What does the Bible say about reparation?

Bible covenant

All have sinned and have lost the glory of God. Yet they are justly pronounced righteous through his grace alone, and that is because of the redemption that came about through Jesus Christ. God made him a place of atonement that is accessible to all. Atonement was made by his shed blood, and by faith it benefits all. In this way, God has also provided evidence that he had acted righteously, although he had left the sins of men unpunished until then. And today he proves his righteousness by declaring him righteous who lives by faith in Jesus.[Rom 3: 23-36 NEW]

Grace is widely preached. But about atonement? You don't hear much about that. That's actually strange. Because “atonement” and the term “reconciliation” derived from it are very central terms in both the Old and the New Testament. What exactly does atonement mean?

Atonement comes from the language of lawyers. Atonement means making amends or lessening guilt. One also speaks of a compensation payment. This can be, for example, compensation for damages or compensation for pain and suffering. Or help and work are provided to the victim.

This is how the Action atonement practices it. Volunteers from Germany work free of charge for the benefit of peoples who suffered from the Nazi tyranny during World War II.

Atonement seeks to reduce and compensate for the guilt committed. Whoever wants to atone for guilt takes responsibility for the consequences of the guilt committed. In his novel “Guilt and Atonement”, the Russian writer Dostoyevsky describes precisely this connection in great detail.

In addition to atonement, there is a similar word: repentance. But when it comes to repentance, many tend to think of repentance. Because repentance in the Bible (metanoia) can also be translated as a change of mind.

Repentance wants and should change action. Therefore, a notice of fines from Flensburg is not only intended to pay a road toll due. Rather, the hoped-for goal is the educational effect. The speeder should drive more slowly in the future.

Atonement is reparation

But atonement is about making amends for damage. And only when the injured party accepts this compensation, then the guilt is atoned for. After the atonement has taken place, we speak of reconciliation between perpetrator and victim. Reconciliation is based on atonement, on compensation, on reparation. Only when the relationship between guilt committed and atonement is right do we perceive it as justice. Depending on the severity of the guilt, we expect adequate atonement. Sometimes just asking for forgiveness is enough. But it often costs more.

Also a little experience: During my primary school days, around 3rd grade, I smashed a lampshade at school. Of course, the classmates immediately reported it to the teacher. And I had to go to the director. And it wasn't enough to just apologize and pledge never to do it again. Compensation had to be found - a new lampshade. And my father knew someone who could get us the right umbrella. The original condition was only restored with the new lampshade. Only through this compensation, through the completed atonement, was the case ended and there was reconciliation.

All need atonement

Let us come back to our Bible text: In verses 22 + 23 Paul emphasized: All people need atonement. Because all people have sinned, they are all sinners (after Luther). "All have lost the glory that God intended them to be." (V. 23 literal Lu84 footnote).

It affects everyone, without exception. Nobody has a clean slate. All are guilty. All need atonement. Because atonement creates reconciliation. This balance brings the separated parties back together. The Latin word for reconciliation "Re-conciliare" contains this thought:

"Re" = "again" - bring back together, reunite, reconcile again, restore.

Reconciliation is only possible through atonement. Atonement overcomes separation. This also applies to the separation between God and human beings caused by sin.

Man himself cannot bring about this balance himself. Man cannot pay the consequences of guilt before God. The only possible solution to this dilemma is the Er solution. Salvation through Jesus Christ. Paul writes: All are righteous without merit (v. 24b Lu84). Yet they are justly pronounced righteous through his grace alone, and that is because of the redemption that came about through Jesus Christ. (NEW)

Justice and redemption are vicarious. Jesus Christ bears the penalty. The punishment is upon him that we might have peace. (Isa 53,5 Lu84) This is what the prophet Isaiah had announced.

The subject of atonement has a long tradition in the Old Testament in the sin offering. So how does vicarious atonement take place? Atonement needs a means of atonement and a place of atonement.

The means of atonement

The means of atonement here in the New Testament and also in the sense of the Pauline statement is the blood of Jesus, shed at the crucifixion on Good Friday. V. 25 As atonement in his blood. [Lu84]

Paul describes this in a little more detail in Col 1: 19-20: For God wanted to dwell in his Son with everything that he is and has. Everything in heaven and on earth should be reconciled to God through Christ and find peace with him. It happened when he shed his blood on the cross.[Hfa] That brings us Christians the reproach: God is a bloodthirsty God. Was there really no other way? We read in Heb 9:22: "Without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness." [Lu84]

Blood symbolizes life. The cross was about an exchange - Jesus died for me and for you. His life for mine, for our life. The sacrificial blood of Jesus is not intended to appease or soften God's anger or vengeance. No! - Instead, God chooses Jesus to die in order to restore the relationship with people. Jesus bridges the gap, the sound of separation between the holy God and sinful people.

And it's about atonement, about compensation, about reparation, i.e. in the legal sense about bringing about justice. Jesus paid this compensation.

The place of atonement

And where is the place of atonement? This was clearly regulated in the Jewish tradition:

Always on the great day of atonement, Yom Kippur, the high priest went to the holy of holies in the temple. Only on this day was he allowed (Lev 16: 2) to go in there. There he was to sacrifice for the sins of the people and thereby obtain atonement. Before that, however, the high priest had to make a sacrifice for his own sins.

Yet the high priest went in there with the fear of falling dead in case he should violate the holiness of God. (R. Liebi) This fear led to the high priest being tied a rope around the foot. This should be used to get the corpse out again in the event of death. Because no other person was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the scene of atonement. And what was there in the Holy of Holies in the time of the first temple?

The Ark of the Covenant. The ark itself was made of gilded acacia wood. But the special thing about the drawer was the lid with an attachment. We read the building regulations in 2Mo 25:

Then you should make a cover plate (or atonement plate) out of pure gold; … And make two cherubim of gold; ... and you should make a cherub at the end here and a cherub at the end there. ... And the cherubim are to spread their wings upwards, covering the cover plate with their wings, while their faces are towards one another. ... put the cover plate on top of the drawer! ... And there I will meet you and from the top plate, between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you everything that I will tell you for the children of Israel. [RElb2006]

The lid was not just a masterpiece of craftsmanship with deep symbolism. According to God's statement made in v. 22, this was a very special place, a place of encounter. Between the two cherubims, above this atonement cover, there was, as it were, the invisible throne of God. There God spoke to the people through Moses, there God was present.

The atonement cover was thus also a place of God's encounter. On Yom Kippur, the high priest sprinkled the atoning animal blood on this cover of atonement twice and seven times before that on the ground (Lev. 16: 14-15):

Then the high priest takes some of the young bull's blood and sprinkles it with his finger on the front of the cover plate towards the east and seven times on the ground in front of it. Then he slaughter the billy goat for the sin offering that is intended for the people, and bring their blood behind the curtain. He blast some of it onto the cover plate and in front of it, as he did with the blood of the bull. In this way he may make atonement for the sanctuary for the uncleanness of the Israelites and the offenses with which they sinned. [NEW]

This essay of the Ark of the Covenant is for the Jews the place of reconciliation, the place of atonement

For the Jews, this essay on the Ark of the Covenant is the place of reconciliation, the place of atonement. The Hebrew word for atonement also means to cover. Therefore, both the cover plate and the atonement plate can be translated. The relationship between the words becomes understandable when we consider: Atonement also means covering up or covering up sin.

So this attachment is not just a lid, like every pot has a lid, but much more. The top plate not only covered the tablets of the law. As an atonement cover, it symbolizes the atonement through the sacrificial blood. And this is also the place where the invisible God is present and speaks.

It is now easier to understand why Luther translated this atonement cover with mercy seat (Lu84) or mercy seat (Lu12). The mercy seat is the place of atonement and reconciliation. Only there - and only once a year - was atonement in the Old Testament, reconciliation with God possible.

Atonement in the Old Testament proceeded according to fixed regulations according to the Torah:

  • The means of atonement was the blood of the slaughtered sacrificial animals.
  • The place of atonement was the cover plate of the Ark of the Covenant (or the mercy seat according to Luther's interpretation).
  • The time for atonement was once a year, the great day of atonement, Yom Kippur.

Jesus - place of atonement

Now we return to Paul and the text from Romans: There is now a surprising parallel. Paul uses the Greek "atonement" here for atonementhilasterion“: In the Greek translation of the OT (Septuagint) exactly this word is used in almost all places for the atonement cover of the ark (Heb. kaporet) is used. A Jew at the time of Jesus thought of "hilasterion“So automatically always on this atonement cover of the ark. And in this meaning we find "hilasterion"Also in Hebrews 9.5: Two cherubim stood on the ark, indicating the presence of God, and spreading their wings over the top of the ark, the place of atonement. [NEW]

By the use ofhilasterionhere in Rom. 3:25 Paul indicates this Old Testament atonement cover or (according to Luther's translation “mercy seat”) to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the actual place of atonement. V. 25: Jesus Christ presented God for faith as atonement in his blood. We could also translate: ... presented as a place of atonement or a cover of atonement in his blood

That goes beyond the scope of our language. Usually a person cannot be a place. On the other hand we also sing "You are my refuge, I hide in your hand"

Here Paul points this atonement cover of the ark to Jesus. If we are to attain atonement, we do not need to go to a fixed geographical location in the world. We don't have to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the place of the crucifixion. We experience atonement from Jesus. Where Jesus is, there is also the place of atonement.

The atonement cover is both: the place of atonement and the place of God's presence. Both can be transferred to Jesus. He made the atonement for us. HE is the place of atonement, the refuge where we are free from our guilt. And God is present in Jesus. We can and should come to Jesus full of confidence.

Heb 4:16: So let us come to the throne of grace with confidence that we may receive mercy and find grace at the time when we need help.

Jesus replaces animal sacrifices

With the image of the atonement cover, Paul touches on another question: If only now, according to Paul, is real atonement created through Jesus, what about the past? How could God be forgiving and reticent in the past?

Paul answers these questions by continuing:
V. 25b + 26: In this way, God also provided evidence that he had acted righteously, although he had left the sins of men unpunished until then. And today he proves his righteousness by declaring him righteous who lives by faith in Jesus. [NEW]

God was patient and was able to delay the punishment of people because the way out was already prepared in Jesus.

It was not the animal blood that could create permanent atonement. This is also emphasized in the Letter to the Hebrews. Heb 10.4:For it is impossible to take away sins by the blood of bulls and goats.

Jesus redeems what the animal sacrifices could not do: to achieve atonement, to take away sins, to bring about righteousness

The animal sacrifices were only a role model, a provisional means of atonement, comparable to a check that was not yet covered. Only the atonement through Jesus is the real atonement and the only effective way out. Only Jesus really makes us righteous before God. Jesus redeems what the animal sacrifices could not do: to achieve atonement, to take away sins, to bring about justice.

Jesus made the compensation for my and your debts, paid the reparation - just as my father paid for the broken lamp.

That means: Jesus creates reconciliation. He is the means of atonement and also the place where we receive atonement. He made this atonement for us by dying on the cross. And now we can come to HIM anytime - not just once a year.

For Jews who became Christians in particular, this was unfamiliar, something completely new.

This was not made possible in the animal sacrifices, but only through Jesus. And HE is also the only one who is able to do so. There is no alternative to ER. Perhaps this will make it easier to understand why Jesus said: "Nobody comes to the father through me."(Joh 14,6) For only in Jesus is this way to atonement and reconciliation possible.

Implications for us

Those who are reconciled to God are changed by it. He can live in reconciliation with his fellow human beings. He can make peace, can point out and invite people to accept this gift of reconciliation. As a messenger, instead of Christ, he can again ask: Be reconciled to God!2 Corinthians 5:20

Also for our interpersonal conflicts the thought of atonement, reparation is helpful. Often it doesn't just help to say: Sponge over it, it wasn't that bad. I have to ask:

  • What kind of compensation does my counterpart expect?
  • What reparation do I have to make?
  • Where do I have to ask for forgiveness?

This is the only way to restore reconciliation between people and bring about peace.

Literature used: Commentaries on the Wuppertal Study Bible, Commentary Edition C and Roger Liebi, Der Messias im Tempel, CLV