Atonement is used in the Old Testament approximately eighty times and means “a covering.” Atonement is found only once in the New Testament (Romans 5:11) and, in this instance, means “to restore to divine favor or to make the wrong right.” There is a clear and fundamental difference between Old and New Testament atonement. In the Old Testament, sacrifices had to be repeated often because they could only cover sin (Hebrews 10:4); and only the high priest could enter into the presence of God. However, when Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross, He ended the sacrificial system; He was the fulfillment of all the sacrifices in the past. With the crucifixion of Christ, the veil in the Temple—which limited access to God—was ripped in two, giving every blood-washed believer direct access to the Father.
Theories of the Atonement
It is the blood of the perfect Son of God that cleanses the sinner from all his sin. It has been said that there are over forty different theories surrounding the atonement of Christ, but God’s Word clearly teaches there is only one doctrine: the Substitutionary or Vicarious Atonement. Vicarious brings the idea of something endured for somebody else. I Peter 2:24 states, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” As a substitute, Christ took on Himself the sinner’s guilt and bore its penalty in the sinner’s place.
Objections to the Substitutionary Atonement
Throughout the centuries, there have been many critics of the Biblical doctrine of atonement. Let us examine the three main objections.
- It is unnecessary. There are those who teach that there is no need for Christ to die on the cross in our place, because God can simply forgive our sin away. How dangerous it is for anyone to say what God can or cannot do! We must realize that, though God is quick to forgive, forgiveness does not always mean “no punishment.” God is a God of justice; and where there is no penalty, the law becomes null and void as chaos ensues.
- It is impossible. Some claim that guilt and punishment cannot be transferred from one person to another. Once again, there is great danger when one tries to limit God according to his own preconceived ideas. This would be a good time to read Luke 1:37 and Isaiah 55:8, 9.
- It is immoral. The idea that the innocent is made to suffer punishment for the guilty is unsettling for many. However, we must remember that it is not immoral if the innocent one assumes the penalty by His own free will. Jesus states in John 10:17-18, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” How wonderful it is to know that we serve a Saviour that loves us so much that He willingly and freely died on the cross for our sins!
When dealing with the doctrine of the atonement, we should never leave out a discussion of the blood. God has always demanded blood for sin. It is the blood of the perfect Son of God that cleanses the sinner from all his sin. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). The blood of Jesus Christ is able to make a sinner clean and gives him access to the throne of God. Some believe the shedding of blood is not important; they believe Jesus only needed to die on the cross. When reading Colossians 1:14, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins,” it is evident that our salvation is made possible through His blood, and not His death alone.