The Atonement in Adventist Theology
All that we know about God and Jesus Christ is involved in the atonement. Therefore, to give a full explanation of this subject in these two brief presentations is impossible. And the more we study the atonement the more wonderful it becomes to us. We can no more understand it than we can explain the mystery of electricity or the force of gravity. Nor can one have any true conception of this great theme who fails to recognize the eternal deity of Christ, the involvements of the incarnation and sinless human nature of our Lord, and the fundamental provision of righteousness by faith. Limited ideas always result when one fails to grasp these basic truths.
For example, in the April issue of THE MINISTRY we quoted a Universalist as saying: "How can a just God, the first person, take the sin of guilty man, the second person, and lay it on Christ, an innocent third person?" On the surface that does seem to pose a problem. But when God, the first person, took the sin of guilty man, the second person, and laid it upon Christ, He laid it not on a third person but on Himself, for Christ is God, Deity incarnate. There is actually no third person as such involved.
If God, as sovereign ruler of the universe, voluntarily chooses to take man's guilt upon Himself in order to manifest His love and mercy to men, angels, and the universe, what ground can there be for objection? It was the same One who made the law who suffered the penalty for its violation. It was God Himself who permitted a substitute, who provided the substitute, and became the substitute. Moreover, that substitution was made not for good people, not even for those trying to be good, but for the "ungodly," for those who were "without strength," and actually His "enemies" (Rom. 5:6-11). And this great sacrifice was the antitype of all the various offerings of ancient Israel—lambs, goats, calves, bullocks, pigeons, and even the handful of flour that was permitted under certain circumstances.
Morning and Evening Sacrifice
Foundational in that whole sacrificial ritual was the daily morning and evening sacrifice called the "continual burnt offering" (Exodus 29:42, Heb. tamid). This was in addition to the many and varied offerings of both the congregation and individuals.
The daily offering . . . formed the foundation of the whole sacrificial system.—R. WINTERBOTTOM in The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 5, p. 380.
The institution [of the morning and evening sacrifice] was so imperative, that in no circumstances was this daily oblation to be dispensed with.— JAMIESON, FAUSSET AND BROWN, Commentary, Critical and Expository, on Ex. 29:38.
The morning and evening sacrifice, which symbolized the continual efficacy of Christ's sacrifice and ministry (Heb. 7:24), can be better understood if we think of it as God's offering for the people, rather than the people's offering to God. It was offered irrespective of the attitude of the people, individually or collectively. And it was efficacious even for those in exile (1 Kings 8:30, 44, 50). This "continual" sacrifice, if we think of it as God's sacrifice, actually symbolized God's provision of grace, which existed even before the foundation of the world, and with which the individual sinner has nothing to do other than to accept it. Grace cannot be earned, it must be accepted.
General instructions concerning "burnt offerings" are found in Leviticus 1:5, 6. The priest was instructed to kill the sacrifice, then flay (skin) it and "cut it into his pieces." This flaying and dismembering of the victim was a vital part of the ceremony. Originally, when the repentant sinner brought his own beast to be offered he slew it with his own hand. The execution must not be stayed because of any anguish or look of despair on the part of the creature. When the slaying was accomplished, the animal or bird was skinned. Its beauty gone, its body marred and dismembered, it was finally consumed by fire—truly a gruesome ceremony, but it depicted graphically the wrath of God against sin.
Individual Sacrifices or Responsive Offerings
These individual sacrifices were important, for each foreshadowed Calvary, and being offered by the individual, they expressed his personal appropriation of God's provision. We might think of the morning and evening sacrifice as primary, while the individual sacrifice was secondary: the first typifying atonement provided; the second, atonement appropriated. Lack of understanding of the secondary offerings in Israel led to corruption of the gospel. Some reasoned that the more animals sacrificed the better would be one's standing before God.
Christ Took Our Place
Now let us think of our Lord submitting Himself to judgment and then being "led as a sheep to the slaughter." Picture Him standing there unprotected. Yes, His body was "broken for us"; He made "his soul an offering for sin" (Isa. 53:10).
Under the crushing burden of the world's guilt He mournfully says: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." He was wounded, yes, "wounded for our transgressions," but how deep those wounds, who can tell? Thorns, thongs, and nails pierced and bruised His flesh, but greater than these tortures was the unutterable grief and anguish that swept over His smitten soul. See Him as He endures "such contradiction of sinners against himself" (Heb. 12:3), resisting unto blood in His battle against the powers of darkness. Chief of all the universe, Prince of heaven, Creator of constellations, He stands there as our substitute in the midst of a mocking crowd. Gaze upon this occupant of the throne, who, having laid aside His glory, separated Himself from associations rightfully His from all eternity, that He might take human nature (not sinful nature) and suffer the direst pangs of privations in our place. Having been condemned as a criminal He bows His head in humble submission, and begins His death march to Calvary. On that blood-soaked hill of death He is crucified with thieves and ridiculed by priests.
See the Lamb of God torn, disjointed, marred, and mangled.
It was the Passover day when Jesus died, yet His actual decease occurred not at the time of the slaying of the Passover lamb but at the time of the evening sacrifice. Paul's statement is important: "In due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). He died "at the right moment" (Weymouth).
Now note this comment:
It was the hour of the evening sacrifice. The lamb representing Christ had been brought to be slain. . . . With intense interest the people were looking on. But the earth trembles and quakes. . . . All is terror and confusion. The priest is about to slay the victim; but the knife drops from his nerveless hand, and the Iamb escapes. Type has met antitype in the death of God's Son.—The Desire of Ages, pp. 756, 757.
Just before yielding His life He uttered the most momentous word ever heard: "Tetelestai ["It is finished"]!" This was no cry of despair; it was a shout of victory. And that shout running back against the torrent of time was the assurance of forgiveness for every confessed or ignorant transgression since the fall of man. It swept forward to the end of time to assure us of salvation who would be living when time is about to melt into eternity. It ascended to the throne of God to announce to the angels that He had conquered. It reached the rave from which some would be resurrected when He Himself would burst the tomb. The messenger of the Lord says it was "a voice that shook the universe" (Manuscript 165, 1899). And further, "All heaven triumphed in the Saviour's victory. Satan was defeated, and knew that his kingdom was lost."—The Desire of Ages, p. 758. Angels and unfallen worlds received that note of triumph with joy, for "it was for them as well as for us that the great work of redemption had been accomplished. They with us share the fruits of Christ's victory."—Ibid.
Universe Affected by Atonement
But the plan of redemption had a yet broader and deeper purpose than the salvation of man. It was not for this alone that Christ came to the earth; it was not merely that the inhabitants of this little world might regard the law of God as it should be regarded; but it was to vindicate the character of God before the universe. To this result of His great sacrifice—its influence upon the intelligences of other worlds, as well as upon man—the Saviour looked forward when just before His crucifixion He said: "Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all . . . unto me." [Not only this world but the whole universe is united in Him.] . . .
It was the marvel of all the universe that Christ should humble Himself to save fallen man. . . . When Christ came to our world in the form of humanity, all were intensely interested in following Him as He traversed, step by step, the bloodstained path from the manger to Calvary. Heaven marked the insult and mockery that He received, and knew that it was at Satan's instigation. . . . They [the sinless intelligences of other worlds] watched the battle between light and darkness as it waxed stronger. And as Christ in His expiring agony upon the cross cried out, "It is finished!" a shout of triumph rung through every world, and through heaven itself. The great contest that had been so long in progress in this world was now decided, and Christ was conqueror. . . . With one voice the loyal universe united in extolling the divine administration.—Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 68-70. (Italics supplied.)
That "shout of triumph" is recorded in Revelation 12:10:
Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
Again we quote:
At this glorious completion of His work, songs of triumph echoed and re-echoed through the unfallen worlds. Angel and archangel, cherubim and seraphim, joined in the chorus of victory.—The Youth's Instructor, April 6, 1903.
Before His death Jesus said: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Cor. 11:25, A.R.V.). His blood was not merely a covering for sin, but actually a covenant that sealed forever the relationship between God and man.
The atonement of Christ sealed forever the everlasting covenant of grace. It was the fulfilling of every condition upon which God suspended the free communication of grace to the human family. Every barrier was then broken down which intercepted the freest fullness of the exercise of grace, mercy, peace and love to the most guilty of Adam's race.—Manuscript 92, 1899. (Italics supplied.)
During those awful hours of agony our Saviour, as the sinner's substitute, could not "see the Father's reconciling face." He "could not see through the portals of the tomb." He was not "comforted with the Father's presence. He trod the wine press alone."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 753, 754. These words are arresting, but let us read on all the while remembering that this was a sacrifice by the Godhead in the person of the God-man.
Suddenly the gloom lifted. In clear, trumpetlike tones, that seemed to resound throughout creation, Jesus cried, "It is finished." A light encircled the cross, and the face of the Saviour shone with a glory like the sun. . . . As in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father's favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor. . . . The battle had been won. . . . As a Conqueror He planted His banner on the eternal heights.—The Desire of Ages, pp. 756-758. (Italics supplied.)When He uttered the cry, "It is finished," Christ knew that the battle was won.—Manuscript Ill, 1897. (Italics supplied.)
His Victory Emphasized in the Epistles
The significance of that victory is not fully revealed in the Gospels, and some critics have attempted to discredit the doctrine of the atonement, declaring that it is not taught by Christ. But in the book of Acts and in the epistles, especially the Epistle to the Hebrews, the New Testament writers set it forth very clearly. The atonement was the whole purpose of His death. The primary objective of our Lord's earthly mission was not so much to preach the gospel, as it was to make an atonement that there might be a gospel to preach. In the record of His wonderful life, one third of all the materials deals with events during the last week; not His life, nor His miracles, but His death was the great work He had come to accomplish. These inspired comments leave no doubt as to Adventism's true understanding of this theme:
When He offered Himself on the cross, a perfect atonement was made for the sins of the people.— Signs of the Times, June 28, 1899. (Italics supplied.)
Christ made a full atonement, giving His life as a ransom for us.—Letter 97, 1898. (Italics supplied.)
When the Father beheld the sacrifice of His Son, He bowed before it in recognition of its perfection. "It is enough," He said. "The Atonment is complete."—Review and Herald, Sept. 24, 1901. (Italics supplied.)
No language could convey the rejoicing of heaven or God's expression of satisfaction and delight in His only begotten Son as He saw the completion of the atonement.—Signs of the Times, Aug. 16, 1899. (Italics supplied.)
How full and complete that was is emphasized again and again in Paul's epistles. The great apostle gloried in our Saviour's victory. Listen as he says:
He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over His own Head on the Cross. And then, having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, He exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in His final glorious triumphant act! (Col. 2:13-15, Phillips).
Now, through the blood of Christ, you who were once outside the pale are with us inside the circle of God's love and purpose. . . . For He reconciled both to God by the sacrifice of one Body on the Cross. . . . Then He came and told both you who were far from God and us who were near that the war was over (Eph. 2:13-16, Phillips).
Note this comment:
He took in His grasp the world over which Satan claimed to preside as his lawful territory, and by His wonderful work in giving His life, He restored the whole race of men to favor with God.—Manuscript 50, 1900 (Italics supplied.)
Yes, the battle is won, the war is over, we are redeemed, the price is paid; what a wonderful Saviour! And when "he offered up himself" (Heb. 7:27) He was both Priest and Sacrifice. This is in harmony with historic Christianity, but it is also what the Spirit of Prophecy emphasizes again and again. Listen!
The infinite sufficiency of Christ is demonstrated by His bearing the sins of the whole world. He occupies the double position of offerer and of offering, of priest and of victim.—Letter 192, 1906. (Italics supplied.)
Christ emptied Himself, and took the form of a servant, and offered the sacrifice, Himself the priest, Himself the victim.—The Southern Watchman, Aug. 6, 1903. (Italics supplied.)
Then, having conquered all the powers of evil on the cross, He completely outmaneuvered the enemy by rising from the sealed tomb. Breaking the bonds of death, He ascended to His Father as "the King of glory," and was "crowned with glory and honour" (Ps. 24:7-10; Heb. 2:9).
His Glorious Home-coming
No pageantry on earth can compare with our Lord's home-coming after His battle with the powers of darkness. As the procession sweeps into the heavenly courts, a voice peals forth: "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?" And then comes the answer: "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save" (Isa. 63:1). He alone of all the sons of earth could speak in righteousness. And He is there to speak His righteousness in behalf of sinful men; to offer His spotless robe to all who will receive it.
When Christ passed within the heavenly gates, He was •enthroned amidst the adoration of the angels.—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 38.
Occupying the throne as coregent with His Father in the government of the universe, He is at the same time our heavenly intercessor, making effective in us what He accomplished for us on the cross.
The time had come for the universe of heaven to accept their King. Angels, cherubim and seraphim, would now stand in view of the cross.—Signs of the Times, Aug. 16, 1899.
The nature of our Lord's ministry is beyond human comprehension. John the revelator saw Him not only as high priest and judge but as a lamb in the act of being slain (Rev. 5:6). His nail-scarred hands and feet bear continual testimony of His sacrificial atonement.
Christ as High Priest within the veil so immortalized Calvary, that though He liveth unto God, He dies continually to sin and thus if any man sin, he has an Advocate with the Father. He arose from the tomb enshrouded with a cloud of angels in wondrous power and glory,—the Deity and humanity combined.—Manuscript 50, 1900. (Italics supplied.)
Christ—a King-Priest on the Throne
Let us thank God for our anointed High Priest, but let us not forget that He is at the same time our exalted king, a king-priest "after the order of Melchizedek."
The uplifted Saviour is to appear in His efficacious work as the Lamb slain, sitting upon the throne, to dispense the priceless covenant blessings, the benefits He died to purchase for every soul who should believe on Him.—Evangelism, p. 191. (Italics supplied.)
He is able to dispense these blessings and benefits because He has entered "into the holy place r the holies," Greek hagial having obtained ["procured," Greek heurisko, R.S.V. "secured"] eternal redemption for us" (Heb. 9:12). His ministry speaks of a finished sacrifice. Nothing is more wonderful than our Lord's high-priestly ministry. From the throne of grace He pours forth the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Just before His death He unfolded something of that ministry of intercession when He said: "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (John 14:18). At Pentecost He came, not in person, but in power, in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Peter said: "He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:33). As our advocate or intercessor, Christ sends forth His Spirit into our hearts to lead us into fellowship with the heavenly family. Justification and sanctification are each the work of Christ, the Holy Spirit helping our infirmities since "we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us. . . . And he . . . searcheth the hearts" (Rom. 8:26, 27).
Christ at the throne of grace and the Spirit at the throne of the heart are one in their ministry of intercession.
Christ, our Mediator, and the Holy Spirit are constantly interceding in man's behalf, but the Spirit pleads not for us as does Christ who presents His blood, shed from the foundation of the world; the Spirit works upon our hearts, drawing out prayers, and penitence, praise and thanksgiving. —Manuscript 50, 1900. (Italics supplied.)
But what is the nature of Christ's intercession? Surely He does not have to move the Father to mercy, for was it not the Father's mercy that permitted the sacrifice in the first place? And we surely could not think of Him as agonizing before the Father or making another sacrifice, shedding His blood anew. Such a thought is preposterous. Is not His pleading rather a declaration before the universe that all sinners are acceptable into the family of heaven through His blood? Note the clear concept of the Spirit of Prophecy:
It is as necessary that He should keep us by His intercessions as that He should redeem us with His blood. If He lets go His hold of us for one moment, Satan stands ready to destroy. Those purchased by His blood, He now keeps by His intercession.—Manuscript 73, 1893. (Italics supplied.)
The Captain of our salvation is interceding for His people, not as a petitioner to move the The truth is, one's vocation is never some far-off possibility. It is always the simple round of duties which the passing hour brings.—J. W. Dulles.
Father to compassion, but as a conqueror, who claims the trophies of His victory. . . . Make this fact very plain.—Gospel Workers, pp. 154, 155. (Italics supplied.)
Are we making it plain? Our own members, as well as others, need to have this set before them in clear lines. A clearer comprehension of these great themes is needed.
Our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths.—Ibid., p. 301.
The beauty of our Saviour's intercession is expressed in these words:
As the sinner's sincere, humble prayers ascend to the throne of God, Christ mingles with them the merits of His own life of perfect obedience. Our prayers are made fragrant by this incense.—Sons and Daughters of God, p. 22-
Perfumed with the fragrance of His righteousness, these ascend to God as a sweet savor. The offering is wholly acceptable, and pardon covers all transgression.—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 156.
His death on Calvary provided the atonement; His high-priestly ministry makes application of the atonement to those who believe. As the representative head of a new kingdom, He at the throne of grace, is now claiming and preparing the citizens of that kingdom.
The Judgment and the Atonement
Christ's work of intercession will conclude when He, as the "judge of all the earth," pronounces the sentence of judgment, after which He comes in power and great glory to receive from the world His own. That sentence is recorded in Revelation 22:11, 12. Our understanding of prophecy leads us to the conviction that the great heavenly assize is now in session and has been since the judgment hour struck in 1844. We speak of this as the investigative judgment, when the cases of the professed people of God came up in review.
Our Lord's transcendent act on the cross and His priestly ministry are essential parts of, or definite results accruing from, our Lord's atonement.
We believe that Israel's typical service on the Day of Atonement teaches important lessons. On that day the high priest concluded his ministry of reconciliation by taking the blood of the sacrificial goat and cleansing the earthly sanctuary, after which he confessed the sins of the congregation over the head of the scapegoat and sent him into oblivion—a graphic illustration of what our Intercessor will do at the conclusion of His priestly ministry in heaven. By virtue of His own blood, which is the very basis of His intercession, our High Priest will cleanse the heavenly sanctuary. Then laying aside His priestly garments He will descend the skies as King of kings and Lord of lords to receive His people and destroy His enemies. Then as the rightful ruler of a redeemed kingdom He will roll back upon Satan (the antitypical Azazel) the whole dark record of rebellion against God, and will cast him into the lake of fire where rebellion is destroyed forever.
When Satan, the very instigator of evil, and all the myriads of unholy angels, and all who have refused the grace of God are eventually destroyed, then, for the first time since the inception of sin, will the universe be clean.
Adventist understanding of the atonement leads us to recognize at least four aspects of the theme, which, taken together, round out the full picture:
1. Provisional atonement, made for all the world by the death of Christ on the cross. As the world's Saviour He restored the whole race into favor with God and at the same time secured the universe against the possibility of future rebellion.
2. Applied atonement through the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary; effective for every soul who accepts this divine provision.
3. Eliminative atonement, when concluding His priestly ministry. Christ as Judge settles the destiny of every soul, rendering to every man according to his works. (This review of the books of record, or the investigative judgment, we believe began in 1844.)
4. Retributive atonement when the sentence against sin and sinners will be executed, resulting in the final destruction of rebellion and in a cleansed universe.
The limits of this presentation do not permit the development of these last two phases, each of which is deserving of wide study. The Christian church in general accepts without question the first two, while 3 and 4, although inferred and sometimes briefly touched upon by certain theologians, are not generally considered as actual as,pects of the subject; but we believe only as all four of these aspects are taken together do we get the full picture of our Saviour's atoning work and its final effects upon the universe. This could be thought of as our Adventist denominational contribution to Christian theology.
It brings great joy to our hearts as we contemplate the full fruitage of our blessed Lord's atoning sacrifice, first as it applies to the individual sinner, cleansing him from every defilement in that "fountain opened . . for sin and for uncleanness"; then as it applies to the heavenly sanctuary itself, when as high priest, and in the virtue of His spilt blood, He removes every record of sin; and then finally as it applies to the sin-cursed earth, a tiny speck in God's vast creation, which when re-created, will forever hold a unique place in the universe—the object lesson of God's love and grace (Eph. 2:7.)
How glorious it will be when sin and all its tragic effects are obliterated, and one pulse of harmony and gladness beats through God's mighty universe, and all creation reflects His ineffable glory. With eager anticipation we await that hour when the redeemed of all ages will unite their voices in a paean of praise and "every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea" join in that mighty chorus: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!" "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."
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