Friday, November 01, 2013

Commentary: “Atonement: Purification Offering”

"Atonement: Purification Offering"


Last week we saw how the sanctuary was established as a result of Israel's unbelief at Sinai.  It is imperative that we see that the Atonement Day feast – as well as the other feasts - was also created due to the Sin at Sinai.  Let us briefly look at the History.  The record shows that The day of atonement was established in Leviticus 23.  Therefore it was given after the Sinai incident (Exodus 19 and 20), after the building of the sanctuary (ex. 25) and even after establishing the Levites as Priests and servants for the sanctuary (Exodus 38).  In fact, the only feast ordained before Sinai was the Passover (Exodus 12).


Now, in order to rightly understand this week's lesson regarding forgiveness and the defilement of sin (and thus the need for the final atonement - next week's lesson), the purification or sin offering must be seen in the context of Jesus's choice to fully identify himself with fallen humanity. It was His complete sacrifice as the representative of humanity (substitute and surety) which is the ultimate expression of God's love, and thus the ultimate teaching tool to break down the walls of resistance in the heart of man and cleanse from the defilement of sin.  Ellen White states,


"Christ has not been presented in connection with the law as a faithful and merciful High Priest, who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. He has not been lifted up before the sinner as the divine sacrifice. His work as sacrifice, substitute, and surety, has been only coldly and casually dwelt upon; but this is what the sinner needs to know. It is Christ in his fullness as a sin-pardoning Saviour, that the sinner must see; for the unparalleled love of Christ, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, will bring conviction and conversion to the hardened heart. It is the divine influence that is the savor of the salt in the Christian." 1888 Materials, p. 1076.


We will see that this is what the Atonement sacrifice was designed to do.  Now, atonement – often presented as at-one-ment - means reconciliation.  It is the process in which God and man are reconciled or made one.  In Christian Theology it is the reconciliation of God and mankind through the death of Jesus Christ.   In this service we see that this Atonement is tied to purification or cleansing of anything that separates us from God.  We call it Sin.  We call many things Sin.  Is there something more specific?  What truly alienates us from God?  What alienated Eve from God?  Ellen White says that in believing the words of Satan, "…She disbelieved the words of God, and this was what led to her fall" (Conflict and Courage, p. 15) In another quote Ellen white elaborates on this issue,

"Eve believed the words of Satan, and the belief of that falsehood in regard to God's character, changed the condition and character of both herself and husband. They were changed from good and obedient children into transgressors, and it was only by repentance toward God and faith in the promised Messiah that they could hope ever to regain the lost image of God." {RH, January 5, 1886}

Ever since then this has been the devil's main technique, we read again from Ellen White,

"Such has been Satan's work from the days of Adam to the present, and he has pursued it with great success. He tempts men to distrust God's love and to doubt His wisdom. He is constantly seeking to excite a spirit of irreverent curiosity, a restless, inquisitive desire to penetrate the secrets of divine wisdom and power. In their efforts to search out what God has been pleased to withhold, multitudes overlook the truths which He has revealed, and which are essential to salvation. . . .  In the judgment men will not be condemned because they conscientiously believed a lie, but because they did not believe the truth, because they neglected the opportunity of learning what is truth." {Conflict and Courage, p. 15} 

The Israelites at Sinai chose not to believe the truth, and neglected the opportunity to learn the truth.  This is why they needed this Atonement service.  So, Atonement is then the removal of those lies about God and His character from our minds and hearts.  Atonement is a renewal of trust in God and His Word.  The feast was designed to effect this change of mind in its participants.  After all, "…it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).  The laying on of hands, the death of the animal, the blood manipulation, the burning of the fat, and the eating of the flesh of the animal were all for the purpose of bringing the sinner to understand how complete and far-reaching was the mercy of God in simultaneously giving His own life to humanity while bearing the pain and suffering that sin causes His own heart. They were to help the suppliant to enter into the experience of God rather than to create some change in the heart of God toward the sinner. It was so the sinner would, '… look on … whom [he] pierced [and] … mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn" (Zechariah 12:10).  A wise writer expounded on this subject,

"The Lord provided the sanctuary service to help us see exactly what He was willing to do for us. Every animal slain by the hand of the sinner was to be a miniature Calvary. It was to reveal the deep-seated enmity the sinner held against God. It was to prove that God held nothing back, not even His Son, if by any means He could get man to see the rebellion buried so deeply in his mind. The service was to be a catalyst to melt the proud and stubborn hidden unconscious sin - the will to kill God."  D.K. Short, Then Shall the Sanctuary be Cleansed, p. 35.

What brings forgiveness to the sinner personally is the realization and acceptance that the Divine Sin-bearer has already borne and taken away the sin and guilt of the world, and has already been carrying the sinner's personal sins at great cost to Himself. This is what the sanctuary purification offering was to teach.

Raul Diaz