The central work of Jesus was making atonement for us all and His death on the Cross accomplished this. There are numerous facets to the work of Jesus that, although seeming to be separate works, all form the purpose of His coming to earth as a man. Consequently, destroying the works of the devil, Jesus provided the way for the restoration of the relationship between God and mankind. This is atonement.
Atonement via the Cross
Previously, in part I, we might have said Jesus reconciled us to God, reunited us. However, those words are too shallow. To make atonement comes from the Hebrew word that does mean “to make reconciliation” but it carries the stronger act of purging the initial problem. Much deeper than just reunite. In essence, ‘to atone’ means ‘to make at one’. Not just by making things better but by dealing with the problem permanently so the solution would be permanent. Hence, atonement is restoration forever.
So the work of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary is the most important event since creation. The animal sacrifices throughout the history of the Israelites pointed to the once for all sacrifice of Jesus. “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live” (Galatians 1:4 NLT)
“Under the old system year after year the high priest entered the most holy sanctuary with blood that was not his own. But the Messiah did not need to repeatedly offer himself year after year, for that would mean he must suffer repeatedly ever since the fall of the world. But now he has appeared at the fulfillment of the ages to abolish sin once and for all by the sacrifice of himself!”
(Hebrews 9:25-26 TPT)
Consider not just repetition of sacrifices but their meticulous nature (specific types) and fine detail. All that was foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice. Again and again in the book of Leviticus we read of the need for cleansing because of sin and guilt. The requirement is for sacrifice (Leviticus 14:19). Atonement is necessary (Leviticus 14:18,19,31). The blood (Leviticus 14:14,25,28) of a lamb (Leviticus 14:10,12,23–24) without defect (Leviticus 14:10) that brings atonement and cleansing from sin (Leviticus 14:11,19,20,23,29,31).
The apostle Paul explained that “… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20). He also explained how all the detailed and careful sacrificing in the Old Testament points to Jesus, our only source of righteousness to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Romans 3:21). Everything we read about in Leviticus is designed to ‘testify’ about Jesus. Paul says, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22–24).
To understand the Cross is to experience the effect of God’s power in our own life. It is to grasp the incredible concept that to save us, God sent His Son to die for us otherwise we were without hope. eternally.
Atonement means the Cross is Not an Ornament
To many people the Cross is not much more than a fashion accessory. Nice to dangle in one’s ear lobes or hang around the neck on a chain. Similarly, a model of the Cross ‘decorates’ many homes and churches. But sadly, few understand the real and eternal work of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. Worse still, even some within the church have only a vague understanding.
Paul was not kidding when he wrote.. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Curiously, we don’t hear much of Isaiah’s prophecy over 600 yrs beforehand.. “This is what the Lord says: ‘ … I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:1a, 6).
The horror of the Cross offends humanity because it shows us the depravity of mankind. In fact, Jesus had to die for us in that manner to make full payment for our restoration from the evil one. It also clearly shows .. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1John 4:10).
The Lamb of God
Throughout the Old testament the image of the Lamb of God was preparation for Christ’s awesome act of sacrifice. Sacrificial rituals slaughtered lambs daily in the Temple. On the annual Feast of the Passover, the Israelite’s sacrifice a lamb to commemorate their ancestor’s escape from slavery in Egypt by God’s provision.
a. Lamb of Substitution
In preparing to make the burnt offering as instructed, Abraham declared to Isaac “… “God himself will provide the lamb ….”. Read Genesis 22:1-18 for the account of Abraham’s obedience and God substituting a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice. This was a foretaste of the real event. In Jesus , God Himself provided a Lamb substitute for us. The choice was God’s to make not ours. We were in bondage and could do nothing and provide nothing towards our rescue.
b. Lamb of Sacrifice
The Feast of the Passover marks the night of the Israelites’ release from Egypt. On that night the Israelites prepared a lamb as instructed by God. They sprinkled the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintel of their home as a sign. The angel of death would pass by that home. See Exodus 12:1-31 for the account of this incredible event.
As awesome as it was, the original Passover was an image of the atoning work of Jesus on the Cross. Paul understood the imagery and said to the Corinthians, regarding their ‘bad’ behaviour.. “Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness; but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1Corinthians 5:7-8 emphasis added).
c. Lamb of Suffering
Isaiah accurately described the innocent suffering of the Messiah chapter 53. He again chose the image of a lamb … “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:5-7).
David also described the suffering of the Messiah in Psalm 22.
No surprise then, the suffering of Jesus was no accident. It was necessary, he couldn’t just die in our place. He literally bore all our suffering and afflictions as well as our death. He took every emotional, physical and spiritual suffering of the human race to the Cross. Thus, Jesus’ death and resurrection broke their power.
d. Lamb of Sovereignty and Supremacy
Eventually, John’s Revelation we don’t see Jesus as the Lamb weakened, suffering and broken. He appears triumphant with power and authority to open the scroll and its seven seals. The Lamb was also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Messianic titles of power and majesty.
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll … sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice; ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’. Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain; standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…” (Revelation 5:1-6).
“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead; so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18 emphasis added).
Why was Atonement Necessary?
The need for atonement is only clear against the backdrop of the relationships between i) the holiness of God; ii) His divine law; iii) the sinfulness of man (after the ‘fall’); and iv) divine wrath.
i) Holiness of God – Many Scripture verses speak of the holiness of God. It is absolute, and inherent. In fact, God is holiness personified. His purity has no tolerance of sin. It simply must be exposed, judged and dealt with. No choice.
ii) Divine Law – A fully Holy God designed and created the universe, all creatures and all beings (angelic and human). Naturally then the ‘blueprint’, the foundation of the whole of creation is divine law. Godly law ensures order rather than chaos.
iii) Sinfulness of Man – Adam disobeyed the one law God had given him and so became lawless, literally. As John wrote “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1John 3:4). God must deal with man’s sinfulness because it directly opposes God’s holiness and it “… built a barrier between you and your God. Your sins have made God turn his face from you so that he does not hear your prayers” (Isaiah 59:2 TPT).
iv) Divine Wrath – Divine wrath is a natural reaction of God’s perfect holiness to man’s sinfulness. It is no more than the righteous anger of a good and holy God against sin. Likened to the impact light has on darkness. Sinfulness cannot survive in the presence of holiness let alone prevail just as darkness cannot withstand a light. ‘Wrath’ is the best word to describe such reaction or impact that destroys sinfulness and darkness.
There’s a Delay
“The corruption that was in us from birth was expressed through the deeds and desires of our self-life. We lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated, living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath …” (Ephesians 2:3 TPT).
However, Scripture shows this divine wrath is not always executed immediately against sin. God restrains it to enable man to repent and return into relationship with Him. “Don’t you realize how patient he is being with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see that he has been waiting all this time without punishing you, to give you time to turn from your sin? His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4 TLB).
Abraham pleading for Sodom is another Biblical example of God restraining the impact of His Holy wrath (Genesis 18:16-33)
God is more than fair
“God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26 NLT).
We’re alive today because of God’s restrained wrath. Peter described the Lord’s delay in wiping out sin … “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come …” (2Peter 3:9-10)
So then, the holiness of God against the sinfulness of man produces the reaction of divine wrath. In God’s perfect Justice (divine law) as explained back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:17) the penalty for sin is death. Wrath needs to be appeased before a holy God and sinful man can possibly be reconciled. The Atonement is that appeasement.
The Nature of the Atonement
God’s attributes are extreme. Yet God’s attributes remain absolutely, perfectly balanced; (see “what’s with being balanced?”). God’s holiness and perfect justice must execute His wrath and judgement against man’s sin. At the same time, God’s love desires to save mankind for close relationship with Himself.
The atonement was the only way for God’s love and mercy to save each sinner without violating God’s holiness and justice against sin. God came in the form of His Son Jesus and took upon Himself all our sin. In fact, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He became our sin and took it all to the Cross on our behalf.
The super amazing thing is, God foresaw and foreknew ‘for ages’ the entrance of sin into the human race by Adam’s ‘fall’ (Acts 15:18). God sorted the solution even before He created the world. Peter wrote “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed …, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, …” (1Peter 1:18-20). Hebrews 13:20 refers to this solution as the eternal covenant, the covenant made in eternity.
Don’t be tempted to think God was caught by surprise when Adam rebelled. He knew and made him with free will anyway. Such is His love for mankind.
The success of the Atonement is clear in Scripture. For example, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).
So the Atonement Jesus made was eternal and eternally successful.
“… I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1John 2:1-2 emphasis added).
The summary of the awesome work of Jesus there on the Cross is “The Divine Exchange”, as Derek Prince put it. That’s because …
Thank you Lord!
… just sayin’
- The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984
- ICB – The Holy Bible, International Children’s Bible® Copyright© 1986, 1988, 1999, 2015 by Tommy Nelson™, a division of Thomas Nelson.
- NLT – Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation
- TLB – The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation
- TPT – The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC
- Photo: Carrying the Cross by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash.com
- Image: The Divine Exchange, “The Divine Exchange”, page 6,
Copyright © 1995; 2013 Derek Prince Ministries-International