The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 5: The Nature and Timing of the Biblical Atonement

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The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 5: The Nature and Timing of the Biblical Atonement

In the first article of our series, we quoted an Ellen White statement which contains an essential principle for understanding inspired writings. Describing inspired language, Ellen White declares:

Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea.[1]

When studying the Bible doctrine of atonement, as articulated in both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White, the above principle is most important. We will see that both the Bible and Ellen White use the word “atonement” to describe each of the phases of the process identified in the inspired writings by this word. In order to rightly understand Biblical atonement, all these phases must be considered and the language of the inspired pen studied collectively.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Atonement in Adventist Theology

Sanctuary Atonement: Six Phases

One Adventist author has recently claimed that according to Last Generation Theology, Biblical atonement has three phases.[2] Actually, there are six:

  1. The laying on of hands by the sinner on the sacrificial victim (Lev. 4:4,15,24,29).
  2. Confession of sin (Lev. 5:5).
  3. The slaying of the sacrificial victim (Lev. 4:4,15,24; 5:8; 7:2).
  4. The mediation of sacrificial blood (Lev. 4:16-20; 25-26,30-31,34-35; 5:9-10; 7:1-7).
  5. The afflicting of the soul and its cleansing from sin on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:30; 23:27-30).
  6. The exile and death of the scapegoat (Lev. 16:10).

In the above verses, atonement is identified as the means whereby one receives forgiveness for sin (Lev. 4:20,26,31,35). And in each of the cases here described, the sinner was to lay hands on the sacrificial victim (Lev. 4:4,15,24,29), thus transferring the sin in question to the sacrifice. In our previous article, we reviewed the Biblical conditions for receiving God’s forgiveness, which include confession and forsaking of sin, a guileless spirit, and a willingness to forgive others (II Chron. 7:14; Psalm 32:1-2; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7; Matt. 6:14-15; Rom. 4:6-8; I John 1:9). Putting all the above verses together, we begin to perceive the interwoven tapestry of Biblical atonement theology.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Holy of Holies

Moreover, only when the blood of the sacrifice was mediated by the priest in the sanctuary does the Bible say atonement was made (Lev. 4:16-20; 25-26,30-31,34-35; 5:9-10; 7:1-7). When we consider what in fact was completed on the cross relative to the atonement process, the above point is pivotal.

 

The above passages from Leviticus and Numbers form the basis of the Bible’s explanation of the atonement process, later elaborated upon in the New Testament. The only explicit reference to atonement in the New Testament, of course, is Romans 5:11, which in the King James Version speaks of those who have “now received the atonement.”[3] Most marginal readings and modern translations use the word reconciliation here, which is really the best synonym for atonement (at-one-ment) in Scripture. The human family is estranged from God through their choice to sin (Isa. 59:2), thus standing in need of reconciliation with God. The atonement of Christ in all its phases is the means whereby this reconciliation is accomplished.

 

Reconciled to God

 

A number of New Testament passages speak of the cross as the means whereby we are reconciled to God. But a close look at each of them makes it clear that the theme is instrumental, not chronological. Let us examine each of these passages:

 

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom. 5:10).

 

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead: be ye reconciled to God (2 Cor. 18-20).

 

And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:20-23).

 

Notice that while Paul says in one place, “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10), and in another that God “hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 5:18), he invites his readers elsewhere, “Be ye reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). Obviously the first two statements refer to converted believers, while the third is an invitation to readers who are not yet converted.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Gospel in the Sanctuary

 

Paul’s earlier statement in Second Corinthians 5 that “we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf” (verse 12), gives further evidence that “we” refers to himself and his fellow evangelists who had experienced God’s reconciling power, while “you” refers to his audience which doubtless included many who had not experienced this reconciliation.

 

The verse in Romans which states that “when we were enemies, we were reconciled” (Rom. 5:10) must be placed alongside the verse we read from Colossians 1, which states that “you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled” (verse 21). These verses clearly speak of those who have relinquished their evil deeds by availing themselves of Calvary’s reconciling power. Without question, this cannot refer to the whole world—which would be the case if atonement were finished at the cross—but includes only those who have willingly chosen by God’s grace to give up their sins.

 

We must also notice that Second Corinthians 5:19, which speaks of the world as the focus of reconciliation, uses the word reconciling—which is in the present, continuous tense. Never does Paul say the world has been reconciled (past tense). The verse also says, “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” But when Paul writes elsewhere of those to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, he quotes an Old Testament passage which adds a condition to this—“in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalm 32:2). Again, this can’t possibly refer to the whole world, only to those who by God’s grace meet the conditions for receiving pardon.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Intercessory Ministry of Jesus Christ

 

Elsewhere the New Testament is clear that the work of Christ as high priest in heaven is “to make reconciliation (atonement) for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). This is why the apostle John assures us, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Notice he doesn’t say, “We have a Savior who died on Calvary.” The process of atonement and receiving forgiveness is the same in the New Testament as in the Old. Confession and the forsaking of sin remain clearly-stated conditions (Matt. 6:13-14; Rom. 2:13; 1 John 1:9). The only difference between the portrayal of this process in the two Testaments is that in the Old there were many sacrifices, many priests, and an earthly sanctuary, whereas in the New there is one Sacrifice, one Priest, and a heavenly sanctuary.

 

The following Ellen White statements confirm what we have seen from Scripture—that human reconciliation to God through Christ’s blood is an individual matter, conditional on confession, repentance, and the Spirit’s transforming power:

 

You have seen that all who come to Me, confessing their sins, I freely receive. Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out. All who will, may be reconciled to God, and receive everlasting life.[4]

 

It is the work of conversion and sanctification to reconcile men to God by bringing them into accord with the principles of His law.[5]

 

It is by the law of God that the sinner is convicted. He sees his own sinfulness in contrast with the perfect righteousness which it enjoins, and this leads him to humility and repentance. He becomes reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.[6]

 

By the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and His work of mediation in our behalf, we may become reconciled to God. The blood of Christ will prove effacacious to wash away the crimson stain of sin.[7]

 

The following statement is clear that the reconciliation the cross provides is not—as some believe—an involuntary act accomplished for the whole world, believers and unbelievers alike:

 

To him who accepts Christ as his righteousness, as his only hope, pardon is pronounced; for God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. The justice, truth, and holiness of Christ, which are approved by the law of God, form a channel through which mercy may be communicated to the repenting, believing sinner.

Those who do not believe in Christ are not reconciled to God; but those who have faith in Him are hid with Christ in God.[8]

 

No Tension Between the Cross and the Sanctuary

 

The sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary and the subsequent mediation of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary are complementary and successive phases of the Biblical atonement process. There is no tension whatsoever between these two Biblical realities, as the first is essential to the second and the second is impossible without the first. In the Old Testament ritual, the blood of the sacrifice could not effect forgiveness for the sinner until it was mediated by the priest (Lev. 4:16-20; 25-26,30-31,34-35; 5:9-10; 7:1-7), and obviously this blood couldn’t be mediated unless the sacrificial victim was first put to death (Lev. 4:4,15,24; 5:8; 7:2).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: How Are We Saved?

 

The same is true in the New Testament. The blood of Jesus had to be shed before it could be mediated, and “without shedding of blood is no remission” of sins (Heb. 9:22). But it is the mediation of that blood by our heavenly Advocate which in fact forgives the sinner (I John 2:1).

 

Equally important is the fact that Jesus’ blood isn’t only for the purpose of pardon, essential as this function surely is (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). The New Testament is clear that the blood of Jesus also sanctifies the Christian (Heb. 10:29; 13:12,20-21). Without this work of sanctification, aided by the Holy Spirit, the cross is of no avail. In Ellen White’s words:

 

The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail.[9]

 

In another statement, she writes that “the intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross.”[10] In this same context she writes of the imperative of victory over sin and how the mediation of Christ in heaven makes this victory possible:

 

Through defects in the character, Satan works to gain control of the whole mind, and he knows that if these defects are cherished, he will succeed. Therefore he is constantly seeking to deceive the followers of Christ with his fatal sophistry that it is impossible for them to overcome. But Jesus pleads in their behalf His wounded hands, His bruised body; and He declares to all who will follow Him: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ II Corinthians 11:9. ‘Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’ Matthew 11:29,30. Let none, then, regard their defects as incurable. God will give faith and grace to overcome them.[11]

 

When we study Ellen White’s use of the word atonement, we must keep in mind the principle we have noted several times from her writings, that “different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea.”[12] When she speaks of a finished atonement on the cross, as she does a number of times,[13] she is using the word atonement as a synonym for sacrifice. Despite what some have alleged, Seventh-day Adventists have never been in doubt as to the completion of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. (When was the last time you saw an Adventist offer a lamb?)

 

But in other statements Ellen White affirms the Biblical teaching that atonement includes priestly mediation and the earthly perfecting of character made possible by the ministry of our Lord in heaven:

 

Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ.[14]

 

Now Christ is in the heavenly sanctuary. And what is He doing? Making atonement for us, cleansing the sanctuary from the sins of the people. Then we must enter by faith into the sanctuary with Him; we must commence the work in the sanctuary of our souls. We are to cleanse ourselves from all defilement. We must ‘cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’[15]

 

Jesus is our great High Priest in heaven. And what is He doing? He is making intercession and atonement for His people who believe in Him.[16]

 

Today He (Christ) is making an atonement for us before the Father. ‘If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ Pointing to the palms of His hands, pierced by the fury and prejudice of wicked men, He says of us, ‘I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands’ (Isa. 49:16).[17]

 

Now this Saviour is our intercessor, making an atonement for us before the Father.[18]

 

We are living in the great antitypical day of atonement. Jesus is now in the heavenly sanctuary, making reconciliation [atonement] for the sins of the people.[19]

 

When Christ, the Mediator, burst the bands of the tomb, and ascended on high to minister for man, He first entered the holy place where, by virtue of His own sacrifice, He made an offering for the sins of men. With intercession and pleadings He presented before God the prayers and repentance and faith of His people, purified by the incense of His own merits. He next entered the most holy place, to make an atonement for the sins of the people, and to cleanse the sanctuary. His work as high priest completes the divine plan of redemption by making the final atonement for sin.[20]

 

The divine-human Son of God is now standing before the Father, pleading our cases and making atonement for our transgressions.[21]

 

Christ has been manifested in the flesh; His blood has been poured out, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world; and now our Mediator stands before the mercy-seat making an atonement for His people.[22]

 

Why do we complain of clouds and darkness, when there is an open door of mercy, and Jesus is engaged in a special work in our behalf, making an atonement for us, presenting our names before the Father?[23]

 

The ministers of God are not to be content to remain in ignorance of the deep things of His word. Many do not make any progress in attaining knowledge; they are slothful servants, who do not realize the importance of the truth for this time. . . . They do not seek to place themselves in harmony with the work of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, where He is making an atonement for His people.[24]

 

Christ as the great high priest, making a perfect atonement for sin, stands alone in divine majesty and glory. Other high priests were only types, and when He appeared, the need the need of their services vanished. ‘But this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.’[25]

 

The above Ellen White statements stand in sharp contrast with those recently penned by critics of Last Generation Theology, which insist that “it is not the case that Jesus is making additional atonement as our Intercessor and our great High Priest in heaven as LGT (Last Generation Theology) supporters claim,”[26] that “Christ provided a complete and once-for-all atonement for us on the cross,”[27] and that “Calvary is the only place where atonement was actually made.”[28] The above-inspired statements are clear, in harmony with what we’ve seen in Scripture itself (Lev. 4:16-20; 25-26,30-31,34-35; 5:9-10; 7:1-7), that atonement is also being “actually made” by the work of Christ in the sanctuary above.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Sanctuary –Cosmos, Covenant, and Creation

 

Theologians often revel in paradoxes, as they make for such lively conversation around college and university seminar tables. But in the thoughts of ordinary mortals, not to mention the practical thoroughfares of life, paradoxical thinking possesses very limited utility. Recent critics of Last Generation Theology have tried to resolve the conflict between their insistence on a finished atonement at the cross and such Ellen White statements as those quoted above, by saying that the atonement Jesus made at the cross was “complete but not completed.”[29]

 

To the ordinary person in the pew, to say nothing of the sensible person in the street, this kind of talk comes across as circular, even frivolous. (Imagine my mowing a friend’s lawn and telling him afterward that the job was “complete but not completed.”) We do far better in our study of God’s Word to simply abide by inspired principles of interpretation—such as Ellen White’s statement about the varied meanings of inspired language[30]—and permitting the consensus of both Scripture and Ellen White to guide our conclusions.

 

What the Cross Accomplished

 

While the Biblical atonement process was not finished at the cross, more than a finished sacrifice was accomplished by Jesus’ death on Calvary. The inspired consensus speaks of at least four (4) principal achievements so far as the cross event is concerned:

 

  1. A completed sacrifice. The following passage from the book of Hebrews is one of the clearest on this point:

 

Not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others.

For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once at the end of the world that He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:25-26).

 

This offering was in fact for the whole world, as the apostle John writes so clearly:

 

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

 

And He (Christ) is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).

 

We have noted already a number of Ellen White statements which speak of Christ’s completed sacrifice, for which she at times uses the word atonement.[31] Other statements likewise confirm the completeness of Jesus’ sacrifice:

 

As the sacrifice in our behalf was complete, so our restoration from the defilement of sin is to be complete.[32]

 

His death on the cross of Calvary was the climax of His humiliation. His work as a redeemer is beyond finite conception. Only those who have died to self, whose lives are hid with Christ in God, can have any conception of the completeness of the offering made to save the fallen race.[33]

 

The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient; He made a whole, efficacious offering to God; the human effort without the merit of Christ, is worthless.[34]

 

  1. Humanity’s second probation, initiated at the foundation of the world (Heb. 9:26; Rev. 13:8), was ratified at Calvary, which confirms that even our physical lives and daily existence are due to the cross. Thus, Ellen White declares:

 

The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring. All this Christ has taught in appointing the emblems of His great sacrifice. The light shining from that Communion service in the upper chamber makes sacred the provisions for our daily life. The family board becomes as the table of the Lord, and every meal a sacrament.[35]

 

  1. Satan dethroned from his position as prince of this world. Thus, Jesus declared, as His death approached:

 

Now is the prince of this world cast out (John 12:31).

 

By His victorious life and death, Jesus recovered the dominion Adam lost to Satan in Eden. The fact that Satan, after Eden, was the official representative of this earth in Adam’s place is confirmed in the Old Testament story of Job (Job 1:6; 2:1). Ellen White explains this as follows:

 

At his creation Adam was placed in dominion over the earth. But by yielding to temptation, he was brought under the power of Satan. ‘Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.’ 2 Peter 2:19. When man became Satan’s captive, the dominion which he held, passed to his conqueror. Thus Satan became ‘the god of this world.’ 2 Corinthians 4:4. He had usurped that dominion over the earth which had been originally given to Adam. But Christ, by His sacrifice paying the penalty of sin, would not only redeem man, but recover the dominion which he had forfeited.[36]

 

  1. Satan uprooted fully from the sympathies of the unfallen universe. Ellen White describes the results of Calvary for the thinking of unfallen beings with regard to Satan and his rebellion:

 

To the angels and the unfallen worlds the cry, ‘It is finished,’ had a deep significance. It was for them as well as for us that the great work of redemption had been accomplished. They with us share the fruits of Christ’s victory.

Not until the death of Christ was the character of Satan clearly revealed to the angels or to the unfallen worlds. The archapostate had so clothed himself with deception that even holy beings had not understood his principles. They had not clearly seen the nature of his rebellion.[37]

 

By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he (Satan) had uprooted himself from the sympathies of the heavenly beings. Henceforth his work was restricted. Whatever attitude he might assume, he could no longer await the angels as they came from the heavenly courts, and before them accuse Christ’s brethren of being clothed with the garments of blackness and the defilement of sin. The last link of sympathy between Satan and the heavenly world was broken.[38]

 

So according to the inspired testimony, it is in fact correct to say that certain aspects of the plan of salvation were finished at the cross. But the process of atonement was not one of them, nor was the justification or salvation of human beings. Ellen White speaks in one of the above statements of how, at Calvary, “the great work of redemption had been accomplished.”[39]

 

In light of the evidence we have seen from the inspired pen, it is clear that the “redemption” of which she speaks is the recovery of this world’s dominion from Satan, which had originally been lost by Adam.[40] But the word “redemption” as used by Ellen White with regard to Calvary does not refer to a final making of atonement or the involuntary forgiving or saving of the whole human family, as some have alleged.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Christ Our Only Advocate

 

When we consider the collective witness of the inspired writings, it becomes clear that the cry, “It is finished” (John 19:30) at Calvary was but the finishing of one aspect of the saving (or atoning) process, with more to come. According to the inspired pen, on at least two subsequent occasions in the saga of redemption, this declaration will yet be heard. One such time will be at the close of human probation, as evidenced by the following statements:

 

Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us, the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads. Filled with His Spirit, they will be complete in Christ, and the recording angel will declare, ‘It is finished.’[41]

 

When the third angel’s message closes, mercy no longer pleads for the guilty inhabitants of the earth. . . . Then Jesus ceases His intercession in the sanctuary above. He lifts His hands and with a loud voice says, ‘It is done,’ and all the angelic host lay off their crowns as He makes the solemn announcement, ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.’ Revelation 22:11.[42]

 

And again, as the seventh plague is poured out and Jesus is about to come, there will come “a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done” (Rev. 16:17). Ellen White gives an even more graphic description of this moment in The Great Controversy, where she writes:

 

Everything in nature seems turned out of its course. The streams cease to flow. Dark, heavy clouds come up and clash against each other. In the midst of the angry heavens is one clear space of indescribable glory, whence comes the voice of God like the sound of many waters, saying ‘It is done.’ Revelation 16:17.[43]

 

Yes, some very important milestones in the saving process were finished at Calvary. But not all.

 

The Temple in Heaven and the Soul Temple on Earth

 

Last Generation Theology has lately been criticized for teaching that “this cleansing (of the sanctuary) in heaven is connected to the cleansing of the faithful believers on earth.”[44] Such persons claim that “the cleansing of the sanctuary is not focused on our work.”[45] Yet this claim is directly contradicted by both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White. Speaking of the ancient Day of Atonement, the book of Leviticus declares:

 

For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord (Lev. 16:30).

 

Elsewhere in Leviticus, we read of the duty of God’s people during this all-important day, and how imperative it was for them to participate in the spiritual endeavor here described:

 

Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, . . .

For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people (Lev. 23:27,29).

 

This is what Phase 5 of the atonement process, as outlined at the beginning of this article, is all about. In the antitypical Day of Atonement now in progress, the books of heaven are opened and the records examined (Dan. 7:9-14), for the purpose of deciding who among God’s professed people will have their names retained (Dan. 12:1). In the book of Revelation, it becomes clear what conditions must be fulfilled for the saints to have their names retained in God’s book of life:

 

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels (Rev. 3:5).

 

The scenes depicted in Daniel 7 and Daniel 12, with the books open and the heavenly inquest into professed believers’ lives in progress, is briefly referenced in the above verse from Revelation. As in the ancient Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:30; 23:28-30), the afflicting of the soul and cleansing from sin—the overcoming of which Jesus speaks in Revelation 3:5)—forms an essential part of the antitypical atonement process.

 

The writings of Ellen White elaborate further on this phase of the atonement, describing the duties of God’s end-time people during the antitypical Day of Atonement, which echoes the ancient admonitions regarding the spiritual work necessary during this momentous time:

 

While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth.[46]

 

Christ and angels work in the hearts of the children of men. The church above united with the church below is warring the good warfare upon the earth. There must be a purifying of the soul here upon the earth, in harmony with Christ’s cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven.[47]

 

Christ is cleansing the heavenly sanctuary from the sins of the people, and it is the work of all who are laborers together with God to be cleansing the sanctuary of the soul from everything that is offensive to Him.[48]

 

We are in the day of atonement, and we are to work in harmony with Christ’s work of cleansing the sanctuary from the sins of the people. Let no man who desires to be found with the wedding garment on, resist our Lord in His office work. As He is, so will His followers be in this world. We must now set before the people the work which by faith we see our great High-priest accomplishing in the heavenly sanctuary. Those who do not sympathize with Jesus in His work in the heavenly courts, who do not cleanse the soul temple of every defilement, but who engage in some enterprise not in harmony with this work, are joining with the enemy of God and man in leading minds away from the truth and work for this time.[49]

 

We will address this point further when our series considers God’s character summons to history’s final generation of believers.

 

The Scapegoat and the Atonement

 

But the atonement doesn’t end even with the divinely-empowered expulsion of sin from the lives of God’s people. Another, the final phase of atonement remains necessary. In the typical service, this final act of atonement was made by the scapegoat, who represents Satan:

 

And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.

But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness (Lev. 16:9-10).

 

Notice that both goats make an atonement—the scapegoat as well as the Lord’s goat. This does not, as some have alleged, make Satan our sin-bearer. It does mean that until evil and its originator have been fully removed from God’s universe, the process of atonement—full reconciliation between God and His creatures—cannot be finished. Satan, the antitypical scapegoat, will not, of course, be taken into the wilderness until the millennium, when he and his fallen angels will be confined to the desolated earth.[50] At the end of this period, Satan and his followers will, at last, be destroyed. Then, and only then, will the process of atonement—reconciliation—be truly complete between God and humanity.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Cosmic Atonement

 

Official Adventism on the Atonement

 

Critics of Last Generation Theology have recently stated that “the official teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the atonement is different from what LGT (Last Generation Theology) proposes.”[51] But this is not the case. The Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church fully embrace the multi-phased atonement taught in both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. Fundamental Belief No. 9 states as follows:

 

In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God’s law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming.[52]

 

Notice how the “means of atonement” here described include Christ’s resurrection as well as His earthly life and death, leading directly into the next phase of atonement articulated in a later Fundamental Belief which we will cite in a moment. Thus, the “perfect atonement” described in this statement does not end with the cross. Moreover, the death of Christ is depicted in this statement as “substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming.” Obviously, this process goes beyond Calvary, as the transforming of lives made possible by the cross has been happening ever since. Like Scripture, our official belief statement as a church affirms that the cross makes possible not only forgiveness (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) but the sanctification and perfection of believers as well (Heb. 10:29; 13:12,20-21).

 

Fundamental Belief No. 24 takes up where No. 9 leaves off, affirming Christ’s continuing atonement in the heavenly sanctuary:

 

In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, [Christ] entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary.[53]

 

Notice how our Fundamental Beliefs clearly describe the atoning ministry of Jesus as continuing beyond the cross.

 

All in the present controversy agree Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross forms an indispensable part of the atonement process, and can thus correctly be called atoning. Where critics of Last Generation Theology err is in their insistence that the making of atonement ceased at the cross and that what is applied to Christians now are merely the benefits of this purportedly finished atonement. But this is neither what the teachings of the inspired writings nor the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church uphold. Finished sacrifice, yes. Finished atonement, no.

 

The next installment of this series will be titled, “Sinless Obedience: Possible or Not?”

Click here to read the rest of this series on Last Generation theology.

______

Notes.

[1] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 20.

[2] Adelina Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 13: Biblical Perspectives: Final Thoughts,” July 19, 2019.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the King James Version.

[4] White, The Desire of Ages, p. 821.

[5] The Great Controversy, p. 467.

[6] Faith and Works, pp. 53-54.

[7] Signs of the Times, Jan. 20, 1881.

[8] Sons and Daughters of God, p. 239.

[9] The Desire of Ages, p. 671.

[10] The Great Controversy, p. 489.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 20.

[13] Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 364; That I May Know Him, p. 73; Review and Herald, July 1, 1890; Sept. 11, 1890; Sept. 24, 1901; Signs of the Times, June 28, 1899; Aug. 16, 1899.

[14] The Great Controversy, p. 623.

[15] 1888 Materials, vol. 1, p. 127.

[16] Testimonies to Ministers, p. 37.

[17] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7A, p. 481; see also Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 112.

[18] Christ Triumphant, p. 288.

[19] From the Heart, p. 265.

[20] Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, p. 157.

[21] Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 222.

[22] Review and Herald, May 6, 1884.

[23] Ibid, Nov. 24, 1885.

[24] Ibid, April 8, 1890.

[25] Ibid, March 17, 1903.

[26] Jiri Moskala and John C. Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 201; see also pp. 203, 277.

[27] Ibid, p. 277.

[28] Ibid, p. 194.

[29] Ibid, pp. 192, 193,203,205,207,210-211,277; see also Martin F. Hanna, Darius W. Jankewicz, and John W. Reeve (eds.), Salvation: Contours of Adventist Soteriology (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2018), pp. 221-222.

[30] White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 20.

[31] Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 364; That I May Know Him, p. 73; Review and Herald, July 1, 1890; Sept. 11, 1890; Sept. 24, 1901; Signs of the Times, June 28, 1899; Aug. 16, 1899.

[32] The Ministry of Healing, p. 451.

[33] This Day With God, p. 270.

[34] Review and Herald, Aug. 19, 1890.

[35] The Desire of Ages, p. 660; see also Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 66; Faith and Works, pp. 21,22; SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 951.

[36] Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 67.

[37] The Desire of Ages, p. 758.

[38] Ibid, p. 761.

[39] Ibid, p. 758.

[40] Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 67.

[41] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1118.

[42] The Great Controversy, p. 613; see also Early Writings, pp. 279-280; Review and Herald, Jan. 1, 1889.

[43] The Great Controversy, p. 636.

[44] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, pp. 190,191.

[45] Ibid, p. 193.

[46] White, The Great Controversy, p. 425.

[47] Maranatha, p. 249.

[48] Manuscript Releases, vol. 11, p. 55.

[49] Review and Herald, Jan. 21, 1890.

[50] The Great Controversy, p. 658.

[51] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 195.

[52] Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 2015 edition, pp. 164-165.

[53] Ibid, p. 171.

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About the author

Kevin Paulson

Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and serves as a script writer for the It Is Written television ministry and other media ministries within the church. He also serves as the leading webmaster of ADvindicate.com, where many articles by him and others can be found which address a variety of denominational issues. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.