Thursday, May 31, 2012

Atonement - God's work of salvation in the New Testament

Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (NIV)

We looked in an earlier blog at the concept of Atonement that is spelled out in Leviticus 16&17.  Today we want to consider how the New Testament picks upon this theme developed in Leviticus and communicates the Act and Accomplishment of the Actor of The atoning work of the cross - the Lord Jesus Christ.

The chapters which most closely correspond to what we see in Leviticus 16 & 17 are chapters 9 and 10 of the book of Hebrews.  For sake of space I will confine today's blog to what we read in Hebrews 9.  The vast majority of Hebrews 9 uses the material of The Day of Atonement that we've looked at in Leviticus 16 and 17.  Much like that blog, we aim here to understand God's work of salvation: the atonement as seen in its Actor, Act and Accomplishment.  Today we will be viewing this question from the fulfillment found in the New Testament, and more specifically Hebrews 9.

Atonements Actor = The Lord Jesus Christ Hebrews 9:1-11
Hebrews 9:8-10 records - The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order

From this text in Hebrews 9 we understand the appropriateness of drawing parallels and connections between the "pictures and shadows" about atonement in Levitcus to the "substance and fulfillment" of the atonement in the Actor of it - Jesus Christ.  In Hebrews 9:11, 25 and 28 we discover that Christ came as High Priest to appear on our behalf in the Most Holy place in Heaven - paralleling the work of the High Priest in Leviticus.  Furthermore, just as the scapegoat bore away the sins of the people outside the camp of Israel, Christ too was crucified "outside the city" of Jerusalem on the cross. (Hebrews 13)

Act of atonement = The Cross  Hebrews 9:12-14
In Hebrews 9:12-14 we read of the central act of atonement - the cross: He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,c so that we may serve the living God!

The references to "bulls and goats" and "blood" all point back to the system portrayed in Leviticus 16 and 17.  In Hebrews 9:14 the writer points us beyond that picture to its fulfillment, noting "how much more, then, will the blood of Christ."  Just as there was "life in the blood" in Leviticus, moreso is there to be found the gift of Eternal life by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Unlike that Old Testament system, only the blood of Christ could "cleanse the conscience".  The central idea of "cleansing, making one ready for reconciled fellowship with God", a key idea in the Old Testament pictures of atonement, would be the launching point for the greater accomplishments of atonement done by Jesus Christ.

Accomplishment of atonement = 5 Eternal accomplishments 9:15-28
So far we have viewed the Actor of Atonement, Jesus Christ and His Act of atonement, the cross, in Hebrews 9:12-14.  Overwhelmingly, the New Testament teaching on the atonement spends most of its space unfolding what it was that was accomplished.  In addition to the cleansing of the conscience, Hebrews 9 spells out what was accomplished:
Hebrews 9:15 Eternal riches for the believer
Hebrews 9:22 Eternal reconciliation for the believer
Hebrews 9:24 Eternal representation for the believer
Hebrews 9:26 Eternal removal of the guilt of sin for the believer
Hebrews 9:28 Eternal refuge from wrath from the believer

If space permitted, we would treat each of these.  The point being the Old Testament system provides us with the springboard of concepts needed to grab hold of all that Christ came to do in God's saving work - the atonement.  The significance of that work far out performed its protoype and picture, to the point that what Christ did is unparalleled and thankfully, can never be reduplicated again. (Hebrews 9:26)

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