Atonement is defined as reparation or expiation (making amends for wrongdoing, atonement) for sin. It is the central message of the Bible. Atonement is the most important action of God. How it is done is described through His word. If you understand atonement you understand God. It is all you need to Know with Certainty
The Apostle Peter captures the completeness of the atonement story. ” To God’s elect, exiles (the Jewish Christians) scattered (the Diaspora) throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, (Asia minor)2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge (predestined before the foundation of the world) of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood (the Atonement for our sin)….. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance (eternal life) that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation (the Rapture) that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1: 1-5)
Why is Atonement For Sin Necessary?
It is a basic fact of God that He cannot tolerate sin in his presence. At the same time He desires a relationship with His creation, man. But man is a sinner.
God wanted a relationship with man from the beginning. For a while this was the norm in the Garden of Eden because Adam and Eve were without sin. By their God-given free will, the sin of Adam and Eve created a separation from God. It was a separation God did not want or find acceptable but God had made provision for it. God’s creation from the very beginning was so that man would be found holy and blameless in His sight. That is God and man would be connected in relationship regardless of man’s sin.
Man could not reconnect on his own because man was the sinner. The way to connect was through atonement for sin established by God through the Jews and described in the book of Exodus as a meticulously detailed ritual given by God to Moses. Atonement was commanded and accomplished through the blood sacrifice of unblemished lambs at the Tabernacle and sometimes in the home.
As a result the Jews understood the principle of atonement for sin and that is why Jesus came to His own people. Otherwise how would His blood sacrifice as atonement for sin have been understood? Without a Jewish understanding of atonement it is doubtful if anyone would have understood. The Jews understood atonement and this was major in their early understanding and acceptance of Christianity.
God’s Actions Leading To Ultimate Atonement
God’s actions leading to atonement for sin began at creation. The first chapter of Ephesians tells of God’s intent before the foundation of the world to make us holy and blameless in his sight through Jesus. Let that sink in! In eternity past before the Creation, God had your salvation to eternal life predetermined. Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross would be a predestined act of atonement for our sin. As we shall see this was the ultimate atonement by taking away sin through a people who understood atonement as a penalty payment.
This ultimate atonement was to be at the culmination of a series of intentional actions by God to produce the just right events orchestrated to set the stage for Jesus. These have been recorded in the Bible and in history to insure that this ultimate act of atonement would be at just the right time :
- The enslavement of the Jews in Egypt where they lost identification as to who they were;
- The Exodus from Egypt where the Passover was their initial experience with a blood sacrifice;
- 40 years in the wilderness when blood sacrifice atonement was introduced by God and practiced in the Tabernacle;
- A new generation would come of age to occupy the Promised Land and continue the act of atonement;
- The invasion of Assyrians and Babylonians and captivity.
- There was the Diaspora, the strategic dispersion of Jews throughout the Mediterranean to be in place for the future arrival of Paul;
- The rise of the Greek language as the language of commerce, and writing; the rise of the Roman Empire and its expansion of commerce, communication and travel;
- The writing of the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, providing a scripture of prophesy to the New Testament Jews.
- Finally atonement was renewed after 400 years of apparent silence on God’s part through the coming of Jesus to the Jews and his resurrection as an atonement for all.
All of these events coalesced in the fullness of time about 2000 years ago as prophesied by Daniel in Chapters 8 and 9. It made possible the rapid spread of Christianity’s message as atonement for all as a gift of God through Jesus.1
What Exactly Was Atonement to the Jews and Early Christians?
Up until Jesus the Jews atoned for sin through blood sacrifice that had been prescribed to them by God. (See Exodus and Leviticus)
In the 1500 years before the coming of Jesus, the Jews practiced the ritual of atonement regularly and came to understand the importance of atonement for sin. But they understood atonement as a penalty for sin (Leviticus 4: 3, 5: 14, 6:6) What the Jews did not know was that one day of God’s choosing atonement would be extended to all and that Gentiles (non Jews) would be included in God’s plan of salvation. Rather than a penalty atonement would be to take away the sins of the world.
This extension of atonement was a mystery known only to God until He chose to reveal it to the apostles Paul and Peter in the first century. Paul was allowed to understand the mystery to the extent that he carried this gospel (good news) to the Jews and Gentiles throughout Asia Minor by preaching in the synagogues. This hidden mystery was the result of God’s wisdom to take atonement to the Jews first.
Paul’s missions would result in churches that would make God’s wisdom known to all rulers and principalities throughout the universe. (Ephesians 3:10) The churches would do this by proclaiming the Gospel of ultimate atonement through Jesus throughout this world. That mission continues to this day. For the past 2000 years atonement has been the central basis of the Christian faith.
As evidenced in the book of Acts early Christian converts were almost exclusively the Jews. By the thousands (Acts 21:20), they accepted him through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This was because they, above all people, understood atonement as something originally Jewish. The Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus during the Jewish Passover was timed to make the connection for Jews regarding atonement. Later, when Paul preached in the synagogues throughout Asia Minor Jews and Gentiles made the connection between Jesus’ act of atonement and the Jewish recognition of atonement.
Do Not Miss The Key Point
The significance of individual or priestly acts of atonement among the Old Testament Jews was that the acts were an atonement for committed sins and were viewed as a penalty for sinning (Leviticus 4: 3, 5: 14, 6:6), not taking them away (Hebrews 10: 4). A person was guilty for sin and paid the penalty. This would dramatically change with Jesus’s act of atonement in that His act was not punitive but to literally take away the sins of the world (John 1: 29). Sin would still be in the world and people would still sin but by believing in Him the sins were not just forgiven but erased, canceled never to be counted against. One was still guilty of committed sin but through true repentance and not an earthly sacrifice for sin the guilt has been permanently removed.
Let us reflect on how God worked through our Jewish brethren to bring about atonement for all through Jesus Christ. It was an act conceived and the results predestined before creation itself. Grasping that makes Him a pretty special God doesn’t it? Reflect on your own atonement through repentance. Are you at one with Him? If you are not one with Him make today your Day of Atonement. Remember your genuine act of repentance is without any penalty. The penalty has been paid. You are free!
- Southard, G. (2017). To Know With Certainty; Answers To Christian Student’s Questions Upon Leaving High School. pp. 40-43. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.
General References: Leviticus 1 and 16. Hebrews 8 and 9