The Atonement – Christ as a Sin Offering

 

 

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4)

 

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( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sin offering was to be made when someone became aware that they had unknowingly done something wrong. An animal was taken to the priest to be sacrificed. It blood was sprinkled on and around the alter and its fat burned on the altar. The rest of the animal was then burned outside the camp. The type of animal used depended on the position of the offender; a bull for a priest or the whole community, a male goat for a leader and a female goat for everyone else.

 

What did the Offering do?

 

The sin offering was to make atonement for the wrongs that a person had done. By their actions, they have created a rift between themselves and God. Previously they were his friends, but by disobeying his laws they set themselves in opposition to him. The sin offering is therefore an attempt at reconciliation. The person reaffirmed their submission to God by subjecting themselves to his law. They meet him halfway, implicitly acknowledging the destructive nature of their act and asking for his forgiveness. God accepts the offering and all is made right.

 

Atonement: adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favour

 

By way of illustration, Sarah has wronged her friend Jake. Rather than go to him with an apology, she buys him a gift to give with her apology. This says “I’m sorry” better than the words alone could.

 

Jesus As Our Sin Offering?

 

I know what you’re thinking: So, God sent his son to die a torturous and humiliating death so that if we’re sorry for wronging him we could accept that sacrifice as a symbol of our repentance? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just request a box of chocolates?

 

Well, Jesus’ dying on the death wasn’t only for reconciliation. If it were, it would be a bit much. But it does seem a bit odd that the death of his son should be appeasing to him.

 

If you notice, the sin offering was not determined by the wealth of a person such that the rich paid more than the poor. Nor was it determined by the worth of the sacrifice to the person. After all, a wealthy member of the community could spare the goat for the offering. In fact, it seems to be a symbolic gesture. Sarah’s offering to Jake might not be worth as much as she had cost him. It is merely an attempt at reconciliation. It is a symbol of something that is hard to put into words. Everyone who has been offended knows that a gift carries greater weight than the words ‘I’m sorry’, even if we can’t say why.

 

If Sarah had stolen something, she would still have to return it. If she had broken a possession, she would still replace it. Such an actions do not restore the relationship between her and Jake. That’s the difference between restitution and atonement. The sin offering is not an attempt at restitution.

 

So, the size of a sin offering is not judged solely by the offense. It depends on both parties. You don’t make an attempt at reconciliation by pouring manure on the other person’s porch. That’s likely to make them angrier. An attempt at reconciliation, therefore, should be pleasing and acceptable to the offended party.

 

And that is where I end this. I don’t know in what possible world our accepting Jesus’ death is pleasing to God and consequently sufficient atonement for our many wrongs, but all that is necessary is that it makes sense to him. I, on the other hand, prefer multi-layered cakes as sin offerings. They’re tastier.

The Atonement: A Survey of Various Models

Note: This is part of a series on the atonement. The 1st 2 parts can be found here and here 

The main point of all the verses I surveyed seems to be this: We were sinners, guilty before God. God sent his son as a sin offering for us. His sin offering sufficiently atoned for our wrong doing so that we can be declared innocent by God.

How Did Jesus’ Death Atone for Our Sin?

Christ on the Cross
Christ on the Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several theories have been proposed. I summarize some of them here:

  • The Ransom Theory: The earliest of all, originating with the Early Church Fathers, this theory claims that Christ offered himself as a ransom. Where it was not clear was in its understanding of exactly to whom the ransom was paid. Many early church fathers viewed the ransom as paid to Satan.
    • For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mk 10: 45
  • The Recapitulation Theory: Originated with Irenaeus. He sees Christ as the new Adam, who systematically undoes what Adam did. Thus, where Adam was disobedient concerning God’s edict concerning the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Christ was obedient even to death on the wood of a tree. In addition to reversing the wrongs done by Adam, Irenaeus thinks of Christ as “recapitulating” or “summing up” human life.
    • In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul calls Christ the second Adam and compares him to the first Adam, but he does not  propose the recapitulation theory in any evident manner.
  • The Penal-Substitution Theory: This view was formulated by the 16th century Reformers as an extension of Anselm’s Satisfaction theory. Anselm’s theory was correct in introducing the satisfaction aspect of Christ’s work and its necessity, however the Reformers saw it as insufficient because it was referenced to God’s honor rather than his justice and holiness and was couched more in terms of a commercial transaction than a penal substitution. This Reformed view says simply that Christ died for man, in man’s place, taking his sins and bearing them for him. The bearing of man’s sins takes the punishment for them and sets the believer free from the penal demands of the law: The righteousness of the law and the holiness of God are satisfied by this substitution.
    • Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53
    • 2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
    • 1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
    • 1 Pet 2: 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
  • The Moral-Example Theory (or Moral-Influence Theory): Christ died to influence mankind toward moral improvement. This theory denies that Christ died to satisfy any principle of divine justice, but teaches instead that His death was designed to greatly impress mankind with a sense of God’s love, resulting in softening their hearts and leading them to repentance. Thus, the Atonement is not directed towards God with the purpose of maintaining His justice, but towards man with the purpose of persuading him to right action.
  • Christus Victor (Christ the Victor): In Christus Victor, the atonement is viewed as divine conflict and victory over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection. Gustav Aulén argues that the classic Ransom theory is not so much a rational systematic theory as it is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. As the term Christus Victor indicates, the idea of “ransom” should not be seen in terms (as Anselm did) of a business transaction, but more of a rescue or liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin. Unlike the Satisfaction or Penal-substitution views of the atonement rooted in the idea of Christ paying the penalty of sin to satisfy the demands of justice, the Christus Victor view is rooted in the incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. Irenaeus called this “Recapitulation” (re-creation). As it is often expressed: “Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is”.
    • Colossians 2: 13 – 15 He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Of the theories proposed, the Penal Substitution theory is the only one that completely explains the Biblical evidence – as opposed to explaining it away (the characterization of Christ’s act as a ‘sin offering’, ‘becoming sin for us’ or ‘taking our sins’). It is my view that not all these views are necessarily false. Christ is our moral example. He did do what Adam could not. And he did achieve victory over Satan on the cross. But as you can see from Col 2 (quoted above), this victory was tied to his taking away our sins on the cross.

So like most issues of this type, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

The Atonement: Definitions

Note: This is the second part of a series on the Christian Doctrine of the Atonement. You can find the previous post here.

It looks like most of the words mean exactly what you think. Here I have defined the ones that might not be obvious.

Atonement (Strong’s G2643 – katallagē) : 

adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favour

in the NT of the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory death of Christ

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. – Romans 3: 25, 26

Sacrifice of Atonement, Propitiation (Strong’s G2435 – hilastērion) :

relating to an appeasing or expiating, having placating or expiating force, expiatory;
a means of appeasing or expiating, a propitiation

 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. – Romans 3: 25, 26This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

Justification (Strong’s G1347 – dikaiōsis)

the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him
abjuring to be righteous, justification

He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. – Romans 4: 25

Redemption: (Strong’s G629 – apolytrōsis)

1) a releasing effected by payment of ransom
a) redemption, deliverance
b) liberation procured by the payment of a ransom

 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace – Ephesians 1:7

A scriptural Survey of the Atonement

I consider certain Biblical passages to be ripe with significance on the issue of the atonement. Over the summer, I intend to study them in the hopes of gaining more clarity on the topic. The following are the phrases I will explore. Note that this list of verses is not exhaustive. If you find any important ones that I missed, please let me know.

  • sacrifice
  • atonement
  • sin offering
  • blood / through blood
  • propitiation
  • ‘take away’ sin/transgression/ iniquity
  • ‘bear’/ ‘bore’ sin/transgression/iniquity
  • suffered for

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. – Romans 3: 25, 26

He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. – Romans 4: 25

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. – Romans 8:3

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4: 15

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace – Ephesians 1:7

This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness (1 Peter 2: 24)

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3: 18)

 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1: 29)

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53: 4 – 6, 10 – 12