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Title:  29. Atonement


An introductory consideration of what theologians call the Atonement

The purpose of this page is to provide a Biblical framework for belief in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.


A. Definitions:


To atone : to make amends & reconcile


The atonement: the redeeming of mankind and the reconciliation of God with man, brought about by Jesus' death.



B. Summary:


Atonement in the Bible may be described within the following:


1. Since ‘The Fall' (Gen 3) sin (self-centred rejection of God) is a characteristic of every human person (this is ‘original sin').

2. With free will, God had to allow sin, but knew that it would:

a) create guilt in each person and
b) separate them from Him.

3. God's objective was to make it possible for every person to enter into a relationship with Him whereby sin was not an issue.

4. The only way for that sin to be obviously dealt with, was for someone to take the punishment due so that justice was seen to be done and our ongoing sense of guilt removed.

5. Yet the problem was who could be big enough to take the punishment of every person who wanted that. Answer: His Son!

6. The phases of this operation were as follows:


i) To create a nation to demonstrate God's design rules for living

ii) To show the need of this nation, i.e. their sin, as typical of the human race.

iii) To provide a ritual to reveal the holiness of God and the seriousness of

     sin, portraying the eventual work of His Son.

iv) To send His Son to reveal His love and then to die a sacrificial death to   

     take the punishment due to us.


7. The outworking of this operation:


•  occurred at Calvary outside Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago

•  is required by God to be the focus of belief for those who would come to   

   Him, believing that Jesus is:

•  the means of their punishment being dealt with,

•  the means of their being reconciled to God,

•  the means of a life-relationship with God being created.


C. Basic Concepts:


1. The Problem

•  We all have an inbuilt sense of justice. Justice means when we are guilty, we believe we deserve punishment.  

•  God is holy, perfect. We know we are not – we fail. A gulf!   

•  When we feel guilty:

•  we become very self conscious (Gen 3:7)
•  we want to hide from God (Gen 3:8)
•  we become fearful of God (Gen 3:9)
•  we want to justify ourselves & blame others (Gen 3:12 -)

•  To live in relationship with God (which He wants) there are, therefore, two things to be done:

•  our guilt to be dealt with (but how do we make amends?) 
•  our separation from God to be removed (but how can we be reconciled?)



2. God's Answer – Old Testament Context

•  He creates a nation from the family of Jacob ( Israel ) – Ex 19

•  They were to stand out in the world – Ex 19:5,6

•  Previously He had conveyed this to Abraham (Gen 18:18 , 22:18 , 26:4, a people who would bless the rest of the world), to Isaac (Gen 26:4) and to Jacob (Gen 28:14), a special people (Lev 20:26 )

•  Isa 42:6, 49:6, 60:3 also conveyed this about Israel , but with some sense of the coming Messiah.

•  These sorts of references occur right the way throughout the O.T.

•  It seems clear that Israel were to:

•  reveal God and His ways to the rest of the world
•  reveal His design for mankind (seen through the Law)
•  so that others would come to God and follow His design for us.


3. God's Answer – Resolving the TWO problems

i.e. to punish the sin and to remove it as an obstacle between us and God.

Within the Law of Moses, the sacrificial laws:  

•  provided a practical path to follow, i.e. something to DO
•  pictured something bigger on God's heart (that He would do later in history through His Son).


3.1 Prologue: Picture of the Passover Lamb – Exodus 12


•  God was bringing Judgment on Egypt in the form of the death of the eldest son in every home (Ex 12:12 ) [see bigger picture – Ex 1-12]


•  Israel were told to kill a lamb that was without defect and put some of its blood on the doorposts of their front doors (Ex 12:1-7)


•  When God's destroying angel saw the blood he would “pass over” that home and not judge it (Ex 12:13 )


•  A lamb was thus the means of averting God's judgment. John the Baptist later hailed Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29 ,36)


3.2 Introducing the Idea of Atonement through Offerings

•  This was built in via the Law given to Moses.


•  Once a year Aaron shall make atonement … This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering (Ex 30:10)


•  Thus the ‘guilt-separation' problem was to be dealt with once a year


•  There was also built in a concept of a ransom , implying that their lives were forfeit because of sin and needed buying back (Ex 30:11-16) The ransom money was used to run the Meeting Place with God.


•  At God's direction Moses instituted the DAY OF ATONEMENT (Lev 16), so that Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites (v.34), a day for general cleansing of the whole nation.


•  Burnt offerings were to be animals without defect (Lev 1:3) and the person bringing it had to place his hand on its head – by way of identifying with it, and it with him, and then slaughter it, and it ‘made atonement' for him (Lev 1:4). The object of the ‘burnt offering' was for it to act as a sign of the humble approach of a penitent believer, and as it was burnt it was considered to provide, an aroma pleasing to the Lord (Lev 1:9,13,17)


•  Sin offerings were similarly to be animals without defect (Lev 3:3) offered as above (Lev 3:4) but were specifically brought following sin and so in this manner the sin of the person was seen to be transferred to the creature which, by way of taking the punishment for the sins, was then executed.


•  NB. The distinction between the two seems to be that the burnt offering was used as a general means of atonement for members of the sinful human race, but with no specific sins to confess, whereas the sin offering was brought as a means of atonement when there was a specific sin to confess.


•  The giving of a substitute life was thus seen as a means of dealing with the sin of the people and of cleansing them from it (Lev 16:30 ).


•  Everything involved in the place of encounter with God had to be cleansed by it because it was contaminated by contact with sinful human beings. In every way the holiness of God is emphasized.



4. God's Answer – New Testament Fulfillment


New Testament teaching:


•  The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves . (Heb 10:1)


•  those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10:3,4)


•  Christ … has appeared once for all …. to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people. (Heb 9:26-28)


•  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (Rom 3:25 )

•  He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (NIV) with the page note saying as an alternative “ He is the one who turns aside God's wrath, taking away our sins, and not only ours but also ..” (1 Jn 2:2)


•  The NKJV renders this verse: “ And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world


•  Because ‘propitiation' is not a common word, we need to define it: the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift

•  Similarly 1 Jn 4:10 repeats this phraseology in both versions.


•  The main different theological views about atonement are therefore:

•  Expiation = to pay the penalty for, to make amends

•  Propitiation = appeasing an angry God by removing the sin