The Day of Atonement: A Deeper Look

It’s Not Easy to Permanently Remove Sin

Sin is not a simple thing to deal with. If it were, then the world would have ended when Christ bought our pardon at the cross. First, the devil constantly contends that God’s law cannot be kept by His creatures, let alone by sinful humans. Second, he alleges that God can’t cure men’s disobedience. His grace may forgive them, but it can’t restore them. They will always sin because grace is incompatible with God’s law.

Satan’s argument cannot be easily dismissed. The disgusting mess of sin that has ravaged our planet for thousands of years is part of God’s process of proving him wrong and convincing an onlooking universe that forgiving grace not only removes guilt, but sin also. God intends to show that though Satan can tempt, seduce, and threaten, he cannot compel men to sin. Sin is man’s own choice and, through the weakest of the weak, God will prove that there isn’t, and never has been, any excuse for sin.

Why The Cross Isn’t Enough

The final atonement is not a new cross on which Jesus dies again. It is important to realize up front that the final atonement does not mean that the sacrifice of Jesus isn’t sufficient or complete. Yet the atonement process, ratified at the cross, is not complete. There are still major issues in the great controversy that have not been settled. That is why the world lingers on.

Salvation from sin is more that forgiveness of sin. The gospel is about forgiveness and cleansing.

The sacrificial atonement and the final atonement are of equal importance in order to remove sin from the universe. Forgiveness is a halfway house. Forgiving grace must be replaced by enabling grace to the point where there is nothing left to forgive. At this point God final people will be totally transformed to the image of Jesus and safe to allow into a sinless universe.

This requires a cooperative effort between Jesus and His people. Only God can cleanse men, but without their willing partnership, none will be cleansed.

The final demonstration of the power of the gospel in humanity is still ahead of us. In Christ’s incarnation, the universe saw that the fallen nature could be conquered. Yet God has not been fully vindicated until that same victory (power unto sanctification) is seen as Christ is once again incarnated in a host of fallen, garden variety Christians. This seems impossible since we have to be forgiven year after year—ad nauseum—from countless sins. Yet through the weakest men God will showcase the power of love and grace. The universe is waiting for God’s people to love Him completely, all of the time. Only when this is accomplished will God’s government stand fully vindicated before Satan’s charges. Only then will the end come.

We can see that without the process of the final atonement men will never quit sinning and thus never come to the place where they can support God’s claim that men can live without sin by His grace. The final atonement is crucial in the final eradication of sin. This is because the living righteous at the end of time will be translated without seeing death, and no sinful man can see God and live.

How Sin is Eradicated

The ultimate success of Christ’s atoning work depends upon His people finally deciding to let Him clean up their hearts. The heavenly sanctuary can’t be cleansed from sin until our hearts are cleansed from sin, just as mom isn’t finished cleaning up the kitchen floor until the kids stop tracking across it with their muddy boots. As long as a fountain of sin flows into the heavenly sanctuary from our hearts, Jesus must remain there to administer forgiveness until we decide to let God help us clean up our boots. It is only when the final atonement shows that God can stop the flow of sins from our hearts that God can justly remove our sins from the sanctuary above and complete His work for men’s salvation. Then it will be seen that the sacrifice, priesthood, and ministry of Jesus in the sanctuary does take away sins, and perfect forever them that are sanctified, as it says in Hebrews.

God removes the need for forgiving grace not by mumbling a magical abracadabra in some sanctuary billions of miles away, but by enabling His people to quit sinning by the power of Immanuel.

Why Can’t Sin Just Be Cancelled?

In her commentary on the final atonement, Ellen White makes a significant statement. “The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel the sin; it would stand on record in the sanctuary until the final atonement” (Patriarchs and Prophets 357-358).

It is very tempting to join with the Christian world in focusing exclusively on the sacrificial atonement, while we lose sight of the final atonement. Yet though many believe that sin is annulled at the moment of forgiveness and remembered no more, it cannot be disposed of so easily or quickly.

For if a righteous man should fall away (Hebrews 6:4-6, 2Peter 2:20-22), then not only will none of his good deeds be remembered (Ezekiel 18:24), but every sin he has ever committed will return onto his own head. The sanctuary is where that sin is recorded and that sin must stand on record until every man has made his decision and is finally judged. Thus the sin cannot be cancelled nor its record removed until sin and sinners are finally dealt with and it is clear who has and has not “endured to the end” (Matthew 24:13).

This is why the blood was sprinkled three places in the earthly sanctuary: the brazen alter in the court, the golden alter in the holy place, and the mercy seat in the most holy place. Salvation depends on three things: the forgiveness Jesus bought on Calvary (the brazen alter), the sinner’s willingness to change because of that forgiveness (the golden alter),  and the sinner’s perseverance in that course until their transgression is ultimately blotted out (the mercy seat).

God doesn’t deal with men secretly (John 18:20), and only at the end will it be fully known who will be covered by Christ’s righteousness and who will bear their own sin.

The Climax of the Final Atonement

The reason why the forgiving ministry of Jesus must conclude before earth’s history ends is because God’s solution to sin, the integrity of which the whole universe is earnestly scrutinizing, can only be tested in a time when forgiveness is no longer offered. Jesus will step out of His forgiving role and then the universe will see how the redeemed fare when only enabling grace is available from heaven.

Satan will test the metal of the remnant of God’s people to the utmost. They will be attacked in every way possible, even standing face to face with death, but they will not yield. When God’s enabling grace is played against Satan’s merciless attacks, the redeemed will stand fast, willing to die rather than sin.

At that time Satan’s longstanding accusation will be decisively answered. God will be able to speak His prophetic words again in real time: “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).

So What Is The Final Atonement?

The final atonement is the last step that Jesus takes to bring men back into full connection with God. Through this process, Jesus so thoroughly writes His law on the hearts of His remnant people that they will never sin again. Not even once. God’s people move in harmony with Him to the place where, though Christ’s blood is needed to enable them to love, it is no longer needed to forgive any sin. Just before Jesus’ second advent He will be incarnated once more, Immanuel walking the earth again in His people through the Spirit’s indwelling power.

The final atonement is a message of judgement. It is a solemn time for God’s people because they do not yet celebrate victory, but are still in a process of cooperation with God as they move toward complete victory, humbly realizing the seriousness of their sin and confessing it.

Those of us who live in this time should be concerned with coming closer to Jesus so that He can enable us to overcome sin. This is not the time for going back to times of ignorance or primitive belief or being satisfied with God’s minimum requirements. It is a time to sell our lives out to Jesus and seek the highest level of obedience and loyalty to Him as possible. It is through our inseparable relationship with Jesus that we can show the world how God’s government functions.

Seeking Jesus involves consenting to be crucified with Him. That means that this isn’t a time of laughter and dancing. That time will come, but it is not this time. To everything there is a season, and this is a season of soul affliction, fasting, and binding ourselves to the sacrificial system that sets us free from sin.

Satan has constantly thrown the disobedience of God’s people in His face as evidence of His failed government. This must end. We are the people who, through drawing nearer to Jesus, can league with God in this hour of His final atonement to put down Satan’s lies once and for all. The proof is in the cleansing of our temples so that God can cleanse the heavenly one. Then we can go home.

Are you friends with Jesus? Have you entered into the Most Holy Place with Him?