by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com, December 2013
And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin
offering, and slay the sin offering in the place of the burnt offering.
And the priest shall take of the blood thereof with his finger, and put
it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and shall pour out all
the blood thereof at the bottom of the altar.... and the priest shall
make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him. Leviticus
“My covenant,” the covenant made by God for human beings,
has given human beings assurance and security all through history. In
the fullness of time, Jesus confirmed this covenant by His sacrifice on
the cross. People often ask, “What did Jesus do for humanity on the
cross?” The answer is:
He demonstrated true humility. Fully
divine, He became fully human, giving up His glory to come to earth as a
common man, as a servant (Col 2:9; John 1:1-4; Isa. 53:2; Phil. 2:7, 8).
He revealed the Father to human beings, reestablishing
face-to-face communication (Exod. 34:6, 7; John 1:18; 14:9).3.
He gave His presence to human beings as our redeemer and friend (Luke
12:4; John 15:15).4.
He provided grace to change people’s lives
(Heb. 4:16; 2 Peter 3:18).5.
He prepared His disciples to become
apostles and to form His church once He ascended (Matt. 10:1-14).
He opened the way to “the throne of grace” where people can “find
grace to help in time of
(Heb. 4:16; 10:20). 7. He took
upon Himself our sin and our punishment for sin.
In a few words,
through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are ransomed, redeemed, and
reconciled to God.Leviticus 4
The sacrifices for sin in
the Old Testament were symbolic of the true sacrifice of Jesus on the
cross. The sinner brought a kid of the goats or a lamb to a place near
the altar of burnt offering. He transferred his sin to the animal when
“he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slay the
sin offering” (Lev. 4:29). “And the priest shall take of the blood
thereof with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt
offering, and shall pour out all the blood thereof at the bottom of the
altar. “| and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall
be forgiven him” (Lev. 4:30, 31). By laying his hand on the head of the
animal, and slaying it, the sinner confesses his sin. In a distinct and
separate action, the priest ministers the blood to “make an atonement
for him, and it shall be forgiven him.” A crucial point is that the sin
offering is a single ceremony, in two distinct steps.
some who believe that all
aspects of the atonement were completed at the
cross. To believe this is to create problems regarding pardon for sins
after Calvary and the need for a judgment. To believe the Bible teaching
that Jesus mediates His blood for sinners in the heavenly sanctuary
solves many of these problems.Theories of the Atonement
Through the everlasting covenant, God reconciles sinful humanity to
Himself. With this as a background, there are a number of theories of
the atonement, each with variations. In studying these theories, one can
see that there are Bible
verses that can be applied to nearly every one.
Yet, to discover truth, one must put the whole picture together,
allowing all aspects of truth to fit naturally. A key issue is whether
Jesus’ atonement at the cross is complete or whether there is a further
step to atonement in Christ’s heavenly ministry.Ransom Theory
This view of atonement teaches that when Adam and Eve sinned, they
sold humanity to the devil; thus, justice required that the devil be
paid a ransom to purchase humankind’s freedom and release us from
enslavement. The Bible does use the term “ransom” (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim.
2:5, 6), and it describes redemption as our being “bought with a price”
(1 Cor. 6:20). People generally think of ransom as a price that a person
pays to secure the release of a loved one when kidnapped.
However, there is no scriptural support for the idea that either God or
human beings owe anything to Satan. (On the contrary, throughout
Scripture, we see that God is the One who required a payment for sin.)
True, the sinner is a slave to sin, but this is only because of his
choice. God put enmity between the seed of the woman and Satan, giving
the sinner a new probation and freedom to choose to serve Him. Satan
does not “own” humanity or any part of God’s creation. Paying the devil
off would not release human beings from his control. Satan’s power over
the sinner can exist only through the sinner’s own choice; when the
sinner submits to God, the devil must flee (James 4:7).
an Alexandrian scholar, was an early proponent of the ransom theory of
atonement. He taught that Adam and Eve sold humanity to the devil.
required that grace pay a ransom, with Jesus taking humanity’s
place. God tricked Satan in that Christ could not be held by death. With
this, is the concept of the redemption, or “buying back,” of humanity.
The church taught this for 1,000 years. Since then, the theory has had
few supporters.Moral Influence Theory
The moral influence
theory of the atonement teaches that the purpose and work of Jesus
Christ was to promote positive moral change for humanity. It teaches
that atonement demonstrates God’s love, bringing people to love and
repentance. This moral change came through the teachings and example of
Jesus, the Christian movement He founded, and the
inspiring effect of His crucifixion and resurrection.
According to this
theory, human beings are spiritually sick and in need of help but
capable of accepting God’s forgiveness when they see His love for
humankind poured out through Jesus’ giving Himself on the cross (Gal.
1:4; 2:20; Eph. 5:25; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14). This theory denies that
Christ died to satisfy divine justice, but teaches rather that He died
to inspire humankind with a sense of God’s love, softening their hearts
and leading them to repentance. It ignores the true spiritual condition
of human beings, dead in transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1), and it
denies that sin is a debt requiring payment (Matt. 6:12).
Atonement does not focus on God, with the purpose of maintaining His
justice, but on humankind with the purpose of persuading human beings to
Moral Influence is a subjective, personal, and localized
view. It says nothing about God’s dealing with sin on a cosmic level (1
Cor. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:12). It says nothing about God’s initiative in the
work of grace and leaves humans to form their own character, which leads
to legalism.Satisfaction Theory: Christ Took the Sins of
In the view of Anselm of Canterbury, the first two
theories were inadequate. He suggested that human beings owed God a debt
of honor. This debt creates an imbalance in the moral universe, which
could not be satisfied by God’s simply ignoring it. In Anselm’s view,
the only possible way of repaying the debt was for a divine being to act
as a human being on behalf of human beings and repay the debt of honor
owed to God. Therefore, when Jesus died, He did not pay a debt to Satan
but to God the Father.
Penal substitution is a variation of this
theory. It portrays the atonement of Christ as a vicarious,
substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s justice
for sin. Thus, Christ died on the cross, taking the penalty for sin (the
penal part) in the sinner’s place (the substitution part), thereby
satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive sins. Penal
substitution states that God gave himself in the person of His Son,
Jesus Christ, to suffer the death, punishment and curse due to fallen
humanity as the penalty for humankind’s sin.
The doctrine of the
Trinity is essential in this view. It stipulates that God took the
punishment upon Himself rather than putting it on someone else. The
doctrine of union with Christ affirms that by taking the punishment upon
Himself, Jesus fulfils the demands of justice. His resurrection
completes this process and is the basis for the renewal and restoration
Those who hold this view believe that every
aspect of human beings--mind, will, and emotions--has been corrupted by
sin and that we are totally depraved and spiritually dead. Thus,
Christ’s death paid the penalty for sin, and through faith, human
can accept Christ’s substitution as payment for sin. This view of the
atonement aligns most accurately with Scripture in its view of sin,
human nature, and the results of the death of Christ on the cross. Its
weakness is that it sees sin only in legal terms, when sin is more than
a violation of law.3
God so Loved the World
Jesus is the
Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world.” This is the essence of
the plan of salvation and the everlasting
covenant, which God made before the creation of this world and which
became effective after sin. Through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus
exercised His authority and ownership over all creation. He permitted
Satan to demonstrate to the universe that, in sin, there is slavery and
death. Contrarily, in the law of God, there is freedom, creativity, love
and eternal life (James 1:25; 2:12). Through the atonement He will
restore all that Adam lost by sin.
To wit, that God was in
Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their
trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of
reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19)
For God so loved the world, that he
gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not
perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
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. (John 10:17, 18)
Why would God love this
world? A master craftsman, who has put heart and soul into a project and
brought it to completion, will love what he has made. By nature a woman
will love her child no matter what it is like simply because it is her
child. When God looked at what He had made--what He had given “birth”--in
creating this world, He saw “it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). When sin
entered the world, God would not give it up. He created this earth to
last into eternity, and He was prepared to do whatever necessary to make
it a success.
In the everlasting covenant, the Creator of this
earth, the only begotten Son of the Father, came to earth. He gave up
the beauty and the position He enjoyed in heaven, the power that He
held, and the praise of millions of created beings. He would become a
human being that He might live as a servant. He would even accept death.
Jesus did this so “whosoever believeth in him G
should not perish, but
have everlasting life.”
Jesus died for the sins of every human
being. He died for you and for me!Jesus Loves Even Me
Jesus “had compassion” on the people (Matt. 20:34). He suffered with
them in their sickness and pain. Both occasions that He cleansed the
Temple, He flared in anger at evil men desecrating the house of God.
When Mary washed Jesus’ feet with perfume, He deeply appreciated her
action. This memory was an encouragement to Him on the cross.
the last supper, Jesus appointed the bread and juice as symbols of His
crucifixion and as a memorial to Him. When Peter denied Him during the
trial, one look from the Saviour conveyed His disappointment and pain,
such that Peter rushed out weeping bitterly. At the seaside after the
resurrection, Jesus significantly asked Peter three times if He loved
Him. He did this so Peter would know that Jesus had forgiven him for
thrice denying Him and had reinstated him.
The actions and
of God’s people still affect Jesus Christ today. In the new
earth, we will learn more of what redemption cost Jesus. His sacrifice
on the cross will reach deep into the soul of each person, providing an
emotional bond with the Savior that will provide a barrier against sin
that will never be crossed again.Restoring the Bond of Faith
A Christian must understand that his relation with God is paramount.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6). Faith is
commonly defined as belief and trust in God. In addition there must be
an emotional commitment or love for God and His truth. The faith
relationship can be broken only by sin. In fact, “whatsoever is not of
faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). The nature of a human being is described by
the statement from Genesis: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the
ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man
became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). The breath of life is part of his
being. In sin and separation from God, there is nothing but death.
Jesus gave Nicodemus a beautiful expression of the everlasting
covenant: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have
everlasting life” (John 3:16). God gave His only begotten Son to die for
the sins of men. However, Jesus also came and lived among humans for
thirty-three years. He gave them His presence, His example, and His
love. He became a friend to the human family.
When humans sin and
break the bond of faith, pardon for sin requires renewed faith and love
for God and our fellow human beings. When Jesus came and died for us, He
won a victory for us over sin and Satan (1 Cor. 15:57; 1 John 5:4).
Does love demand that someone must be punished to forgive someone
else? No! It does not! This is a classic wrong question! God will not
and Satan cannot punish Jesus. Rather, Jesus willingly paid a debt
caused by sin. Sin causes death. One small sin opened the gate to all
the sin, disease, and death that we have today. Every sin separates from
God, and only the death of the sinner or the Lawgiver as a substitute
can meet the penalty, but only the death of the Lawgiver can reopen the
way to eternal life.
Why does God demand that someone has to die
because of a broken law? This question ignores the holiness of God and
assumes that the law of God is no more important than human laws and
that sin is trivial. However, sin shows separation from God, and it
brings death (Rom. 6:23; Isa. 59:2). Even in what one might consider to
be small sins, there is pride, rebellion, disobedience, and selfishness,
which are evidences of the sinful nature. It is only by God’s grace that
a person can be changed and receive eternal life.
of Jesus on the cross offers complete atonement for all who believe
(Lev. 4).This atonement must be completed by Christ’s priestly ministry
in the heavenly sanctuary4 Neither step alone is complete and effectual.
Sinners are guilty, condemned to die (Rom. 5:12), and slaves to the
sinful nature. Jesus came to release the bonds of sin (Isa. 61:1). By
grace and with the sinners’ consent, sinners partake of the divine
nature and overcome the sinful nature (2 Peter
1:4-8). In Christ, sinners are free and do not need to sin!
sinners do not pay a ransom to Satan. Through the cross of Calvary,
Jesus removes the condemnation and reconciles sinners to God (Rom. 8:1;
Heb. 4:16; 2 Cor. 5:18).
Since God is all-knowing and
all-powerful, why does He not just deal with sin directly and forgive
all sinners without Christ’s having to be crucified? For God to do this
would trivialize sin. A person who understands the holiness of God will
quickly see that there is no small sin. Sin-no matter how big or
small-is a blot on the perfection of God’s creation and cannot be
permitted. To trivialize sin is to bring disorder into the government of
God and open the way for the recurrence of sin.
While the old
has “bruised the heel” of the Redeemer in Jesus’ suffering on
the cross, the Redeemer will ultimately bruise the serpent’s head (Gen.
3:15). Both sin and Satan will be destroyed (Rev. 20:10, 14, 15). In the
new earth, cleansed and purified of sin, Jesus will live forever among
Peter Abelard (1079-1142)
promoted the moral influence theory in reaction to Anselm’s satisfaction
theory. The sixteenth century Socinians held to a version of the moral
influence theory. Versions of it can be found later in Friedrich
Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and Horace Bushnell (1802-1876). Liberal
Christian circles tend to hold this view today
8/4/12; see also Richard Fredericks, “The moral influence theory: its
attraction and inadequacy,” available at
March/the-moral-influence-theory, accessed 8/4/12). Some historians
claim that the moral influence theory was one of the earliest theories
of the atonement and that it was popular in the early church. See
Jesus died for humankind’s sin, supporting
the concept of penal substitution, also called Vicarious Atonement (Isa.
53:4- 6, 10, 11; Matt. 26:28; Rom. 3:23-26; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21;
Gal. 1:4; 3:10, 13; Eph. 1:7; 5:2; Heb. 10:12; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 1
John 2:2). His death on the cross also supports the concept of the power
of the cross (Matt. 28:18; John 17:2; Rom. 14:9; Rev. 5:9).
Besides these, scholars have put forward various other views of the
atonement. Because the Bible reveals many truths about Christ’s
atonement, it is difficult to find any single theory that fully explains
the richness of the atonement. In the atonement, we find many
interrelated truths concerning the redemption that Christ has
accomplished. Much of what we can learn about the atonement needs to be
understood from the perspective of God’s people under the sacrificial
system of the old covenant. The following are summaries of these
additional views of the atonement:
Recapitulation theory pictures
the atonement as reversing the course of humankind from disobedience to
obedience. It theorizes that Christ’s life recapitulated all stages of
human life, reversing the course of disobedience initiated by Adam. This
theory is not scriptural. The view originated with Irenaeus (AD
125-202), who saw Christ as the new Adam, systematically undoing what
the first Adam had done.
Dramatic theory (Christus Victor)
pictures Christ as securing the victory in a conflict between good and
evil and as winning humankind’s release from bondage to Satan. The
purpose of Christ’s death was to ensure God’s victory over Satan and
provide a way to redeem the world out of its bondage to evil.
Example theory sees the atonement as providing an example of faith and
obedience to inspire people to be obedient to God. Adherents of this
view hold that humans are spiritually alive and that Christ’s life and
atonement were simply an example to inspire human beings to live a
similar life of faith and obedience. This theory and the moral influence
theory both deny that God’s justice requires payment for sin in Christ’s
death on the cross. Example theory fails to recognize every human’s true
spiritual condition and that God’s justice requires payment for sin
beyond the capability of each.
Commercial theory conceives of
atonement as that which brings infinite honor to God. It portrays God’s
giving Christ a reward that He did not need so that Christ could pass
that reward on to humankind. Adherents believe that, because humanity’s
spiritual condition dishonors God, Christ’s death, which brought
infinite honor to God, can be applied to sinners for salvation. This
theory denies the true spiritual state of unregenerate sinners and their
need of an entirely new nature, available only in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
Governmental theory emphasizes God’s high regard for His law and His
attitude toward sin. Adherents evaluate humanity’s spiritual condition
in having broken the law of God. Christ’s death allows God to forgive
the sins of those who repent and accept Christ’s substitutionary death,
but the theory is not clear about Christ’s death paying the penalty for
sin. Hugo Grotius developed this theory in response to the Socinians,
who held to a moral influence theory. For more on the subject, see Paul
Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, available at
http://www.gotquestions.org/atonement-theories. html, accessed 8/4/12.
Hebrews 4:15; 5:6, 9; 9:28; 10:12-14; 12:24 describe Christ’s
priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.5.
1 John 2:1;
3:5-9, 24; 2 Peter 1:4-8; and Romans 8:1, 2. Texts about freedom from
sin are John 8:32, 33, 36 and Romans 6:7, 18, 22 support the idea that
Christians do not need to sin.