There are many words which describe our salvation. Each one emphasizes a particular aspect of that salvation. We talk about forgiveness, regeneration, justification, redemption and sanctification. The word we least understand is the word atonement. We know about the Jewish Day of Atonement and believe in our atonement, but we have little understanding of the meaning of this word.
Illustrations of Atonement
Numbers chapter sixteen tells of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. This resulted in the death of these men and about 250 others who followed them. The next day, the Jews slandered Moses and accused him of killing the people of God. God was so angry. His wrath was manifested in a plague which killed nearly 15,000 Jews. What stopped the plague? What appeased His wrath? Aaron took a censer and stood between the Jews and the advancing plague. This action is described as making atonement for the nation (16:46-47). Wrath was appeased, and this is described as atonement.
In Numbers 25, the Jews were committing fornication with the Midianite women. God’s anger again sent a plague and killed 24,000 Jews. What stopped the plague? Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, took a javelin and thrust it through the bodies of a Jewish man and a Midianite women who publically were fornicating. God said, “Phinehas…has turned back my wrath from the children of Israel because He was zealous with My zeal among them…because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel” (25:11-13). If you want to understand atonement, read this story and the previous one to see what atonement means.
Atonement Always Connected with God’s Anger
Atonement always involves sin which results in God’s wrath against sin and actions being done to assuage His wrath. If there is no atonement, His wrath will surely come.
Sins Not “Rolled Forward” in the Old Testament
The concept that sins were “rolled forward” (think of a giant snowball getting larger every year) on the Day of Atonement does not portray what actually happened. Every year on that day God remembered the sins of Israel, and if atonement was not made His wrath was sent. Nations came against Israel when atonement was not made. When it was made, His anger was appeased, and God blessed that nation. God remembered their sins every year.
Because of Christ’s sacrifice atonement is ours. He does not remember our sins. “Their sins will I remember no more” (Jer. 31:34). Thank God for our atonement!