We lived in heaven a long time ago with our Heavenly Father and Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. While we were there our Father presented His plan for the happiness of His children. His plan of happiness contained three great pillars: the Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. These pillars support the narrow path we must take from the time we enter this life through mortal birth until we walk back into the presence of God. All three pillars are necessary in our lives.
Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke about these pillars in the October 1996 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Before we can comprehend the Atonement of Christ, however, we must first understand the Fall of Adam. And before we can understand the Fall of Adam, we must first understand the Creation. These three crucial components of the plan of salvation relate to each other. [See Alma 18:34-39; Mormon 9:12; Doctrine and Covenants 20:17-24.]
Elder Nelson explained that Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden “in the image of God, with bodies of flesh and bone.” They were “not yet mortal” and therefore could not grow old or die or have children. This was a “paradisiacal creation” that “required a significant change” before they could have children.
An ancient American prophet named Lehi taught “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). According to Elder Nelson, the Fall “constituted the mortal creation and brought about the required changes in their bodies, including the circulation of blood and other modifications as well. They were now able to have children. They and their posterity also became subject to injury, disease, and death. And a loving Creator blessed them with healing power by which the life and functions of precious physical bodies could be preserved….”
“Even though our Creator endowed us with this incredible [healing] power, He consigned a counterbalancing gift to our bodies. It is the blessing of aging, with visible reminders that we are mortal beings destined one day to leave this `frail existence.’ Our bodies change every day. As we grow older, our broad chests and narrow waists have a tendency to trade places. We get wrinkles, lose color in our hair … to remind us that we are mortal children of God, with a `manufacturer’s guarantee’ that we shall not be stranded upon the earth forever. Were it not for the Fall, our physicians, beauticians, and morticians would all be unemployed.”
Elder Nelson explained that Adam and Eve were taught to worship God and to sacrifice their “firstlings of their flocks” as an offering to God. “They were further instructed that `the life of the flesh is in the blood…. For it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul’ [Lev. 17:11]. Probation, procreation, and aging were all components of – and physical death was essential to – God’s `plan of happiness’ [Alma 42:8].
“But mortal life, glorious as it is, was never the ultimate objective of God’s plan. Life and death here on planet Earth were merely means to an end – not the end for which we were sent.”
Now that we have discussed the Creation and the Fall, we are ready to discuss the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Elder Nelson taught, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ became the immortal creation. He volunteered to answer the ends of a law previously transgressed. And by the shedding of His blood, His and our physical bodies could become perfected. They could again function without blood, just as Adam’s and Eve’s did in their paradisiacal form. Paul taught that `flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; … this mortal must put on immortality’ [1 Corinthians 15:50-53].”
The word atonement means at-one-ment or to become one with another. Even though the New Testament uses the word atonement only, the Old Testament has many references to it; most of these references have to do with animal sacrifice. Elder Nelson explained that in order for a sacrifice to be acceptable it had to meet several considerations: (1) the animal must be a firstling of the flock, without blemish, (2) the life of the animal must be sacrificed by the shedding of its blood, (3) the death must occur without breaking any bones, (4) one animal could be sacrificed as a vicarious act for another.
“The Atonement of Christ fulfilled these prototypes of the Old Testament. He was the firstborn Lamb of God, without blemish. His sacrifice occurred by the shedding of blood. No bones of His body were broken – noteworthy in that both malefactors crucified with the Lord had their legs broken. And His was a vicarious sacrifice for others.
“While the words atone or atonement, in any of their forms, appear only once in the King James translation of the New Testament, they appear 35 times in the Book of Mormon. As another testament of Jesus Christ, it sheds precious light on His Atonement, as do the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Latter-day revelation has added much to our biblical base of understanding.”
Even though the practice of atonement in Old Testament times was finite – had an ending – it was symbolic of the infinite Atonement of Christ – was without end. “It was also infinite in that all humankind would be saved from never-ending death. It was infinite in terms of His immense suffering. It was infinite in time, putting an end to the preceding prototype of animal sacrifice. It was infinite in scope – it was to be done once for all. And the mercy of the Atonement extends not only to an infinite number of people, but also to an infinite number of worlds created by Him. It was infinite beyond any human scale of measurement or mortal comprehension.
“Jesus was the only one who could offer such an infinite atonement, since He was born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father. Because of that unique birthright, Jesus was an infinite Being.”
After discussing the actual ordeal of the Atonement – the Savior suffered much greater pain than any mortal could bear – he concluded: “The Creation required the Fall. The Fall required the Atonement. The Atonement enabled the purpose of the Creation to be accomplished. Eternal life, made possible by the Atonement, is the supreme purpose of the Creation. To phrase that statement in its negative form, if families were not sealed in holy temples, the whole earth would be utterly wasted.” [See Doctrine and Covenants 2:3; 138:48.]
“The purposes of the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement all converge on the sacred work done in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The earth was created and the Church was restored to make possible the sealing of wife to husband, children to parents, families to progenitors, worlds without end.
“This is the great latter-day work of which we are a part. That is why we have missionaries; that is why we have temples – to bring the fullest blessings of the Atonement to faithful children of God. That is why we respond to our own calls from the Lord. When we comprehend His voluntary Atonement, any sense of sacrifice on our part becomes completely overshadowed by a profound sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving Him….”
As we commemorate the Atonement of Christ and celebrate His Resurrection, I hope we remember that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. He did for each one of us something that we could not do for ourselves. Without His Atonement, Adam and Eve and all their posterity would be consigned to everlasting darkness and sin. I am grateful to know of the Savior and all that He did for me. How many drops of precious blood did He spill for my sins? I may never know the number, but I can live my life in such a way that fewer drops are required!