The Atonement of Christ
The Atonement is a huge topic. I have been told that one should not expect to understand it all in this mortal life, but it is a goal worth pursuing. For now, the journey is the thing. The Third Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says, "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." It is a key doctrine of Jesus Christ.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "atone" comes from the joining of "at" and "one", so "atonement" means the making "at one" of two or more persons, in this case, God and each man or woman who has ever lived.
Interestingly enough, though presumably everyone who calls himself (or herself) a Christian has some notion of what the Atonement is, the word is only used once in the New Testament, in Romans 5:11. We learn first about the Atonement through symbolism in the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is CPR, meaning a covering, a word related to the Gopher wood (GPR, the cypress) of Noah's ark and the Ark of the Covenant, and to the pitch (CPR) with which the former was sealed.
Exodus 29 describes symbolically how atonement was made for the priests and the people. It included washing with water, anointing with oil, sprinkling the blood of animals, butchering and burning, waving and eating both meat and bread. In Exodus 30, there is an atonement for individuals made with money.
We understand that none of the animal sacrifices or waving of grain or paying of monies had any efficacy in atoning for sin. If so, Christ did not need to die. They were symbolic of Christ's ultimate and infinite sacrifice. The obedience the people showed was effective only so far as it was done in the right spirit and was ultimately dependent upon Christ personally bearing the effect and consequence of our individual sins. We are still in the same position. None of our good deeds have any merit if not done for Christ's sake, and acceptable to Him.
Other passages where the word "atonement" is used are:
Exodus 32:30-32; Leviticus 1:4; 4:20,26,31,35; 5:6,10,13,16,18; 6:7; 7:7; 8:34; 9:7; 10:17; 12:7,8; 14:18-21,29,31,53; 15:15,30; 16:6,10,11,16-18,24,27,30,32-34; 17:11; 19:22; 23:27,28; 25:9; Numbers 5:8; 6:11; 8:12,19,21: 15:25,28; 16:46,47; 25:13; 28:22,30; 29:5,11; 31:50; 2 Samuel 21:3; 2 Chronicles 6:49; 29:24; Nehemiah 10:33; Romans 5:11.
In the Book of Mormon the word is used in:
2 Nephi 2:10; 9:7,25,26; 10:25; 25:16; Jacob 4:11,12; 7:12; Mosiah 3:11,15,16,18,19; 4:2,6,7; 13:28; Alma 13:5; 21:9; 22:14; 24:13; 30:17; 33:22; 34:8,9,11,12; 36:17; 42:15,23; Helaman 5:9; Moroni 7:41; 8:20.
In other latter-day scriptures:
Doctrine & Covenants 29:1; 74:7; 76:69; 138:2,4; Moses 6:54; Articles of Faith 3.
The doctrine of the Atonement is greater and more pervasive in the scriptures than is indicated by the number of times the word is used therein. It is most often described in symbol and by actions. After all, it is something Christ did for us that affects our relationship with Him and with our Heavenly Father and makes it possible to return to live with Them where they are.
The following are my comments as I study the scriptures (see My Yearly Scripture Reading Schedule):
God's universe seems to be "black and white" and by that I don't mean without color, but more in the sense of right and wrong, or organization. Even the rainbow's colors (Genesis 9) are not random, but have an order. He begins the creation of the earth by dividing the light from the darkness, the waters above from the waters below, the land from the sea, and the night from the day. He doesn't have the creatures, not even the plants, interbreed indiscriminately, but decrees that they will reproduce "after their kind" (Genesis 1).
The Fall of Man and Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden (Genesis 3) are necessary parts of the Atonement. In Genesis 2, Adam is warned that if he eats of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he will die. Until that time, he is immortal and innocent.
The goal of the Atonement is to reconcile God and mankind, individually and collectively. It is typified in the marriage covenant. In Genesis 2:24,25, it says, "Therefore ... they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked ... and were not ashamed." They are to be "at one". They should have no secrets.
Christ's giving himself up as a sacrifice in our stead is central to the Atonement. First prophesied in Genesis 3:15 to the Serpent in the Garden, and foreshadowed soon after in the sacrifice, and subsequent death of Abel.
Christ's blood is sufficient and the only thing that can cover (Hebrew KPR) and protect us from the burning presence of God, as the gopher wood (Hebrew GPR) and pitch (Hebrew KPR)(Genesis 6:14) of the Ark of Noah protected him and his family from the destruction of the flood waters.
The Atonement works in part through the trials and tests we face in this mortal life, by exercising our faith and obedience with the help of the LORD, strengthening us for our glorious future with our Heavenly Father.
Keeping the commandments, making and keeping covenants, and enduring to the end are part of that exercise.
Abraham was taught to look for a promised land (Genesis 12:1), not in the present, but in the future, which he and his posterity would inherit.