In a nutshell, the difference between Passover and Atonement is that Passover covers an individual’s sin while Atonement covers the nation of Israel’s sins.
Israelites applied the Passover lamb’s blood to the doorpost and lintel of their house. This blood covered the sins of individuals within that house. The Biblical Passover was celebrated in each home in the springtime. Scripture teaches that Jesus fulfilled Passover.
1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV
In contrast, each autumn the Biblical Day of Atonement required priests to present two goats before the High Priest in the temple. After transferring the nation’s sin onto one goat it was slaughtered as the nation’s sin offering. The other goat carried the nation’s iniquities into the wilderness, symbolizing that God would never remember these sins again.
Read the quote below. Since we haven’t seen ‘the fullness of the Gentiles,’ and ‘all Israel’ isn’t saved yet, the Day of Atonement’s fulfillment is yet in our future.
Passover and Atonement – and Tabernacles
Although Tabernacles is not within the scope of this ‘Passover and Atonement’ post, I’m adding it because it continues the logical progression of God’s redemptive plan–from individuals, to one nation, to all nations.
- Passover was for individuals
- Atonement was for one nation–Israel
- Tabernacles is for all nations
After Noah’s flood, the ‘table of nations‘ in Genesis chapter 10 includes the 70 patriarchs who became the fathers of modern nations. This is why, during the week-long feast of Tabernacles, 70 bulls were sacrificed. Tabernacles is about God reconciling all nations to Himself.
During the millennial reign of Christ the nations will be redeemed and reconciled to God. There’s no mention of Passover or Atonement being celebrated during the millennium–only Tabernacles. Here’s what Zechariah prophesied:
Passover and Atonement – Summary Chart
In conclusion, this simple chart contrasts the festivals of Passover, Atonement and Tabernacles. For each festival it shows:
- The different recipients of God’s grace
- The different sacrifices symbolizing what was being accomplished in each festival
- Where Israel celebrated each of the three festivals
Disclaimer: There are many more animal sacrifices prescribed for Atonement and Tabernacles, but this post’s purpose is to illustrate the simple (but profound) lesson that’s illustrated by this chart.