I woke up this morning and felt a strong desire to write about the Atonement of Christ. I’ll talk about what the Atonement is, and why it was necessary. I felt a concern that people don’t know why our Savior needed to do what He did. First though, what is the Atonement? This is simply a reference to Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal, trial and Crucifixion, and ultimately his glorious Resurrection. They are taken together and referred to as the Atonement, meaning he atoned for our sins. This was also instrumental in our possible reconciliation with God, so a good way to remember the purpose of the Atonement is to break down the word, the “At-one-ment,” or making it possible for us to be redeemed from sin and death and reunite with God, which I’ll talk about a bit later. The word atonement is only used once in the New Testament, in Romans 5:11, and makes reference to this, though the Book of Mormon uses this word more often.
The Atonement began in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is where the Lord went with Peter, James and John on the night that Judas betrayed Him. We read that he asked those three to “tarry ye here, and watch with me” because his soul was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” He then went off by himself and prayed “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” At this point all of the Satan’s fury and all of his tempting powers were unleashed, and our Lord began to suffer, to the extent that an angel was sent to strengthen him, but in spite of this “his sweat was as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” This is where our Lord suffered for all of our sins, horribly in body and spirit. In modern revelation He refers to this event as that “which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.” Other scripture says “…for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.”
The Atonement continued that night with his betrayal, his false and illegal trial, his physical beatings and torments, his election by the people to be crucified instead of the criminal Barabbas, where his own people cried out at least twice, “Crucify him.” Following this was their statement, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” He was forced to carry his own cross up to Golgotha, nails were driven into his hands, wrists and feet and on the cross he suffered again in both body and spirit, all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurring before he finished his mortal work and “gave up the ghost.” Even while on the cross he pleaded with our Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and asked Peter to care for Mary, his mortal mother, as if she were his own. Toward the end of his own life, when Peter was condemned to be crucified, he would ask to be crucified upside down as he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as our Master.
The Atonement concluded with the greatest miracle of all time, his Resurrection. Prophecy stated that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” After overcoming sin and suffering for all, and lying in the tomb for the space of three days as the Jews reckoned time he was able to take up again his physical body in a glorious and perfected form and became “the firstfruits of them that slept.” Because our Lord was resurrected so will we all, “For in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Why was the Atonement necessary? There are some who assume that God’s love for us allow us to overcome His own laws. This is false. Our God is a God of law, and all of His laws are necessarily perfect. In other words there is no circumstance wherein any law would or could ever be broken by Him. Maybe the best chapter on the Atonement in scripture is found in the Book of Mormon, in 2 Nephi chapter 9. The reader is invited to read it on their own, along with 2 Nephi chapter 31, which is a great supplementary chapter relating to the importance of baptism. In short, God is pure and perfect. Heaven is also pure. If any unclean thing were to return to heaven, then heaven would become unclean also, but of course the Kingdom of God is not filthy, and there “cannot any unclean thing enter into the Kingdom of God.” The problem is, all of us sin and are unclean. If we are not perfect, we cannot dwell with God. That sucks!
God’s plan is one of perfect justice and perfect mercy. To satisfy the demands of justice, people must be punished for their own sins, or violating God’s commandments. To satisfy the demands of mercy, there must be a way we can make mistakes and still not have to be eternally tormented by being separated from God. Justice must be satisfied, and so must mercy. Our Lord, the only one who was pure and never committed sin, chose to suffer in our stead because He loves us. Thus the Atonement satisfies the demands of justice, as he “suffereth the pains of all men, yeah, the pains of every living creature, both men, women and children, who belong to the family of Adam.” Because He ransomed us, he becomes our Judge, he gets to determine which of us will benefit from his sacrifice and return to the presence of God, and which won’t. What are his terms? “And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.” Again, “I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in no wise inherit the kingdom of God.” And again, “except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you…ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
We will all be resurrected, our spirit and bodies reunited in a perfect form and stand before him at the great Judgment Day. This is why Job wrote “and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” What a glorious plan! What a plan of happiness! The more we keep God’s commandments the happier we are, because they grant us freedom and are a guide in how to navigate all of the messages we see in the world, wanting us to “be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” I’ve written a previous article on Christ and His message, and how to know for yourself if these words are true or not. One of my favorite scriptures of all says “Adam fell that men might be. Men are that they might have joy.” This drives an important point home: the reason the Atonement occurred, the reason his Father sent him, the reason he chose to live and die for us, is because he loves us and wants us to be happy. What a concept! This article has briefly scratched the surface of this great subject. Still I want to say, how great is our potential for joy because of the glorious Atonement of Jesus Christ!