Chapter 9: The Atonement of Jesus Christ

“Chapter 9: The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (2000), 22–26

“9: The Atonement,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, 22–26

Chapter 9

The Atonement of Jesus Christ


No doctrine in the gospel is more important than the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If the gospel were compared to a wheel, the Atonement would be the hub and all other doctrines would be the spokes emanating from the hub. As the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 121).

Doctrinal Outline

  1. God governs the universe by law.

    1. To bring about His eternal purposes, God instituted laws to govern His children (see D&C 130:20–21; 132:5; 2 Nephi 2:13).

    2. Sin is the willful breaking of the law (see 1 John 3:4; James 4:17).

    3. God’s justice requires that a penalty be paid for every sin (see Matthew 5:26; Alma 42:16–18, 22–26; D&C 19:17).

    4. All of us sin and are therefore fallen and subject to justice (see Alma 34:9, 16; Romans 3:23).

  2. Because we are fallen, we have need of an Atonement.

    1. All of us would suffer an everlasting physical and spiritual death without Christ’s Atonement (see 2 Nephi 9:6–12; Helaman 14:16).

    2. Because all of us sin, we would have remained subject to the devil forever without the Atonement of Christ (see 2 Nephi 9:8–12; Alma 34:8–9; Romans 3:23).

  3. Only Jesus Christ possessed the qualifications and attributes necessary to perform an infinite Atonement.

    1. As the Only Begotten Son of God, the Savior inherited the capacity to suffer for the sins of all the children of God (see Jacob 4:5; D&C 20:21; 19:18; Mosiah 4:7).

    2. The Savior was free from personal sin (see 1 John 3:5; Hebrews 4:15; D&C 45:3–4).

    3. The Savior had power over death (see John 5:26; 10:17–18).

  4. By means of His divine attributes and the power of the Father, Jesus accomplished the infinite and eternal Atonement.

    1. Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the Father in performing the Atonement (see Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; John 4:34; 8:29; Mosiah 15:7).

    2. The Atonement was an act of pure love on the part of God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ (see John 15:13; 3:16; 1 John 4:7–10).

    3. The Atonement made by the Savior began in Gethsemane and ended at the empty tomb (see Matthew 26:36–46; Luke 22:39–44; Mark 15:25–37).

    4. The Savior descended below all things in taking upon Himself the sins of all the children of God (see D&C 122:8; 88:6; 2 Nephi 9:21).

    5. The suffering endured by the Savior was beyond what any mortal could endure (see Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:15–20; 1 Nephi 19:12).

    6. The infinite Atonement affects worlds without number and will save all of God’s children except sons of perdition (see Alma 34:9–10, 12; D&C 76:22–24, 40–43).

  5. The Atonement of Christ harmonized the laws of justice and mercy.

    1. Mercy cannot rob justice (see Alma 42:13–14, 24–25).

    2. Justice is satisfied by the Atonement, and thus mercy can allow our souls to be cleansed through repentance (see Alma 42:13–15, 22–25; 34:15–16; Mosiah 15:9).

    3. Jesus stood as a mediator, or intercessor, for all the children of God in satisfying the demands of justice (see Alma 34:10–16; Mosiah 15:7–9; Isaiah 53:12; Hebrews 7:25; 1 Timothy 2:5–6).

  6. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is essential for the salvation of all the children of God.

    1. The Savior overcame physical death and secured a resurrection for all the children of God (see Alma 7:12; Mosiah 16:7–10; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22; Mormon 9:12–14).

    2. The agony and suffering of Christ made it possible for all of us to escape eternal punishment if we repent (see Alma 7:13; D&C 19:15–19).

    3. Little children are redeemed through the Atonement of Christ (see Moroni 8:8; D&C 29:46–50; Mosiah 3:16–18; 15:25).

    4. The Atonement of Christ brings everyone back into the presence of God for judgment (see 2 Nephi 2:10; Revelation 20:11–15).

  7. We must do the will of the Father and the Son to receive the full benefit of the Atonement.

    1. The Savior came to save all who would obey Him (see Hebrews 5:9; 2 Nephi 9:21; Mosiah 3:19; Alma 11:37).

    2. If we do not keep God’s commandments, we must suffer for our own sins (see Alma 11:41; D&C 19:15–20).

    3. Mercy is extended to those who keep God’s commandments (see Daniel 9:4; Hosea 10:12; Psalm 103:17–18).

Jesus praying in Gethsemane

Supporting Statements

  1. Because we are fallen, we have need of an Atonement.

    • “All have sinned. Each person is therefore unclean to the extent to which he has sinned, and because of that uncleanness is banished from the presence of the Lord so long as the effect of his own wrongdoing is upon him.

      “Since we suffer this spiritual death as a result of our own transgressions, we cannot claim deliverance therefrom as a matter of justice. Neither has any man the power within himself alone to make restitution so complete that he can be wholly cleansed from the effect of his own wrongdoing. If men are to be freed from the results of their own transgressions and brought back into the presence of God, they must be the beneficiaries of some expedient beyond themselves which will free them from the effect of their own sins. For this purpose was the atonement of Jesus Christ conceived and executed.

      “This was the world’s supreme act of charity, performed by Jesus out of his great love for us. He not only thereby met the demands of the law of justice—which would have left us forever marred by the effects of our own transgressions—but made effective the law of mercy, through which all men may be cleansed from their own sins” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1982, 9; or Ensign, May 1982, 8–9).

    • “To atone is to ransom, reconcile, expiate, redeem, reclaim, absolve, propitiate, make amends, pay the penalty. Thus the atonement of Christ is designed to ransom men from the effects of the fall of Adam in that both spiritual and temporal death are conquered; their lasting effect is nullified. The spiritual death of the fall is replaced by the spiritual life of the atonement, in that all who believe and obey the gospel law gain spiritual or eternal life—life in the presence of God where those who enjoy it are alive to things of righteousness or things of the Spirit. The temporal death of the fall is replaced by the state of immortality which comes because of the atonement and resurrection of our Lord. The body and spirit which separated, incident to what men call the natural death, are reunited in immortality, in an inseparable connection that never again will permit the mortal body to see corruption” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 62).

    Christ appearing to Mary at the tomb
  2. Only Jesus Christ possessed the qualifications and attributes necessary to perform an infinite Atonement.

    • “We are told in [2 Nephi 9:9–17] that the atonement must needs be infinite. Why did it need an infinite atonement? For the simple reason that a stream can never rise higher than its fountain; and man having assumed a fleshly body and become of the earth earthy, and through the violation of a law having cut himself off from his association with his Father, and become subject to death; in this condition, as the mortal life of man was short, and in and of himself he could have no hope of benefitting himself, or redeeming himself from his fallen condition, or of bringing himself back to the presence of his Father, some superior agency was needed to elevate him above his low and degraded position. This superior agency was the Son of God, who had not, as man had, violated a law of His Father, but was yet one with His Father, possessing His glory, His power, His authority, His dominion” (John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement, 145).

    • “Adam became mortal; spiritual death came to him; and mortal death came to him. This was the first great crisis in the history of mankind. Indeed, it may be said to have produced mankind.

      “In order for him to get back to the place whence he began, it was necessary that there should be an atonement for this disobedience.

      “Quite obviously, Adam could not retrace his steps; he could not un-eat. He was mortal. No matter how good any of his children might be, they, also mortal, had no more power than had he. So, to pay for the disobedience, it took a Being conceived by the Infinite, not subject to death as were Adam’s posterity; someone to whom death was subject; someone born of woman but yet divine. He alone could make the sacrifice which would enable us to have our bodies and our spirits reunited in the due time of the Lord and then go back to the Father, thus reunited; and finally, body and spirit together, we might go on through all the eternities.

      “Jesus of Nazareth was the one who was chosen before the world was, the Only Begotten of the Father, to come to earth to perform this service, to conquer mortal death which would atone for the Fall, that the spirit of man could recover his body, so reuniting them. …

      “That is the reason why, however good any man, son of Adam, may have been, he could not do the things, make the atonement that would bring us back into the presence of our Heavenly Father. Again, he could not un-eat the fruit. Jesus was not the son of Adam, but of the Father” (J. Reuben Clark Jr., in Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 23).

    • “Before the fall Adam was in the presence of God and was not subject to death; he and Eve could have no children, and they knew not good and evil, for all their knowledge of the pre-existence had been taken away from them. After the fall, Adam and Eve became subject to the physical or temporal death and were banished from the presence of the Lord thus partaking of both the temporal and spiritual, or second death, which is banishment from God. Through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost they were reclaimed from the spiritual death. Moreover, they became parents of a great posterity. They were capable of knowing good and evil and gained knowledge and were taught the everlasting Gospel. Adam also found himself in a condition under the broken law, where he could not pay the debt and repair the broken law. He could not restore either to himself or give to his children the eternal, or immortal life, that had been taken away. Justice demanded reparation and the restoration of the life that had been taken away—life free from the seeds of death.

      “Blood had become the life-giving fluid in Adam’s body, and was inherited by his posterity. Blood was not only the life of the mortal body, but also contained in it the seeds of death which bring the mortal body to its end. Previously the life force in Adam’s body, which is likewise the sustaining power in every immortal body, was the spirit. In order to restore that immortal condition and destroy the power of the blood, an infinite sacrifice had to be made. No one subject to death could pay the price, for all mortal beings were under the curse of mortality. Therefore it was decreed in the heavens before the world was formed that the Only Begotten Son of God should come and pay the debt demanded by justice and give to man the blessing of immortality and eternal life” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Man: His Origin and Destiny, 376–77).

    • “From this [Moses 1:30–33, 35, 38–39] and other scriptures we learn that, representing the Father and serving his purpose ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,’ Jesus Christ, in the sense of being its Creator and Redeemer, is the Lord of the whole universe. Except for his mortal ministry accomplished on this earth, his service and relationship to other worlds and their inhabitants are the same as his service and relationship to this earth and its inhabitants” (Marion G. Romney, “Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1968, 46).

  3. By means of His divine attributes and the power of the Father, Jesus accomplished the infinite and eternal Atonement.

    • “When he gave up the ghost, the solid rocks were riven, the foundations of the earth trembled, earthquakes shook the continents and rent the isles of the sea, a deep darkness overspread the sky, the mighty waters overflowed their accustomed bounds, huge mountains sank and valleys rose, the handiwork of feeble men was overthrown, their cities were engulfed or consumed by the vivid shafts of lightning, and all material things were convulsed with the throes of seeming dissolution. Thus was brought to pass that which was spoken by the prophet Zenos: ‘The rocks of the earth must rend; and because of the groanings of the earth, many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the Spirit of God to exclaim, ‘The God of nature suffers’ [1 Nephi 19:12]. And it is recorded, that so confessed the Centurion, and they that were with him watching the body of Jesus. For when they witnessed the earthquake, and the other things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ So also was fulfilled that which is written in the prophecy of Enoch:

      “‘And the Lord said unto Enoch, Look; and he looked and beheld the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, after the manner of men; and he heard a loud voice; and the heavens were veiled; and all the creations of God mourned; and the earth groaned; and the rocks were rent; and the Saints arose, and were crowned at the right hand of the Son of Man, with crowns of glory; and as many of the spirits as were in prison came forth, and stood on the right hand of God; and the remainder were reserved in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day’ [Moses 7:55–57].

      “Thus, such was the torturing pressure of this intense, this indescribable agony, that it burst forth abroad beyond the confines of His body, convulsed all nature and spread throughout all space” (Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, 151–52).

    • “You might well link up the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah with Alma 7:12. In Isaiah the sufferings of the Savior are described with eloquence—how he bore our sins, and did it so that we might be redeemed and have life everlasting and so forth. In Alma 7:12, the only place in scriptures, to my knowledge, that it appears, there seems to have been yet another purpose of the Atonement, speaking again of the Savior and his suffering, ‘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 his flesh, that he may know according to the flesh, how to succor his people according to their infirmities.’ Have you ever thought that there was no way that Jesus could know the suffering which we undergo as a result of our stupidity and sin (because he was sinless) except he bear those sins of ours in what I call the awful arithmetic of the Atonement? And according to this prophet, Jesus now knows, according to the flesh, how to succor us and how to help us as a result of that suffering, which knowledge could have come in no other way” (Neal A. Maxwell, “The Old Testament: Relevancy within Antiquity,” A Symposium on the Old Testament, 17).

    • “The uttermost depth of superhuman woe seems to be revealed by His cry, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (F. W. Farrar, The Life of Lives, 506–11).

      “To this we add, if we interpret the holy word aright, that all of the anguish, all of the sorrow, and all of the suffering of Gethsemane recurred during the final three hours on the cross, the hours when darkness covered the land. Truly there was no sorrow like unto his sorrow, and no anguish and pain like unto that which bore in with such intensity upon him” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4:232 note 22).

    • “The suffering he undertook to endure, and which he did endure, equaled the combined suffering of all men” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 57).

    • “Transgression of the law brought death upon all the posterity of Adam, the restoration through the atonement restored all the human family to life. …

      “And this provision [the Atonement] applies not only to the living, but also to the dead, so that all men who have existed in all ages, who do exist now, or who will exist while the earth shall stand, may be placed upon the same footing, and that all men may have the privilege, living or dead, of accepting the conditions of the great plan of redemption provided by the Father, through the Son, before the world was; and that the justice and mercy of God may be applied to every being, living or dead, that ever has existed, that does now exist, or that ever will exist” (Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, 178, 181).

    • “Now our Lord’s jurisdiction and power extend far beyond the limits of this one small earth on which we dwell. He is, under the Father, the Creator of worlds without number. (Moses 1:33.) And through the power of his atonement the inhabitants of these worlds, the revelation says, ‘are begotten sons and daughters unto God’ (D. & C. 76:24), which means that the atonement of Christ, being literally and truly infinite, applies to an infinite number of earths.

      “Those who have ears to hear, find this doctrine taught in the following scripture: ‘And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness,’ the Prophet says in recording the Vision, ‘And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever. And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—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.’ (D. & C. 76:20–24.)

      “In addition to the plain meaning of this passage, we have an explanation of it given by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He paraphrased, in poetical rhyme, the entire record of the Vision, and his words covering this portion were:

      ‘I beheld round the throne holy angels and hosts,

       And sanctified beings from worlds that have been,

      In holiness worshipping God and the Lamb,

       For ever and ever. Amen and amen.

      • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

      ‘And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav’n,

       He’s the Saviour and Only Begotten of God;

      By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,

       Even all that careen in the heavens so broad.

      ‘Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,

       Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;

      And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons

       By the very same truths and the very same powers.’

      (Millennial Star, vol. 4, pp. 49–55.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 65–66).

  4. The Atonement of Christ harmonized the laws of justice and mercy.

    • “Each of us lives on a kind of spiritual credit. One day the account will be closed, a settlement demanded. However casually we may view it now, when that day comes and the foreclosure is imminent, we will look around in restless agony for someone, anyone, to help us.

      “And, by eternal law, mercy cannot be extended save there be one who is both willing and able to assume our debt and pay the price and arrange the terms for our redemption.

      “Unless there is a mediator, unless we have a friend, the full weight of justice untempered, unsympathetic, must, positively must fall on us. The full recompense for every transgression, however minor or however deep, will be exacted from us to the uttermost farthing.

      “But know this: Truth, glorious truth, proclaims there is such a Mediator.

      “‘For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ (1 Tim. 2:5.)

      “Through Him mercy can be fully extended to each of us without offending the eternal law of justice.

      “This truth is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them” (Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Apr. 1977, 80; or Ensign, May 1977, 55–56).

  5. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is essential for the salvation of all the children of God.

    • “So as I conceive it, we must stand adamant for the doctrine of the atonement of Jesus the Christ, for the divinity of his conception, for his sinless life, and for, shall I say, the divinity of his death, his voluntary surrender of life. He was not killed; he gave up his life. …

      “It is our mission, perhaps the most fundamental purpose of our work, to bear constant testimony of Jesus the Christ. We must never permit to enter into our thoughts and certainly not into our teachings, the idea that he was merely a great teacher, a great philosopher, the builder of a great system of ethics. It is our duty, day after day, year in and year out, always to declare that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ who brought redemption to the world and to all the inhabitants thereof” (Clark, in Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 23–24).

    • “Men cannot forgive their own sins; they cannot cleanse themselves from the consequences of their sins. Men can stop sinning and can do right in the future, and so far their acts are acceptable before the Lord and worthy of consideration. But who shall repair the wrongs they have done to themselves and to others, which it seems impossible for them to repair themselves? By the atonement of Jesus Christ the sins of the repentant shall be washed away; though they be crimson they shall be made white as wool” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 98–99).

The Crucifixion