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We have been counseled to study the Atonement of Jesus Christ by many of the Brethren.[i] Joseph Smith said that our testimonies of His Atonement are central to the gospel with everything else being an appendage to it.[ii] One New Testament scholar commented to our inservice group that the Apostle Paul had used about seven different models to talk about the Atonement of Christ and underline its significance. Since that time, I have paid more attention to the various models used by our authorities to make the Atonement more meaningful. I have noticed[iii] that the Lord uses different atonement metaphors, types, parables, and allegories to work upon our hearts[iv]. One such type is Joseph sold into Egypt. We all know the story and have perhaps enjoyed the movies and musicals that tell it. Perhaps exploring Joseph as a type of Christ has been eye-opening and enlightening and even edifying. Correlating similarities could include, among others:
The details of Joseph’s interaction with the children of Israel during the great famine is instructive and helps us understand something that has bothered me since teaching the great parable of the mediator.[v]
Remember, a young man wants something enough that he goes into debt to obtain them only to later find that he was unable to pay the lender. Threatened with repossession and prison the young man begs, but to know avail. Just as justice is about to be exercised, fetters bound, and a prison future certain, a philanthropist steps in and pays the debt, saving the young man. In some versions that ends the story. In others the young man is then in debt to the philanthropist who then sets the conditions for repayment that meet the young man’s capabilities. This story fits Paul’s rescue model.[vi] No model is complete, so it isn’t surprising to still have questions. In this model, one can’t miss the savior-philanthropist, or the debt of sin encumbered by the young man who is certainly us. The relief of the young man is perhaps palpable to those of us who know the burden of hopeless debt. But, whom does the philanthropist pay to rescue the young man and meet the conditions of the law or justice?
Many a theologian, through the centuries, have suggested various answers such as C.S. Lewis having Aslan (Christ) seeming to pay the witch (Satan). Since sin subjects one to Satan’s will,[vii] it might seem logical that payment would need to be made to Satan to “redeem” the sinner but somehow seeing Christ paying Lucifer with the Atonement seemed as repulsive as sin itself. The scriptures are clear that one purpose of His Atonement is:
“having done this that I might subdue all things unto myself—Retaining all power, even to the destroying of Satan and his works at the end of the world” DC 19:2-3
The atoning process capacitated Him to eventually destroy Satan, not pay or reward him! Others have suggested that Christ paid justice. Again the scriptures are clear that justice wasn’t paid but was overpowered or satisfied.[viii] In the story of Joseph as a type of Christ there was one detail that I missed until one of the teachers I was inservicing asked a question, “If Joseph was so good and Christ-like, why did he enslave Israel? It says that he accepted to buy the people so they could eat?” We went back to the text and noticed that first, the people came and used money to pay for bread.
“Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh’s…. Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh”
We noticed the transaction direction had changed from the people buying or exchanging, to Joseph doing the buying. This is not the only scripture where we find Jehovah seeking to own us for the Father.
“Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels” (DC 101:3)
“And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (Malachi 3:1).
So how does one go about owning or buying something? The process is familiar to all of us. We recently bought a home. The process was not simple, yet it was pleasant. We spent months searching for what we wanted. The Savior, likewise, spends this second estate helping us grow up because He has already paid for us and wants us to be as joyous in the “ownership” relationship as He is.[ix]
After finding the home we wanted to buy, we had to discover who owned it so that we could negotiate the purchase. So, who own us? In the beginning Father gave us our agency,[x] so we are initially the owners. We may, however, give ourselves away for the cheap price of a pleasurable addiction, so that we are handicapped in negotiating becoming His. The title insurance company was paid to make certain there were no encumbrances on our perspective home. The owner really was the owner! In past home buying, we ended up paying a mortgage holder bank in order to acquire the privileges of ownership while we continued to pay a mortgage. Christ at times needs to work through our priesthood leaders, or work with our willingness to sell ourselves to Him without encumbrances. But He is intent upon owning us, so much so that He has already put the currency in escrow awaiting our coming to terms. So, what is that currency? Like Joseph in Egypt, the currency is bread, the bread of eternal life, the fruit of the tree of life.[xi]
Now the answer to the question, “Who did Christ pay through the awful arithmetic of the atonement?” becomes clearer through this model… He paid us! Which means, like Joseph, some of the things that we know about the atonement process, at least in this model, were part of Christ acquiring sufficient bread[xii] to save all that He ever and would ever create from the famine of the required mortal refinement.[xiii] Our challenge now is:
“I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it
wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his
people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his
commandments.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Come unto Me Ensign April 1998
[i] President Russell M Nelson April 2017 “As we invest time in learning about the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, we are drawn to participate in another key element to accessing His power: we choose to have faith in Him and follow Him.”
October 1996 “Before we can comprehend the Atonement of Christ, however, we must first understand the Fall of Adam. And before we can understand the Fall of Adam, we must first understand the Creation. These three crucial components of the plan of salvation relate to each other.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks Oct 2015 “I pray that we will all understand the hope and strength of our Savior’s Atonement: the assurance of immortality, the opportunity for eternal life, and the sustaining strength we can receive if only we will ask. “
Elder M. Russell Ballard October 2015 “It has always been a challenge for the world to accept living prophets and apostles, but it is so essential to do so in order to fully understand the Atonement and the teachings of Jesus Christ and to receive a fulness of the blessings of the priesthood that are given to those He has called.”
April 2004 “Brothers and sisters, I believe that if we could truly understand the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we would realize how precious is one son or daughter of God.”
Elder Richard G. Scott October 2014 The temple is one of the best places to come to understand the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Seek Him there.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen I believe there is in the Church today a compelling need for us to teach and understand the Atonement more fully than we do. Our need arises both from the erroneous perceptions of outsiders about our teachings and from our own sometimes narrow view about the reach of the Atonement in our lives. Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 1.)
[ii]Fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony… concerning Jesus Christ… all other things are only appendages to it. Joseph Smith TPJS p121
[iii] See PARABLES OF REDEMPTION; https://www.amazon.com/Parables-Redemption-Restored-Doctrine-Atonement/dp/0882908340/ref=sr_1_1?qid=1553220055&refinements=p_27%3ARob+Line+and+Craig+Frogley+and+Robert+E.+Lee+and+R.+Scott+Burton+and+Ron+Bartholomew+and+Andrew+Skinner&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Rob+Line+and+Craig+Frogley+and+Robert+E.+Lee+and+R.+Scott+Burton+and+Ron+Bartholomew+and+Andrew+Skinner
[iv] DC 19:7 “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
[v] Elder Boyd K. Packer April 1977 “The Mediator” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1977/04/the-mediator?lang=eng
[vi] Elder Richard Hotzapfel, Pauline Models of Salvation: See Romans 5:9; 11:26; 1 Tim 1:15; 2 Tim 1:9
[vii] See DC 29:40 40 Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation.
[viii] Alma 34:15-16 15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice…
[ix] 3 Nephi 17:20-21 Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full. And when he had said these words, he wept
[x] Moses 7:32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency
[xi] Alma 5:34 34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;
[xii] Hebrews 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect…
Alma 7:11-12 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
[xiii] DC 19:2-3 I, having accomplished and finished the will of him whose I am, even the Father, concerning me—having done this that I might subdue all things unto myself—Retaining all power,
Moses 1:32-33 by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth. And worlds without number have I created
DC 76:24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.