I didn’t go to Bible college. I haven’t been to seminary. I don’t have a double double degree in systematic Theology or Divinity or anything like that. I love to listen to those really smart people who have those degrees. I am instead a rocket scientist, retired pilot and part-time philosophical thinker (no accreditation). So I come to the table with a different set of lenses and when I get “push back” because of how awesome Jesus is, I am surprised at all the doctrinal, dogmatic traditions that are used to “correct” my “theology.” It’s OK. I get to be more like “Larry the cable guy” in my approach. So, do you want a little “good old boy” assessment of atonement? Here we go.
Atonement is a fancy word that in the English really means AT-ONE-MENT. It means to be joined to something. In the Greek the word is “hilasmos.” Here are two verses that use the word:
1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (ESV)
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (ESV)
You can see that the ESV uses the word “propitiation.” That makes it even tougher for us regular folk that don’t use big words like that. If you look up this Greek word you will find definitions that say it means “an offering to appease and satisfy and angry God.” It will tell you that “Jesus is the atoning blood sacrifice that appeases God’s wrath.” The problem is the definition is using an “atonement doctrinal theory” to define the word. It is a circular definition where the concept defines the word that defines the concept. It is based on an atonement theory of “penal substitution.” I actually don’t buy into penal substitution at all. Check out “Christus Victor” and similar posts for details.
So instead of arguing another “theory” I thought we could go way way back to the beginning and pretend we have no other opinion or commentary or divinity degree to rely on. Are you game?
The Greek word “hilasmos” in another form “hilastérion” can also mean “mercy-seat.” The base of the word is “hileos” which means forgiving and merciful. Are you beginning to “see” this atonement thing a little differently? As a summary…AT-ONE-MENT and mercy and forgiving and lid for the Ark of the Covenant.
Now imagine you are in the Holy of Holies. In this place (in the Temple) you are standing before the Ark. The room is gold-plated. All around you is gold. The Ark itself is gold-plated gopher wood. It is gold-plated on the inside and the outside. On the top of the Ark (box) there is a lid called the mercy-seat. It isn’t a seat you sit on but just a really fancy lid. It is gold-plated. It was said that the glory of God was over the mercy-seat. Now imagine you are standing there in the room and it is “glowing” all around with the glory of God. It is reflecting off all the gold. Sounds like a pretty awesome (and a little overwhelming) place.
Now inside the Ark are three things. They are a jar of manna, the budding rod of Arron and what is left of the broken tablets of the Law of Moses. There are no accidents in the imagery. The manna is the “what is it?” stuff from heaven that God sent every day and the people used it to make bread. It was their food. It was supplied each morning with the dew. They were not allowed to gather more than one days allotment at a time (except Friday). The people loved it and hated it. There are many accounts of the people murmuring and complaining about how the manna wasn’t as good as what they had in Egypt. Jesus said He was the “manna” from God or the bread from Heaven. He says He is all we need each day. So I want to suggest that the manna represents our “need for daily sustenance” that when we don’t get it or don’t like it or are not satisfied with its quality or quantity or appeal, we complain and murmur and…well sin. So the manna represents the power of Sin in our lives regarding our most basic needs. “If I don’t have it and think I need it then I will do what it takes to get it.” I think it is something like that.
Next the budding rod of Arron. This one takes some background to develop but I’ll save that for another post. The short story is it represents rebellion. When we are pressed to do something and we think we have a better idea we rebel. It is an interesting phenomena of human nature that we find some “satisfaction” or “rush” from rebelling. Be honest with yourself and you will admit that rebellion, in some form, is exhilarating. Paul says this:
Eh 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (ESV)
In the Aramaic text this reference to wine is actually “the wine of the prodigal” which is getting drunk on rebellion. It is one of the idiom things we just don’t have a feel for. So in the box is a symbol of our rebellion tendencies which is another power of Sin in our lives.
Next is what remains of the tablets of the Law of Moses. I can go on and on but let me be very brief.
1 Cor 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (ESV)
Rom 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (ESV)
Gal 3:19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. (ESV)
So the other power of Sin in our lives is the law. I will contend that it is more than just the Law of Moses but our very fallen nature and desire to get life from the knowledge of good and evil. The Law is God’s hyper-emphasis on our fallen nature produced by bad fruit ingestion.
So in the box (the Ark) are the three things that are the power of Sin in our lives: law (fallen nature), rebellion and survival. With the love and provision of God none of those has any power in our lives. Jesus reveals a God that is soooooooooooooooooooo good we never need to hide in the buses again and run from the very source of love and insist on the knowledge of good and evil as our sustenance. We never need to rebel since God’s ways are awesome and fun and joy and peace and right-relationship and power and saving and salvation and changing and fixing and repairing and restoring and ….WOW! We never need to worry about our provision. We never need to be afraid of not having. We never need to take from someone else what God will gladly give us. We instead get to give to others and enjoy the freedom of provision. We feed everyday on the “bread of life” instead of the “manna of man.”
The Ark is like us and like Jesus. Jesus takes all the powers of Sin into Himself. On the cross He took all our sin and it killed Him (metaphorically and likely spiritually in some way I don’t understand). We killed Him in our sinning and rejection and He forgave us. The wages of our sin brought death to Jesus and He forgave us. He puts all that junk of ours into Himself and then covers it with Himself in His mercy and forgiveness.
So you are back in the Holy of Holies. Are you in the box or in the room? If you are in the box you see all the reflection of all your junk in the gold-plated sides of the box. You are stuck in your flesh trying to get away from the power of sin in your life. If you are outside the box you look at the Ark (Jesus) and you don’t see your junk. The mercy lid covers your junk. It is no longer yours but His. Instead you see your reflection in the polished gold of the mercy-seat. Your very image is illuminated by the glory of God in the room and you see your face in Jesus. Come on! That should get you really excited.
Now can you see “atonement” differently? Can’t you see that the mercy-seat covers your junk and Jesus takes your junk and is waiting to keep taking your junk? Can’t’ you see that our place is outside the box, outside our fallen nature, outside our insistence for law, outside our need for rebellion, outside our selfish “wants” over others needs? Can’t you see your image in the reflection of Jesus? You should. That is your atonement. Jesus is the AT-ONE-MENT for all your junk and you are the benefactor. That says a lot about Jesus. That reveals a God that is unbelievably amazing. That is how atonement is all about mercy-seats and boxes and sin.