“The Atonement of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament,” Liahona, Apr. 2022.
The Old Testament was the Savior’s Bible, the one He read and cited during mortality. The Old Testament was (and still is) a magnificent, exceptional set of scriptural texts. It is singular and unparalleled. Why? Because it is:
“The first testament of Christ.” 1
A significant handbook on the Savior’s Atonement.
The foundational document designed to prepare the world for the Savior’s coming in the flesh, when He would die for us.
A record that contains hundreds of symbols that reveal Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
A record that presents scores of prophecies about Jesus Christ and His divine mission.
In short, the Old Testament is a scriptural work that reveals the Lord as the Savior, Redeemer, and great Atoner. When Jesus Christ commanded, “Search the scriptures; … they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39), He was referring to the Old Testament. This article demonstrates some of the ways the Old Testament testifies of the Savior and His Atonement.
The Old Testament presents hundreds of symbols that reveal Jesus Christ and His Atonement. Here are some brief examples:
East and west. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath [the Lord] removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The distance between east and west, of course, is endless and immeasurable; so, too, is God’s ability to remove our transgressions.
Thick cloud. “I [the Lord] have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Isaiah 44:22). Just as thick clouds continually form, reshape, disappear, and reappear in the sky, evoking the idea of endlessness, so God forgives those who repent and return to Him.
Casting of sins. God “pardoneth iniquity, and … [will] cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18–19). God casts sins into the deep portions of the sea, where they disappear forever. After Hezekiah recovered from a sickness, he wrote, “For thou [God] hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isaiah 38:17). When God throws our sins behind His back, He will no longer view them.
Crimson and white. The Lord said, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). The three near-identical colors—scarlet, red, and crimson—represent human blood and iniquity (see Isaiah 59:3; Micah 3:10; Habakkuk 2:12). Christ’s blood sanctifies (see Moses 6:59–60), provides eternal life (see John 6:53–54), and changes humans’ blood-red iniquity to white, representing purity.
The Old Testament presents hundreds of prophecies of Jesus Christ, many of which deal directly with His Atonement. For example, Isaiah prophesied:
“He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
“For the transgression of my people was he stricken” (Isaiah 53:8).
“He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).
“He bare the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12).
Psalm 22 is a remarkable prophecy of the Savior’s final hours on earth, when He would suffer intense abuse and then be crucified. The people would mock and abuse Him (see verses 4–8; see also Matthew 27:30–31, 39–43; Luke 23:35). This psalm imparts the exact words Jesus would speak while on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (verse 1; see also Matthew 27:46). Psalm 22 also contains an explicit reference to the Crucifixion: “They pierced my hands and my feet” (verse 16; see also Matthew 27:35). The words in verse 18, “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture,” were precisely fulfilled by those who crucified Jesus (see Matthew 27:35).
A great number of righteous individuals from the Old Testament served as living symbols of Jesus Christ. The parallels between these individuals and Jesus Christ are so striking that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote:
“Jehovah used an abundance of archetypes and symbols. Indeed, these have always been a conspicuous characteristic of the Lord’s instruction to his children. Examples of those figures—especially prefigurations of Christ—are present throughout the pre-Messianic record. …
“… Moses (like Isaac, Joseph, and so many others in the Old Testament) was himself a prophetic symbol of the Christ who was to come.” 2
Here are three examples of these living symbols:
Abraham was willing to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice, paralleling God’s offering of His Beloved Son, Jesus. Abraham’s obedience “in offering up his son Isaac … is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5; see also Hebrews 11:17–19).
The Old Testament presents approximately 100 names and titles of Jehovah, many of which are vital to our understanding of His Atonement. For example, Jehovah is designated Savior: “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour” (Isaiah 43:3; see also 43:11; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 106:21; Hosea 13:4).
The Old Testament clearly reveals that Jehovah is the great Atoner: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and [make atonement for] 3 our sins, for thy name’s sake” (Psalm 79:9).
Jehovah repeatedly commanded His prophets and priests to make an atonement for the people. In fact, the English word atonement is found in the King James Version of the Old Testament 69 times. Each of these statements adds to our understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’s atoning sacrifice.
Exceptionally hallowed festivals foreshadowed Jesus Christ’s Atonement. The Day of Atonement, for example, focused on several rituals that anticipated Jesus’s Atonement (see Leviticus 16; Hebrews 7–9). Another festival, the Passover, also looked forward to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice (see Exodus 12). The Passover lamb prefigured Jesus Christ, the Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world (see Exodus 12:3–6, 46). The lamb was to be without blemish (see Exodus 12:5), just as Jesus Christ would be without blemish (see 1 Peter 1:18–19).
The striking of the lamb’s blood on doorposts saved ancient Israel from death (see Exodus 12:13), just as Christ’s atoning blood saves us from the grave and from spiritual death (see Helaman 5:9). The similarities between the Passover and Jesus Christ’s death were so notable that Paul called Jesus “our passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Jehovah Himself designed and revealed the law of Moses to teach of His coming as the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His atoning sacrifice (see Galatians 3:24; 2 Nephi 11:4; Jarom 1:11; Mosiah 13:30–33; Alma 25:15).
Elder Holland provides this summary of the purpose of the law of Moses: “This historic covenant, given by the hand of God himself and second only to the fulness of the gospel as an avenue to righteousness, should be seen … as the unparalleled collection of types, shadows, symbols, and prefigurations of Christ that it is. For that reason it was once (and still is, in its essence and purity) a guide to spirituality, a gateway to Christ.” 4
As Amulek testified, “This is the whole meaning of the law [of Moses], every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God” (Alma 34:14).
I bear witness that the Bible—both the Old and New Testaments—declares Jesus Christ with great clarity, power, and authority. I hope that both the present and rising generations will come to love and comprehend the Bible and its essential message about Jesus Christ.