Given for the Saints at the Inclusion Conference, Leslie, AR, 6/17/06
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:7).
Many people have already written about the atonement (the at-one-ment) with God, and so it came as a big surprise when the Spirit drove me into the book of Leviticus and kept me there for several days. Leviticus is one of my least favorite books in the Bible, one I avoid if I'm reading for "pleasure" because it is so BLOODY in the extreme. When the Spirit pushes me to study it, I know He has a good reason. My prayer is that God will help me write clearly what I want to share with you out of my adventure through the regulations of the Law.
A. P. Adams wrote a marvelous piece at the beginning of the last century entitled, "The Atonement" (See link at end), and John Gavazzoni wrote an excellent modern day version called "The Great Misrepresentation" (See link at end). Both men talk about the gross error found in religion, both in AP Adams' day and in ours, by which Jesus is said to be a vicarious substitutional sacrifice for the sins of mankind. In this wretched doctrine, God is pictured as a fire breathing, rule enforcing tyrant whose moral sense of offended justice cries out with a blood lust for payment of what is due Him. Man has hopelessly failed, they say, losing forever the paradise in which he was originally placed, and now, without someone's blood to appease an angry god, mankind will be forever lost. In this twisted theory, Jesus volunteers to lay down His life for sinful men, to take upon Himself the anger and wrath of God, and thereby purchase freedom and salvation for the few men who access this sacrifice by their belief, confession, baptism, or whatever else the church stipulates will turn the tide and render the sinner free, assuming he or she continues to abide by the rules. Those who don't name the name of Christ and follow religion's dictates will find themselves burning and turning over the spits of hell for all eternity.
That scenario has caused me countless hours of anguish, worry, and dread for my unbelieving family members whom I dearly love. Because of the inherent insecurity caused by trying to appease God by keeping rules, it even caused me to doubt my eternal salvation as well. I am basically an intellectual, which means I operate more by logic than by feelings. It always seemed very illogical to me that if man's sinless perfection was so important to God, then why would He have put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden in the first place, made it beautiful to the eye, then point it out to Adam and Eve and say, "Don't eat it. If you do, you will die" (Gen. 2:17). If sin was that repugnant to Him, why didn't he leave the blasted tree out of the garden altogether, or at least, put it in some remote corner behind a fence? I was about 12 years old when I first began to ponder the inequities of what I was hearing from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday.
Fast forward the tape some 17 years later until the time the Lord's grace led me into the path of Harry Robert Fox, a preacher, missionary, and counselor, who told me the greatest news, the only Good News I had heard up until then, which is that ULTIMATELY, God is going to save every man, woman, and child, and restore creation to Himself. Over the years, the Spirit has opened up scripture after scripture to me to reveal God's immense love for us all, something you'd never guess based on what the churches have preached over the centuries.
What Paul calls "the mystery," has been hidden almost from the beginning (Eph. 3:9). Lenny would say about this, "It's God's fault" by which He means that God alone bears the ultimate responsibility for the creation, the fall of man, the salvation of man, and everything in between. The Apostle Paul says the same thing in different words: "For GOD has consigned ALL men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon ALL" (Rom. 11:32). Phillips translates that verse even plainer: "God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all." God said through Isaiah, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things" (Isa. 45:7). Clearly, the buck stops on His desk.
God then, is the architect of everything which happened upon the earth which He created. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of that toxic tree, He didn't fall off the throne and hit His head on the Crystal Sea. He didn't wring His hands about what He would do next. The cross, was ALWAYS in the heart of God, for the Apostle John tells us that Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). My question was: if God KNEW man would sin, and He KNEW what He would do about it, what's the point of the exercise?
To understand this, we need to go back to Abraham and the conditional covenant God made with Him, found in Gen. 15. I read it for years without understanding the significance of the blood ritual God participated in with Abram, who by that time, was very wealthy (Gen. 13:2), but he had no heirs because Sarah was barren. Ever the resourceful fellow, Abe proposed to God that he make his servant Eliezer his heir, which was a common custom for the time and era in which he lived. God set him straight: "Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir" (Gen. 15:4). The word of the Lord generated faith in Abraham's heart, as it always does when He speaks to us, and the text says, "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness" (Vs. 6). [His name was changed to Abraham when he was 99 years old, upon the occasion when he was told by God that Sarah would bear a son from her own womb (Gen. 17:15-22)].
Even though he believed God, the patriarch asked for a sign, to assure him that he would possess the land (Gen. 15:8). In answer, God made a blood covenant with him. I overlooked this for years because I wasn't aware of the significance of the strange ritual, in which God told Abram to bring a three year old heifer, goat and ram, a dove and a young pigeon. He was to cut the animals in two pieces, and place them opposite each other; the birds were to be killed, but not cut in two (Gen. 15:9-12). This was a common ceremony used in the middle east when two parties made a binding agreement with each other. The severed animal carcasses were placed on either side of a ditch, so the blood would run down the middle. The parties then walked through the blood, the greater going first and the lesser following. This was a powerful visual symbol which said, "Whoever breaks this covenant will be killed like these animals."
Scripture says that Abram fell into a deep sleep and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. "When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces" (Gen. 15:17). No wonder dread overcame Abraham. He was making a covenant with God, who could not fail, but Abraham? Failure is our legacy as well.
The smoking fire pot was a visual symbol of God Himself, for "our God is a consuming FIRE" (Heb. 12:29). Other examples of fire representing God include the burning bush (Ex. 3:2), the fiery pillar by which God lead the children of Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 14:24); the fire and smoke on Mount Sinai when the Lord appeared (Ex. 19:18); the fire of God which burned up Elijah's sacrifice in the standoff against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:38); and the tongues of fire which rested on the head of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4).
By the terms of this blood covenant, the one who broke the covenant God made with Abraham, and by definition with his heirs as well, would deserve death, the same sentence passed down to Adam and Eve when they sinned.
Judaism is a bloody religion, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22). There was blood sprinkled or poured on the altar for burnt offerings (Lev. 1:6;8-13: 8:18-21; 16:24); fellowship offerings (Lev. 3: 7:11-34); sin offerings (Lev. 4:1-5; 13; 6:24-30: 8:14-17; 16:3-22); and guilt offerings (Lev. 5:14-6:7; 7:1-6). I offer these scriptures to show the great debt we owe Christ for saving us from being up to our elbows in blood and gore on a daily basis.
What I had missed before this study was the fact that a man who brought an offering, had to lay his hand upon the head of the animal, and then he himself had to "kill it at the door of the tent of meeting" (the tabernacle). (See Lev. 1:4; 3:2; 3:8; 4:24; 4:29; 4:33.) The priest then sprinkled the blood on the altar and/or poured it out on the base of the altar, for "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (Lev. 17:11).
It is easy to see how the vicarious substitution theory came about, for by laying his hands on the head of the animal to be offered, a man was symbolically placing his sins and guilt upon the vicarious sacrifice, offered in his place. Bloody as it was, it beat the alternative, because under the terms of the blood covenant God made with Abraham, the person or persons who broke the covenant would be slaughtered and their blood shed, exactly like the animals in the ritual recorded in Genesis 15, and Jeremiah 34:18-22.
I think the warped concept of God as an angry dictator came about, because of His harsh dealings with the children of Israel. I was never taught that God is love, but rather that He is a stickler for obeying the rules and anyone who doesn't will go to hell. I have been reading the Bible since I could read. I particularly love and appreciate the Old Testament, for without understanding the Old Covenant, I seriously doubt anyone can really make sense of the New Covenant purchased with Christ's blood. It is, nevertheless, IMPOSSIBLE to find the truth when you begin with the false premise that God is more associated with angry punishment than with love. In fact, all fear comes from the fear of God's justice being unleashed upon us. Jesus became flesh to show us the Father who is LOVE (I John 4:8,16). Once we encounter the unconditional love of God who died for us while we were yet sinners, our fear fades away, for "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (I John 4:18).
After this study of Leviticus, I realized that vicarious substitution is a fact, not a fantasy, and it took me awhile to understand the problem in reconciling it with the gospel. There were two covenants, not one. In addition to the conditional covenant (two party or bilateral agreement) God made with Abram, symbolized by the walking through the blood ritual, He also made an UNCONDITIONAL covenant (one party or unilateral agreement) with him. God's promise that in Abraham's seed, all nations would be blessed (Gen. 12: 2-4; 15:5-21; 17:4-8; 18:18-19; 22:17-18), which Paul refers to as "the gospel" (Gal. 3:8), did NOT depend upon Abraham's obedience, faith, or self efforts, but instead, rested solely upon God Himself.
The blood sacrifices from Moses to Christ were symbolic of the conditional covenant (two party agreement), God made with Abraham and his descendants. When the blood ran down the altar, the people were thankful that God accepted a vicarious sacrifice in their stead, instead of demanding their blood be shed. HOWEVER, Christ's sacrifice is different. To understand why, we have to get away from the false premise that God's justice was offended by man's sin, and had to be satisfied; that He poured out His wrath on an innocent man to save us. When you begin with the scriptural truth that God loves us, it becomes easier to see what really happened on the cross. God offered Himself, in Christ, on that cross, which is the means by which He satisfied the conditional covenant (blood ritual) He made with Abraham!
Legally speaking, He could demand blood from us, but instead, from the cross, God said, "I love you so much, I am shedding my own blood to fulfill the terms of the covenant I made with Abraham." Paul declares, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (II Cor. 5:19). God in Christ on that cross, fulfilled the totality of the Law's demands, demands which in our despair and impotence, we could never have met. The sins of the world were blotted out forever by the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world (John 1:29). Hallelujah!
If studying the bible shows anything, it reveals that no one can "meet the qualifications" necessary to make ourselves holy and righteous. The book of Hebrews is a beautiful treatise on the superiority of the New Covenant over the old. The writer explains why the tabernacle "not made with hands" is the final fulfillment of the one Moses built: "When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for ALL by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:11-12). All sins are forgiven for all in Christ.
God did not need the blood of Christ. We needed it, for the death of millions of animals over the years could not take away our sin, and we were lost, alienated and separated from God. Christ's blood is the free gift by which we can come home and be reconciled to the Father who waits with a ring, a robe and a crown to welcome us back into the bosom of His family from whence we left so long ago.
Father, words are not adequate to thank You for the sacrifice of Yourself on the cross, for the love which pursues us down the paths of our wilderness wanderings, our detours, and destructive ways, and lovingly catches us up to the throne where we may fellowship with You now and forever. Empower us to share your love in ways the world can hear and respond to by Your power, grace, and glory. In Christ, we ask it, amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Decoding Bible Mysteries
Decoding The Covenants
The Ring, The Robe, and The Crown
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 06/07/06,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 10/08/08.