Chapter 8: An Infinite Atonement

While Nephi takes the place of his father Lehi as the principal teacher of the family, his brother Jacob takes Nephi’s place as a “second witness.” Jacob, who had “beheld in thy youth his glory” (2 Nephi 2:4), is not a step behind Nephi in his love and understanding of the scriptures. Though his teachings have a slightly different flavor than Nephi’s—as one would expect with differences in personality and divine calling—they are just as eloquent and original in their thoughts and expressions.

The key to Jacob’s knowledge and comprehension of the scriptures lies in his personal study, particularly of the words of Isaiah, and in his ability to obtain personal revelation. He punctuates his words with, “the Lord has shown me,” and “in the night the angel spake unto me” (2 Nephi 6:8–9; 10:3). All that he invites his listeners to do and observe, he does himself in his boundless love of God and deep solicitude for the eternal welfare of their souls.

Jacob’s grasp of the theology behind God’s atonement for transgression matches his familiarity with prophecies depicting the restoration of the house of Israel in the last days and the important ministering role the Gentiles will fulfill. He says, “It behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.

“For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration” (2 Nephi 9:5–7).

The “first judgment”—being “cut off from the presence of the Lord”—brought permanent physical death and spiritual bondage on the human family, unless things could be set right (2 Nephi 9:7–9; cf. Alma 42:7–14). The “atonement” (Hebrew kapara, also “restitution”) needed to be infinite because God, against whom the transgression occurred, was an infinite quantity. Only a “perfect” or “infinite” atonement could make restitution in kind.

Only God, therefore, could make such an atonement by suffering the consequences of every person’s transgression in the whole human family (2 Nephi 9:21; cf. Rom. 5; Alma 42:15). The Lord said, “I, God, have suffered these things for all . . . Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:16, 18–19).

Once the “demands of justice” were thus satisfied, the way was prepared whereby all could return into God’s presence, spiritually and physically (2 Nephi 9:41; 10:23–25; cf. Alma 42:23–24). For those who “believed in the Holy One of Israel,” however, being restored to God’s presence would carry the added weight of having “endured the crosses of the world, and [having] despised the shame of it” (2 Nephi 9:18). Doing this would fulfill the “merciful plan of the great Creator,” enabling his children to “inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world” (2 Nephi 9:6, 18; cf. Moroni 7:41).

In other words, by suffering mortality, or the effects of the Fall, all are afforded the opportunity, through the atonement of Christ, to rise to a higher state of happiness than they could possibly have attained without passing through mortality. The atonement was “prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind” (Mosiah 4:6–7) not only to deliver humanity from its mortal or fallen state, but to enable God’s people to rise above a whole multitude of evil effects of the Fall. With God’s help, they could “take advantage” of their cursed condition and use it as a stepping-stone toward exaltation.

This gives meaning to God’s promise, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7); and “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21; cf. 2:11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12; 12:11; 21:7).

Types of God’s atonement for transgression abound. Under the Law of Moses, animal sacrifices atoned for people’s sins in lieu of Christ’s infinite sacrifice (Leviticus 4–9). Jacob says, “For this end [or ‘purpose’] hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4; cf. Alma 25:15).

But the Law of Moses alone “availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood” (Mosiah 3:15). For “were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses” (Mosiah 13:28). Therefore, it was “expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:10). Then will there be “a stop to the shedding of blood,” and “the law of Moses [will be] fulfilled,” this being “the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice” (Alma 34:13–14).

Further typifying Christ’s atonement was Davidic kingship. In atoning for others, Jesus had to be a descendant of David, Israel’s monarch, because David, like Nephi, was “a king or a protector . . . on whom ye depend for safety” (cf. 2 Nephi 6:2). In Davidic kingship, divine protection was obtained by keeping the terms of the Davidic covenant, the covenant the Lord made with King David and his ruling heirs. These terms resemble ancient Near Eastern covenants in which a vassal king, by fulfilling the emperor’s will in all things, obtains the emperor’s protection of his people. Under this arrangement, David served as the Lord’s “vassal king” and the Lord as David’s “emperor.” Vassal kings, including King David, thus became proxies of their people in obtaining the emperor’s deliverance in the event their people were threatened by a common enemy.

By fulfilling the will of his Father (the “emperor”) in all things, Jesus (as “vassal king”) purchased his people’s ultimate deliverance and protection—their eternal salvation. In Jesus Christ, the dual proxy roles of sacrificial atonement for sin and divine protection based on the terms of the Davidic covenant fuse into one.2


2For a comprehensive study of how covenant theology impacts divine–human and human–human relationships, see “Priesthood, Patriarchy, and Proxy Salvation,” The Last Days, 175–261.

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