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(From Forerunner Commentary)
The English word atonement appears in Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35 in reference to these sin offerings, as it does in Leviticus 1:4 in reference to the burnt offering: "Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him." This is the last time "atonement" appears in reference to the sweet-savor offerings in Leviticus 1-3.
"Atonement" may mislead some because we almost automatically think of a covering for sin. Atonement for sin normally makes one acceptable before God, but sin is not present in the sweet-savor offerings. Nonetheless, the word indeed conveys the sense of acceptance but on a different basis than in the sin and trespass offerings. The basis for acceptance in the sweet-savor offerings is the offerer's perfect devotion, picturing the devoted, sinless Christ worshipping God.
Concerning the sin and trespass offerings, "atonement" is used in the way we normally understand it: as a covering, payment, expiation, or propitiation made for sin. It is as though the offerer is charged just as the police charge a person with a crime. In this case, though, the offerer is charged with sin, and something must expiate it. The sin and trespass offerings, then, indicate the payment of a legal obligation to an authority, one that meets the legal requirement of that authority. To expiate sin, the payment must be in blood; a life must be given. The Authority is God, as His law has been broken.
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Whenever a person sins, the law has the power to take that person's life. It has such power over us that, for our debt to be paid, a life is required. Nothing less is suitable to expiate sin. In the symbolism of the sin and trespass offerings, the life of an animal is given, covering the indebtedness and breaking the power the law has over us.
In actual practice, the ritual proceeded like this: The offerer brought his animal before the priest and then laid his hand upon the head of his offering. Symbolically, a transfer took place so that the animal is understood as portraying the sinner making the offering. The animal then died, and the penalty was considered paid.
In Romans 6:2, Paul writes that we are "dead to sin," and in Romans 7:4, that we are "dead to the law." The ritual portrays these truths. The sin and trespass offerings picture a convicted sinner coming before God to receive the judgment of death. However, the animal's death portrays Christ's vicarious death in our stead, for in reality, since He is the offering, our sins have been transferred to Him. In this way, we are atoned for and redeemed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Six): The Sin Offering
At first glance, there seems to be a number of contradictions regarding peace, peacemaking, and the Christian. Most commentators write only narrowly on peacemaking, approaching it almost entirely in regard to mediating between disputing people. Good as far as it goes, this is inadequate in describing what the beatitude means.
Jesus was a peacemaker; in Isaiah 9:6, He is titled "Prince of Peace." Here, however, an apparent contradiction appears. We might think that, if anyone could successfully mediate between warring parties, He could. If anyone could bring peace, perhaps even impose it, He could. But He did not. In fact, He says in Matthew 10:34-36, quoting Micah 7:6:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to "set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." And "a man's foes will be those of his own household."
Nonetheless, Jesus is still our model; His life is the pattern ours should follow. Paul writes in Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." Undoubtedly, Jesus did this, but it did not produce peace at that time. Some perceived His life, popularity, and words as so threatening that they put Him to death. Some were moved to jealousy while others, enraged, incited the populace against Him to sway Pilate's judgment. His life, death, and resurrection, however, enabled Him to be the instrument of our peace with God and each other by qualifying Him as the payment for sin and High Priest to mediate for us before the Father.
The following verses add several necessary elements:
» I John 2:2: And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
» Romans 3:25-26: [Jesus,] whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
» Hebrews 5:9-10: And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek."
» Ephesians 2:14-18: For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
As a human, Jesus of Nazareth certainly had more success mediating between disputing parties than we ever will under similar circumstances. Even though His life created conflict and hostility in others, it did not stop Him from living the life of a peacemaker so that He could become a real Peacemaker upon His resurrection as Savior and High Priest. The life He lived as a man cannot be separated from what He became. It is the model of the kind of peacemaking Jesus intends in the Beatitude.
Peacemaking involves not only mediating but also everything the person is, his attitude and character as well as what he intends to accomplish. Peacemaking is a package dominated by the godliness of the person. Thus, Paul says in Galatians 6:1, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 7: Blessed Are the Peacemakers
In saying that He desires mercy and not sacrifice, Jesus is teaching that He prefers it when people practice mercy and not blindly follow ritual. He is not condemning the laws of sacrifice that He set up for Israel to practice until He fulfilled them, but explaining that He is more pleased with acts of forgiveness and kindness than strict external compliance to the law.
He is telling the Pharisees that, though they were exacting in keeping the letter of the law, they had completely missed its intent. In Matthew 23:23, He reminds them of this very point: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."
It is good and right to tithe to God, even to be exacting in our accounting, but not at the expense of the far more important matters of justice, mercy, and faith! These weightier matters are a Christian's priorities, so if a question of "What do I do?" ever comes up between practicing them and keeping the strict letter of the law, our judgment should lean toward these Christian virtues. If we can do both, all the better!
Jesus Christ is the personification of mercy. Exodus 25:17-22 describes the Mercy Seat constructed in the wilderness. Essentially, it was the golden lid of the Ark of the Covenant, on which were figures of two cherubim facing each other with their wings stretched out, covering the Mercy Seat. God, the pre-incarnate Christ, says in verse 22, "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony." The Mercy Seat represented God in His dealings with sinful humanity, and the chief element He employs is mercy.
Now notice Romans 3:23-25:
. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed. . . .
This passage tells us that Jesus Christ is our Mercy Seat, but the translators have hidden it. "Propitiation" (Greek hilasterios) in verse 25 is literally "place of conciliation or expiation" or "Mercy Seat." The Septuagint used hilasterios to translate the Hebrew noun kapporeth ("Mercy Seat"). This Hebrew word's root is kapar meaning "to cover" or "to conceal." This illustrates that the nature of God is to be merciful.
The apostle Peter writes in I Peter 2:21 that we are to follow in Christ's steps, thus as Jesus Christ is merciful, we also are to show mercy in our judgments.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Mercy: The Better Option
Jesus says several times, "I lay down My life for the sheep," or "I lay it down." It is significant that of His own will, He gave Himself up to die. The Romans did not take it from Him—He gave it voluntarily for His sheep (verse 11). He made it clear that Pilate was not condemning Him, but that He was accepting death (John 19:10-11). Jesus lived His life as an act of obedience to God, His Father. Moreover, when He died He became the propitiation (expiatory or atoning sacrifice) for the whole world, not just for our sins (I John 2:2). God's graciousness is justified by the sacrifice of the Shepherd.
In the Old Testament, the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies was symbolic of God's throne, where He sat in judgment (Hebrews 9:5). When the Good Shepherd gave His life in bloody sacrifice for sinners once for all (verses 12, 24-28), the Mercy Seat became a "throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). It was God's will that Jesus' sacrifice apply to all sinners for all time, but Jesus' phrase "My sheep" in this parable refers only to His followers—the saints, the members of His flock—highlighting His special, intimate relationship with them.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Good Shepherd (Part Two)
“The promise of the eternal inheritance” harkens back to the inheritance that God promised to Abraham, of which we become heirs through having the same faith as Abraham. It includes justification by faith, being part of a spiritual nation, and eternal life. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:29, “if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Gilbert Wakefield offers an alternative translation of Hebrews 9:16-17 that brings out an important detail:
For where a covenant is, there must be necessarily introduced the death of that which establishe[s] the covenant; because a covenant is confirmed over dead things, and is of no force at all whil[e] that which establishe[s] the covenant is alive.
Similarly, Young's Literal Translation finds a commonality between the two covenants by using the term “covenant-victim” rather than “testator”:
. . . for where a covenant [is], the death of the covenant-victim to come in is necessary, for a covenant over dead victims [is] stedfast, since it is no force at all when the covenant-victim live[s].
In verses 16-17, most translations use “testament” and “testator,” which are indeed possible meanings of the Greek words. Like a “Last Will and Testament,” the New Covenant goes into effect only when the testator dies. This nuance, though, can apply only to the New Covenant, while the context of Hebrews 9 is both the Old and New Covenants. Both of them were sealed with “covenant-victims”—living beings that had their blood shed for the sake of establishing the respective covenants.
In the covenant with Israel, the covenant-victims were oxen and goats (see Exodus 24:5-8; Hebrews 9:19). The New Covenant, though, was confirmed with the bodily death of the Son of Man. Hebrews 10:5 says, “a body You have prepared for Me”—a body capable of having its blood drained out in sacrifice, both for the remission of sins and for the establishing of a covenant.
For Abraham, the covenant victims were mere animals. However, despite it not being explicitly stated, that covenant also required the life of the Creator. Paul explains in Galatians 3:8 that the promise that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” indicates that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. Justification by faith is possible only through belief—trust—in a sacrifice of equal or greater value to the life forfeit due to sin. The blood of bulls and goats could never pay the life-debt of any human being; only the death of the sinless Creator could provide propitiation—justification—for all people. In this way, even though the Abrahamic covenant was confirmed only with slain animals, inherent within it was a promise of a future sacrifice so great that it would justify all those who believe in it.
David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)
1 John 2:1-2
Propitiation is "an appeasing force." The law spells out the perpetual requirements of obedience to God, and blood pays for sin.
God desires sacrifice and obedience, not a religious game. It must be emphasized that our obedience is not for the purpose of saving us—salvation is by grace—but to assist us in perfecting holiness (II Corinthians 7:1) and to provide a witness of God working in our lives (Matthew 5:16).
Israel's purely ceremonial religion could never safeguard the truth because the people were not living it. By being used in the worship of manmade deities, not the Creator God, the rituals of their shrines were completely divorced from the truth found in the law. God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). The evidence of true religion is that through His correction in mercy and love, it will touch and purify every area of life. If we are really in contact with the true God, change will take place gradually as we grow.
To determine if our profession and practice of religion is pleasing to God, we must consider two questions: 1) Are we covered by the blood of Jesus Christ? and 2) Are we obeying God to the best of our understanding?
We never obey to the extent of our knowledge because knowledge, knowing what God expects, always outpaces ability. We gather knowledge before we have the ability to live it, and that makes us feel guilty because we realize we are not applying what we know. This guilty feeling is not really wrong, for without guilt we would not change. It is good if it makes us change, but when guilt becomes neurotic, it becomes destructive and wrong.
Today, psychologists are trying to remove guilt from our every thought, word, and deed—a sure sign of widespread spiritual poverty and complacency. But God says we can worship Him with a pure conscience because we know we have been cleansed of our past sins through Christ's sacrifice, and because we know God is faithful to us as we live by faith in Him (Hebrews 10:19-23).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
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