What does atonement mean?

Submit questions  -  New Articles
When did Jesus Christ perform his atoning work for our sins? What does atonement MEAN and how is it related to the day of Yom Kippur?

Atonement is the spiritual process by which God provided a means to satisfy the need for a penalty for human sin while still extending mercy, through his grace, to all people. Christ's voluntary sacrifice reconciled the need for both justice and mercy. Justice says that sinners should be executed for violating the Eternal's perfectly holy and righteous law (cf. Romans 5:12; 4:15). Mercy says that sinners have to be excused from the penalty of the law if they are to live and be reconciled to him (Romans 5:8 - 11).

Christ's sacrifice ensures that no man or woman has to die forever for his or her disobedience since He paid the penalty in his or her stead. So, when did Jesus complete his atonement for us all?

His atoning work took place not only when he died but also when he was resurrected from the dead. This work will only ultimately become effective in individual lives when people repent and have faith in His sacrifice. It is important to note the Jesus' death and resurrection to life were both necessary so we could be reconciled to God. The Messiah's death paid the penalty for sin, but his life ensures that we ourselves will also be resurrected to eternal life. We have to have eternal life in order to be reconciled and to have a continuing living relationship with the Father for all eternity. Notice this key text in the fifth chapter of Romans that states Christ had to die AND come back to life in order to save us.

9. Much more, therefore, having been justified now by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His own Son (the first part of atonement), much more then, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (the second part, Romans 5:9 - 10, HBFV)

A key text that proves his sacrifice was necessary for providing an atonement for our sins is located in Romans 3.

What do God's annual Feast days mean?
The seven important goals of Christ
Who were the first seven disciples?

[Believing sinners] being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:24 - 26, NASB).

The NIV translation uses "sacrifice of atonement" in place of "propitiation" in verse 25 of Romans 3. In this case, God provides a sacrifice for mankind, instead of man providing one, in order to restore the relationship that existed before sin. Adam and Eve's disobedience cut off the human race from their Creator. Since then we have all been born into a sinful, fallen world, and have sinned ourselves.

12. Therefore, as by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and by means of sin came death; and in this way, death passed into all mankind; and it is for this reason that all have sinned (Romans 5:12, HBFV)

There is, however, a bigger picture that must be considered when we analyze what does atonement mean and the Old Testament Holy day that centers around its fulfillment (commonly called Yom Kippur - Leviticus 16, 23:26 - 32, Numbers 29:7 - 11). The atoning is only effectively applied to the world as a whole when the world will repent and is no longer influenced by Satan the Devil, who is represented by the Azazel goat (wrongly translated as "scapegoat" in the KJV) sent into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:8, 10, 20 - 22, 26). This goat represents God holding the devil responsible for his part in actively deceiving all humans to sin.

Just as physical Israel depended on the high priest to make atonement for his nation on Yom Kippur, the whole world will depend on Jesus as high priest and as coming King to effectively atone for the whole world's sins by removing Satan and by establishing His kingdom on earth that will rule from Jerusalem (See Revelation 5:10, 11:15, 20:1 - 4). Therefore, the general application of his sacrifice will only occur after His return. Until then, only a relatively few true Christians will receive the full benefits of his sacrifice (cf. John 6:44, 65, Matthew 13:11 - 16).

Written by Eric Snow
A BibleStudy.org Email Evangelist

Additional Study Materials
Life and Ministry of Jesus Map
What will be the ultimate fate of the devil?
What does the color white mean in Scripture?
© The Bible Study Site