RE:QUESTA space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith
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Atonement is one of the most important concepts in Christianity. It provides the answer to the question: Why did Jesus die?
A helpful way of thinking of the atonement is found in the word itself. Christians believe that humankind was once separated from the God who made and loved them, because of their sin. But Jesus’ death has made a way for them to be ‘at one’ with God.
This is what Christians celebrate every year at Easter – on Good Friday especially – and more regularly every time they take communion (or mass).
But why were people separated from God?
Like many books, there is a big story that runs through the Bible. Some people call this the ‘salvation story’. The Bible begins with Genesis and the story of Adam and Eve. The famous story of the Garden of Eden, and how Adam and Eve were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit, lays out the key themes of God’s creation, sin and the fall:
- God made a beautiful world.
- He made people to rule over it.
- He created people to be friends and set out a design for life.
- But humankind chose another path. This rejection of God is called sin.
Sin makes a barrier between a perfect God and imperfect people. Christians believe that Jesus’ death ultimately knocks down this barrier and makes a way for everything that was lost at the fall to be regained and restored.
But how does Jesus’ death do this?
This is a very big question, and one which the New Testament in the Bible (in particular writers such as St Paul) tries to answer. Different theologians throughout church history have put forward different ideas about the full meaning of ‘the cross’.
Probably the most popular idea is that, when Jesus died, he took on all of humankind’s sin and died in their place. People are in God’s debt. There is a cost to their sin. But Jesus’ death paid off this debt, so that it has been completely cancelled.
You can find out more about this by reading this article on sacrifice in the Bible, and how it relates to Jesus’ death.
This film provides another way of understanding the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.
You can read an easier version of this resource by clicking here.