The Widow’s Mite and the Atonement
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” —Luke 21:1-4It was impossible for anyone to put money into the treasury that was less than what the poor widow did. Yet it was a greater gift than all the others. What Jesus was saying is that it isn’t the quantity but the quality that God values, the purpose and intent of the gift. So when people argue about the extent of the Atonement, they are missing the point: it isn’t how much blood Jesus shed that saves, but the quality of that blood. The writer of Hebrews elaborates:
He is not like the former ruling priests, who had to offer up sacrifices for their own failures as well as those of the people. Instead, he did this once and for all, sacrificing himself.There can be neither limit nor waste in the sacrifice of Jesus; such notions expose a faulty understanding and appreciation of what it is that Jesus accomplished in this act. To say that Jesus did not die for all is to call His blood inadequate. But to say that if this is not the case then the only alternative is universal salvation presumes that Jesus’ sacrificial act was what saves, rather than faith in both His death and His resurrection (Rom. 4:24, 10:9, 1 Cor. 15:15, Eph. 2:8-9, 2 Tim. 2:8). So the problem is over-simplification and false dilemma. The gospel is indeed simple: salvation by faith; but the Atonement did much more than people realize. Let’s list some of the scriptures that tell us more about what Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished:
But the Anointed One came along as the Ruling Priest of better things through a greater and more complete “tent of meeting”— one not made by hands (that is to say, one not of this creation). And it was not the blood of goats and calves but his very own blood that he carried into the Holiest Place, once for all eternity, obtaining our redemption.
In that case he would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now, once at the completion of the ages, he appeared in order to annul failures by means of the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for people to die once and then face judgment, so also the Anointed One was offered once to take upon himself the failures of many.—Heb. 7:27, 9:11-12, 25-26
Mt. 5:17 - to fulfill the law and the prophets Mt. 10:34 - to divide between saved and lost Mt. 15:21-28 - to save the lost sheep of IsraelNow let’s focus more on a passage in Hebrews, a letter that goes into great detail about the Atonement.
Luke 1:68 - to redeem his people Luke 19:10 - to search for and save the lost
John 1:12 - to give us the right to be adopted children of God John 1:29 - to take away the sins of the world John 10:7 - to save and nurture the lost sheep of Israel John 10:16 - to gather other sheep too (gentiles)
Rom. 8:15-21 - to be adopted heirs, not mere slaves Rom. 8:23 - to redeem our bodies
Gal. 1:3-5 - to sacrifice for our sins in order to lift us up out of this evil age Gal. 2:15-16 - to justify us apart from the law Gal. 3:10-14 - to redeem us from the curse of the law Gal. 4:1-7 - to buy back those under the law and adopt us as children
Col 1:15-20 - to reconcile all things in heaven and earth
1 Thes. 1:6-2:1 - to rescue us from the wrath to come 1 Thes. 5:1-11 - to acquire salvation
1 Tim. 2.4-5 - to mediate between God and mankind
Titus 2:14 - to redeem us from all wickedness and purify us
Heb. 1:2:11-15 - to free us from the fear of death Heb. 2:16-18 - to be the sacrifice that takes away our sins Heb. 5:9 - to become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him Heb. 9:12-14 - to obtain our redemption, to cleanse our conscience from dead works Heb. 9:15-22 - to mediate a new contract and secure our inheritance Heb. 13:9-15 - to make people holy by his blood
1 Peter 1:13-19 - to ransom us from futility 1 Peter 1:20-22 - to bring us to faith in God, to purify our souls 1 Peter 1:23-2:3 - to regenerate us 1 Peter 2:18-3:12 - to heal us from our sins
1 John 2:1-6 - to pay in full for all the world’s sins 1 John 3:2-6 - to take away our sins 1 John 3:7-9 - to nullify slanderer’s works 1 John 4:7-11 - to pay in full for our sins 1 John 5:19-21 - to give us understanding
Rev. 5:9 - to purchase people
For this reason, he is the mediator of a new contract. By means of his death he released us from our failures under the first contract, so that those who were invited could receive their eternal inheritance. For where there is a legal will, there must be the death of the one who made it. A will is not in force until the one who made it dies; it is powerless while they live. This is why the first contract had to be dedicated with blood... In fact, pretty much everything had to be cleansed with blood according to the law; without shed blood there is no pardon.Do you see it? Jesus had to shed His blood in order for the promised inheritance to happen, because it is like a “last will and testament” which cannot take effect until after the testator has died. Now if we understand the atonement this way, we can make better sense of passages like Rom. 5:10 and 2 Cor. 5:18-21 . And as that last verse says, the Atonement made it possible for us to “become the righteousness of God” in Jesus, because the legal requirement was executed so to speak.
So it was necessary for these patterns of the things in heaven to be cleansed in this way, but the actual heavenly things required better sacrifices. It was not a Holy Place made by hands that the Anointed One went into— those were models of the real thing— but in heaven itself, to be presented to God on our behalf. Not that he should have to offer himself often, as did the ruling priests who had to enter the Holiest Place each year with the blood of others. In that case he would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now, once at the completion of the ages, he appeared in order to annul failures by means of the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for people to die once and then face judgment, so also the Anointed One was offered once to take upon himself the failures of many. And he will be seen again by those who wait for him, not to deal with failures, but for deliverance. —Heb. 9:15-28
After all that, I rather liken the arguments over the extent of the Atonement to be on the same level as debating the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. It’s irrelevant! The simple fact is that Jesus had to die in order to secure our redemption and adoption, and we must accept Him by faith alone in order to be saved. This does away with both Calvinism and Universalism, the false dilemma that Jesus either saved everyone against their will or only saved some against their will.*
* I mentioned this before, but to force someone’s will or nature to change such that they “willingly” accept the gospel is nothing but a theological shell game.