A 'Lamb'-centred atonement theory
Having spent my entire adult lifetime as an learner of Jesus, the Messiah, in all that time, I've never been aware of having any dependency upon a theory or even an understanding of "atonement." It just hasn't been an issue.
However, provoked by all this discussion about the subject, I wanted to test out my own convictions about the Sacrifice which is so central and vital to the Messianic faith, while endeavouring to avoid typical evangelical jargon, primarily to help in giving a fresh look at things. Thus, a couple of nights ago, I decided to attempt to communicate a personal understanding of "the atonement" and to do so placing the major elements of the Messianic Sacrifice in a broader, narrative context, feeling that without maintaining this broader view, we are in danger of cutting loose to investigate little whirlpools of theology, while failing to locate either the source or the destination of the River, so to speak...
The 'theory' is offered 'as written, as thought,' with no claim on theological correctness. There will, of course, be huge gaps visible to some, perhaps some enlightenment for others. If you wish to criticise, go ahead, but go gently, remembering it's a kick-off to a discussion, not a submission for the Booker Prize!
So, let begin at our beginning...
The Entrance of Death
The primary eschatological events of the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah, have their raison d'etre in the events of Gan Eden. It was here that we witness, the entrance of two vital elements of our story: Rebellion and Wickedness. These two represent related but different concepts. For the purposes of this discussion we shall summarise them thus:
In Eden, the wickedness of the snake, typifying the Tempter, later called the Adversary, tempted the Mother and Father of Humanity, into Rebellion against the Creator and the Good conduct he had instructed them in. Before that, rebellion did not exist within humanity or humanity's experience, nor in the Good Creation which is in view (we might argue that the snake / Adversary was formerly created and he rebelled – but the must be the subject of another discussion).
This Rebellion is a genuinely serious matter, with profound, real, inviolable consequences. In short, it opened the door to the irreversible corruption of the entire Creation. How so?
Because Rebellion was the first step away from the intended purpose of the creature. After that first step, whatever else happens is simply a step further away from or back toward the intended purpose and because permanent damage has been done, then even steps toward, will inevitably "fall short" of the original, intended glory, which has now been lost.
In fact, it seems that this Rebellion was such a serious step that it was effectively the Death of the Creation. Right there: Death. The Good Creation had been corrupted, with no way back. I suggest that unless we grasp the genuineness of this, this finality of Death, it will be impossible to make sense of all that follows.
Prior to the Rebellion, Creation could, it seems, have remained completely Good, uncorrupted. Immortality could have become the next Reality, after the probation of Eden. But it was corrupted by Rebellion and the Creator bound it to Death. Creation must thereafter die. It has become mortal (subject to death) and corrupt - it cannot, ever again, fulfil the Eternal Purpose for which the Creator made it.
The Need for a New Creation
What about the Creators original intention: to have a people, made in the image of God, with whom he would dwell eternally – his "Eternal Purpose"? Was that intention to be thwarted, therefore, by this intrusion of Death?
No, the Creator would not allow it to be thwarted. But, due to the entrance of Death, this fulfilment would require nothing less than a New Creation. New in what sense? A completely new one? (Perhaps on another planet, in another solar system?) No, not entirely new, but, rather, one that would be born out of the "womb" of the decaying Creation. (Think of it this way: an impregnated woman brings forth New Life and yet, herself, eventually dies; the baby has an innocence which the woman has lost, yet it is the woman, still subject to Death, out of which Life emerges. This is a parable of the New Creation, which comes out of the original Creation.)
So that is our initial, panoramic view: Creation has been corrupted and bound to Death: only a New Creation will be able to fulfil the purposes of the Creator. How will such a New Creation be produced? What is the process? How can the forces of Death (decay, destruction, disease) and of Rebellion and Wickedness all be Overcome? Thiat is the task that the Creator faces if his Eternal Purpose is to be fulfilled.
And he has a Plan.
He requires a human being who will wholly embrace and serve his Eternal Purpose and the necessary Temporal Plan to bring that eternal purpose to fruition. He requires a Human Being who will intercede for the interests of the New Creation, to perform the necessary acts that will precipitate the birth of the New Creation.
What are those acts? This person, this Human Being must overcome – must defeat – Death, Rebellion and Wickedness:
Thus, this Human Being must defeat every attempt of Wickedness to corrupt his essential role in the Creators Eternal Purpose. He must resist absolutely the temptation of Rebellion him to divert from the path of obedience to the Creator's Plan of and suffer and overcome Death by entrusting himself completely to the Creator, his only hope of Resurrection.
This is the Victory that will bring forth a New Creation.
In fact, the Human Being that does these things will become the First Fruits of that New Creation, by the power of Resurrection Life and will receive Complete Authority over Creation to grant the same power of Eternal Life to any other human being, allowing them to participate in the New Creation (free from Death, Rebellion and Wickedness). Although they will still die, they will be Resurrected – as this Human Being must first be (otherwise, while suffering Death, he has not overcome it, rather been overcome by it).
This Human Being will choose to suffer Death and this is what likens him to a Sacrificial Lamb. A Lamb whose sufferance of Death will Release Creation from its bondage to Death – as he becomes the First Fruit of the New Creation. In this way, the Death of the Lamb will deal with the (consequences of the) Rebellion of Humanity.
The Narrative of the Messianic Community
Alongside this Reality of Deliverance, there must also be a Narrative, to explain the Promise of Deliverance to the human beings who are invited into the New Creation and a Community, to provide a context for the Deliverer. And so, a Tribe is selected and a system of sacrificial offerings is described and prescribed, carefully regulated to avoid misconception and degradation into paganistic rites. The role of this religious duty is given to the Selected People, whose taks it is to be the living Narrative of the Creator, the Canvas upon which he paints his vision of the Sacrificial Lamb and his Eternal Purpose.
However, during the course of the telling of this 'People of God' Narrative – this preparation of a people who would Light the Way for the Human Being who would become the Deliverer of Creation – Rebellion continues to work amongst the Creation and distinctly amongst this Peculiar People of God. Rebellion has already introduced Death; now, aided and abetted by Wickedness, it goes on to continually produce Chaos as its brood. Consequently, no matter how much Order the Creator now places into the Creation, by way of Rules, Regulations, Commandments and Teaching of things and acts, Rebellion continually corrupts the effect, so that the very things intended to prepare the way for Deliverance, for "Life in its Fullness" to come, those things actually make a way for Chaos and, in so doing, demonstrate the utter bondage of Creation to Rebellion.
Extraordinarily, the Creator nevertheless succeeds in completing his Narrative. At times his frustration with his Chosen People erupts and he even occasionally thinks of beginning again on a new canvas; but, each time, one of the human beings who has seen something of the vision he is presenting, is able to sufficiently remind the Creator of his Eternal Purpose, to keep him from doing so. Some parts of the canvas are destroyed; others are wiped out and repainted. But the distinctive Image is taking its form. And, in the midst of this, despite the Greatness of some of the characters emerging within the Narrative, it is gradually more and more clear that it will be no ordinary human being who, in the midst of Chaos, is able to resist the combined forces of Death, Rebellion and Wickedness.
The Creator's Forbearance of Individual Rebelliousness
Now, while we are considering Chaos, prompted by Rebellion, let us revisit the matter of "forgiveness." Up to now, we have been considering the consequences of the Original Rebellion which corrupted Creation. Nevertheless, since then, numerous Acts of Rebellion have been carried out. Each of these acts does two things: it identifies the actors with the Mother and Father of Humanity, who introduced Rebellion; secondly, each act has a consequence whereby, someone suffers, almost always someone else, other than the actor.
Theoretically, in a simplistic "justice" scenario, there would be a Day of Reckoning, in which every act of rebellion would be considered. Each person with a just grievance would bring a complaint against those who had harmed them and their interests. In fact, due to the reigning Chaos, this is simply not practical. The task of Justice is impossible because no one is wholly victim: everyone is a participator in Rebelliousness, in some way.
Moreover, a Day of Reckoning that did nothing other than weigh each individuals acts of rebellion in the stark light of some external legal-type Standard, it's quite clear that no human being could stand before the Creator. Such a Day would not be "of Reckoning" it would surely simply become a "Day of Vengeance" -- the very thing the Creator wishes to Deliver Human Beings from. Thus, no such simplistic Day of Reckoning is in view in the Creators Narrative.
(In fact, at a later point in history, a successful counterfeiter will produce another narrative promising such a Day, when humans "good" deeds will be weighed against their "bad" deeds – but no such immature religiosity is in view on the Original Canvas.)
Consequently, the Creator decides to overlook all Offences. Initially, this is Forbearance: the overlooking of these acts, letting them go without punishment. The ritual sacrificial lambs are justifiably linked with this Forbearance because they remind the Creator of the Lamb who will come.
Forgiveness and New Life for Individual Human Beings
The Creator actually looks (beyond Forbearance,) forward to a time when, because of the Intercession of the Human Being who willingly suffers Death (as the precursor to Resurrection, the Harbinger, Evidence and Doorway to the New Creation) he will be able to completely Forgive: to Justly declare,
"PARDONED : FREE OF GUILT"to everyone who is willing to come to him, without any plea of innocence, without any claim of being in the right in – or in spite of – their acts of rebelliousness, who are willing to trust his Narrative and the provision he has made for Death to be overcome by the "Lamb." To such people he will say:
"Your part in the Rebellion, your unity, your uniting with it, has been Forgiven – and, consequently, your "Covenant with Death" has been annulled. You are herewith joined to LIFE eternally."
How is this possible? Where is the Justice in such an abandonment of Natural Retribution? Where is Vengeance against the Rebellious? Where and what is the Justification for such a "sentence" being lifted from us?
"The Justification," says the Creator, "is that a Willing Victim has become a Mighty Victor, who has suffered Death and resisted Rebellion and defeated Wickedness (though the final, complete banishment of Wickedness will come later), he has "paid the price" of laying down his life, sacrificially – as a Sacrifice – so that others can follow him into the New Creation. That Justifies my Forgiveness of all your complicity in the Rebellion!"
The Death of the Lamb
So, following the Incarnation, the Lamb effectively "takes away" (the consequences of) the Rebellion of Humanity. He does to by receiving, in his own body, the Due Penalty of Death – a penalty due, remember, to the Corruption of the Original, Good Creation, which thereafter could no longer serve the pure purpose for which it was intentionally made. He does this by Offering himself up to the hold of Death. He does this by becoming a thorn in the flesh of incumbent Powers and Principalities which, rightly, perceive his (ad)ministration of Truth to be a threat to their Corrupt Power. Thus, in accordance with the Creators prearranged, Temporal Plan, in accordance with the Creator's Eternal Purpose, he is literally led by the Rulers of Darkness and Wickedness in High Places, as a Lamb to the slaughter.
For anyone to die upon the brutal, torturous, killing instrument of the Roman stake is a perversion of the intended, created purpose of human beings and may always be rightly called Wickedness. However, when we consider that this particular Human Being has never succumbed, even the least bit, to the powerful temptation and force of Rebellion, we can see Wickedness was personified, as never before, in those who condemned and, effectively, murdered the Lamb. They completed the Absolute Corruption, the Wicked Rebellion of Humanity, to its fullest.
So again, we ask, since we too are mortal, corrupt, human: how can those who have committed such a crime be Forgiven?
Let us not be too hasty. Let us see that it is possible to refuse the Free Gift which the Creator offers. And to do so is not simply to side with Mortality, Rebellion and Corruption. It is to side with Wickedness. That is, to so embrace Wickedness, to so reject Truth, that while we might want to say that – theoretically – the same Door to Forgiveness is open to them, as to all, in practice we observe that certain actors are embracing a depth of Rebellion which brings with it a more immediate Judgement...
Can this be? Yes, the Creator, though Patient and Forbearing, does not overlook Wickedness. Those who wholly embrace this Way, which leads to Destruction, who actively refuse to love the Truth (we are not speaking of the ignorant), are subject to a special and peculiar form of Judgement: they are "given over to what they love (lust after)."
Those who harden their heart deliberately to the Creator, are eventually given over to the hardness of their own hearts – and for such a person to humble themselves thereafter is practically impossible. To those who purposely reject the Truth, they receive a More Powerful Lie. Those who embrace Wickedness, they are given over to the Power of the Evil One.
But the Creator is never quick to bring any human being into such a terrifying sentence. It is not his desire that anyone should "perish" in their own Rebellion, not even those who embrace Wickedness. He would prefer each person to turn away, not only from their individual acts of rebelliousness - though it requires that - but to turn towards him and his provision – the Lamb – and Embrace the Way into which the Lamb leads them, gently and meekly.
A way into Life Eternal, an escape from the power of Death, Rebellion and Wickedness.
authored by john - www.eternalpurpose.org.uk
please note this article is licensed, under a Creative Commons License, allowing you to distribute it freely, non-commercially, providing you do so in it's entirety, including this notice.
The following are some of the technical words used in connection with "atonement":