This is an article in the series on the atonement.
Abstract: To understand the meaning of Christ’s death, we have to consider the bigger picture. Evil began in heaven and was transplanted to the earth. God did not reject mankind and sent prophets to earth to turn people to Him. But God did reject Satan. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people. Satan is extremely talented, and the angels were unable to determine whether Satan is telling the truth. The Theory of the Atonement proposed by this website is that Christ’s sacrifice cleared up the confusion in heaven and showed the rightness of God’s judgments.
How Christ’s death reconciles people to God is explained in this article as follows:
God is the Uncaused Cause.
1. For creatures to live eternally, they must live in God’s presence. If we become separated from God, who is the Source of Life, we will become corrupted and eventually die.
2. Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source to His creatures, but worship must be an act of free will. Forced worship is no worship at all. Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.
Origin of Evil
3. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, in free will rebelled against God and withdrew their worship from Him.
4. When Satan deceived our first parents, this ‘heavenly’ rebellion was expanded to earth. Since that event, we lived outside God’s presence. This caused sin, degeneration, and death.
God did not reject mankind.
5. God continually sent prophets to earth to turn people to Him.
6. While He accepted repentant people back in His kingdom, God rejected Satan. Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return to God.
Satan accused God.
7. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people.
8. Satan is extremely talented, and the angels were unable to determine who is telling the truth; God or Satan. A lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.
Christ died also for heavenly beings.
9. God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment. However, Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply based on their faith. The Cross also convinced the universe that Satan was fairly rejected.
10. In this way, even heavenly beings were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”. By providing proof of His justness—through the Cross—also when He rejects the most beautiful and loved angel of all time, namely Satan, allowed the heavenly beings to fully return to a trust- (faith) relationship with God.
In the end-time, God will destroy evil.
In the end-time, God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but to subject His enemies to His will, while the loyal beings are not fully convinced of the rightness of God’s judgment, will eventually result in another rebellion. God is resolving the conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise. God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issues in the universe-wide conflict have been made clear. Then He will be able to subject His enemies to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.
– END OF SUMMARY –
Theory of the Atonement
How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained here as follows:
God is the Source of Eternal Life.
For creatures to live eternally, they must remain sinless, because sin, by definition, is something that destroys. To remain sinless, intelligent creatures must live in His presence, and the natural response to being in the presence of the infinite One is to love and worship Him. Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures. If we break that link, we will become corrupted and will eventually die.
Worship and love, to be worship and love, must be an act of free will. God forces no one to worship Him. Forced worship is no worship. Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.
Origin of Evil
A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, rebelled against God and withdrew from His presence. Why this happened cannot be explained. To find a reason for it is to excuse it. There was no fault in God’s governance that could justify it. God created mankind and angels free to make their own decisions, and in their freedom, these angels withdrew from God. Isaiah 14 describes the fall of the king of Babylon (v3), but seems to use words from the fall of Satan:
12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn! …
13 “… you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.
This rebellion was expanded to earth when Satan deceived our first parents. Since then we lived outside God’s presence, which caused sin, degeneration, and death.
God did not reject mankind.
He did not leave mankind to suffer the natural consequences, but continually sent prophets to turn them to Him: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb 1:1-2).
God rejected Satan.
While God remained willing to accept man back in His kingdom, God rejected Satan. Satan has gone too far to return to God. Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return. Therefore God rejected him.
We must remember that Satan was not just any angel; he was the one that stood in God’s immediate presence. He was Lucifer, which means Morningstar (Isa 14:12); the one who taught the other angels about God. The only way that God can draw sinful creatures to Himself, is to reveal more of Himself, but already Satan knew everything about God that an angel can know. He rebelled with full knowledge of God. Therefore it is impossible for him to return. Therefore God rejected him: “And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezek 28:16).
This chapter describes the king of Tyre (v12), but seems to go beyond this king to a description of Satan:
12 “… You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering: …
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you. …
14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, …
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 … You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;
Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
This seems to be more than a description of an earthly king. It describes a “covering cherub” that was “blameless” and had “the seal of perfection;” “perfect in beauty”.
Satan accused God.
Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment. God “passed over the sins previously committed” by His people on earth (Rom 3:25). Satan, pointing to the sins of God’s people, accused God of unfair judgment (Rev 12:10).
Satan is extremely talented and previously held a very high position. This made it impossible for the other angels to understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan. And according to God’s principle of freedom, God allowed him full access to the heavenly beings to argue his point. The angels were not able to conclude who is right; a lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels. This mystery is symbolized by the sealed book of Revelation. “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:3).
Theory of the Atonement
But the Cross demonstrated the justness or fairness of God’s judgment (Rom 3:25) “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment. God reigns over a universe where everybody is completely free to form their own opinions and do whatever they want. Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply based on their faith, while Satan was rejected.
The Cross is therefore important for mankind, but even the heavenly beings also needed the Cross. Colossians 1:20 indicates that they also were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross.” By providing proof—through the Cross—of His justness, and that in everything He does He is motivated by love; also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, God reconciled them to Himself. The Cross has shown that God loves and protects His creatures. We may not able to see this, but the heavenly beings are able to perceive this. “Reconcile” in Col 1:20 may, therefore, be understood as returning to a trust-relationship; to know for certain that God loves you and will protect you.
According to this theory of the atonement, the influence of the Cross is felt throughout the entire universe. The war that was started in heaven, is concluded on earth. The spiritual war that we are involved in has cosmic consequences.