The Atonement is Necessary for Our Salvation
Tremendous resources for this lesson can be found in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church:... (the old Priesthood/Relief Society manuals). Especially helpful will be the manuals for Brigham Young, chapter 5, John Taylor, Chapter 5, Wilford Woodruff, Chapter 7, Joseph F. Smith, Chapters 10 and 11, Spencer W. Kimball, Chapter 3, and Harold B. Lee, Chapter 3. Remember, these can all be found on “lds.org” by clicking on “Gospel Library” then “Lessons” then “Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society.” All of the manuals are listed at the bottom of this page.
As with most lessons, there is a wonderful resource for this lesson, Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Student Manual (found at “institute.lds.org), Chapter 9. As an example from this manual, concerning the importance of the Atonement, Joseph Smith proclaimed:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. (p. 22)
Elder Boyd K. Packer, in the same conference talk in which he gave the parable quoted in this lesson (pp. 63-65), stated at the end of that parable:
This truth [Jesus was the Mediator of the Atonement] is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them. (Ensign, May 1977, 54)
Elder James E. Talmage explains concerning the word Atonement:
The structure of the word in its present form is suggestive of the true meaning; it is literally at-one-ment, denoting reconciliation, or the bringing into agreement of those who have been estranged. (Articles of Faith, 75)
The faithful LDS scholar, Dr. Hugh Nibley stated:
The law [Atonement] leads us back home; the at-one-ment takes place when we get there. (The Infinite Atonement, by Elder Tad R. Callister, Deseret Book, 24)
President Harold B. Lee made clear the connection between the Fall and the Atonement:
How vital … it is to understand the Fall, making necessary the Atonement—hence the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 18)
So the Fall of Adam and Eve took us away from God and the Atonement of Jesus Christ provides us with the opportunity to return to God.
So now, a very crucial sentence in this section of the lesson is:
“The Fall of Adam brought two kinds of death into the world: physical death and spiritual death.” (p. 59)
President Spencer W. Kimball elucidated:
When Adam intentionally and wisely partook of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, he brought upon all of us, his descendants, two deaths—the physical or “mortal death,” and the spiritual death or the banishment from the presence of the Lord. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 26)
It is then important for us to understand first the Fall, which brought two kinds of death into the world and second the Atonement, which brought about a way to overcome these two deaths.
So, either for review or as a resource to be used in teaching these ideas for the first time, copied below are some selections from this blog, Chapter 6, “The Fall of Adam and Eve”:
Adam and Eve, and as a result, all of mankind, actually died in two ways.
The first death Adam and Eve experienced was “spiritual death,” which happened immediately when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and out of God’s presence.
President Joseph F. Smith avowed that this is the more serious death:
I want to speak a word or two in relation to another death, which is a more terrible death than that of the body. When Adam, our first parent, partook of the forbidden fruit, transgressed the law of God, and became subject unto Satan, he was banished from the presence of God. … This was the first death. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 96)
The second death experienced by Adam and Eve was “physical death,” which was the consequence given by the Lord for partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Remember, in this consequence, God gave a time table for their “death”:
…for in the day (“time” in Abraham) thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:17, Moses 3:17, and Abraham 5:13)
Interestingly, there is an important addition in Abraham 5:13, which was translated by Joseph Smith later than was Moses:
…for in the time that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord's time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.
The location of where this promise was first given is apparently important. Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
When this earth was created, it was not according to our present time, but it was created according to Kolob’s time, for the Lord has said it was created on celestial time which is Kolob’s time. (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 41)
The definition of time given in 2 Peter 3:8 may help a bit:
…one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
So the day/time God referred to for when the physical death of Adam and Eve was to take place was later in mortality and maybe within 1,000 years after the Garden. Adam did die at the age of 930 (Genesis 5:5) - - well within the “day/time” limit.
Now another very important question is asked at the very beginning of this section:
“Why is the Atonement necessary for our salvation?” (p. 59)
Simply stated, The Father (and we) needed a Savior to complete the Atonement because of the two deaths brought about because of the Fall.
For us, the first death (“spiritual death”) is caused by our own sins. Mortals who are accountable apparently have no control over spiritual death.
As President Wilford Woodruff explained:
All the children of men who [have arrived] at the years of accountability are guilty of sin… (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 72)
The scriptures teach clearly that all of us are subject to sin:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23)
…yea, even all of you have sinned… (D&C 82:2)
…as all men sin… (D&C 109:34)
The scriptures are also clear that sins would keep us from God’s presence:
…the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. (Alma 45:16)
For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; (D&C 1:31)
Even one sin, of which all members of the Church who are accountable have in plurality, would then forever keep us from the presence of God - - which is the definition of spiritual death.
For us, the second death (“physical death”) is inevitable. Mortals also have no control over physical death, as President Joseph F. Smith acknowledged:
Death came upon us without the exercise of our agency; we had no hand in bringing it originally upon ourselves; it came because of the transgression of our first parents. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 89)
As Elder Bruce R. McConkie was quoted in an Ensign article:
Man cannot resurrect himself… (Ensign, Jul 1989, 59)
This is also implied in two of the phrases in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22:
For since by man came death…For as in Adam all die…
We need the Atonement because we mortals are helpless, by our selves, to return to Our Father in Heaven.
Indeed, as Brigham Young stated, Jesus is the only way back:
Joseph [Smith] told us that Jesus was the Christ—the Mediator between God and man—and the Savior of the world. He told us that there was no other name in the heavens nor under the heavens, neither could there be, by which mankind could be saved in the presence of the Father, but by and through the name and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the atonement he made on Mount Calvary. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 37)
John Taylor taught:
If it were not for the atonement of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice he made, all the human family would have to lie in the grave throughout eternity without any hope. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 42)
By the way, concerning “hope” see President Monson’s conference talk on Sunday morning, April 2010.
How the Atonement brought about a way to overcome these two deaths will be discussed in sections 4 and 5 of this lesson.
Jesus Christ Was the Only One Who Could Atone for Our Sins
As the title indicates, this section deals with why Jesus Christ was the only one ever born who could complete the Atonement. So, either for review or for resource in teaching these ideas for the first time, copied below is a selection from this blog, Chapter 3, “Jesus Christ Our Chosen Leader & Savior”:
It seems that there are at least three reasons why God the Father could not have performed the Atonement.
ONE: The Father could not die. He was a resurrected being over whom death had no power (Romans 6:9, Alma 11:45)
TWO: The Father could not be tempted (James 1:13)
THREE: The Father could not suffer physical pain.
Joseph Smith explained: “…the great Eloheem will deliver you & if not before the resurrection will set you eternally free from all these things from pain sorrow & death.” (The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, 197-198)
President Wilford Woodruff taught, “When the resurrection comes, we shall come forth clothed with immortal bodies; and the persecutions, suffering, sorrow, pain and death, incident to mortality, will be done away forever.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 81)
ALL THREE of these were crucial to the completion of the Atonement. Jesus Christ (or Son of Man as He is called 33 times in Matthew alone) could do ALL THREE of these things only because He was born the son of mortal Mary.
But the only way Jesus Christ could possibly complete the Atonement was because of what He inherited from His immortal Father in Heaven in ALL THREE of these areas.
ONE: He did not have to die, but gave his life (John 10:11).
TWO: He overcame temptation (Hebrews 4:15, 2 Nephi 17:16 or Isaiah 7:16).
THREE: He suffered every kind of physical (and every other kind of) pain (Mosiah 3:7, Alma 7:11, D&C 19:18-19).
Alma 7:10 indicates both aspects of Christ’s birth:
And behold, he shall be born of Mary…she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed…and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
President Joseph F. Smith affirmed:
He came into the world … clothed with double power—power to die, which He derived from His mother; and power to resist death, if He had so willed it, which He had inherited from His Father. Thus He had power both to live forever and also power to pass through the ordeal of death… (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 90)
To summarize, Jesus was born of a mortal mother, as were all of us. Because of His mortal mother, Mary, He could die, could be tempted and could suffer physical pain. All of these things were necessary to complete the Atonement. However, all of us could do these things as well.
What qualified Jesus as the “only one who could atone” (title of this section) was that He was the Only Begotten of the Father. This means that Jesus was the only one to be born into mortality of a Father from whom He had genetic help with immortality (He did not have to die), resistance of unfathomable temptation and the ability to suffer incomprehensibly immense physical pain. Only because God the Father was the Father of His earthly body, could He complete what was necessary for the Atonement.
As Jesus Himself exclaimed:
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. (D&C 19:19)
In addition, or at least in conjunction with the above, the Atonement was infinite, something beyond mankind. In Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, the chapter on the Atonement is appropriately entitled “The Infinite Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Although we cannot really understand an infinite Atonement, President Gordon B. Hinckley gives us good counsel about it in the following two quotes:
I can’t comprehend the full meaning of the Atonement, but I know that through His sacrifice He has made it possible for you and for me to live eternal lives of growth and knowledge and understanding and work… (Ensign, Aug 1996, 60)
I sense in a measure the meaning of his atonement. I cannot comprehend it all. It is so vast in its reach and yet so intimate in its effect that it defies comprehension. (Ensign, Feb. 1995, 77)
President Ezra Taft Benson made the following important point:
We may never understand nor comprehend in mortality how He accomplished what He did, but we must not fail to understand why He did what He did. All that He did was prompted by His unselfish infinite love for us. (Teachings of President Ezra Taft Benson, 15)
Christ Suffered and Died to Atone for Our Sins
This section would seem incomplete without a good discussion about the suffering the Savior did as described in Isaiah 53:3-5, Luke 22:39-46, 2 Nephi 9:21-22, Alma 7:11-12, and D&C 19:15-20.
President Harold B. Lee proclaimed:
I think there is no place where we have a finer discussion of the plan of the Atonement than in the writings of Jacob, as found in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, the 9th chapter. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 22)
Elder Marion G. Romney explained:
The suffering he undertook to endure, and which he did endure, equaled the combined suffering of all men. (Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Student Manual, 25)
An insight by Elder Neal A. Maxwell helps us better understand Christ’s suffering:
Have you ever thought that there was no way that Jesus could know the suffering which we undergo as a result of our stupidity and sin (because he was sinless) except he bear those sins of ours in what I call the awful arithmetic of the Atonement? And according to this prophet, Jesus now knows, according to the flesh, how to succor us and how to help us as a result of that suffering, which knowledge could have come in no other way. (Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Student Manual, 25)
Elder Jeffery R. Holland helps us understand “succor” in the following:
Elder Talmage used the word succor. Do you know its meaning? It is used often in the scriptures to describe Christ’s care for and attention to us. It means literally “to run to.” What a magnificent way to describe the Savior’s urgent effort in our behalf! Even as he calls us to come to him and follow him, he is unfailingly running to help us. (Ensign, Apr 1998, 16)
Perhaps the most difficult trial Jesus Christ suffered was the following as described by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in conference:
Now I speak very carefully, even reverently, of what may have been the most difficult moment in all of this solitary journey to Atonement. I speak of those final moments for which Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically but which He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 14:26)
The loss of mortal support He had anticipated, but apparently He had not comprehended this. Had He not said to His disciples, “Behold, the hour … is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” and “The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him”? (John 16:32; 8:29)
With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering. Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone. (Ensign, May 2009, 86–88)
As President Gordon B. Hinckley testified:
The suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary, just a few hundred meters from Gethsemane, included both physical and spiritual “temptations, … pain, … hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer,” said King Benjamin, “except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7). (Ensign, Mar 2008, 4)
The Atonement and Resurrection Bring Resurrection to All
This section deals with how the Atonement provides a way to overcome physical death, the second of the two deaths brought into the world by the Fall.
1 Cor. 15:21-22 is cited (p. 62) but not quoted. It may be important to read and discuss this wonderful scripture:
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
The “For teachers” note at the bottom of page 62 suggests a hand & glove demonstration of death. This comes from a conference talk by Elder Boyd K. Packer wherein he addressed little children. Here are some excerpts from this talk:
Pretend, my little friends, that my hand represents your spirit. It is alive. It can move by itself. Suppose that this glove represents your mortal body. It cannot move. When the spirit enters into your mortal body, then it can move and act and live. Now you are a person—a spirit with a body, living on the earth.
Someday, because of old age, or perhaps a disease, or an accident, the spirit and the body will be separated. We then say a person has died. Death is a separation. All of this was according to a plan.
Remember my hand represents your spirit and the glove represents your body. While you are alive the spirit inside the body can cause it to work and to act and to live.
When I separate them, the glove, which represents your body, is taken away from your spirit; it cannot move anymore. It just falls down and is dead. But your spirit is still alive.
It is important that you get in your mind what death is. Death is a separation. (Ensign, Jul 1973, 51)
The Atonement Makes It Possible for Those Who Have Faith in Christ to Be Saved from Their Sins
This section deals with how the Atonement provides a way to overcome spiritual death, the first of the two deaths brought into the world by the Fall.
Since the title contains the word “saved” and there are many misunderstandings of just what “saved” means, it may be beneficial to review a terrific resource on the subject. It is a conference talk by Dallin H. Oaks entitled, “Have You Been Saved?” and is found in Ensign, May 1998, p. 55.
The second paragraph in this section can also be summarized by Article of Faith # 4. There is one addition which the Savior gave when He delivered what He called “my gospel” in 3 Nephi 27:13-21. Verses 13 thru 15 are a wonderful summary of the Atonement. One thing Jesus Christ added, however, was the principle of “endurance” (verses 16 and 17).
There is a beautiful video of the parable by President Boyd K. Packer found on pages 63 to 65. It is called “The Mediator” and is found in Book of Mormon DVD Presentations 1-19 (number 15). It is available at Distribution Center for $4.50.
I really like what Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained about the Savior’s acceptance of the Atonement:
In that premortal council wherein Jesus meekly volunteered to aid the Father’s plan, He said, “Here am I, send me.” (Abr. 3:27) It was one of those special moments when a few words are preferred to many. Never has one individual offered, in so few words, to do so much for so many, as did Jesus… (Ensign, Mar 1983, 70)
President Spencer W. Kimball declared:
This is the message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the most important message in the world today. Jesus Christ is the son of God. He was chosen by the Father as the Savior of this world. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 26)
There is a great message for this lesson found in 2 Nephi 22:3 (Isaiah 12:3):
Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.