The word Atonement means to wipe clean; to pay a ransom; to cover. Atonement means to reconcile by wiping clean, paying a ransom and covering the differences (sins) that lienate and separate a person from God, arousing His justice. The atonement propitiates or satisfies God’s wrath; it appeases, placates, cancels, annuls God’s anger against sin. Atonement means to ransom or deliver by the means of a substitute. The substitute takes the place of the sinner and bears the punishment due the sinner. Through the atonement, a person is set free from sin and its punishment. A person is ransomed from sin and the punishment of death, ransomed to live eternally with God. In one very simple statement, the atonement means reconciliation: the atonement reconciles a person to God and makes a person acceptable to God.
Two important facts need to be noted about the great subject of atonement.
1. The atonement secured by animals was only a type, only a symbol and picture of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Jesus Christ died as the perfect sacrifice to ransom us from sin, death, and hell (separation from God). This fact must always be remembered: justice demands that a person pay for the crime he has committed. A person cannot get off in court just by apologizing and saying “I’ll try my best not to do it again.” This is not enough, not in a true court of justice. This is especially true when dealing with God. God’s justice demands that a person pay for breaking the law of God. But note: God is perfect; therefore, His justice demands that a perfect payment be made for man’s disobedience or crime against God. But in this fact there is a major problem, for no person is perfect. Consequently, no person can make the perfect payment to satisfy God’s justice. What then can man do? This is where Jesus Christ enters the picture. Jesus Christ—His death upon the cross—is the perfect payment, the perfect atonement, that satisfies God’s justice. He offered Himself up as the perfect sacrifice for our crimes or sins against God. He and He alone is the true atoning sacrifice, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
2. The atoning (reconciling) death of Jesus Christ was made once-for-all; therefore, His sacrifice is the only sufficient sacrifice ever made. The Burnt Offering finds its fulfillment in the death of Jesus Christ. His death makes animal sacrifice obsolete. We no longer have a need to offer Burnt Offerings for the atonement of our sins. We are reconciled to God by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. His sacrifice was the perfect ransom demanded by God for the cursing of His name, for the rejection and hostility of our behavior toward Him. Jesus Christ bore the judgment of God’s anger and wrath against sins. This He did to atone for our sins so that we might become reconciled and acceptable to Him. As stated, because of Jesus Christ, we no longer have to offer Burnt Offerings to become acceptable to God. We are acceptable when we approach God through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His sacrifice that atones for our sins, that reconciles us to God—His sacrifice that makes us acceptable to God once-for-all.