What Do We Know About The Atonement?


          Atonement is the effect of Jesus' suffering and death in redeeming mankind and bringing about the reconciliation of man to God. Man, the sinner, could not save himself. God, seeing man's helpless state provided atonement through Jesus. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) John also wrote of atonement through Jesus in 1 John 4:10 when he said, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." The word atonement is found seventy times in the Kings James version of the Bible. Romans 5:11 contains the only use of the word "atonement" in the New Testament. "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement."


          The "atonement" refers to the fact that Jesus Christ died a substitutionary death on the cross on behalf of all sinners. All have sinned. (Romans 3:23) The penalty for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Except for the death of Jesus we would die without hope. The death of a person without Jesus means separation from God forever. (Isaiah 59:1-2) It was we that deserved to die, but Jesus died in our place. Jesus took the punishment that we deserve. Paul wrote, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Many Bible passages discuss the atonement even though the word "atonement" is not in the verse itself. For example, Isaiah 53:5 says, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Christ died to pay the price for our sins. Peter wrote, "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." (1 Peter 2:24) We cannot save ourselves; we needed a sin sacrifice to die in our place. Jesus is that Lamb that was sacrificed.


          What do we know about the atonement?


          We know that Jesus taught that His death was a "ransom for sin." At the close of His personal ministry Jesus spoke openly to His apostles about His death for the sins of the world. As they were going to Jerusalem He said, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again." (Matthew 20:17-19) Jesus wanted His apostles to understand the value of service in His kingdom. He said, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28) The meaning of the word "ransom" has to do with the price required for the release of a captive. Man was a slave to sin. John 8:34 says, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." Christ died to free us from sin. Paul wrote that Jesus, "gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (1 Timothy 2:6) Redemption's sweet story is that Jesus died on behalf of us all.


          We know that the death of Jesus for our sins was a necessary act. Those that reject the Christ reject the one and only means of salvation. God could not just overlook our sins. (Habakkuk 1:13) Every sin must be punished. "The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet." (Nahum 1:3) Yet, God is rich in mercy and wants to forgive sins. The Bible says, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us." (Ephesians 2:4) Through the death of Jesus God was both just and punished sins; He was also merciful and forgave sins. (Romans 3:26) The sacrifice of Jesus satisfied Divine Justice. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:11)  We observe that Jesus "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." (Galatians 1:4)


          We know that the very heart of the Bible has to do with the atonement. The message of the Bible is salvation through Jesus. Man was created for fellowship with God. Before sin came, Adam and Eve enjoyed God's fellowship. But, after they sinned they attempted to hide themselves from God. "And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." (Genesis 3:8) The best of life comes when men walk with God. Adam, Enoch, and many others prove this to be true. God does not force His fellowship upon mankind. He has always given man the choice of good and evil. "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse." (Deuteronomy 11:26) The Devil is strong in leading man to make the wrong choice. Jesus came to destroy Satan's works. "He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8) Through Jesus, the "seed" of Abraham, salvation is possible. "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed,' who is Christ." (Galatians 3:16) The Lord has shown His love for us by giving Himself for our sins. Jesus died on the cross to make atonement possible.


          We know that the idea of atonement rests in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Sin had caused a separation between God and man. The gospel is the good news of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection that makes our salvation possible. In our Bible, atonement is described this way, "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) Man has a sin problem. "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Man is basically sinful; God is holy and repulsed by sin. Because God is holy and to be revered He sent redemption to His people. "He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever: Holy and awesome is His name." (Psalms 111:9) The writer of Hebrews knew that the only answer to man's sin problem was atonement through Jesus. "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." (Hebrews 9:28) God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.


          We know that the atonement involved great suffering for Jesus. The gospel is the great news that Jesus suffered sin's penalty in man's place. Christ suffered in the place of all sinners. God had no choice but to punish man's sin. But the death of Jesus satisfied the penalty for sin. Jesus' death was a substitute sacrifice for us. Isaiah said: (1) "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4), (2) "He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4),  (3) "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5), (4) "The chastisement for our peace was upon Him" (Isaiah 53:5), (5) "By His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5), (6) "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6), and (7) God saw the labor of His soul and was satisfied. (Isaiah 53:11) God can now forgive sins because Jesus suffered sin's penalty in man's place. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit." (1 Peter 3:18)


          We know that only those that obey the gospel benefit from the atonement. The only ground for manís forgiveness is Jesus' death. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19) Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection are the means of man's salvation. However, only those that obey the gospel benefit from this great sacrifice. Peter preached remission of sins through or in the name of Jesus. "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) Paul preached the same message. "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins." (Acts 13:38)


     Will you accept God's wonderful good news that Jesus died for your sins? Will you be baptized into Christ to put on Christ so that your sins can be forgiven by His blood? "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27) Believers contact Christ's saving blood by being baptized into His death. Those that become children of God have reason to rejoice. (Acts 8:39) Rejoicing follows man's response to God's good news of forgiveness by the death of Jesus.


By Charles Box, Walnut Street Church of Christ, P.O. Box 551, Greenville, Alabama 36037 USA