who lost everlasting life in human perfection, bequeathed sin and death to his offspring (Rom. 5:12), and Adam’s descendants therefore came under condemnation to death. God’s just law that like should go for like (Deut. 19:21) required exact atonement for what was thus lost, if man was to regain the opportunity to enjoy everlasting life.
As used in the Bible, “atonement” has the basic thought of “cover” or “exchange,” and that which is given in exchange for or as a “cover” for another thing must be its duplicate. Thus, anything making satisfaction for something that is lost or forfeited must be “at one” with that other thing, completely covering it as its exact equivalent. There must be no overlapping and no coming short. No imperfect human could provide such a covering or atonement to restore perfect human life to any or all of mankind. (Ps. 49:7, 8) To make adequate atonement for what was forfeited by Adam, a sin offering having the precise value of a perfect human life would have to be provided.
Jehovah God instituted an arrangement for atonement among the Israelites that typified a greater atonement provision. It is Jehovah and not man who is to be credited with determining and revealing the means of atonement for covering inherited sin and providing relief from the resulting condemnation to death.
TYPICAL ATONEMENT SACRIFICES
As God directed, the Israelites were to offer sacrifices as sin offerings in order to make atonement. (Ex. 29:36; Lev. 4:20) Of particular significance was the annual atonement day, when Israel’s high priest offered animal sacrifices and made atonement for himself, for the other Levites and for the nonpriestly tribes of Israel. (Lev. chap. 16) Sacrificial animals were to be unblemished, indicating the necessity of perfection on the part of their antitype. Also, that atonement is a costly matter is shown in that the victim’s life was given, its blood being shed to make atonement. (Lev. 17:11) Sin offerings made by the Israelites and the various features of the yearly day of atonement undoubtedly impressed upon their minds the seriousness of their sinful state and their great need of complete atonement. However, animal sacriflces could not completely atone for human sin, beasts being inferior to man, who was given dominion over them.—Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:4-8; Heb. 10:1-4; see ATONEMENT DAY; OFFERINGS.
FULFILLMENT IN CHRIST JESUS
The Christian Greek Scriptures plainly link complete atonement for human sins with Jesus Christ. In him the types and shadows of the Mosaic law find fulfillment, he being the very one to whom the various animal sacrifices thereof pointed forward. As a perfect, sinless human, Jesus was the sin offering for all of Adam’s descendants who eventually are delivered from inherited sin and death. (2 Cor. 5:21) Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins perpetually” (Heb. 10:12) and he is unquestionably “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor. 5:7; Rev. 5:12; 13:8; compare Isaiah 53:7.) Forgiveness is dependent on the pouring out of blood (Heb. 9:22), and Christians who are walking in the light are assured that “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.”—1 John 1:7; Heb. 9:13, 14; Rev. 1:5.
Jesus’ perfect human life offered in sacrifice is the antitypical sin offering. It is the valuable thing that accomplishes the purchase of mankind, redeeming them from inherited sin and death. (Titus 2:13, 14; Heb. 2:9) Christ himself declared: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom [Gr., lyʹtron] in exchange for many.” (Mark 10:45) His sacrifice atoned exactly for what was forfeited by the sinner Adam, Jesus being perfect and hence Adam’s equal prior to the first man’s sin.—1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Eph. 1:7; see RANSOM.
Reconciliation made possible
Human sin causes division between God and man, for Jehovah does not approve of sin. Only by fulfillment of the requisite of a true ‘covering’ or atonement for such sin could the breach between man and his Creator be healed. (Isa. 59:2; Hab. 1:13; Eph. 2:3) But Jehovah God has made reconciliation between himself and sinful mankind possible through the perfect man Jesus Christ. Thus, the apostle Paul wrote: “We are also exulting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:11) To come into Jehovah’s favor, it is necessary to accept God’s provision for reconciliation through Christ. Only by this means is it possible to come into a position comparable to that of Adam prior to his sin. God’s love is displayed in making such reconciliation possible.—Rom. 5:6-10; see RECONCILIATION.
Justice satisfied by propitiation
Still, justice required satisfaction. Man, though created perfect, fell from that state through sin and thus Adam and his offspring came under God’s condemnation. Justice and fidelity to principles of righteousness necessitated that God execute the sentence of his law against disobedient Adam. But love moved God to purpose a substitutional arrangement whereby justice would be satisfied and yet, without any violation of justice, repentant offspring of sinner Adam could be forgiven and could achieve peace with God. (Col. 1:19-23) So it is that Jehovah “sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10; Heb. 2:17) Propitiation is that which makes propitious, or favorable. Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice removes the reason for God to condemn a human creature and makes possible the extending to him of God’s favor, mercy and loving-kindness. This propitiation removes the charge of sin and resulting condemnation to death in the case of spiritual Israel and all others availing themselves of it.—1 John 2:1, 2; Rom. 6:23.
The idea of substitution is prominent in certain Biblical texts relating to atonement. For instance, Paul observed that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3), and that “Christ by purchase released us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of us [Jews], because it is written: ‘Accursed is every man hanged upon a stake.’” (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:23) Peter commented: “He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake, in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness. And ‘by his stripes you were healed.’” (1 Pet. 2:24; Isa. 53:5) The same apostle declared: “Why, even Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God.”—1 Pet. 3:18.
Loving provision calls for response of faith
Love has been exemplified by God and Christ in connection with the provision of complete atonement for inherited human sins. (John 3:16; Rom. 8:32; 1 John 3:16) However, to benefit therefrom one must be truly repentant and he must exercise faith. Jehovah was not pleased with Judah’s sacrifices when offered without the proper attitude. (Isa. 1:10-17) God sent Christ forth “as an offering for propitiation through faith in his blood.” (Rom. 3:21-26) Those who in faith accept God’s provision for atonement through Jesus Christ can gain salvation; those who spurn it cannot. (Acts 4:12) And, for any who “practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment.”—Heb. 10:26-31.
[Heb., yohm hak·kip·pu·rimʹ, day of the coverings or propitiations].