When God created Adam and Eve, they were created in His "image," i.e. they had God's spiritual life and could have fellowship with Him. When they sinned, they became spiritually dead and also prone to physical death. We, the human race, inherited Adam's sinful nature and are thus spiritually dead and incapable of fellowship with God. From Genesis to Revelation, the central theme of the Bible is God's eternal, perfect plan for the salvation of mankind.
In order to gain an overview of this vast subject, I have divided it into six sections:
1. The necessity for the atonement
1.1 God's holiness
1.2 Man's sinfulness
1.3 God's wrath
1.4 God's justice and love
2. Atonement in the Old Testament
2.1 Definition of the term
2.2 The sacrificial system
2.3 The day of atonement
2.4 The passover
3. Atonement in the New Testament
3.1 A revelation of God's love
3.4 Identification or union
4. Atonement: the work of Christ
4.1 Christ's obedience
4.2 Christ as the ultimate sacrifice
4.3 Christ as the mediator of the new covenant
4.4 Christ as the eternal high priest
5. The purpose and effects of the atonement
5.1 The Godward aspect
5.1.2 Vindication of the lawgiver
5.1.3 Remission (or forgiveness) of sins
5.2 The manward aspect
5. The purpose and effects of the atonement
The main purpose of the atonement was to give satisfaction to God for the wrong done by the sinner, through the substitutionary death of Christ. The result was that God could be reconciled to the sinner.
A secondary purpose of the atonement was to change the relationship between God and the sinner by changing the state of the sinner. The reconciled God justifies the sinner who accepts the reconciliation, and works in his heart through the Holy Spirit so that he also lays aside his hostility to God and becomes reconciled to Him.
We must therefore distinguish between those effects of the atonement with a Godward aspect and those with a manward aspect.
5.1 The Godward aspect
As God is immutable, He does not change. The only change that was brought about, was a change in the relation of God to the objects of His atoning love. This was effected by 1) propitiation and 2) the vindication of the Lawgiver, resulting in 3) the remission (or forgiveness) of sins and 4) God being reconciled to sinners.
"Propitiation" is the KJV translation of the Hebrew word kippur, the root of which is related to an Arabic root that means "to cover or conceal."  The Greek translation of this word is hilasmos, which has a similar meaning, i.e. "a means whereby sin is covered and remitted."  The word "propitiation" reflects the idea in Greek culture of averting the anger of the gods, and thus sin must be covered from God's sight in order to avert His wrath and procure His forgiveness.
There are three important facts concerning propitiation: (i) The need for propitiation derives from God's wrath directed at sin. As sin is "lawlessness"  and thus rebellion against the Lawgiver, a just God cannot forgive sin unless His wrath is propitiated. (ii) Christ is not the "propitiator," but is Himself the "propitiation" provided by God.  (iii) The source of the propitiation is God's love.  Christian propitiation is therefore "an appeasement of the wrath of God by the love of God through the gift of God." 
5.1.2 Vindication of the Lawgiver
The lawlessness of the sinner is a stain on the honour of the Lawgiver. The OT sacrifices taught Israel that mere repentance in itself was not sufficient for the forgiveness of sin; that God demanded satisfaction. This satisfaction was provided by the perfect obedience of Christ in His life and death. At the cross Christ accepted our debt and was punished for our sins, thus meeting all God's claims against sinners.
The honour of the Lawgiver was vindicated by making "Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. " 
5.1.3 Remission (forgiveness) of sins
Both the Old and the New Testaments promise the remission of sin. In both Testaments human beings are presented as sinners in need of forgiveness. The O.T. stresses that forgiveness can be obtained only through the sacrifices of atonement. The N.T. equates forgiveness with Jesus, especially His substitutionary death as the ultimate sacrifice. The basis on which a righteous God can forgive sin has been provided by Jesus' sacrifice of Himself as an atonement to God.
Therefore, after the perfect atonement made by Christ, God exalted Him "to His own right hand as Prince and Saviour that He might give repentance and forgiveness of sins" to "the whole world." 
Modern scholars deny that God needed to be reconciled to sinners, but Reformed theology stresses this as the main object of the atonement. In the words of Calvin, God was "our enemy until He was reconciled to us through Christ."  We have been "saved from God's wrath" by the atonement because "we were God's enemies" and, through Christ, "we have now received reconciliation."  A reconciliation that can be "received" must be offered (and thus in some sense accomplished) before man can receive it.
1. Richards, p.82
2. Vine, p.905-6
3. 1 John 3:4
4. 1 John 2:2
5. 1 John 4:10
6. Stott, p.93
7. 2 Corinthians 5:21
8. Acts 5:31; 1 John 2:2
9. Calvin, p.504
10. Romans 5:9-11
1. Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology, Michigan, U.S.A.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1941
2. Berkouwer, G.C. The Work of Christ, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965
3. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Philadelphia, U.S.A.: Westminster Press, 1960
4. Deist, F. A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms, Johannesburg, R.S.A.: Van Schaik, 1984
5. Douglas, J. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962
6. Goodrick, E.W. The NIV Complete Concordance, Michiga, U.S.A.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981
7. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding Be Men, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968
8. Packer, J.I. Knowing God, London, England: Hodder & Stoughton, 1975
9. Pearlman, M. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, Roodepoort, R.S.A.: Gospel Publishing House, 1937
10. Richards, L.O. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Michigan, U.S.A.: Regency Reference Library, 1985
11. Stott, J.R.W. The Letters of John, Leichester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988
12. Thompson, F.C. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Michigan, U.S.A.: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1983
13. Vine, W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, ?
14. Webster, ? Webster's 7th Collegiate Dictionary, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: G & C Merriam Co., 1965
15. Wuest, K.S. Word Studies: Romans in the Greek NT, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1955
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