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Christ’s Atonement in Three Steps


 

Many Christians suppose that when Jesus cried, "It is finished" as He died on the cross, He had completed His work of atonement. That is not true. 1 Cor 15:17 says, "If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." Why? Jesus has been crucified, how can you say that my faith is futile? Because the work of atonement not only requires the blood of the lamb, but also requires a priest to perform certain rites in the sanctuary with that blood. Jesus is the Lamb; He is also the Priest, so after He died, He had to rise again to do His work as our High Priest, otherwise we would still be in our sins. So as He cried, "It is finished," He meant that the first stage of slaying the lamb in the plan of atonement was finished.

1) Our title is "Christ's Atonement in Three Steps." You said that the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God was the first step, and the second step was for Him to act as priest, is that right?

Answer: Correct. According to Leviticus, the rites performed by the priest were of two kinds: the daily and the yearly rituals. These two types of ritual had deep spiritual meaning. The daily sacrificial rites justified the sinner; the annual rites typified the sanctification of the Christian. Justification forgives the sinner, sanctification means that the believer trusts in the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin and reach the standard of holiness required by Christ.

2) Please use Bible to explain how the sanctuary on earth is a model of the one in heaven, and that after Jesus ascended to heaven, He commenced His work as our High Priest.

Answer: The book of Hebrews explains this important truth. Heb 8:1-5 says, "We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, 'See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.'" Christ's work as High Priest is just as important as His part as the Lamb.

3) People say that after Christ ascended to heaven, He sat at the right hand of God. They think that this is incompatible with His work as High Priest. How do you explain that?

Answer: These two truths are not contradictory, but complementary. The Scripture we just quoted placed the two events in the same sentence, saying that the Lord "is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and true tabernacle." But most Bible students suppose that Christ's work of High Priest is completed. They quote Heb. 9:12, "but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." In the previous study we pointed out that when the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write Hebrews, Dan 8:14 was still a sealed passage, so the added light given in Hebrews must be limited, not in full detail as stated in Heb 9:5, otherwise the truth sealed until the time of the end would have been open before its time. The book of Daniel states five times that the vision is sealed, hence the writer of Hebrews must speak of the work of atonement as completed, yet in Heb 9:8 the Holy Spirit made a special declaration, "The Holy Spirit indicating this: that the way into the Holiest of all is not yet manifest while the first apartment is still valid." (translation corrected according to the Greek text) On the surface this contradicts the truth in Heb. 9:12, but if it is understood that Heb. 9:12 sees the truth from God's timeless perpective, and Heb. 9:8,9 sees it from man's temporal perspective, in this way the contradiction can be resolved.

4) Please explain Heb 9:9,10, which reads, "It is symbolic of (corrected translation) the present time, . . imposed until the time of reformation."

Answer: "Symbolic" means that it is a prophetic figure of the time when the book of Hebrews was written, The rites of the first apartment were imposed "until the time of reformation." We note in Lev. 16:17 that "there shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting [first apartment] when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out." The rites in that first apartment cease on the Day of Atonement. So we see that the first apartment is symbolic of the "present time" before 1844. And the second apartment is symbolic of the period from 1844 to the second advent, during which the investigative judgment takes place. It is therefore clear that each apartment stands for a period of time.

When Hebrews was written about, 1777 years before 1844, hence "the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest." The value of this text is in the fact that it supports the light the Adventists had in 1846 regarding Dan 8:14, confirming the truth that Christ entered the Holy of Holies in 1844; it also confirmed the 1844 message of the first angel, "Fear God, for the hour of His judgment has come."

5) Please explain the meaning of the "time of reformation" in Heb 9:10.

Answer: According to what we have just studied, the rites of the first apartment were "imposed until the time of reformation." Then the time of reformation must be the same as the time the sanctuary is cleansed. The Greek for "reformation" is diorthosis, which occurs only once in the New Testament. It is in fact a Greek synonym of the Hebrew nitsdaq. (Dan 8:14) which means to "set right." For "to cleanse" is "to restore to original condition," or "set righ,." which is also the meaning of "reformation." People often mistake the first advent of Christ in Heb 9:11 as referring to the "time of reformation." That is a mistake. The declaration of the Holy Spirit here evidently ends with verse 10. All editions of the Greek text and its translations begin a new paragraph with verse 11: "But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, . . " as it resumes the topic of Christ our High priest in its preceding context..

6) Do scholars of other churches agree this view? if not, what is their explanation of this text?

Answer: Since early times, many Bible students have tried to explain the meaning of "symbolic of the present time." They say that the first apartment typifies Judaism, or the Old Testament, while the second apartment typifis the Christian dispensation. They think this is self-evident and reasonable. Yet the Bible plainly says that the first apartment is "symbolic of the present time?" To this they give a strange reply, trying to squeeze the Old Testament period into the time when Hebrews was written, saying that though the New Testament had begun, but Old Testament rites were still performed, and even Paul went to the Temple to pay vows. These scholars try their utmost to make the first apartment typify the Old Testament period, for they do not have the light of Dan 8:14 and do not see the truth of the 2300 days. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:5. It is clear that the seeker of truth must understand Heb 9:8-10 in order to avoid being led into strange paths.

7) How do the scholars who reject this explanation of Dan 8:14 interpret the same text?

Answer: Most scholars who overlook its spiritual meaning are misled by appearances. They think that the 2300 evenings and mornings refer to 2300 evening and morning sacrifices offered in 1150 days. They take the five instances of "abomination of desolation" in Dan 8:11-13; 11:31, 12:11 to refer to the pagan shrine placed on the altar of the Jerusalem Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. They say that 1 Maccabees 1:54 refers to this shrine as the "abomination of desolation," so they take Dan 8:14 to refer to the restoration of Temple worship three years later But careful study of history shows that Antiochus Epiphanes fails to meet many conditions of this prophecy, so those scholars are in error. They ignore the fact that Jesus said the abomination of desolation was still future in His day.

8) The three steps of the atonement process are the death of Christ, His ascension to heaven to officiate in the heavenly sanctuary, and then to enter the Most Holy Place for the investigative judgment, am I right?

Answer: Yes. Hebrews teaches us to examine the rituals in Leviticus in order to see the two steps of Christ's work of atonement. The sin offering in Lev. 4:1-35 is to forgive sins of ignorance. The trespass offering in Lev. 6:1-30 is to forgive sins of human weakness; the sin-trespass offering of Lev 5:1-19 is to forgive people who share the guilt of sinners they shield in court. Num 15:30 speaks of the unpardonable sin: "But the person who does anything presumptuously , . . .that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be complet-ely cut off, his guilt shall be upon him.'" In Hebrew, "presumptuously" is "with a high hand," meaning open rebellion.

In making sin and trespass offerings, the offender is required to personally take the life of the victim, after which the priest takes the blood into the sanctuary and sprinkles it seven times before the veil. In some cases the blood is not applied, but the flesh is eaten by the priest in a holy place. Its spiritual meaning is that Christ is lamb and priest in one. After performing this ritual, the penitent "shall be forgiven." This daily ritual transfers the guilt from the offender to the sanctuary. Lev 16:16 says, "So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall so for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness."

9) Does "atonement for the Holy Place" , mean the yearly Day of Atonement? Why is it that after a man has made an offering for his sin, he must afflict his soul on the Day of Atonement and make a general offering?

Answer: Let us read a text in Lev 16, then I will explain it: "Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness. And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die. He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with the blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. . . And he shall go out to the altar [of incense] that is before the Lord, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and sanctify it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel. And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it at the inquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the live goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness."

Now to explain the relation between the daily sin offering and the yearly one. The blood of the sin offering that a sinner offers for himself transfers his sin to the sanctuary. Sins accumulated through the year are recorded on the horns of the altar. These accumulated sins are transferred by the blood of the goat of the sin offering to the high priest and then to the goat of Azazel, who is led to the wilderness. It typifies Satan in exile during the millennium. ,

10) Sin is an abstract, not a material thing. To say that it is transferred by blood, is hard to grasp.

Answer: It is not hard to understand. God uses these figures to teach the truth of the atonement. The rites performed in the Holy and the Most Holy places clarify the truths of justification and sanctification. Lev 4 deals with the sinners who are forgiven after they offer their sin offerings. See Lev. 4:26. This is justification. On the Day of Atonement, when the high priest offers a general sin offering, all must "afflict their souls." One who has offered a sin offering for himself might ask, "I've made a sin offering for my sins, why should I afflict my soul again?" God says: "On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word." Isa 66:2. One who is born again of the Holy Spirit, is always poor and of a contrite spirit. In heaven, he will still be poor and of a contrite spirit, and will tremble at God's word. For he never forgets that he is in heaven because of the merits of Christ's blood. He is holy, entirely because of the Holy Spirit. Thus a truly sanctified man is always humble. On the contrary, one who is not humble can lose his zeal, backslide and drop out by the way, and even betray his Lord like Judas. That is why the plan of salvation is done in three stages. The Book of Life must undergo a review.

Heb 9:9 says that the first apartment "is symbolic of the present time, in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performs the service perfect in regard to the conscience." (translation corrected) But God requires us to be perfect. 1 Pet 1:2 says, "in sanctification of the Spirit." Eph 1:4 says, ". . . that we should be holy and without blame before Him." Hence perfection is to be reached in the second apartment.

11) Aside from Hebrews, Daniel and Leviticus, do the other books of the Bible, such as the four Gospels, teach the two steps of justification and sanctification?

Answer: Yes. Justification comes first; sanctification is the result. Every believer must go through these two tests. When a man repents, he undergoes the first test; when his life ends, he is tested again. The story in Matt 18:23-35 explains this truth well: "The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your felloiw servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." Before one dies, his forgiven debt can be revoked and charged against him again. This corresponds to the two apartments in the sanctuary. Matt 7:21 implies that all believers will be judged twice. When they believe, they are justified. Then Christ says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven." So the day must come, when Christ will review the names in the Book of Life, to see how many who call Him Lord have done His Father's will. and how many merely profess His name, sing His praises, but live according to their own wills. Heb 9:27 says, "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." The only exception to this are those who will be translated to heaven as Christ returns. They will be judged on earth to decide if they are ready.