Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

c. ST006/3 Scriptural basis


The Scriptural Teaching concerning the Atonement.

As mentioned in the introduction to this section, the Scriptures approach and deal with this subject in many different ways, from many points of view and by means of many different illustrations. It is therefore necessary to investigate as fully as we are able what they say concerning it.

1. The Teaching of the Old Testament

The full meaning of the Atonement was unfolded gradually to the world and the teaching of the Old Testament foreshadows and prophesies the full revelation of the New.

Three principles can be discovered.

(a) Primitive Sacrifices

In the history of the Patriarchs the altar was prominent and the way of sacrifice was the only way to God. This is clear from the very commencement, from the moment sin entered the world.

Two points need to be emphasised.

  1. The first is that sacrifice originated from God, it was at His command. A careful reading of the history of Cain and Abel in Gen.4 and of the Flood and God's dealings with Noah (especially Gen. 8:20-21) plainly reveals the divine origin of sacrifice.
  2. The other point is that these sacrifices were expiatory in character. They were intended to propitiate God and cleanse away sin. This again is shown in the story of Cain and Abel (cf. Heb. 11:4) and also in the prohibition of the eating of blood (Gen. 9:4). Hebrews 10:1-4 makes it clear that these sacrifices had no power in themselves to atone for sin but this does not mean that they were not efficacious. Their efficacy lay in the fact of Christ's sacrifice which was already accomplished in the mind and heart of God. They were types and symbols pointing forward.

(b) The sacrifices of the Law

The outstanding factor in the Hebrew religion is the idea of sin and its awfulness, and also the distinction between evil and sin. Evil is not unavoidable suffering; it is the result of sin. The sense of sin meant the reality of the sense of dependence on God.

The giving of the Law defined more clearly the reality and heinousness of sin. The Law demanded holiness and accounted all as guilty before God. Expiation of sin was necessary if man was to approach God. This expiation was provided by the sacrifices commanded by the Law.

The shedding of blood indicated first the pure life which the sinner should be living and also the fact that the wages of sin is death and that only through death could atonement be made. Thus all pointed to the coming of the Lamb of God who would bear away the sin of the world by his final sacrifice.

Atonement under the Law attached to the whole religious community and thus signified that there was a common depravity from which the actual transgressions sprang. It was for this "sin of the world", that the Lamb of God was going to make atonement.

(c) The predictions of the Prophets

These predictions supplemented the sacrifices of the Law and brought the coming of the Messiah into clearer view and more fully defined it. They clarified too the idea of His sacrificial death.

Isaiah 53 is the clearest prophecy of the Messiah's sacrificial death and is also the plainest declaration that His death was vicarious. The fact that the prophets so often inveighed against the sacrifices does not mean in any sense that they did not believe in them or realise their significance.

They obviously offered them themselves. Their objection was to the hypocritical way in which they were offered, merely as a form, without any willingness to-obey God or do His will.

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