Gospel Issues in Adventism
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#8 – The Two Atonements

(2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

As Seventh-day Adventists we have some unique doctrines.  Among them is the doctrine of the Final Atonement, base on the Old Testament yearly ceremony of the Sanctuary Service, which we all know is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.

According to our fundamental beliefs, the anti-typical Day of Atonement began in 1844, when Christ our great High Priest, moved from the Holy Place of the heavenly Sanctuary to the Most Holy Place, to begin the work of judgment, bring sin to an end, and usher in everlasting righteousness.

The fact that we have designate this concluding work of Christ in the plan of redemption as the Final Atonement has raised a big question regarding the atonement accomplished on the cross.  WHY?  Because the words Final Atonement, which we apply to the culminating work of Christ in the heavenly Sanctuary, has given the impression to many, without and within the church, that the atonement accomplished on the cross was incomplete.

The Christian church in general, and especially the evangelicals, teach that on the cross Christ’s atonement for the sins of the world was full and complete.  In other words, nothing can be added to this finished work that took place on Calvary some 2,000 years ago.

Therefore, for us to refer to the second phase of Christ’s Priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary as the Final Atonement is tantamount to saying that what Christ accomplished on the cross was incomplete.  This has therefore become a gospel issue in Adventism, especially among the so-called Evangelical Adventists.

The question I would like to address in this study is:  are we right in defining this final phase of Christ’s Priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary as the Final Atonement?  And, if we are right, than what do we do with the fact that on the cross Christ cried out “it is finished,” meaning the atonement?

Atonement Defined

The first thing we have to do in addressing this issue is to define the word “Atonement.”  This word is really made up of three words joined together:   AT-ONE-MENT.  It is a word that we do not normally use today.  Instead we prefer to use the words RECONCILE or RECONCILIATION, which basically mean the same thing [look for example at Romans 5:11 in the KJV and the NIV, which, incidentally, is the same as the NKJV].

The word atonement means removing any barrier that has caused the separation of two people, thus bring them together once again.  Hence, when this happens, they have been reconciled.  When used theologically, the word atonement refers to the expiating or removing of our sins which has separated us sinners from a holy God [read Isaiah 59:2-3].

Let us be absolutely clear, on the cross the sins of the entire human race was atoned for by the death of Jesus Christ.  As a result sinful humanity was reconciled to God.  This atonement or reconciliation was perfect, full, and complete.  This is part and parcel of the good news of the gospel and the New Testament clearly teaches this [read Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (S.  rd.); Colossians 1:19-20].

However, does the fact that sinful humanity has already been reconciled to God mean that there is no final atonement?  The answer is a big YES!!!  There is going to be a final atonement.  But how can there be a final atonement, to be accomplished sometime in the future, if the atonement on the cross was full and complete?  Here is the Biblical answer.

As I mentioned in a previous study, the Bible is full of paradoxes.  This is one of them.  But once you realize what we have already discovered in previous studies, that salvation in the Bible is presented as both an objective truth as well as a subjective experience, the problem is solved.

In dealing with the subject of assurance of salvation last study, we faced the same issue.  As an objective truth, all Christians can claim I am already saved in Christ [Ephesians 2:6].  This is what gives us assurance of salvation.  But as a subjective experience, we Christians must also add I am being saved daily from the power and slavery to sin (i.e., I am being sanctified), as well as I will be saved at the second advent of Christ from the nature and presence of sin (i.e., I will be glorified).

The same truth or idea must be applied to the doctrine of atonement.  As an objective truth the entire human race has already been reconciled to God.  But as a subjective experience the atonement has more than one phase, of which the final atonement is the culminating one.

Atonement Experienced

With this in mind, let me now show you from the Bible at least three phases of the subjective experience of the atonement or reconciliation:

  1. The reconciliation between mankind and God.  Please note:  I did not say between God and mankind.  That has already taken place on the cross.  In other words, reconciliation or at-one-ment is a two-way affair.  As far as God is concerned, He has already reconciled Himself to mankind by the death of His Son.  What is left is for us humans to be reconciled to Him [2 Corinthians 5:18-20.]

  2. The Bible also speaks of atonement as an on going application through the high priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary.  While Christ is the Saviour of all mankind, He is the priest or mediator of only the believers who have by faith been reconciled to God.  We believers are still sinners, in and of ourselves, and Satan uses this to accuse us before God day and night [Revelation 12:10].  However, while Satan does this, Christ is daily or continually applying His blood to defend our atonement or reconciliation [Hebrews 2:17].

  3. Lastly, the Bible speaks of a final atonement when sin will be eradicated and the whole universe will be at-one-ment with God.  Even though we Christians stand perfect in Christ and have the full assurance of salvation we still have sinful flesh.  Therefore, there is no at-one-ment or peace between the flesh and our converted minds [read Romans 7:24-25].  Hence, we long for the redemption of our bodies [read Romans 8:22-25; Philippians 3:20-21].  This is part of the final atonement.

Furthermore, until Christ comes we are living in a world which is, to a large degree, still under the control of Satan, the enemy of souls.  As a result, we Christians may describe ourselves as citizens of heaven but living in enemy territory.  That means Satan can make and does make life hell for us.  So we look forward to the second and third coming of Christ so that we may live in heaven and the new earth at-one-ment [read Revelation 21:1-5].

This is what the doctrine of final atonement is all about.  It is not adding to the finished atonement of the cross, but making real in experience what Christ has already obtained for mankind by His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  The final atonement is the climax, the Halleluia Chorus of the plan of redemption.  It is a glorious doctrine that we must not be ashamed of, because it points us forward to the reality of salvation, which at the moment is ours only by faith [read Hebrews 11:1].

When the doctrine of the final atonement is understood in the context of legalism, it becomes a terrible doctrine which robs us of the joy of salvation.  But correctly understood, the doctrine of the final atonement is of tremendous help to believers to hold on to our confidence in Christ [read Revelation 22:20-21].

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