The Blood of Atonement

“It pleased the Father that in him [Christ] should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” —Colossians 1:19,20

BLOOD IS USED in the Scriptures as a symbol of life, particularly life poured out as an atonement for sin. Leviticus 17:11 reads, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” God’s arrangement with typical Israel, through the priesthood and Tabernacle services, called for much shedding of blood. While a degree of blessing accrued to the Israelites from these sacrifices, their main purpose was to point forward to Jesus’ sacrifice and the fact that he would shed his blood to make an atonement for the sins of both the church and the world—for “things on earth” as well as “things in heaven,” that is, for the restitution class as well as for those who are partakers of the heavenly calling.

A similar thought to atonement is expressed by the word ‘propitiation’, both meaning to expiate, or make satisfaction. In Romans 3:25 Paul, speaking of Jesus, said, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” In I John 2:2 we read, “He [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

It was the love of God that made the provision for atonement through the blood of Christ. The need for atonement arose when Adam transgressed the divine law and brought the penalty of death upon himself and upon his progeny. Not until satisfaction, or propitiation, had been made for his sin could he or any of his condemned race be released from the penalty of death. Atonement for sin provided through the blood of Christ, therefore, leads to life for those who accept this gift of God’s grace.

In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, where the typical work of sacrifice is described, the word atonement appears seventy-three times. In the 16th chapter of Leviticus, a yearly Atonement Day and its sacrifices are described. Apparently the nation of Israel received a measure of blessing from these yearly services, but they did not provide satisfaction for the sin and its penalty, death, which they inherited from father Adam; so they remained under Adamic condemnation and continued to die.

Paul explains this matter in Hebrews 10:1, which reads, “The Law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the corners thereunto perfect.” Only by being made perfect, free from Adamic condemnation, can one escape the penalty of death, and the yearly Atonement Day sacrifices offered by Israel’s typical priesthood did not result in perfection to those who sought benefit from them.

“The Law made nothing perfect,” Paul wrote, “But the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.” (Heb. 7:19) This ‘better hope’ is based upon the atoning efficacy of the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is efficacious to assure perfection, and therefore life, because his life, the life which he poured out, as symbolized by his shed blood, was an exact equivalent of the perfect life of Adam—the life which he forfeited when he sinned against his Creator. Paul emphasized this basic aspect of the atoning work of Christ by the use of the word ‘ransom’, saying that the man Christ Jesus gave himself “a ransom for all.”—I Tim. 2:3-6

God’s love provided atonement for sin through Christ which, in turn, opens up the way to life. But the mere fact that Jesus died as the Redeemer and Savior of the world does not in itself give life to Adam and his race for whom the sacrifice was made. Each one of the condemned race who receives life through this provision must believe therein, and individually accept the gift. John 3:16 makes this clear—“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Jesus again said, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [Greek, ‘judgment’]; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24) This is a most comprehensive statement, and can be properly understood only in the light of Jesus’ further explanation. In the next verse he reminds us of the hope of the resurrection—“the dead shall hear his voice, and they that hear shall live,” in an hour, or time, that is coming. (The words “and now is” are not in the old manuscripts.)

Then, after explaining that he had been given authority to execute judgment, and that it had been given him to have life in himself, Jesus again spoke of the resurrection, explaining that those who have done good, the believers, shall come forth unto the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil; who have not believed, shall come forth unto a resurrection of judgment. As explained in verse 24, the believers do not enter into judgment.

So when Jesus said that believers ‘have everlasting’ life, it is obvious he meant that they have it upon the basis of faith, which means that God no longer looks upon them as sinners under condemnation to death, but as perfect in the righteousness of Christ, and having a right to live. However, from the human standpoint, these seem to die like everyone else; or, as the thought is expressed in Psalm 82:7, they “die like men.” Actually, however, as is further explained in this prophecy of the church’s part in the plan of God, they “fall [in death] like one of the princes.”

The Hebrew word here translated ‘princes’ literally means ‘head’, and is used in the Old Testament to describe captains and generals of armies, or chief persons in any association. Its literal meaning, ‘head’, lends itself to the fact that in this particular text the princes referred to are the head of the fallen human race—Adam, and Jesus who will be the Head of the regenerated race.

Both these ‘princes’ died. The first died as a condemned sinner; the second died sacrificially on behalf of the first ‘prince’ and his race; died to provide a way for mankind to escape the penalty for sin, which was death. The prophecy states that the “children of the Most High” to whom it applies, while from the human standpoint ‘die like men’, actually fall in death “like one of the princes.”

They do not fall like prince Adam; that is, because sentenced to death. No, through their faith acceptance of the atoning merit of Christ’s blood they have passed from death unto life, and are no longer under condemnation. They die, therefore, as prince Jesus died; that is, sacrificially. Their life is not taken away from them because of sin; rather, they lay it down by denying themselves and taking up their cross and following Jesus into death. They “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” and thereby are led into death, even as he was “brought as a lamb to the slaughter.”—Rev. 14:4; Isa. 53:7

There is much said in the New Testament to indicate that the followers of Jesus are his followers because they are co-sacrificers with him. Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1) Yes, it is a ‘holy’ sacrifice, and therefore ‘acceptable’ to God. It is holy because faith in the atoning blood of Christ results in ‘perfection’, not actual, but reckoned.

Paul spoke of being ‘crucified’ together with Christ. In Romans 6:3-11 he reasons the matter out for us in detail, and shows why we are given the privilege of laying down our lives in acceptable sacrifice to God. First he spoke of it as a baptism, or burial, into Christ’s death—a sacrificial death. He said we are “buried with him” by baptism into death; also, that we have been “planted together in the likeness of his death”—dying, that is, ‘like one of the princes’.

Paul further explained (vs. 6) that our “old man is crucified with him,” that is, with Christ, “that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin; for he that is dead is freed from sin”—the Margin says, “justifieth from sin.” These ‘bodies’ that are freed from sin are not, therefore, the ‘body of sin’ that is destroyed, but our own justified bodies that are willingly sacrificed.

What then, is the ‘body of sin’ that is destroyed? Prof. Strong defines the Greek word here translated ‘body’ as ‘body (as a sound whole) used in a very wide application, literal or figurative’. We believe the ‘body of sin’ mentioned by Paul is a symbolic body—the whole sinful polity that seized upon the human race in the Garden of Eden and which has been blighting humanity ever since. The atoning work of Jesus opens the way for the destruction of this ‘body’ of sin, and our being crucified with him—our death baptism with him—is a further aspect of the divine arrangement whereby the evil reign of sin will be overthrown and destroyed.

Paul substantiates this in verse 10. Speaking of the death of Jesus, he says, “He died unto sin once.” In verse 11 he continues: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.” There are two key words in this statement: likewise and reckon. We are planted together in the likeness of Jesus’ death, and Paul tells us that Jesus died “unto sin.” Jesus was not himself a sinner, and did not die unto sin in the sense of destroying sin in his own body. He died unto sin as a sin-offering.

‘Likewise’ or in the ‘likeness’ of his death, we ‘died unto sin’. With our imperfect bodies we could offer nothing to the Lord in the way of an acceptable sacrifice; so, in order to be partners with Jesus in the divine plan of reconciling a world to God, we are authorized to ‘reckon’ ourselves to be so doing. We can thus ‘reckon’ because God reckons us as having passed from death unto life. If we be dead with Christ, our bodies, Paul says, are freed, or justified, from sin’s condemnation. So, on the authority of God’s Word, we are privileged to reckon ourselves as participating in the “better sacrifices” of this age, and in the great sin-offering work.—Heb. 9:23

There is a distinct difference of meaning between the words ‘ransom’ and ‘sin-offering’. The word ransom as used in the Bible means a corresponding price. Thus Paul explains that the “man Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all.” (I Tim. 2:3-6) None but a perfect man could do this, for it was the perfect man, Adam, who sinned and brought death condemnation upon himself and his offspring. Since the undefiled Jesus gave himself a ransom, nothing needs to be, nor can be, added thereto.

A sin-offering is simply an offering for sin. A sin-offering can be anything which the Lord indicates his willingness to accept, and for any purpose which the Lord may design. Thus, in connection with the typical Tabernacle services, bullocks and goats were offered for sins, and the Lord accepted them. By God’s design certain blessings accrued to Israel from these offerings. They did not make the offerer perfect, nor give him life. Only the perfect sin-offering, the sin-offering which was a corresponding price, as offered by the man Christ Jesus, could do this.

But the fact that a ransom, a corresponding price, was provided by Jesus, does not in itself give life to Adam and his race. The world must be given a knowledge of this provision, and an opportunity to accept it. And even after they accept it, they will need sympathetic help and understanding in order to bring their lives into harmony with the righteous principles required of all those who will have the privilege of enjoying everlasting life.

It is in this connection that the church is invited to share in the work of reconciling the world to God, or of bringing the people into at-one-ment with the Creator that they might live. Paul wrote “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,” and just before making this statement, said that “God, who hath reconciled us [the church] to himself by Jesus Christ,” adds that he has given unto us the “ministry of reconciliation.” We represent Christ—we are his ambassadors—to carry to the world the word of reconciliation.—II Cor. 5:18-21

This cooperative plan, in which the word of reconciliation is entrusted to the footstep followers of Jesus, begins during the Gospel Age, and while we are still in the flesh. The condition is that we share in death baptism with Jesus. If we are being planted together in the likeness of his death, and suffering with him, this suffering, first of all, is on behalf of Christ’s body members; and also for the world of mankind during the next age.

Paul wrote, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24) This is a very practical matter. All those who eventually become members of the body of Christ were at one time in the world, and in darkness with the world. The truth which enlightens and draws them to the Lord is not flashed across the sky, but taken to them by those previously enlightened. Because darkness hateth the light, this ministry of the truth, the ministry of reconciliation, results in suffering.

Bitter, death-dealing persecution does not always result from bearing witness to the truth. It often did in the beginning of the age. Now the hatred of the light is more refined, often taking the form of ostracism and cold indifference. But faithfulness in the ministry of the truth will lead to weariness of the flesh. The responsibilities of the ministry, if faithfully discharged, will mean a measure of mental concern for the interests of the Lord’s people. No true saint of God can ever be content to take life easy when there are brethren to be served, or when the truth can be proclaimed to reach those whom the Lord may be calling to become his brethren.

We have a wonderful example of this in the ministry of. Paul. What a great deal of suffering was involved in his faithful ministry! Stripes, imprisonments, stonings, perils in the sea, and perils in the city, and even perils among false brethren. All of this, he said, was for Christ’s “body’s sake, which is the church.”—II Cor. 11:23-28; Col. 1:24

But not alone for the church. In his masterful argument on the necessity of the resurrection, he again spoke of his suffering, and the suffering of all the body members. Why, he asked, are we thus “baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” (I Cor. 15:29) Here again Paul is referring to our death baptism, and he says that it is on behalf of the dead; that is, the dead world of mankind.

Jesus is the great antitypical High Priest, and the church is clearly shown in the New Testament to be associated with him in the priesthood. (Heb. 3:1; I Pet. 2:5,9) One of the principal functions of Israel’s priesthood was the offering of sacrifice. So the priesthood of this age, beginning with Jesus and continuing with his faithful followers, also offer sacrifices—not animal sacrifices, but themselves. Jesus set the example of faithful sacrifice, even unto death, and we are ‘baptized’ into death with him.

Based upon the sacrifices offered, the priests of Israel extended blessings to the people. For example, at the close of the typical sacrificial service outlined in Leviticus 9, “Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them.” (vs. 22) Just so, the antitypical priesthood, composed of Jesus and his church, will, in the Millennial Age, be the channel of blessing to all mankind; and the blessing they will offer the people will be the opportunity to gain everlasting life made available through the ransoming blood of the Redeemer.

What wisdom and love are revealed in this arrangement! The antitypical priesthood are the Gospel Age ‘sons’ of God, and’ we read that “it became him, for whom are all things, … in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb. 2:10) Jesus had never been imperfect. The thought of the text is that through suffering he was trained or perfected as the Captain of our salvation: This training through suffering made Jesus a sympathetic High Priest. Paul wrote, “In that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Heb. 2:18) Again, “We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”—Heb. 4:15,16

These references describe Jesus’ relationship as High Priest to his church, but the same principle will hold true in the next age in the relationship of the world of mankind to the divine priesthood made up of Jesus and his glorified church. The entire priesthood is perfected for that high office through suffering, so that when the due time comes, the world will be dealt with sympathetically, understandingly.

It is Jesus’ blood alone that provides atonement for both the church and the world. It is his blood, his life, that constitutes the ransom, the corresponding price. But, as we have seen, those who suffer and die with him during the present age are reckoned as having a share in the great sin-offering work based upon the ransom. The sacrifice and suffering of the church contribute to the future blessing of the world. We are ‘baptized for the dead’. Because this offering is part of the divine arrangement for destroying the ‘body of sin’ and releasing sin-cursed humanity from death, it is properly styled a sin-offering. Or, as Paul puts it, we like Jesus, are dying unto, or for sin.—Rom. 6:10,11

All the sin-canceling merit is in the ransom. The church’s share in this wonderful plan of reconciliation and salvation is merely in being the channel through which the merit of the ransom is made available to the world. The sacrificial work of the church during this age is, as we have seen, designed to prepare us to be the kind of priesthood which will offer the life provided by the ransom under the most favorable circumstances. Thus every painful circumstance faithfully endured will result beneficially to the world when the life-giving blessings of the ransom are being offered to them.

A simple illustration would be the case of a person threatened with certain death by cancer. He is taken to a hospital. Only one surgeon in that whole institution is capable of successfully removing that cancer, and he, of course, is glad to serve. But suppose nothing more were done than to remove the cancer. Suppose the patient were left on the operating table, with no one doing anything further for him. Even with the cancer removed he would still eventually die. But he is not left on the operating table to die. The surgeon has done that which only he could do, and now the hospital doctors and nurses take over and, with the cancer removed, the man is restored to health. Obviously, all the training and preparation of the hospital personnel contributes to the recovery of the patient. All help to make the removal of the cancer a real start on the way to life. All the hours and days of training of every assistant in the hospital contributed to the recovery of the cancer patient.

Through original sin, all mankind became blighted with the ‘sting of death’. There was only one ‘Physician’ capable of removing the venom of sin, because to do this required a ‘corresponding price’. Jesus ‘gave himself a ransom for all’, and provided that price. But the divine plan goes further. The ‘patient’ is not, as it were, left on the operating table to die. The merit of the ransom is of no use unless made available. It must be offered to the patient, and accepted, and used in harmony with the divine arrangements.

So the entire Gospel Age is utilized in training—not nurses, and doctors, and technicians, and therapists, as in our illustration, but a priesthood—an understanding, sympathetic priesthood—to carry the healing powers of the ransom to the world. These offer themselves to die with Jesus that they might share in ridding the world of sin and its blighting effects upon humanity. Their sacrifices and sufferings add nothing to the sin-canceling merit of the ransom. It is simply God’s way of making the merit of the ransom available to the dying race.

And what a wonderful way! God could have emblazoned the truth of the ransom across the sky, and said to mankind, Accept this provision, or else continue to die. But, in his love, he has provided this better way—a way in which members of the fallen race, touched with the feeling of the world’s infirmities and needs, may sympathetically bring the provisions of the ransom to the attention of mankind, and lovingly instruct the people in the ways of life.

Truly, “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out” in all their glorious beauty!—Rom. 11:33

Dawn Bible Students Association
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