What does it mean? The word "atone" is to make amends for wrong doing. It is found once in the NT, rendering katallageu (which is better translated "reconciliation"). Its the work of Christ in dealing with the problem posed by the sin of man, and in bringing sinners into right relation with God.
Why the need for atonement? Atonement is brought about by three
things, the universality of sin, the seriousness of sin and man's inability to deal with
sin. The first point is found in many places in the Bible: "for there is no man that
sinneth not'' (I Ki. 8:46); and then Paul writes, "for all have sinned and come
short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Much more could be cited.
The seriousness of sin is that sin separates from God (Is. 59:2).
Jesus said of one sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that it will never be forgiven
(Mk. 3:29), and of Judas he said, "good were it for that man if he had never been
born" (Mk. 14:21). Before being saved men are hostile in mind and doing evil deeds
(Col. 1:21). There awaits the unrepentant sinner only "a certain fearful looking
for of judgment, and a fiery indignation, which will devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:27).
And man cannot deal with the situation. He is not able to keep his sin hidden (Nu. 32:23), and he cannot cleanse himself of it (Pr. 20:9). No deeds of law will ever enable man to stand before God justified (Rom. 3:20). If he must depend on himself, then man will never be saved. Perhaps the most important evidence of this is the very fact of the atonement. If the Son of God came to earth to save men, then men were sinners and their need serious indeed.
Where do the old and new testaments connect about the atonement? It
is clear that in the OT it was recognized that death was the penalty for sin (Ezk. 18:20),
but that God graciously permitted the death of a sacrificial victim to substitute for the
death of the sinner. So dear is the connection "without the
shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22).
The NT takes the line that the sacrifices of old were not the root cause of the putting away of sins. Redemption is to be obtained even "from the transgressions under the first covenant" only by the death of Christ (Heb. 9:15). The cross is absolutely central to the NT, and, indeed, to the whole Bible. All before leads up to it. All after looks back to it.
How the atonement applies? The atonement reveals God's love for men.
It shows us the love of the Father just as it does the love of the Son. Paul says
"God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died
for us" (Rom. 5:8). In the one of the most familiar scripture in the Bible we read
that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . ." (Jn
3:16). In Mark's Gospel it is emphasized that the Son of man "must" suffer (Mk
8:31). That is to say, the death of Christ was no accident. It was a divine necessity.
This we see in our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane that the will of the
Father be done (Mt. 26:42). Also, in Hebrews we read that it was "by the grace of God" that Christ tasted death for us all (Heb. 2:9). The thought is found throughout the NT, and we must bear it well in mind when we reflect on the manner of the atonement.
In the salvation experience, when God saves us, we receive the shed
blood of Christ, forgiveness of all sins, and the renewed relationship with God. When God
saves us there is no Apostolic power that comes with the shed blood, just reconciliation.
No man today has the power to heal. However, we do have power in prayer (Ja. 5:16), which
is a privilege far neglected.
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