presence is one of unholiness. For man to approach God, it must take place on God’s terms. Thus, the severe restrictions for entering into the presence of God.

Chapter 16 focuses on the nature and condition of entering into the presence of the Holy One, and establishes the pattern which would ultimately be fulfilled through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Read verses 2-10

Q: To what part of the tabernacle is verse 2 referring?

A: Verse 2 is referring to the most restricted place in the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. The tabernacle itself enclosed a courtyard with the laver for washing and the altar for offerings. An inner set of curtains enclosed “the holy place” in which there were three items: the golden candlestick, the table of showbread and the altar of incense. Behind the altar of incense was a thick veil that separated off a small area called the Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant, upon which rested the mercy seat and the cherubim. God’s presence rested on the mercy seat.

Q: Why do you think God called the covering on the ark “the mercy seat” if the penalty for unauthorized entry into the Holy of Holies was so severe?

A: Because the attribute of God’s mercy does not mean the absence of His holiness. Sin is a deadly serious matter to God, for it is what separates man from God. Therefore, sin is an issue that man must acknowledge about himself and reckon with. The mercy seat represented where sins were acknowledged and forgiven, not ignored and appeased.

Q: In verse 3, in what order are Aaron’s offerings made, and why?

A: The sin offering is made first, then the burnt, or trespass offering. The sin offering is made first because it acknowledges that mankind is by nature sinful. The burnt offering acknowledges his willful sins.

Q: In verse 4, is there a difference in how Aaron is dressed as opposed to the description in Exodus 39?

A: Very much so. The extremely ornate, formal priestly garments described in Exodus 39 are not worn on this occasion. Instead, the garments, though still remaining holy, are common dress.

Q: How does Aaron’s garments in verse 4 represent the person of Jesus Christ?

A: Christ was the Holy One “dressed” as a common man.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

— Philippians 2:5-8


Q: Why are two goats brought for a sin offering?

A: One would be sacrificed, the other would be set free. Which goat was set free was determined by casting lots.

Q: In verse 6, what is significant about Aaron making an offering “for himself”?

A: In order to make a worthy offering, Aaron must himself be made clean, for to enter into the Holy of Holies with sin or guilt would result in immediate death.

Q: Based upon what you know about Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, how does He fulfill the various aspects of this sacrifice?

A: Christ Himself represents (1) the High Priest making the sacrifice, a common man without sin; (2) the sacrifice itself (the goat and the ram whose blood is shed for a sacrifice for sins); and (3) a scapegoat for which the sins are removed from the camp (mankind). (For further description of how Christ fulfills these roles, read Hebrews 9:1-10:10.)

Application: How does the picture of the High Priest entering into the Holy of Holies affect your view of the person of Jesus Christ?

Read verses 11-28

Application: Aren’t you glad you don’t have to go through all this tortuous ritual today? Why do you think God designed it to be so specific and complicated?

Q: In verses 15-17, atonement is being made for what reason and for whom?

A: Aaron is making atonement for his own sins, his family’s, and the sins of “all the assembly of Israel.” The previous sacrifices were much more specific in nature. This sacrifice, the law of atonement, was meant to cover all sins; that is, sins unknown, sins committed inadvertently, and sins that were individual as well as national in nature.

Q: What is uniquely different about Aaron’s actions in verse 21?

A: He is to openly confess all the sins of the people. The keys words are “confess” and “all.”

Q: How does the scapegoat represent the person of Jesus Christ?

A: Through Him, all our sins are removed and “sent away.”

Read verses 29-34

Q: What is unique about this offering?

A: It is to be done once a year, and therefore called the “Day of Atonement.” Today, this holy event is called Yom Kippur. It is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and the only one that requires fasting. Its purpose is to acknowledge and confess personal as well as national sins. It occurs in September-October.


Final Application

When you pray, into what part of the tabernacle are you entering, and why are you allowed to enter?