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Tetelestai (It is Finished) Week 1 Study Guide: What is Atonement?

Community Group Study Guide — Tetelestai (It is Finished): The Need for Atonement 
1 Peter 3:18 and Hebrews 10:1-10

Study Information:
The cross and resurrection of Jesus is at the center of our faith. Those two events are the most significant events to happen in human history. Christ dying in our place accomplished all that was necessary for sinners to be reconciled to God and his death brought a promise of the renewal of all things (Colossians 1:20). At the heart of the cross is what theologians call the atonement, specifically, that our guilt, shame, separation from God, and sin was paid for once and for all by Jesus. 

We are calling this series “Tetelestai” because that is the word Jesus cried out on the cross when he said “it is finished” What was finished? What did the cross accomplish? We want to spend these weeks, as we prepare for Easter by asking and answering that question, “what did God accomplish for us on the cross?” 

One temptation we have is to intentionally or unintentionally narrow the cross down to just one core event like our sin being forgive, or the cross being a demonstration of God’s love or it being unjust suffering. We want to encourage us to think about the cross like a diamond where you look at the beauty and goodness of the whole event where God the son took our place (substitution), but each week we want to rotate the diamond and look at a different facet and marvel and wonder at what God has done. From the defeat of evil, to union with Christ, to giving us a model for how to love our enemies, and more. 

What did the cross accomplish? First, the cross was a once for all atoning sacrifice for sin to draw sinners to God. 

1 Peter 3:18
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (ESV)”

This verse from 1 Peter is probably one of the clearest pictures of the gospel and the atonement in the Scripture. Christ went to the cross and suffered for our sins so that he might reconcile us to God. Christ died and was made alive so that sin could be atoned for and new life opened up as death was defeated. This is a passage about substitution, Jesus the righteous for us the unrighteous. Without another stepping in and taking our place our atonement would be impossible and we’d lack restored relationship with God. 

With the entrance of sin into the world in Genesis 3 came guilt, shame, separation from God and physical and spiritual death. 1 Peter 3:18 speaks to the heart of the gospel that God desired for his image bearers to be reconciled. Guilt is the responsibility we bear for our wrong doing. Shame is the idea of being exposed for your wrong doing and the social dishonor that comes with that. Separation is distance and estrangement from God. Physical and spiritual death comes from sin’s presence in creation; the whole creation is under the curse of sin and our physical bodies will wear out and for those not in Christ they will be separated from God for eternity. God responded to sin and our situation of separation by sending his Son to suffer and die in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that we could be reunited to God through his faith in who Christ is and what Christ has done. 

The heart of the cross is reconciliation, so that sinners could draw near, and that reconciliation happened through atonement. 

A Once For All Sacrifice
Hebrews 10:1-10
Atonement is not a new idea to the New Testament scripture. Atonement was an established pattern throughout the Hebrew Bible. To atone simply means to “cover over.” We see this begin in places like Genesis 3:21 when God made a physical covering for Adam and Eve, the sacrifices Cain and Abel brought God, the Passover Lamb and then the sacrificial law throughout Exodus and Leviticus. The idea was a reminder that sin separated from God, but through the blood of another our sin can be covered over. The main problem is that these coverings were seen as temporary and thus the sacrifices were repeated from a yearly sacrifice of atonement from the High Priest to regular sacrifices worshippers would make for sins committed (Hebrews 10:3). The priests were constantly busy, standing and offering sacrifice because almost everything was purified with blood and without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). There was a constant reminder of how offensive sin is to God, the guilt we bear for that sin and that atonement happens through the loss of one’s life for another. All this need would have been in the mind of the original audience of the New Testament. There was longing, need and hope that their sins could once and for all be atoned for and their guilt removed. 

Can you imagine the relief the words of Hebrews 10:10 brought? “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The writer of Hebrews pointed to how the sacrificial system was a shadow of things to come in Jesus. The system of atonement had limitations because the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins and the offerings could not make perfect those who draw near (Hebrews 10:2-4). However in Jesus this atonement was once and for all. Jesus secured for us an eternal redemption, he had established a new covenant, he offered his life one for sins and will come back again to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:12, 15, 27-28). All that was possible because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice who shed his blood to cover over our sins in a way that would be impossible for the blood of bulls and goats, religious works, or even our attempt to try to live a good life couldn’t accomplish. We did not need improvement or a temporary fix, we needed a once and for all atonement. Jesus went to the cross and by doing so washed our sins away and by faith we receive that gift. He has not asked for repeated sacrifice or for religious works (like burnt offerings and sin offerings), instead God desires our faith and trust (Hebrews 10:5-7). 

We all feel a need to have our guilt and shame covered over. What are you looking to for atonement? Are you looking to something outside of Jesus to cover your guilt and to declare you clean? Whatever it might be, unless it is Jesus, it will let you down. The offer from Christ is infinitely better, he suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous so that he might present you to God. If you’re not a follower of Jesus yet accept the reconciliation Jesus offers and if you’re already a Christian, allow the truth of that reconciliation lead you to intimacy with God and out of hiding and shame, because in Christ there is no shame, not guilt and no condemnation. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read 1 Peter 3:18 and Hebrews 10:10

According to 1 Peter 3:18, what is the result of Christ suffering for our sins? 

What is atonement and why is it needed? Do you think people today (inside and outside the church) are aware of their need for atonement? 

How was the atonement that Jesus brought different than what the Old Testament sacrificial system accomplished?

Take a few moments and imagine what would be missing without the atonement as a way to worship and remind yourself of what relationship with God looks like. What would be missing from our life and relationship with God if our guilt and shame was not paid for by Jesus?