The Christian Gospel versus the Pagan Atonement Concept

The Christian Gospel versus the Pagan Atonement Concept

In a previous presentation, “What Hinders the Latter Rain?” I pointed out that there have been two major changes in the current beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church compared to the beliefs of the pioneers of the movement.  Firstly, the concept of God has changed in that the pioneers did not view God as a Trinity whereas the current beliefs represent God as a Trinity.  Secondly, the view of the atonement has changed.  Ellen G. White did predict that there would be a change in beliefs that would cause the “fundamental principles” to be accounted as error.  The 28 Fundamental Principles that were held by the church at that time were published in the 1889 Yearbook (see reference below*).  I have shared quite a bit in previous presentations about the first issue – the change in the concept of God.   In this presentation, the focus is on the second issue – the change in the concept of the atonement.   The atonement as understood by the pioneers is contrasted with the current view of the atonement, within a context of comparison of both with the pagan concept of atonement.


Below, is the prediction that Ellen G. White made:

“The enemy of souls has sought to bring in the supposition that a great reformation was to take place among Seventh-day Adventists, and that this reformation would consist in giving up the doctrines which stand as the pillars of our faith, and engaging in a process of reorganization.  Were this reformation to take place, what would result?  The principles of truth that God in His wisdom has given to the remnant church, would be discarded.  Our religion would be changed.  The fundamental principles that have sustained the work for the last fifty years would be accounted as error.” – Ellen G. White, Selected Messages Vol. 1, p. 204 (also in Special Testimonies, Series B, No.2, pp 54, 55).

Below, is Fundamental Principle number 2, as it was then, regarding Christ and the atonement:

“2.       That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, the One by whom He created all things, and by whom they do consist; that He took on Him the nature of the seed of Abraham for the redemption of our fallen race; that He dwelt among men, full of grace and truth, lived our example, died our sacrifice, was raised for our justification, ascended on high to be our only mediator in the sanctuary in heaven, where through the merits of His shed blood, He secures the pardon and forgiveness of the sins of all those who penitently come to Him; and as the closing portion of His work as priest, before He takes His throne as king, He will make the great atonement for the sins of all such, and their sins will then be blotted out (Acts 3:19) and borne away from the sanctuary, as shown in the service of the Levitical priesthood, which foreshadowed and  prefigured the ministry of our Lord in heaven.  See Lev 16; Heb. 8:4, 5; 9:6, 7; etc.*(see note in original).”

 “*Note.— Some thoughtless persons accuse us of rejecting the atonement of Christ entirely, because we dissent from the view that the atonement was made upon the cross, as is generally held. But we do nothing of the kind; we only take issue as to the time when the atonement is to be made. We object to the view that the atonement was made upon the cross, because it is utterly contrary to the type, which placed the atonement at the end of the yearly sanctuary service, not at the beginning (see scriptures last referred to), and because it inevitably leads to one of two great errors. Thus, Christ on the cross bore the sins of all the world. John said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away [margin, beareth] the sin of the world 1” John 1:29. Peter tells us when he thus bore the sins of the world: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” 1 Peter 2:24. Paul says that “he died for all” 2 Cor. 5:14, 15. That which Christ did upon the cross, therefore, was done indiscriminately and unconditionally for all the world; and if this was the atonement, then the sins of all the world have been atoned for, and all will be saved. This is Universalism in full blossom. But all men will not be saved; hence the sins of all were not atoned for upon the cross; and if Christ’s work there was the atonement, then His work was partial, not universal, as the scriptures above quoted assert, and he atoned for only a favored few who were elected to be saved, and passed by all others who were predestined to damnation. This would establish the doctrine of election and predestination in its most ultra form, — an error equally unscriptural and objectionable with the former. We avoid both these errors, and find ourselves in harmony with the Mosaic type, and with all the declarations of the Scriptures, when we take the position that what Christ did upon the cross was to provide a divine sacrifice for the world, sufficient to save all, and offered it to everyone who will accept of it; that he then, through the merits of his offering, acts as mediator with the Father till time shall end, securing the forgiveness of sins for all who seek him for it; and that, as the last service of his priesthood, he will blot out the sins of all who have repented and been converted (Acts 3:19), the atonement not being completed till this work of blotting out sin is done. Thus Christ atones, not for the sins of the whole world, to save all, not for a favored few only, elected from all eternity to be saved, but for those who, as free moral agents, have voluntarily sought from him the forgiveness of sin, and everlasting life. And all for whom the atonement is made, will be forever saved in his kingdom. This view in no way detracts from the merit of Christ’s offering, nor from the value and glory of his atoning work for men. While on this line, we are not driven into Universalism on the one hand, nor into election and reprobation on the other.”

– Fundamental Principles of Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook of Statistics for 1889, Review & Herald Publishing C., Battle Creek, Mich., 1889.

 In paganism, whenever the people displease the god, a sacrifice has to be made in order to appease the wrath of the god.  This was at the heart of the offering of human sacrifices.  Repeatedly, throughout the Biblical scriptures, the offering of such sacrifices has been condemned.  But the death of Christ on Calvary was not a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God.  It was God who made the sacrifice by sending His only begotten Son into the world.  It was evil men and Satan who killed Him.

In order to understand the plan of salvation we have to go back to the beginning and work our way forward.  When the first sin was committed by our fore-parents, Adam and Eve, God predicted exactly how salvation would come in Gen. 3:15 as follows:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:15.

Satan had hoped to have humanity fully on his side but God said He would break up the alliance by causing humanity to hate Satan and his ways.  He would achieve this by sending His Son as the woman’s seed to bruise Satan’s head but in the process Satan would bruise the heel of His Son.

This was fulfilled at Calvary where, through death, Christ bruised Satan’s head by exposing him to the universe as a murderer while Christ’s heel was bruised by Satan, in that Satan took Christ’s life.  But for Christ it was only a bruising of His heel since His Father would raise Him back from the dead (Gal. 1:1).

This is substantiated by many scriptures that show:

  1. That man was Satan’s captive – example, Heb. 2:14, 15.
  2. That Christ delivered man by converting man or changing man’s mind – that is, causing man to believe in Him rather than believing Satan.  It is by believing we are saved – example, Luke 8:12; John 3:15; Acts 16:31; Rom. 4:3; Rom. 12:2.
  3. That Satan’s destruction is assured by the death of Christ – example, 1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14, 15; Col. 2:14, 15.
  4. That those who believe in Christ will be given power to become sons of God (John1:12) – that is, power to overcome the devil (first and foremost) – Titus  2: 11, 12.
  5. That eternal life will be given to those who believe in Christ, at the second coming of Christ – example, Mark 10:30; Rom. 2:6-8; 1 Cor. 15:22, 23.

Finally, it should be understood that through His foreknowledge, God knows and declares what will happen but it does not mean that He manipulates people’s minds to make them do evil things.   He will even act, based upon His foreknowledge, in order to achieve a desired end, knowing what people will do, but He is not necessarily the one responsible for it being done or the one doing it.  Such is the situation with the death of Christ.  He yielded His Son.  But it was the devil and evil men who killed Him, thus playing right into God’s purpose of revealing the true nature of sin, which is enmity against God (Rom. 8:7) and a manifestation of a disposition to crucify the Son of God afresh each time it is committed (Heb. 6:6).

So, death remains an enemy, wholly a consequence of sin (1 Cor. 15:26; Rom. 6:23).  God is life and is not constrained to give life.  He quickeneth whomsoever He wills (John 5:21), whenever He wills, without needing death to take place as a precondition.

Christ came to reveal the Father and expose the Devil in order to win us back to the Father and break the Devil’s hold over us that has existed because of our belief in the Devil’s lies about God.

The truth to believe is that God is good, means us well, knows what is good for us and we should believe, accept and follow everything He says.  The Devil is a liar and a murderer and should be rejected.

Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who is exactly like God, His Father, in character, is the perfect manifestation and proof, in His life on earth, of God’s character.

By yielding himself to be killed by wicked hands, Christ has exposed Satan and his followers as liars and murderers whose words should be completely rejected and whose company should be shunned, thereby releasing us from Satan’s captivity in which we were held through our belief in Satan’s lies about God.

Even now Satan still holds many people captive under his deception by causing them to believe a distorted version of the gospel that still maligns God.  They believe that Christ died in order to pay a price that God demanded before He would forgive us.  According to this very popular view, the atonement is not a process whereby Christ intercedes on our behalf, pointing to our repentance as a basis for appealing to God for us to be forgiven of past transgressions.  Rather, it sees the atonement as an act that God accepts as being sufficient to make up for all transgressions.  So, the death of Christ is represented wholly as a requirement to satisfy God and has nothing to do with the Devil.  This is a distortion.  The distortion is reflected in the current 28 Fundamental Beliefs, number 9.  The current belief is as follows:

“The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ

 God sent Jesus, His Son, to live the perfect life we could not and die the death our sins deserve. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice, we claim eternal life.

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. The bodily resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 22:1; Isa. 53; John 3:16; 14:30; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:15; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.)”

The truth is that the death of His Son was the price that God had to pay in order to save us.  That is what it cost God to provide the basis whereby Satan’s hold on us might be broken.

Having revealed the true character of God, His Father, through the life that He lived on earth, and having discredited Satan by exposing him as a liar and a murderer, Christ now invites us to believe the truth and be saved (Acts 16:31; Rom 4:3; John 17:3).  Otherwise, we’ll believe the Devil’s lies and be damned (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

In closing, I’ll leave with you the following description of the death of Christ from the pen of Ellen G. White in the book Desire of Ages (DA), for your thoughtful meditation:

But God suffered with His Son. Angels beheld the Saviour’s agony. They saw their Lord enclosed by legions of satanic forces, His nature weighed down with a shuddering, mysterious dread. There was silence in heaven. No harp was touched.” DA 693.

 “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”. DA 758.

“Heaven viewed with grief and amazement Christ hanging upon the cross, blood flowing from His wounded temples, and sweat tinged with blood standing upon His brow. From His hands and feet the blood fell, drop by drop, upon the rock drilled for the foot of the cross. The wounds made by the nails gaped as the weight of His body dragged upon His hands. His labored breath grew quick and deep, as His soul panted under the burden of the sins of the world. All heaven was filled with wonder when the prayer of Christ was offered in the midst of His terrible suffering,–“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34. Yet there stood men, formed in the image of God, joining to crush out the life of His only-begotten Son. What a sight for the heavenly universe! 

 The principalities and powers of darkness were assembled around the cross, casting the hellish shadow of unbelief into the hearts of men. When the Lord created these beings to stand before His throne, they were beautiful and glorious. Their loveliness and holiness were in accordance with their exalted station. They were enriched with the wisdom of God, and girded with the panoply of heaven. They were Jehovah’s ministers. But who could recognize in the fallen angels the glorious seraphim that once ministered in the heavenly courts? 

Satanic agencies confederated with evil men in leading the people to believe Christ the chief of sinners, and to make Him the object of detestation. Those who mocked Christ as He hung upon the cross were imbued with the spirit of the first great rebel. He filled them with vile and loathsome speeches. He inspired their taunts. But by all this he gained nothing. 

 Could one sin have been found in Christ, had He in one particular yielded to Satan to escape the terrible torture, the enemy of God and man would have triumphed. Christ bowed His head and died, but He held fast His faith and His submission to God. “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” Rev. 12:10.      

Satan saw that his disguise was torn away. His administration was laid open before the unfallen angels and before the heavenly universe. He had revealed himself as a murderer. By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he 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”.  {DA 759 -761}

“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).

  • Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6)

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