WHY DO WE NEED ATONEMENT?
by Hermanus W. Smeenk
The holiest day of the year for the Jewish people is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 23:26-31 (NKJV throughout), "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying 'Also on the tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls [fast], and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on the same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings." Why did God command the Israelites to observe this day, and why did he attach such dire warnings to ensure that Israel would observe this day? What is so special about it? We will discuss this in the following bible study.
Paul, writing to the Ephesians, [NKJV] told them in Ephesians 2:12-16 that "…at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity."
In this passage, Paul tells us of a breach that came about which caused men to be cut off from God and how God healed that breach and made it possible for men to be reconciled to him. To say that a breach came about means that at one time there was no breach. So, how did that breach come about and why was it necessary to remove that breach and why do we seek to be reconciled or At-onement with God?
In the beginning, God created man to be in his image and in his likeness. In essence, God began the process of creating sons and daughters to be like himself and to develop his personality and his characteristics. After God created Adam and Eve and put them into the garden, he instructed them to eat of every tree in the garden, except the one tree that he called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Notice that God wanted Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of life. These two trees were symbolic of two ways of life. Eating the fruit of the tree of life would result in God's spirit being placed in them and cause Adam and Eve to live a life of obeying and serving God. Eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would result in a different spirit being placed in them and would cause them to live a life apart from and cut off from God. This would lead mankind to order their lives based upon their own understanding of what was good or evil, but the good would be based upon a selfish motivation not an outgoing concern and love for their fellow man. Until Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden teaching them many things that they needed to know, including his law. This can be understood in that both Cain and Abel knew about sacrificing their first fruits to the Eternal. Abel, also, was considered to be a righteous man having been taught most likely by his parents. Adam and Eve were close to God and were happy to be with him when he came to see them. This relationship ceased when Eve, being deceived by the serpent, took of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, ate it and also gave some to Adam who also ate the fruit.
Immediately upon eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree, a different spirit came into the minds of Adam and Eve. This spirit, which was of Satan, hated God and his ways and wanted nothing to do with him. God did not cut them off from him but Adam and Eve cut off themselves from God by means of the spirit that came into them. Now, if God was to realize his plan to create many sons and daughters in his image and likeness, it became necessary at this point to put his plan into motion to heal the breach that occurred when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and reconcile mankind back to himself.
In Revelation 13:8 we read that "…whose names have not been written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." From this we learn that it was even before man was created that God had made the decision that man's Creator (John 1:3) and later the God of Israel would be divested of his glory and divinity, be born of a virgin and ultimately be crucified on a stake and give his life for his people. Because the life of the Creator of mankind was worth far more that the collective lives of all mankind, he was the only one whose death could atone for mankind's sins. Through his death we could become justified from our sins or made right (reconciled) with God. If no one could have atoned for the sins of mankind we all would die in our sins without any hope of a resurrection. We would be as if we had never existed for we read in Ezekiel 18:4 that "…the soul who sins shall die." God emphasis this statement by repeating it in verse 20 of Ezekiel 18 where we read "The soul who sins shall die…" Paul also, tells the Roman brethren in Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death…"
How could God cause our Creator to atone for the sins of mankind? It was his love for us that caused him to do this. What kind of love is this? Some years ago as I was driving through the night and meditating on the trials that had just recently come into my life I received a vision in my mind. In that vision I became aware of One standing next to a throne on which Another One was sitting. I imagined the One standing saying to the One sitting "Should we tell him?" Immediately deep understanding came to me of how great the Father's and Yeshua's love is to us. I understood that love was not a feeling but a forsaking of oneself and the great joy that accompanies the serving of others without recompense. The joy comes from the serving and seeing others happy. Yeshua was able to undergo the torture, excruciating pain, and shame of the stake because of the great joy that he experienced for being able to serve his Father and mankind. Yeshua never thought about himself and his agony but looked forward to the joy that awaited him when he would return and established the Kingdom of God in the holy land as we read in the last 8 chapters of Ezekiel. I was privileged to experience some of that joy that night. The vision that I received lasted only a split second. I don't think I could have handled it had it been of a longer duration. It was far too great for my physical mind. But I do know how great the joy will be when I am changed from mortal to immortal at the return of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, it is out of his great love for mankind and the great joy that awaits him that God determined that he would sacrifice his Son, mankind's Creator, for the sins of all mankind and in their stead. Once that was accomplished, anyone whom the Father called would be granted repentance and having repented of all their sins, have his past sins forgiven (Romans 3:25), and be reconciled at that point to the Father. ("Repentance" in this context means to turn around and go the other way, to turn from a life of habitual sin to a life of habitual righteousness.) This, in effect, places that individual in the same place occupied by Adam and Eve before they took of the forbidden fruit. Hereafter, the sinner would no longer be considered a sinner by the Father, but as a newly begotten son and would, thereafter, be directed and taught by Christ. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:10 "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
From this point forward, as long as the newly begotten son continues to strive, under Christ's guidance and direction, to obey God in all his thoughts and ways, the Father will extend his grace to him whenever he stumbles or breaks any of God's commandments and ordinances. However, it is necessary to continue to repent and confess our sins before the Father and turn from the ways of sin. This striving towards perfection is called "sanctification" and is the process which continues throughout our entire lives wherein we change from the sinners we were into the sons of God. We must understand that grace is only imparted to us when we exhibit obedience to the whole law as expounded throughout the entire bible and when we repent of our wrongful acts.
There is no grace for willful disobedience and continued living in sin. Christ did not come to die for us so that we might continue to live in our sinful ways as many seem to think. These individuals have been deceived to believe that Christ kept the law perfectly in their stead so that they wouldn't have to. It is their excuse to continue in their evil ways. Other hold the doctrine of once saved always saved. But, in Ezekiel 18:21-24, the Eternal says: "…But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Eternal, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live? "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die."
The death of Christ was enacted each year in Israel at Yom Kippur. Two one-year old kids were brought before the High Priest who cast lots for the goats to determine their fate. One was slaughtered and sacrificed. The High Priest placed his hands on the other kid's head and confessed all the sins of Israel and put them upon its head. Thereafter, a strong man took the kid far out into the desert and released it. The death of the first kid symbolized the death of Christ and placing the blame for all the sins on the other kid symbolized placing the blame for our sins where it belonged, on Satan's head. Satan, like the kid, will be banished into a bottomless pit for a thousand years upon the return of the Jesus Christ.
When we are begotten of the Father, we receive a new spirit as a guarantee for the future (2 Corinthians 1:22), a spirit that is in direct communication with the Father and Jesus Christ (Romans 8:16). In many places in the writings of the Apostles, this spirit is referred to as a holy spirit in contrast to the evil spirit that we inherited from our fathers or also referred to as our human nature. These are the two spirits that continually struggle with one another in our minds, about which the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:14-20. Our human spirit must diminish and ultimately die because the soul that sins it must die, and God's spirit in us must continue to grow and ultimately be completely in command of our every waking and sleeping thoughts and our every attitude and activity. It is this spirit that God will place in a spiritual body and cause us to be changed from mortal to immortal at the return of Christ if we remain steadfast in the faith, our good works, and obedience to God. Jesus said "…If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15). Which commandments? All those that he, as the God of Israel, inspired his servants to record in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
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