What is Atonement?

Posted: November 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

When we read the Bible we are presented with various concepts. Some of the concepts that we come across require us to stop and think longer and more deeply than others. One theological concept that we should stop and dwell on is the concept of atonement. For instance, when you read 1 John 2:1-2 you come across the phrase “propitiation.” If you read the NIV (1984) we read “atoning sacrifice” instead of “propitiation.” The idea of atonement stands behind both phrases. But what is atonement?

Commenting on atonement as found in Leviticus, Jeffery Mooney and Jason DeRouchie write, “[i]n Leviticus, atonement is the process by which God purifies and (re-)consecrates his contaminated and desecrated tabernacle and people by pouring out his wrath on the sinner or onto a substitute, thus re-storing the relationship and right order” (DeRouchie, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About, 107). I think this helps us think about how we understand atonement in general.

Consider the definition that Mooney and DeRouchie provide and what Jesus does for sinners. Do you see how it fits? God pours out his wrath on a substitute, and thus through the blood of Jesus we are reconciled (2 Cor. 5:18-21). DeRouchie and Mooney, while talking about the specific event of the Jewish “Day of Atonement,” connect this idea to Jesus in the following way:

“The sin offerings of the Day of Atonement foreshadowed the wrath-bearing, substitutionary, sufficient work of Messiah Jesus at the cross to remove sin and to secure right relationship between God and his people (Heb. 9:7–14; 13:12; 1 John 2:1–2). Through Jesus’ blood, even common people who have no special pedigree or abilities become priests of God with unreserved access into his presence (Heb. 4:14–16; 10:19–22; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 5:10).”

So, atonement is a huge deal. Because of our sin there is a need for purification. The penalty of sin must be satisfied. Thanks be to God that through faith in Jesus, that penalty is satisfied on the shoulders that are not our own. We believe in Jesus and trust that his death has atoned for our sin and has reconciled us to God.

  1. Calvin Love says:

    Glad that the atonement is not limited! 1 John 2:2 – “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

  2. Jonathon says:


    Thanks for reading. I am not convinced that 1 John 2:2 teaches “unlimited atonement” in the sense that you seem to be implying. There are other plausible understandings that make more sense.

    If this text means that unlimited atonement in the sense that Jesus propitiated the sins (paid the debt, satisfied the demands of divine justice) of the whole world, then what is left to be paid? Why would anyone suffer in hell? For disbelief? Isn’t the sin of disbelief paid for? Or do you want to say that Jesus paid for all the sins of the world except the sin of unbelief…which I’m sure you don’t want to say.

    John Owen, in his “Death of Death in the Death of Christ”, has shown that this understanding doesn’t work.

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