And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
Romans 5:11 (KJV)
We could define this word, 'atonement', as the overall process by which Jesus Christ, through His sinless life and His unjust sacrificial death on our behalf, made our entire salvation possible. The word 'atonement' therefore includes many shades of meaning and different aspects of what Jesus did for us. Before we go into closer detail about the atonement, let's look at some passages from the writings of Moses which refer to this concept. We will look at how, in the Old Testament, the priests used to sacrifice lambs, bulls and goats to 'cover for' the sins of the people.
The death of the animal that was sacrificed, and the shedding of its blood in particular, made it possible for God to overlook the sins of the people for the time being. The blood of these animals did not, in itself, have the power to save those people and take away their sins. But, when accompanied by repentance and faith in God, it was effective to cover the sins of the people temporarily, pending the coming of Jesus. It was His death on our behalf which really did deal with sin.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Hebrews 10:4 (NASB)
The shedding of these animals' blood was also an illustration. It set the pattern for what Jesus would later do. Let's look at what Moses told the priests to do in sacrificing animals to 'atone' for the sins of the people:
36"Each day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement, and you shall purify the altar when you make atonement for it, and you shall anoint it to consecrate it. 37"For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy, and whatever touches the altar shall be holy.
Exodus 29:36-37 (NASB)
15'Then the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the LORD, and the bull shall be slain before the LORD. 16'Then the anointed priest is to bring some of the blood of the bull to the tent of meeting; 17and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil. 18'He shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting; and all the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.
Leviticus 4:15-18 (NASB)
'He shall also do with the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; thus he shall do with it So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven.
Leviticus 4:20 (NASB)