The Two-fold Meaning of Atonement
Ask a Church of God member what Atonement teaches and represents, and he will typically answer, "the putting away of Satan at the end of this age after Christ returns". That is true. That is one of the things Atonement represents.
But it is not the whole answer. Like Passover, Atonement also represents the sacrifice of Christ.
The representation of Atonement is illustrated by the two goats described in Leviticus, chapter 16. The goat that is sacrificed represents Christ, who died to pay the penalty for our share of guilt in our sins. The goat that is released in the wilderness represents Satan, who will be put away at the end of the age. Satan will be put away for his sins and his share of the guilt for leading and tempting humans to sin. In this way, all the responsibility for our sins will be dealt with in a way that removes mankind's guilt entirely and allows us to be completely reconciled to God.
Both we and Satan share responsibility for our sins. Satan tempts man to sin and is therefore partly responsible for our sins. But we give in to Satan's temptations and therefore choose to sin, and we are responsible for our sinful choices. Atonement represents God's plan for removing sin and sin guilt from the human race. Satan's share of guilt for our sins is placed upon him, where it belongs, and Christ pays the penalty for our share of guilt for our sins. The live goat represents Satan, banished to the wilderness, removed from man, bearing his own guilt for man's and his own sins, and the goat that is killed represents Christ paying the penalty for our share of guilt for our sins. The two goats together represent God removing all guilt from the human race so we can be totally reconciled with God.
"He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:7-10). "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat" (Leviticus 16:15). "Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. The fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. And he who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp" (Leviticus 16:21-26).
But putting away Satan is not all God's doing. God indeed will put Satan away at the end of this age. But we, members of God's Church, the firstfruits called in this age, also have a responsibility to put Satan and his evil influence out of our lives and minds now. We cannot escape his temptations totally, but we can do our best to avoid his sinful messages and put his temptations out of our minds. We can reject his way of thinking and his way of life. We can reject his entertainment. We can avoid his false teaching. We can avoid his false ministers and false prophets and their teaching. We can guard our minds and reject those things, to the degree we are able, that Satan uses to try to deceive us and tempt us to sin. In other words, we can reject Satan and put him out of our lives by putting sin out of our lives.
Sound familiar? It is a parallel of the Days of Unleavened Bread. The lesson of putting sin out of our lives is repeated in the Day of Atonement, just as the lesson of the sacrifice of Christ, pictured by Passover, is repeated in the Day of Atonement. It is another way God teaches the lesson. He emphasizes the lesson with repetition.
The goat that was sacrificed on the Day of Atonement reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ, pictured also by Passover. But the banishing of the live goat to the wilderness, away from the congregation of Israel, in addition to representing the putting away of Satan by God at the end of this age, reminds us that to be fully reconciled to God, we must reject Satan and resist Satan's sinful influence in our lives and put Satan's way of life and thinking out of our lives, and that is very similar to the lesson of putting sin out of our lives represented by the Days of Unleavened Bread.
In this age, we have to fight against Satan's influence in our minds and in our lives, resisting his temptations, rejecting his values and ways of thinking, avoiding his teaching and bad influences to the degree we are able. It is as if each of us must "put Satan away" in our minds. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8). "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2).
Our individual battles against Satan are pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread. For those in the millennium and the general resurrection, God puts Satan away, pictured by Atonement. The people at that time will not have to fight Satan's temptations as we do today. They still have obey God and choose to resist temptations, but their battles will be easier without Satan and the influences of a sinful society to make their struggle harder.
So we have a harder fight, because we are the firstfruits, but our reward also will be greater.
But the ultimate lesson is the same. Satan and his way of life must be totally rejected in order that we may be completely reconciled with God. The sacrifice of God pays the penalty for our past sins. But we must overcome. Our way of life must demonstrate that we reject Satan, or God will not entrust us with eternal life.
Those who refuse that lesson, those who ultimately do not demonstrate an attitude of mind that 100% rejects Satan's way of life, will be destroyed forever in the lake of fire. Christ's sacrifice makes repentance and forgiveness possible. But Christ's sacrifice will not save us if we choose to continue to follow Satan.
God's Merciful Nature
God is merciful towards us. But why? Is He merciful towards us because we are obedient? Not exactly.
Is God merciful towards those who obey His commands? Yes. "For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:11-13). "And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50).
But God is merciful, not because of our obedience. God is merciful because it is His nature to be merciful.
Mercy is God's normal state, His normal frame of mind towards His creation.
But if we continue to disobey, even after we have the opportunity to repent and obey, persistent disobedience disqualifies us from God's normal mercy. He will destroy us if we do not repent.
Our trust therefore must be in God and His mercy, not our obedience. But we must obey, for if we do not obey, we will not obtain the mercy He wants to extend to us.
This may be a subtle point. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking our own obedience saves us. But obedience should be our normal state. It is God's mercy that saves us. Disobedience is a form of rejection of God's mercy.
"And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do' " (Luke 17:7-10). "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). "Therefore understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Deuteronomy 9:6).
Obedience is only our reasonable obligation to the God who gave us life.
But if we disobey, our disobedience can disqualify us and cut us off from God's mercy which is His nature to give. So obedience is in a sense our normal, reasonable duty - it is expected, not anything special that makes us worthy. Then, God's merciful nature is in effect for us. But if we rebel, we cut ourselves off from God's normally merciful nature.
Mercy and love are not attributes of the person receiving the mercy and love. They are not earned or produced by the person receiving mercy and love. They are attributes of the one giving the mercy and love, in this case, God.
We can't make God love us. Our obedience does not make God show us mercy. God's nature is love and mercy. But our disobedience can block that mercy. God will destroy those who persist in their sins.
As long as we intend and want to overcome our sins, God will work with us and give us every opportunity. But if we harden our hearts and turn from God, He will destroy us.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). "and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face" (Deuteronomy 7:10). "For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off" (Romans 11:22).
God's purpose and objective is simple. He wants billions of children, and He wants them to enjoy the maximum happiness and joy for eternity. God wants 100% the best outcome, the greatest happiness forever that is possible. Not 99% the best happiness. One hundred percent.
God can produce anything. He created the universe. He can make greater and greater creations forever. There is no limit the joyful things He can continue to accomplish and produce for His children. "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:10).
And God knows exactly what is needed to achieve maximum happiness and joy in the universe for eternity.
What is needed is right character, and God is producing that character in those who are willing to believe, trust, and obey Him. God produces that character in those who reject Satan and Satan's way of life, those who, in the way they live their lives, "put Satan away" - those who resist Satan's temptations and reject his teachings, doctrines, entertainment, and way of thinking. As God will put Satan away from mankind literally at the beginning of the millennium, so we must put Satan out of our lives in the choices we make today. We cannot escape his temptations, not completely, in this age. But we can resist those temptations and by so doing reject Satan's way of life.
God produces right character in those who believe, trust, and obey Him in order to prepare them for eternity in His kingdom. When all of God's children have perfect, holy, righteous character in the Kingdom of God, we will be prepared for maximum peace, joy, and happiness forever in that kingdom.
But God will not compromise. God will not let someone into His kingdom who is not fully committed to God's way of life. He will not let into His kingdom someone who is sitting on the fence about obeying God. He does not want children with 99% right character and 1% sin for eternity. He wants 100% righteousness in His children as God is 100% righteous. And everyone in the Kingdom of God will be 100% righteous as God is righteous.
Those who ultimately refuse to repent and obey will be destroyed in the lake of fire. Is that cruel? No. God gave life and He has the right to take life away. He has given us temporary life, long enough to make our choice. Only those who embrace God's way of life and make it their own will be given permanent life, eternal life. The rest will be destroyed.
Yet the suffering and the loss experienced by those who are destroyed in the lake of fire is nothing in comparison with the happiness to be enjoyed by God's children forever in the Kingdom of God. There is no comparison.
One person, not fully committed to God's way of life and God's righteousness, if given eternal life anyway, would compromise the happiness that could exist in that kingdom for eternity. God will not allow that.
God will destroy those who refuse to 100% commit to God's way of life for the sake of His children who will live forever in God's kingdom, so there will be no one who might sin and corrupt the happiness we would otherwise enjoy. All eternity is at stake, and God will make sure that eternity is has happy as it can be.
God is not unmerciful to destroy sinners in the lake of fire. Rather, by destroying sinners in the lake of fire, He is showing mercy to His family in His kingdom for eternity. His objective is to protect His family for eternity from any chance of sin that could mar that happiness, even a little. He will give sinners the chance to repent and change and make it into the Kingdom of God. He will give everyone the opportunity. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). "for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
But God will not compromise with sin, and no sinner who continues in sin will be allowed in the Kingdom of God. "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:7-8). "But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life" (Revelation 21:27). "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie" (Revelation 22:14-15).
This shows God's mercy and wisdom. And in the Kingdom of God, we can rejoice that God has not compromised and that there will never be a rebellion against Him to spoil the happiness and joy of His children, forever.
In my last post on Trumpets, I touched on a variety of topics that I have covered in more detail in other posts and in Preaching the Gospel. Since I originally published the Trumpets post, for those who are interested, I have added a list of links at the bottom of the post to posts and parts of my book that discuss those topics in more detail.
Here are links to posts in this blog on subjects related to this post on Atonement:
"Day of Atonement", dated September 16, 2010, link:
"Atonement and Fasting", dated October 7, 2011, link:
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
The Day of Atonement - the Putting Away of Satan, Chapter 2