1 Corinthians 15:17 (MEV): If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.
Paul makes a surprising claim. If Jesus Christ is not risen and alive, us Christians are still in our sins.
Wait, what about that hymn, “What can wash away my sins?”
We sing in answer, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
If the blood of Jesus washes away sins, where does the resurrection fit in?
Paul is well-acquainted with the Old Testament. He participated in the annual ritual that is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. The types and foreshadows of Jesus Christ would be plainly evident. The law is called a schoolmaster intent on bringing folks to Jesus.
On the Day of Atonement two goats were chosen. (The ceremony for the Day of Atonement is in Leviticus 16.) Lots were cast and one of those goats was slaughtered and burned, with its blood sprinkled in the Holy Place. The Holy Place in the sanctuary is where the presence of God dwells. That blood of the goat was sprinkled in the presence of God. We also know that the priests of Israel couldn’t enter the presence of God without blood.
Hebrews 9:6–10 (MEV): Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests would regularly go into the first part, conducting the services of God. But only the high priest went into the second part once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins of the people, committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was signifying through this that the way into the Most Holy Place was not yet revealed, because the first part of the tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, showing that the gifts and sacrifices offered could not perfect the conscience of those who worshipped, since they are concerned only with foods and drinks, ceremonial cleansings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
At Jesus’ death, the veil of separation was torn in two. It opened the Holy Place to all. It signified that anyone could enter the presence of God.
The book of Hebrews also shows the reason for that.
Hebrews 9:11–12 (MEV): But Christ, when He came as a High Priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
This is saying that Jesus Himself entered the presence of God as a Priest with His own blood on behalf of the people. It was for eternal redemption.
The blood did wash away sin, but not in the manner immediately thought. It was the first part of removing the enmity between God and the sins of humans. Since the presence of God was redeemed with blood, it was open for humans to boldly enter in.
It’s that two-fold idea in the atonement. There were two goats. One offered for God to make atonement in His presence. The second was led away into the wilderness and let go, to make atonement for itself.
Leviticus 16:10 (LEB): But he must present alive ⌊before⌋ Yahweh the goat on which the lot for Azazel fell to make atonement for himself, to send it away into the desert to Azazel.
I used a different translation for clarity. Note the phrase make atonement for himself. This goat was used differently.
The first goat did a one-way adjustment for God. It reconciled Him to us humans opening up His presence whereby we may enter.
That live goat was led away, but not before the sins of the people were confessed in it by the priest pressing into the head of the goat. That offering took away those sins forever.
That is what Paul is saying. Without a live offering… There is nothing to confess our sins upon and have them remitted. We would still be in our sins. That’s how the statement reads make atonement for himself.
The two-way work is God has done His part to be reconciled to each of us. We must do our part to be reconciled to Him. We do that by confessing our sin on the live offering. Jesus lives today!
Sins confessed to Him are removed forever. Just as Paul said, if there is no resurrection, we are still in our sins. Because there is no live offering to remove them.