With two important collections of verses, “Much more” & “Better”.
Here is a subject that is full of big surprises! “Ah!” says the Christian, “I know all about the Atonement . Christ died for our sins. That is the atonement, it brings us back to God. Is not the Atonement the AT-ONE-MENT? We are once again made one with God, reconciled.” These are commonly held Christian sentiments.
This is an important article, because the nature of Christ’s work is of the utmost concern to every Christian. No one doubts that. But how many times does this word Atonement occur in the A.V. of our New Testaments? Here is the first surprise. Just once, In Romans 5:11 we read “the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
These days we are surrounded by other versions of the Bible. The RSV uses the word reconciliation instead of atonement in this reference.In this respect it is more uniform, because the A.V. uses reconciliation in every other place where the Greek word KATALLAGE occurs. Hence we are left with the conclusion that the N.T. HAS NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT ATONEMENT AT ALL.
Please do not take offence. We are not trying to alter Christian doctrine. Rather are we concerned about the usage of words, because words are the very substance of communication, and we must use the right words to be properly understood. A Christian dares not use words in a slip-shod fashion. His relationship with God depends upon certain facts, and those facts must be accurately described. This is why we have chosen to write this article.
In the O.T. the word Atonement occurs very often. Indeed it is the very substance of all the carefully drawn-up instructions the Lord gave to Moses, and which are recorded in the Book of Leviticus. Atonement was always linked with blood sacrifice. But we must investigate the Hebrew word to see what ‘atonement’ means.
One need not be a Hebrew scholar to find things out. By judicious use of a Young’s or Strong’s Concordance the Scriptures tend to explain the meaning of words by their very usage. Take this Hebrew word as a typical example. It is KAPHAR. And the very first reference in the O.T. sets the scene admirably. It is in Genesis 6:14 and refers to Noah building the Ark. “Make an Ark of gopher wood, – – pitch it within and without with pitch.” Strictly speaking the words read as follows:- “Make an Ark of GOPHER wood, – -KAPHAR it within and without with KOPHER.” By a little more searching, it will be found that KOPHER has nothing to do with pitch, which is ZEPHETH in Hebrew. KOPHER is the resin that exudes from the GOPHER tree, a type of wood that is very rich in resin, and makes its own varnish to marry in with the wood, thereby forming an impenetrable seal against the intrusion of water from the outside. But KOPHER is the noun derived from KAPHAR. Let’s now reconstruct the verse. “Make on Ark of GOPHER wood, – – VARNISH it within and without with RESIN.” This is the translation that gives the best sense.
KAPHAR is translated ATONEMENT in quite the majority of other O.T. references. How does the idea of atonement fit with the act of varnishing the Ark? It is manifestly clear. The varnish was a wholly adequate covering against the waters of judgment. And this brings out the underlying meaning of the Hebrew word, which Lexicons declare as ‘cover, to cover over.’
We are now in a position to know what the atonement was all about. The Lord said to Moses concerning the Passover inEgypt, “When I see the blood, I shall pass over you.” In other words, the blood performed the same function as the resin, in that it prevented the judgment of God from reaching inside the house and slaying the firstborn.
A careful study of the Bible on this subject will repay the student an hundredfold. But in this brief article we must restrict ourselves to the important conclusions. They are as follows –
1. Blood sacrifice in the O,T. provided man with an ‘umbrella’ to shelter him from Gods wrath. If he was ‘atoned for his sin,’ he was ‘covered over’ by the blood of the sacrificial animal, and not consumed by God’s wrath.
2. The ‘Day of Atonement’ described in Lev. 16:11-22 shows how this covering applied to the holy places of the Tabernacle, to Aaron and his family, and finally to the whole house of Israel.
3. This act of ‘national covering’ took place once each year on the 10th day of Tishri (in September or October, depending on the Moon.)
4. Hebrews 10:4 tells us distinctly that “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin”. We have already seen this. It merely provides a satisfactory cover from God’s wrath.
5. The whole of the N.T. teaching about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ shows that OUR SINS HAVE BEEN REMOVED, not just covered over. This is why it is a disgrace to the work of our Lord to say that He atoned for our sins. What the blood of bulls and goats could not do for the sinner, the blood of Christ fully accomplished.
6. When Jesus died, the Vail in the Temple was rent from top to bottom, showing that the way into the holiest place was now made open. No longer was the O.T. atonement to be made.
We have reached an important conclusion We have seen that we should never degrade the work of our Lord on the cross by calling it ‘the atonement.’ This is the negative side of our study. Now we must move on to see what Paul has to say about Christ’s work. And it is the 5th of Romans where our attentions must turn. Four times in this chapter he uses the little Greek word POLLUS, meaning ‘much more.’ Here is the positive truth of the crucifixion and resurrection. How incongruous therefore that the A.V. should have slipped up and inserted the wrong word in the middle of Paul’s great exposition of our Lord’s work! Let us see these references.
5:9. MUCH MORE then, being made righteous by His blood, we shall through Him be saved from the wrath.
5:10. If being enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, MUCH MORE being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
5:15. But not as the offence is the free gift; for if by one man’s offence the many died, MUCH MORE the grace of God and the gift by grace by one man Jesus Christ, has abounded to the many.
5:17. If by one man’s offence death reigned by this one, MUCH MORE shall those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life by One, Jesus Christ.
Here then is the superior situation. No longer do we need the ‘umbrella of atonement’ because we have been MADE RIGHTEOUS by His shed blood. God’s wrath upon sin and the sinner was held back in the O.T. by virtue of the atonement. But now Paul tells us that having been made righteous we are saved from God’s wrath. Also we shall be saved by Christ’s life, His new life in resurrection. Furthermore, this free gift is abounding to ‘the many’, not just a few within one nation, and in5:17 we see that a glorious day is coming when we can even reign in glory with God’s Son! How MUCH MORE!
As a result of this, it should become apparent straight away that from the moment of Christ’s death, all the blood sacrifices of Leviticus had to cease. They had no further significance. They were given by God in prior days so that man might learn the lesson that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.’ But as soon as the reality had come upon earth, that which was but the shadow, the pattern in the Tabernacle, had to be done away, This is why the Vail that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple was rent in two by an angelic hand from top to bottom. It is important to see that it was torn in this way. The rent started at the top. It was God’s way of showing that His great plan of redemption had been accomplished. The way into the holy of holies had been opened up for all mankind. A new and better Covenant had been ratified between God and man.
The Bible teaches us that the Holy of Holies was the place where God dwelt, in the midst of His people Israel. Now we must understand that the way has been made open for man to approach God himself, through the blood of Christ, and faith in His blood. No longer do we need a priest to take the blood into the Tabernacle for us! No longer do we need the good offices of any other human being! Christ has died, yea, is risen, and He has taken His own blood into the true Tabernacle in heaven on behalf of us. HE IS OUR PRIEST, the only priest for all believers, the High Priest after the order of Melchisedek. Never again can there be a system like that in the O.T. To try and reconstruct it would be to defile the work of God through Christ. Every man has the right to come, and to come individually, to his Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, and say “0 God, I am a sinner, but you died for me on the cross. I believe that you died there for me. Make me clean by your blood.” And God will hear that prayer and will speedily answer it, because every man has the RIGHT to approach God in this way.
How absolutely necessary it is for us to see the point of this. How urgent is the message in these days of apostasy and deception. How amazingly simple is God’s answer to man’s need! How easy it is for man to obtain peace with God and be justified by faith! How clean and bright is the message compared with all the half-truths of the religious world and its mountainous heaps of additional requirements. We have looked at Paul’s statements in Romans. Let us now look at his statements in Hebrews, where instead of using the words MUCH MORE, he employs the word
7:19. The law made nothing perfect; but the bringing in of a BETTER HOPE did, by which we draw near to God.
7:22. Jesus was made the surety of a BETTER COVENANT.
8:6. He (Jesus) is the Mediator of a BETTER COVENANT,
established upon BETTER PROMISES.
9:23. It was necessary that the patterns of heavenly things should be cleansed with these (blood sacrifices), but the heavenly things themselves with BETTER SACRIFICES.
10:34. Joyfully you took the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that in heaven you have a BETTER AND LASTING POSSESSION.
11:16. All these died in faith – – – they desire a BETTER COUNTRY, that is, a heavenly.
11:35. Some were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a BETTER RESURRECTION.
11:40. God having provided some BETTER THING for us (as well), that they without us should not be made perfect.
0 how we should glory in the New Testament! See what riches God has provided for man. The writers of the N.T. were full of this glory and were so sure of their testimony that they were willing to die for it, and die gladly. It made no difference whether their goods were plundered, or even if they were tortured. So great were the new promises of God, given to the apostles by the ministry of the Holy Spirit that the days of the Old Testament were just eclipsed and forgotten! The view ahead to theHoly City was now crystal clear, and it was so wonderful a hope that no amount of suffering was worth comparing with it.
See how Paul speaks again about the BETTER COVENANT. But faithful men in olden times had known about this. Jeremiah, for example, had received a wry clear prophecy about it. (See 31:31-34) Paul quotes this in Heb.8:8-12 and10:16-17. “I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.- – – – and I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts.” No longer were God’s laws to be engraved on stone tablets, as at Sinai, but written in their hearts. What is more, the promise is now seen to be for the Gentile nations as well as all of Israel. The N.T. makes this quite clear by the vision of the sheet let down from the sky which Peter saw. It concerned the nations, and God said to Peter “What God has cleansed, do not call common.” (Acts 10:15)
In the O.T. days, and on the Day of Atonement, blood was shed for three things, as we have already pointed out; the Tabernacle, the High Priest and his family, and the whole nation of Israel. Hence in God’s sight, the whole nation was covered by the blood. The nation was in a covenant relationship with God. Even if there was sin, and even if that sin wasgrievous, still the wrath would not fall upon them, because each year the High Priest would go in to the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood seven times before the mercy seat. Only in the direst of circumstances would God allow His people to be invaded by other nations. And this only occurred after repeated warnings, when the Lord saw that “there was no other remedy.”
But what have we now? God told Peter that the rest of the nations of the world had been CLEANSED! Not just covered by the blood of atonement, but actually cleansed. And so we learn that from the Crucifixion onwards, ALL the nations of the world, whether it was Israel the Romans, the Greeks, or any other nation, they had all been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Do we accept this wonderful truth? Do we really live in the know1edge of what Paul called MUCH MORE, and BETTER? Or have we retained distinctions that no longer apply? Whereas in the O.T. God had selected ONE NATION to represent Him to the world, and whereas He had made provision for that nation to be sheltered from His wrath by the blood of the atonement, as soon as Christ died, none of these things could apply any longer, because God had CLEANSED ALL NATIONS. They needed no umbrella. They were, and are, all able to look straight into God’s face, in the person of Jesus Christ and obtain forgiveness via repentance!
Now certain of God’s children were given the fulness of this wonderful revelation in those early days, of whom the best known is the Apostle Paul. It was his special revelation, and he said so. Peter, who was given the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’, received the vision of the sheet, and went to the house of Cornelius, to be the first to demonstrate this new truth. But he found it very difficult to accommodate into his very typical Jewish thinking. Paul even had to censure him for his hypocritical ways when they met at Antioch. But Paul knew the deep secrets, the mystery, of God, whereby the middle wall of partition had been broken down, enabling all the Gentiles to mix freely with the house of Israel and to approach God with no restriction whatsoever. He reveals all this in Ephesians.
Are we actually living in this truth today? We must examine ourselves to see whether there is something getting in the way, something that detracts from the wonderful freedom that God has given this world through the shed blood of His Son. Sometimes, Christians can unwittingly harbour national prejudices, feeling that in some way certain people are not quite so ‘acceptable’ in God’s sight as others. It is clear that such prejudice has persisted in the minds of many westerners about, say, the dark-skinned peoples. But Paul said in one place that there was neither Jew nor Greek, and if this was not enough to convince his readers, he added, ‘barbarian, Scythian, bond or free.’ Modern day ‘Scythians’ (a very cruel tribe) might be the remnants of the head hunters in Borneo for example! One thing must be kept in mind with great clarity. Acceptance to God is NOT based upon how ‘westernised’ people are, or how apparently ‘righteous ‘ they are by comparison with other nations, but ON THE SHED BLOOD OF CHRIST ALONE. Just as the worst sinner in Israel was sheltered under the umbrella of the atonement in the O.T. days, so now ALL NATIONS under the sun are cleansed in God’s sight, even if their sins may seem to rise to the vary heavens in magnitude.
Please note that we are not talking about those who are believers. We are not saying that ALL nations are automatically Christians. We are showing how God looks at the nations. In the O.T. days, He was only able to use the nation of Israel, because He had made a covenant with them. They were His special people, not because they were more righteous than other people, but because of God’s choice. But in the days in which we now live, God has expanded His choice to the whole world, because He has cleansed all nations in the blood of His Son. Again we must emphasise that ANYONE from ANY NATION has the right to come into the Holy of Holies by faith in the shed blood of Christ. No other nation, no other priest or official, can act as an intermediary. There is absolute freedom for each and every individual. This is why the Gospel should be preached to every creature, so that all men may see what is the hope of the good news that God has brought to mankind in the Person of His Son.
But now we must return to those other references in Hebrews. Not only does Paul speak of a BETTER COVENANT, but also a BETTER COUNTRY and a BETTER RESURRECTION. What do these mean?
In the 11th of Hebrews, Paul paints a picture of past men and women of faith. He shows that EVEN IN THE O.T. DAYS there were individuals who became righteous before God. Here is a very important lesson. Faith is the key to righteousness. Abraham believed God and it was IMPUTED to him for righteousness. Abraham also rejoiced to see our Lord’s day (by the very words of our Lord Himself), and Abraham looked for a ‘country’ which was not upon this earth.
We must investigate the meaning of this other land. Why didn’t Abraham rejoice in the land that God had promised to him and to his people? Why didn’t he not purchase any portion of that land, save a burial cave? Wasn’t it God’s promise to him? Yes, it was. But Abraham saw something else, and that heavenly country and heavenly city has been shown to individuals throughout past ages .
When we began this article, it only concerned SIN and JUSTIFICATION. And in Romans Paul tells us how God dealt with the sin of the world in the Person of His Son. But parallel to this throughout the ages there has been another and more wonderful truth. Let us explain.
When Adam fell he lost his spiritual nature, and became a sinner. His sin meant that sooner or later he would die, and he did. What is more all his descendants, right down to today, have died. Death is one of the best known facts of ‘life’! When Jesus died on the cross, He took away man’s sin, enabling him to become righteous again, that is, for each one who believes. By the scales of justice, such a person has the right to become (in resurrection) as Adam was initially in the Garden of Eden, a perfect being, a perfect HUMAN being. Those who have studied law would be able to follow this argument and agree with it. There is a certain consistency about it. That which was taken away has now been replaced. The death of Christ ‘for every man’ has enabled each human being to become righteous by faith and be restored to the pristine glory that Adam knew.
But this is not all. Many Christians do not see that there is MUCH MORE! To receive the righteousness of God by faith, and to be able to walk this earth as Adam once was, is the FREE GIFT OF GOD TO MAN. But God now offers man MUCH MORE. He says, “If you will believe in me, and take up your cross daily, you may DWELL WHERE I DWELL, and I will go and prepare a place for you.” (You will recognise this as a synthesis of several of our Lord’s sayings.)
Even in centuries and millennia before Jesus’ day, men and women believed this, because God had revealed it to them. And this is why they looked for a BETTER COUNTRY, and were willing to suffer great indignities, and torture, and even death to obtain a BETTER RESURRECTION. What is this BETTER RESURRECTION? Instead of being raised to life as Adam was, Jesus said, “Those who are worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from among the dead, will be EQUAL TO THE ANGELS.” Here at last is the answer! God has held out to man the possibility of standing on a higher level dimensionally than that of his initial creation.
Are we looking for a BETTER COUNTRY, and a HEAVENLY COUNTRY, reached via a BETTER RESURRECTION? The N.T. has much to say about this, whereas it was just a mystery in the O.T. The gift of life by faith is indeed God’s free gift to all humanity, but to walk on the heights is not for all. There is a price to pay, and it is the price of the ‘way of the cross’, to set one’s steps behind the Master’s and endure the ridicule and hatred of the world. Furthermore, the BETTER COUNTRY has been long inhabited by the fallen angels, and they do not want to be displaced from their position. So there is a battle raging. It is this battle which occupies much of the lifetime of those who look for this BETTER LAND.
MUCH MORE could be said about this great theme, but we must leave it there. Once the way has been shown, all further reading in the N.T. takes on a new light.
To summarise this article, we have tried to bring out the following points:-
1. Atonement is found only in the O.T.
2. Atonement means ‘covering’ and not the taking away of sins.
3. Jesus’ death was MUCH MORE than atonement. He took away our sins,
so that we may be righteous by faith.
4. All nations are now cleansed in God’s sight.
5. There are TWO DISTINCT CALLINGS to be found throughout the Bible, one which restores man to the Adamic state, and another which allows him to rise to a HEAVENLY COUNTRY.