Summary: In the sermon that Amulek gave to the Zoramites, he said that the atonement of Christ was both infinite and eternal. There are those who teach this means that the effects of Christ’s atonement extends back into the limitless past and extends forward in time throughout all eternity. But this idea creates a number of problems, therefore this article examines Amulek’s message to discover what he meant when he said that Christ’s atonement is both infinite and eternal.
In the 34th chapter of Alma we read of a sermon that Amulek gave to the Zoramites concerning the atonement of Christ. In this chapter, Amulek speaks of the atonement as being both “infinite and eternal,” (vs 10) but exactly what does that mean?
It’s been said that the atonement of Christ is infinite in that it extends back into the limitless past and extends forward in time throughout eternity. This has led to the idea that the atonement of Christ extends to people who have lived on other worlds that have long since passed away, and that it also extends to all people living on earths that have not even been created yet.
But this idea creates a number of problems, one of which is that if the atonement is so infinite that it extends back into eternity then that would make Jesus the savior of his own Father, which is impossible. Therefore, it’s obvious that the term “infinite and eternal” can’t mean that Christ’s atonement extends to those living from the infinite past to those who will yet live in infinite eternity. In that case, the atonement must have limits to it and the sermon Amulek gave to the Zoramites explains what those limits are.
Amulek starts out by saying that the Son of God will “take upon him the transgressions of his people and that he shall atone for the sins of the world” (vs 8). There are several things we learn from this statement. The first is that Christ will take upon himself “the transgressions of his people.” In other words, the atonement applies only to “his people,” or, as Amulek later explains, “And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice” (vs 15).
It could be said that even people on other worlds must believe in Jesus Christ in order for them to be saved, but that would mean that people everywhere throughout all of eternal time would have to be considered as being “his people.” But if that is true, we should see that being reflected in the rest of Amulek message,
Amulek teaches that because man has transgressed the law, all have sinned, therefore, to answer the demands of the law, Amulek explains that Christ will “atone for the sins of the world” (vs 8). The term “the world” is not only singular, meaning that Christ will atone for the sins committed on just one world, but stating that the atonement is being made for “the” world, makes reference to a very specific world. The clear implication is that Christ’s atonement applies to those who are living on one specific world, rather than on many unspecified worlds.
Amulek continues, explaining that “for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made” (vs 9).
The scriptures tell us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and since everyone who has ever lived on this earth have sinned, then “all mankind must unavoidably perish, yea, all are fallen and are lost, and [all] must perish” unless there is an atonement made for their sins.
If every single person on this earth has sinned and is in a fallen state, and if this earth is not “the world” that Jesus made the atonement for, then we must all “unavoidably perish.” However, since all Christians believe that Christ came to save us, then this must be the world for whom the atonement was made.
Furthermore, throughout the New Testament Jesus refers to us as his “brethren,” or brothers, and as Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are all children of the same God and that Jesus is the firstborn of our heavenly Father’s children. That would then make all of us Christ’s brothers and sisters, in which case we are “his people” for whom he alone made his atonement.
If the atonement of Christ extends back into our pre-mortal life (as some have taught), then it must also be effective for Lucifer and the hosts of heavens who followed him, but clearly, it doesn’t. The apostle Paul taught: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost… If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4,6).
Lucifer didn’t just object to God choosing Jesus to be our Savior, but rather he openly fought against this appointment. He knew, with full and certain knowledge, what his heavenly Father’s decision was. He had tasted or experienced the full glory of God, and yet, with perfect understanding, he chose to rebel and resist what God had ordained. According to Paul, at this point it became impossible for Lucifer and those who followed his lead, to have their sins forgiven. What this illustrates is that Christ’s atonement does have limits, beyond which it cannot have any effect upon the sinner.
But if that is true, then why does Amulek say that Christ’s atonement is “infinite and eternal?”
Amulek explained that since “all [mankind] are fallen… [they] must [therefore] perish.” What that means is that both physical and spiritual death is infinite in its application. In other words, it’s universal in that it covers everyone. King Benjamin also taught his people saying, “I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world. (Mosiah 4:7)
The scriptures tell us that “all have sin and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), therefore, as king Benjamin explained, the atonement was meant to cover “all mankind” which includes those who have ever lived in the past, those who are alive today, and those will yet live in this world. Christ suffered and paid the penalty for every sin that each and every person has committed who has ever been born or will be born on this earth. No one is left out! It’s in this sense that Christ’s atonement is infinite.
Yet, Lucifer and his followers were excluded, but why?
Since we all lived in heaven before we lived on earth, then we too knew with full and certain knowledge that Jesus was to be our anointed Savior, and we accepted him as such. Lucifer sinned by deliberately and willfully disobeying God’s decision. On the other hand, since we agreed with our Father’s plan, we didn’t commit any sin.
The scriptures tell us that God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (D&C 1:31), therefore, sin cannot exist in heaven or else it wouldn’t be heaven. Since Lucifer and his followers committed sin, they could no longer remain in heaven, therefore they had no other choice than to be cast out of our Father’s presence and sent to live somewhere else.
The scriptures further tell us that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, but when we lived in heaven we couldn’t really sin and remain there. Furthermore, back then we didn’t have any knowledge of good and evil. As a result, it wasn’t possible for us to sin prior to being born into mortality. Therefore, it’s obvious that Christ’s atonement can’t extend back into the infinite past before the earth existed because. we couldn’t commit any sin for him to suffer for.
When our Father presented his plan of salvation to us in a grand council, whereby we would live in mortality and be tested to see if we would do all that God commanded us, we were told then that our future salvation would be conditioned on us accepting Jesus as our Savior after we left heaven.
What this tells us is that the atonement of Christ applies only to those who have been born into mortality on this earth. For this reason, the effect of Christ’s atoning sacrifice can’t and doesn’t extend back into our premortal life when we lived with our Father in heaven. Therefore, the power of the atonement has its boundaries and limitations. At one end of that boundary its power applies only to those who have been born into mortality, and at the other end, its power lasts up until the time we are resurrected.
The apostle Peter wrote, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6), and later he taught that after Jesus had been buried “he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). The apostle Paul asked: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29).
One of the doctrinal beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached to the spirits of those who have died, especially those who have never had an opportunity to hear Christ’s message of salvation when they lived upon this earth.
If those people accept the gospel, then obviously Christ’s atonement has the power to forgive their sins. It’s in this way that the atonement is able to be applied even to those who once lived on this earth but now live in the spirit world.
But, once the resurrection happens, then our eternal fate is sealed forever. The very reason why Christ suffered for our sins was to provide the means whereby our sins could be forgiven which would then allow us to live with God for all eternity. Those who don’t accept the gospel before the resurrection have no more opportunity to accept it afterward.
The gospel teaches that forgiveness of sins is conditioned upon us accepting Christ as our Savior and repenting of our sins. If we say that the atonement of Christ is infinite in that it extends forever into the future, then we would have to say that those who inherit the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms would still have the opportunity to accept Christ, have their sins forgiven and be granted the privilege of living with God forever in the celestial kingdom.
But it’s an unwritten doctrine of the Restored Church of Christ that whatever kingdom we inherit after the resurrection is the kingdom we will live in for the rest of eternity. In other words, it is not possible for someone to move from one kingdom to another after the resurrection. And if that is true, then it becomes clear that the power of Christ’s atonement is effective for us only up until the time when we are resurrected. Once that event happens then the power of Christ’s atonement can no longer be applied to us. If we were to sin after the resurrection, Christ’s atoning sacrifice would no longer have the power to forgive those sins. What that also means is that Christ’s atonement has no effect upon future spirits who will live on other planets long after this earth has passed away.
Amulek went on to explain that Christ’s atonement is eternal in that “it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be a stop to the shedding of blood” (vs 13).
Under the law of Moses, there was an atonement made for the sins of the people but it had no lasting effect. Under this law, the high priest was required to go into the holy of holies once every year to make this offering for the sins of the nation. In other words, when the high priest made his atoning offer in the temple, it’s effect only lasted one year at the most. That’s why he had to go back to the temple each year to make yet another offering for the sins of the people. But when Christ made his one and only sacrifice, its effect lasts forever. Hence, Amulek calls it the great and last sacrifice, where no more sacrifices are needed – ever.
What this means is that when Christ paid the penalty for our sins, we weren’t forgiven of them for just one year or for a thousand years or even a million years, but into the infinite eternities. In that sense, Christ’s atonement was able “to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice” (vs 15), which is what allows us to live in the kingdom of God, not for a limited period of time but forever! It is in this sense that Christ’s atonement is both infinite and eternal.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God