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Meaning of Atonement 2
The Biblical meaning of the atonement centers in one basic ideathat God created man to live in a state of unity and oneness with Him, in all respects to enjoy a harmonious relationship with Him and with his fellow man. Because man belongs primarily to God, he was made to enjoy oneness and to live at peace with his Maker.
But sin ruptured this oneness, and wrought disharmony everywhere. Hence there exists a radical break in this unity. God and man are alienated by man's sin. Man inherited the result of Adam's sin, separation from God. Man in himself has no way back to God.
The atonement is God's way of bringing about a reconciliation, of winning man back to Himself. Hence the English word "at-one-ment."
This concept and truth about the atonement is so all-embracing and transcendent that it is impossible to communicate it or properly to understand its meaning simply by study of isolated words used. The Biblical doctrine of the atonement, however, centers around the use of certain specific words. But the English, the Greek, and the Hebrew words do not actually correspond in meaning. They are not exactly equivalent.
The principal word in Hebrew is kaphar. The original meaning of this word is difficult to ascertain. Scholars have traced the word back to a related Arabic root meaning "to cover" or "to hide" or to an Aramaic root meaning "to wash away," "to rub off," "to eradicate." The Old Testament stresses the idea of covering one's sin by some form of expiation or conciliation. Four forms of the root word are used in the Old Testament. The first speaks of a ransom. "The ransom of a man's life is his wealth: but a poor man has no means of redemption" (Prov. 13:8, R.S.V.). The second is translated "to cover over" in a figurative sense; that is, to propitiate or conciliate. Jacob sought to propitiate or "cover" his earlier injustice to his brother Esau by a bounty of gifts. "For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me" (Gen. 32:20). Third, the plural form of the word kippurim is used to designate the "day of atonement" (Lev. 23:27), the modern Yom Kippur. Exodus 30:15 and 16 speaks of atonement money, half a shekel, to be paid by every Israelite "to make an atonement for your souls." By virtue of His act in redeeming Israel from bondage in Egypt, God thereby claims all Israel as belonging to Him; hence man recognizes this by paying the ransom price of a half shekel. The Israelite thus acknowledged God's claim on his life, that he belonged to God. The fourth use of the word refers to the top of the ark, or the mercy seat, as the place of atonement or propitiation. "Thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold" (Ex. 25:17). The significance of the use of this word marks the place where the judgment or wrath of God against sin is "covered over" or "conciliated" symbolically by animal sacrifices typifying the sacrifice of Christ to come.
The underlying idea in all these cases is the effecting of a reconciliation with God by some appropriate course of response. Kaphar has the basic idea of making reconciliation by purging away sin; hence it is frequently translated by the word reconcile.
The prophet Daniel, speaking of the sacrificial work of Christ who was to come, prophesied: "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness" (Dan. 9:24).
The Levitical sacrifices pointed to the sacrifice of Christ, by which men would truly be redeemed from sin. By this very process lost men and women were ransomed by the blood of Christ. The alienation was removed. Reconciliation of God and man was accomplished. Therefore man must avail himself of it. Thus, whenever the Israelites in the wilderness approached God, they brought an animal, offered a personal sacrifice as a continued affirmation on their part that the rupture had been healed and they were at one with God. The fact that many lost sight of the true meaning of these ceremonies was not because of the sacrifices themselves but because men's minds became blinded to the true meaning of the atonement.
Israel was continually reminded that sin creates a break in man's relationship with God and destroys the oneness God desires to establish. So God sought to instruct the people in the basic truth of the atonementthat sin must be removed if people are to experience reconciliation with God and maintain fellowship with Him, that His followers must live clean lives before the Lord. Hence the main idea of making "at one," or atonement.
In the New Testament the doctrine of the atonement centers around the use of three words that express three main ideas: ransom, reconciliation, and propitiation or expiation.
Two Greek words give the idea of ransom, frequently translated "redemption" or "to redeem." The more important word is lutron,"ransom"the redemption or release of a person by the payment of a price. In this case the cost would be the blood of Christ, for "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). "The Son of man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28; see Titus 2:14). Other Greek forms of the same root word are found in Luke 1:68: "The Lord God of Israel . . . hath visited and redeemed his people." he (Christ) secured an "eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12). "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). here the form used has in mind the buying back of a captive, the deliverance from bondage by the sacrifice, Christ. the other word exagorazö means to "buy back" and is translated "redeemed." "Christ hath redeemed us," that is, bought us back from the curse and condemnation of the law by the sacrifice of Himself (Gal. 3:13).
The English word atonement is found in the New Testament of the K.J.V. only in Romans 5:11. The Greek word katallagè is translated in later versions by the word reconciliation which is closer to the correct meaning of the word. The word is a combination of kata and allassó. It means to change or exchange. In the religious sense used in the New Testament, it refers to the relationship with God which is changed from enmity to harmony. Other instances of the use of this word in the verb form also give the meaning of reconciliation. (See Matt. 5:23, 24; 1 Cor. 7:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rom. 5:10.) The work of reconciliation or atonement is ascribed to God who takes the initiative by the giving of His Son and by His Son's sacrifice, which restores man to harmony with God. Thus reconciliation is always effected through the person of Jesus Christ who died for man's sins.
The third Greek word connected with the atoning work of Christ is hilastenon, translated as "propitiation" or "expiation." The Greek word is derived from a root word meaning "to show mercy." (See Luke 18:13.) In classical Greek the word is used of appeasing or propitiating the gods by means of gifts and sacrifices.
There is no possibility of a reconciliation between God and sin, or that transgression should continue forever. At-one-ment is an expression of the divine intention to destroy sin that ruptured the universe. Restoration to oneness was not consummated at the cross. The sin problem has not yet been finally resolved. The cross is the supreme act of God for man's redemption. But that is only one aspect of Christ's work toward the final at-one-ment. Reconciliation is effected by the living Christ. It is not something that happened two thousand years ago. At-one-ment is experienced only as men daily live a life of trust and dependence on Him. The ultimate redemption of all things unto Himself can never be achieved until man is won to a life of unwavering faith and obedience. It is the living Christ of the present who saves, redeems, reconciles.
Christ is our advocate before the Father, our Mediator, our Intercessor, our Representative, our great High Priest. The work wrought out at the cross is the divine invitation to return to God and be at one with Him. To this end Christ is still engaged in the ministry of reconciliation from the sanctuary above. Indeed, we may say that unless God continues His purpose toward the final at-one-ment of all things, then no power in the world can possibly arrest the forces of evil and destroy the evil that exists in the world.
The death of Christ was far more than a divine gesture of love. It broke the power of Satan and sin. By His continued ministry to the end, sin and the forces of evil and disruption will also be destroyed.
Jesus Christ has forever identified Himself with the human race. He is still the living Son of man even as He sits upon the throne of God.
The battle Christ fought while on earth was not only over individuals. Not only the sins of men were borne on the cross. The battle was a continuation of the war that began in heaven when Satan was cast out (see Revelation 12). The final at-one-ment still remains to be realized, not only in each believer but also in the world and in the universe. Because sin still manifests itself in the hearts of moral and spiritual creatures, the work of reconciliation must go on. In one sense the atonement has been made. In the sense of universal harmony it is still to be realized. The moral and spiritual victory of Christ on the cross was not immediately apparent in the eradication of sin. The world still requires direction from God until neither sin nor death prevails.
The complete reconciliation and unity of the world for Christ is accomplished in three stages. The first is the atonement at the cross when Christ brought redemption to sinful man. The second is the priestly ministry of Christ (comparable to the daily ministry of the Levitical priesthood), His intercession and representation before the Father on our behalf, and His guidance of the church to its ultimate triumph. The third is the atonement through judgment. Without all of these there can be no end to sin and no immortality for man. The final destruction of sin and death comes with the end of Satan himself. It may be that the failure to grasp the whole work of our Lord, both on the cross and from the heavenly sanctuary, leaves man with less than a complete knowledge of all the truth the Bible reveals as to the full meaning of the atonement.
The final answer has not yet been given. The work of judgment in and from the heavenly sanctuary differs from the victory Christ gained at Calvary. The living Christ ministers until death and sin are no more. For the world still in sin, the final overthrow of evil can never be accomplished simply and only by an event that happened on the cross two thousand years ago. Both the triumph at the cross and the work of Christ as priest in heaven are hope and pledge of final renewal and at-one-ment.
The key to the Biblical idea of atonement can be more fully understood within this wider perspective. Granted that all this is "in Christ" and realized by Christ. The guilt and penalty for sin are now removed and broken. The believer is reconciled to God and to his fellow men. He now enjoys, by imputation and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the perfect righteousness of Christ that makes fellowship with God a delight and a fulfillment.
The entry into heaven of our exalted Lord has opened the way for Christ's work of intercession and of judgment toward the final day of triumph. All heaven and God's children on earth wait eagerly for that daywhen God will execute judgment to the final reconciliation of all things to Himself.
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