Ten days after Rosh HaShanah came the Day of Atonement. During the Feast of Trumpets, I took an introspective look at the sin in my life and need for repentance; now I’ve contemplated the consequences of that sin, the penalty involved, and need to make things right. The arrival of this most solemn High Holy Day was an especially appropriate time to discuss the concept of atonement. To grasp the idea of atonement, and how it is made under the Old and New Covenant, will bring us to a deeper understanding of our relationship to Messiah. As you will see, every theme of Old and New Testament atonement for sin is clearly outlined in the Torah. The New Testament is a Jewish book, no concept should come as a surprise to those who know Torah.
There is a lot of information to digest in this Bible study. As usual, I included the relevant passages of Scripture for convenience. I encourage you to reference and highlight these passages in your own Bible. In the next two pieces, we will pull together Scripture from the Torah, the Prophets, the Gospels; and the book of Hebrews, the letter written to the first century Jewish believers in Messiah. Shall we take a look together?
Human Sacrifice was a common practice among ancient peoples. The need for blood to appease an angry god, seems to be embedded in the human consciousness. Abraham, father of the Israelites, would have been familiar with human sacrifice, as it was practiced by the pagan cultures all around him. This would have been little consolation as he led his only son up the slope of Mount Moriah….
——Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”-Genesis 22:2
But God had other plans for Abraham and his son. In the climactic moment of this account, the concept of substitutionary atonement is revealed, this concept is critical to our understanding of why Yeshua was crucified for all of our sins.
——Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”-Genesis 22:10-14
God provided Abraham with an alternative, a substitution, for the blood of Isaac. God also provided a substitute for us, when Jesus took our punishment on the cross. The prophets understood these things. A father willing to sacrifice his son, a loving God who provides a substitution for our blood, a son willing to be a sacrifice; these are not New Testament concepts. These Ideas are introduced to us in the Torah, carried and preached through the prophets, and fulfilled by Jesus on the cross.
——But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. -Isaiah 53:5
The penalty for sin is the same today, as it was in the days of the law. You and I deserve death for our sin. Sin is the vehicle, by which sin entered the world, and blood has always been required to atone for it. This concept is reinforced throughout Scripture. Something must die to make things right.
——For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.- Leviticus 17:11
——For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.-Romans 6:23
Shedding blood is not pleasant, it’s not supposed to be. Bloodshed and death are a result of mankind’s fall, and the entrance of sin into the world. The sacrificial system established in the law was a demonstration, a reminder to the people that sin results in death and bloodshed, and that God provides an alternative source of the blood required to pay the penalty…..However, the law itself was not enough. Continuous animal sacrifice became a matter of religious ritual. The endless flow of animal blood, with no spirit of repentance behind it, became detestable to God. Again, this is not a New Testament concept. God speaks to this issue through the prophet Isaiah in the opening statement of his book.
——”The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord .
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord .
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.” – Isaiah 1:11-18
The law that God gave to Moses was not imperfect. The relationship between a law, and a people who could not follow it, made the whole system imperfect. Laws are intended to change behavior, and are only effective if followed. Israel’s inability to follow the law led to far too much animal sacrifice, and not enough change in behavior. It was sin that made the law imperfect. Man couldn’t keep the law, but God loved his creation enough to strike a new covenant with mankind; a new law based not on works, but on our faith and his grace. The prophets testify to this truth;
—— “The days are coming,” declares the Lord ,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord . “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord .
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord ,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord .
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”- Jeremiah 31:31-34
We now have a firm grasp on the concept of atonement, introduced to us in the Torah. We also understand, through the prophets, that sinful mankind made the law imperfect; and instead of inflicting the punishment man deserved, God arranged a new deal and covenant with mankind. This new covenant means a new law, a new priesthood, and a perfect sacrifice to once and for all make atonement for sin.
——The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.-Hebrews 10:1-4
In the next piece, we’ll discuss atonement in the New Testament. A new law, a new priesthood, and the perfect sacrifice. Until then……….