“And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” – Romans 5:11
Romans 5:11 in the King James Bible is under constant attack for using the word atonement instead of reconciliation. An attack was recently republished by the Berean’s email list originally written by the late Pastor Sadler.
The usual attack is to say that the word atonement means something less than the complete satisfaction of sins through a just reparation.
Instead, it is taught that atonement means to merely cover or hide from view, while reconciliation means to clean and remove. While it is true that we have the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:20), this error makes atonement insufficient to deal with sins.
This causes problems with the clear interpretation of other passages of scripture, and, more importantly, means either Christ did not atone for sins or his substitutionary atonement was incomplete.
None of these are acceptable.
The common argument presented in our recent example says:
“The Hebrew word kaphar, translated “atonement” in the Old Testament meant ‘to cover.’ Hence, the blood of bulls and goats merely covered the sins of those in Old Testament times; it didn’t have the efficacy to remove them.”
The failure of animal sacrifices to take away sins is recognized from the teaching in Hebrews 10:4 and Heb 10:11.
“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” – Heb 10:4.
But why was it not possible?
If it were true that God-ordained sacrifices never satisfactorily dealt with sins, then why is sacrificial blood described as cleansing, reconciling, purging, sanctifying, and forgiving people of sins? (Lev 14:19; Lev 16:30; Eze 43:20; Num 35:33; 1 Sam 3:14; Heb 9:22-23)
Under the law of Moses, God ordained animal sacrifices as a means through which sinful Israel could receive forgiveness, cleansing, reconciliation, and satisfaction before God. It was part of their covenant.
This is contrary to the false idea that atonement does not cleanse, but reconciliation does. This kind of error leads to saying wrong and dangerous things such as:
“In other words, the blood of Christ doesn’t atone for our sins, it actually cleanses them forevermore.” – Sadler, In What Sense Did Christ Atone?.
The truth is that the blood of Christ does atone. It is the final atonement for a nation who needed atoned continually every year, the only propitiation for my sins (Rom 3:25), and is how I receive now the atonement (Rom 5:11).
The Yearly Day of Atonement for Israel
Each year Israel was commanded to have a day of atonement complete with animal sacrifices that would cleanse them from all their sins.
“For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” – Lev 16:30
According to Hebrews 10 the problem with animal sacrifices was that they were offered continually, repeatedly, over and over, each year. This problem of time and frequency is what Hebrews 10 and Romans 5 addresses, as we shall see.
Why was it not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins? (Heb 10:4)
“But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” – Hebrews 10:3
Despite the thousands of sacrifices they offered throughout the year, the final day of atonement would bring to remembrance all of those sins and send them out of the nation. Rinse and repeat (Lev 16:34).
When would their sins be taken away once and for all?
Waiting for Atonement
Prophetically, these holy days for Israel spoke to the future time of their promised salvation. Passover was a shadow of Christ’s death. The feast of unleavened bread his burial. The feast of firstfruits his resurrection. The day of atonement was a shadow for the day in Israel’s future when their sins would be atoned once and for all.
Daniel’s seventy weeks prophesied of the final reconciliation for iniquity that would occur at the end of those weeks (Dan 9:24).
Peter preached that since Jesus was Israel’s final sacrifice, they had the opportunity for their sins to be blotted out in the future when he returned with the times of refreshing.
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord…” – Acts 3:19
Even Paul mentions the future time of fulfillment of their final day of atonement when “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26).
“For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” – Romans 11:27
By using the word “atonement” in Romans 5:11, the KJB draws our attention to the subject of Israel’s promises, but by using the word “now” it stands in contrast to their future day of atonement, providing the benefits of atonement to us now in the present dispensation of grace.
The Mystery of Atonement
Israel waits for the fulfillment of their prophesied day of atonement when Jesus will be recognized as their final and better sacrificial Lamb, but Paul describes a mystery in Romans 5 about salvation offered freely to all men now.
By the riches of God’s grace we have many things now as a present possession that Israel has only in a future promise or covenant.
According to the revelation of the mystery, the dispensation of the grace of God, we have peace now with God by faith (Rom 5:1).
We are “now justified by his blood” (Rom 5:9).
Reconciliation is a done deal, as the present benefits of his death; salvation from wrath is guaranteed by his resurrection life (Rom 5:10).
Israel is waiting for their future reconciliation and fulfillment of their day of atonement at the times of refreshing, but now we joy in God because we have NOW the atonement.
Romans 5:11 is correct in saying we have “now the atonement”, because it draws attention to this important mystery truth.
Christ is my atonement, providing all its benefits to me now by his grace.