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August 4, 2021

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Theology of Atonement – Part I, the History

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For reasons only God fully understands, shed blood was a vitally important event throughout the Old Testament. The Blood of Atonement, and its importance are mentioned about one hundred times within the books of Law and the prophets.

What is Atonement? The Hebrew word for atonement, “Kaphar,” means to cover, expiate, condone, placate, or cancel. It has been translated as “appease,” “pardon,” “purge,” “make reconciliation,” “put off,” and of course, “atonement.” Another word for atonement, “Kippur”, means expiation and is translated, simply, “Atonement.”

The primary Old Testament passages that deal with the theology of Atonement include the account of Abel in Genesis 4, the account of Noah in Genesis chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9, Abraham and Isaac in Gen. 22, Israel leaving Egypt, Exodus 12, and Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 19-30. Leviticus 1-4:1-35 describes the rituals of atonement, and Leviticus 16: 1-33 describes the Great Day of Atonement. Other important passages include Gen. 3:15 and 30:10; Lev. 5:1-19, 6:1-37, 16: 1-34, 17:11, and 23:27-32; 2Ch. 29:24, Isa. 53, and Dan. 9:24-27.

The History:

From the first, animal sacrifices were a shadow of the Great Atonement to come. The connection between the two was very real. The Mosaic books, History, Prophets and Psalms, when discussing blood sacrifice, provide prophetic foreshadowing of the atonement the Messiah would make for us all. Beginning with Genesis 3:15, a passage describing enmity between the woman and the snake, we see the first point where we see prophecy and violence occur together.
Blood sacrifice is a clear and well-understood fact of life in the early chapters of Genesis. There is nothing in ordinary way of thinking that would lead men, back then or now, to believe that sacrifice would somehow please God more than anything else. Yet, the first act of worship recorded in the Bible, the animal sacrifice Abel offered to the Lord in Gen. 4, was said to be acceptable to God, and Able is known as the first “Believer.” This first mention of sacrifice does not give the impression it was a new invention of Abel’s. Shed blood was described in a way that showed it was offered by divine appointment, not just Abel’s will.

Next, the Flood in Genesis chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 was both a clear example of God’s deadly judgement on sin as well as another example of the clear understanding early man had concerning sacrificial rites. At the time of Noah, the difference between clean animals and unclean animals was obviously well understood, as Noah classified them as such. In addition, Noah’s first act after leaving the Ark was to offer a burnt offering to the Lord.

Bloody sacrifices maintained a conviction of man’s guilt and a dependence on God’s forgiving grace. They taught that reconciliation could be obtained in no other way but through God’s divine justice. But they also symbolized God’s mercifulness, in that an animal victim could serve as a substitute. The offending worshipper must die, without possibility of living in fellowship with God, unless a sin offering were offered which removed it. On that ground, the sinner could be restored. From the beginning, as hard as it is for modern man to understand, blood sacrifice was a gracious, God appointed ritual given as a way to reconcile with God.

In Gen. 22, Abraham and Isaac had a divine appointment on Mount Moriah. As much as Abraham grieved the task set before him, he understood that only by killing his son could he be obedient to God. This was not arbitrary. There was a deeper meaning to what was going on than just the task that sat before him. Abraham and Isaac both understood the purpose of sacrifice, as sacrifice had long been a part of their lives, as well as the truth that most men understood at that time: that the only way to be fully consecrated to God was through a death. Blessedly, Isaac’s life was spared and a ram was substituted. By the ram’s blood, Isaac was figuratively raised from the dead.

In chapter 12 of the book of Exodus, Israel prepares to leave Egypt. What was done for one person on Mount Moriah will now be done for a nation. So the nation of Israel, God’s first born, spreads blood from a paschal lamb on its doorposts. Many people die that night, but not God’s redeemed people. God had told them, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” That night, the people of Israel learned that life is possible only with the killing of a substitute lamb and the sprinkling of that substitute’s blood. The Passover night illustrates the importance of the blood to God.

Part II Continues with the History – March 25, 2016

1 thought on “Theology of Atonement – Part I, the History

  1. Hi,

    My name is Rev Robert Wright, Editor for Christian.com, a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the entire Christian community an outlet to join together and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features like Christian TV, prayer requests, finding a church, receiving church updates and advice. We have emailed you to collaborate with you and your blog to help spread the good word of Christianity. I look forward to your response regarding this matter. Thanks!

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