There is an important word used many times in the Old Testament that relates to the sacrifices offered under (OT) law, but which is not used in the New Testament and in relation to the death of Jesus Christ. Time and again we read of it in the Old Testament (OT) but never once in the New Testament (NT). I’m talking about the word “atonement”.
Atonement is the word used by people for the sacrificial work done by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. So here I ask why is it that the Spirit of God ( the Holy Spirit) never uses that word once in the Bible or elsewhere to describe the work of Jesus Christ? We see in the book of Leviticus (OT) the word atonement occurs 48 times, and yet in Hebrews (NT), its companion volume in the New Testament, it is not mentioned at all. The Holy Spirit avoids using that word in relation to the death of Jesus Christ on purpose. The word atonement cannot be used to describe the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Atonement is an OT truth, not needed in the New Testament.
Let me show you how the Jews of today see the Old Testament and what they believe atonement means to them even to this very day. I’ll tell a story to help show my point. I see an old man walking to his synagogue during Passover week. He goes in and sits down with his friends and participates in the conversations as they carry out the directions and rituals found in the Talmud.
(An intergenerational rabbinic conversation that is studied, not read.) After they finish the old man turns to the others in his group and tells them he read of the old prophets and of the Psalms of David. He tells of the Passover and how they always observe it these days with eating of the unleavened bead and roasted Passover lamb. The others joke at what a great feast they will have that day.
The old man shakes his head and speaks up: “that’s the point, all we have been talking about is the food for this Passover. The one thing not mentioned is the blood! The first Passover wasn’t about the food, the food isn’t what gives us atonement that first Passover, it was the blood. Do you remember what God told us, ‘When I see the blood I will pass over you’. You see it’s the blood that’s important on Passover, and I don’t see any.”
The others told the old man to go talk to the rabbi and ask him about it. Going into the synagogue he spots his rabbi and tells him of his concerns. The rabbi tells him he’s right and we all should sacrifice to God and offer up blood to Him but we can’t. The old man looks surprised and asked why?
The rabbi told him that God was angry with His people. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, and an Islamic mosque was erected in its place. The rabbi continues saying it’s the only spot on earth where we dare shed the blood of sacrifice in accordance with Deuteronomy 12 and Leviticus 17. The temple was desecrated. That is why there is no blood sacrifice. God Himself closed the way to carry out the solemn service on the great Day of Atonement.
The rabbi said that now we must turn to the Talmud and rest on its instruction, and trust in the mercy of God and the merits of the fathers. The old man tried to be satisfied with this but he could not. Something seemed to tell him that the law was unaltered, even though our temple was destroyed. Nothing else but blood could atone for the sins. The rabbi said we dare not shed blood for atonement elsewhere than in the place that God had chosen.
He thought to himself “so we were left without any way of atonement at all!” This thought filled the old man with horror. In his distress he consulted many rabbis. He had but one momentous question—where could I find the blood of atonement? Passover came and went and the old man’s soul was still troubled about his sins.
One night he was walking down one of the narrow streets of the city he lived in when he saw a sign telling of a meeting for Jews. Curiosity led him to go in. Just as he took a seat, he heard a man say up front “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins”. It was the old man’s first introduction to Christianity, so he listened breathlessly as the speaker told how God had declared that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin”, that He had given us His only begotten Son, the lamb of God, to die, and that all who believed in Him and are covered with His blood were forgiven all their sins.
This was the Messiah of Isaiah 53; this was the Sufferer of the Psalms. Ah, my brethren, the old man thought,I have found salvation at last! I trusted it, and now I love to read the New Testament and see how all the shadows of the law are fulfilled in Jesus. His blood has been shed for sinners. He thought, It has satisfied God, and is the only means of salvation for either Jew or Gentile. The blood of Jesus Christ saves all who seek it.
Let’s go a little further with this story and see what more there is to learn for this old man. The old man learned the blood of Christ saves all who believe. There is one more important fact he is yet to learn. In Ps. 32: 1 David says “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered”. Note that word! All that the OT sacrifices could ever do was to make an atonement in the way of a covering for sins. But what is covered is still there!
Those sacrifices met the claims of God for the moment but were not a permanent solution. None of them removed a single sin. They all looked on to the work of the Lord Jesus and were just shadows of the coming good things (see Hebrews 10: 1). “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.”
They perfected no one. Now it seems to me that if the sacrificial work of the Lord Jesus were to be described as a work of atonement, even as the greatest work of atonement, then it would still carry with it the thought of covering. There would be no radical difference between His sacrifice and all other sacrifices. It would lower the work of Christ to the level of the animal sacrifices. But the Holy Spirit, ever jealous of the glory of the Person and work of the Savior, never employs such a word in relation to the work of Christ.
Let us now look at the language that the Holy Spirit does employ in that great epistle of comparisons and contrasts––Hebrews. There the writer takes up the great comparison between the dispensations of law and grace. So that we read of eternal redemption, eternal salvation, eternal covenant, and eternal inheritance but never eternal atonement.
Hebrews. 10: 11 “And every priest standeth daily ministering, and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (my emphasis). He doesn’t say which can never atone for sins, or which can never cover sins. No! They did that. But they can never take away sins! That is the vital difference.
Now in the next verse comes the great contrast. Hebrews 10:12 “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God”. Now there were no seats in the tabernacle and so we read in verse 11 “And every priest standeth daily” their work was continual, there was no rest, it went on day in day out. But when we read of the Lord Jesus in verse 12 it says He “sat down at the right hand of God”. His work was not temporary, but complete and final. He has sat down and will never need to rise again to perform a sacrifice for sin.
The old man who loves God, now found the Son as his savior. Let’s look at the parts of the New Testament in the Bible where the Holy Spirit will show this old man to let him know Christ only had to sacrifice once, for all sin, and not the on-going animal sacrifices needed by the priest to cover ones sins temporarily.
“11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.
12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.”
“15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.
19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,
20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.
21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.
22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”
“19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21 And having a high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
24 “And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.”
“9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
1 Peter 1:18-19
“18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:”
1 John 1:7
“7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
“28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
“7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”
The old man in this story has found Christ and His salvation. The old man can live out the rest of his life without worry, for he reads in his new Bible all his sins are forgiven never to be seen again.
I hope you think on this story and ponder what Jesus Christ has done for us. Without Him we would be like that old man, worried about our sins as we come near to our God.
All glory to God
His humble servant Lee M Buchanan