I make this assertion based on the meaning of the word atonement as it is presented to us in the Old Testament. W. Wilson says concerning the Hebrew kaphar/ kippur word group that this word conveys the idea both of pacification of wrath and the covering of transgressions, but does not seem to express of itself the idea of full and adequate satisfaction for sin (W. Wilson Old Testament Word Studies p.24). The kaphar / kippur word group is used throughout Leviticus 16 which brings before us the Day of Atonement. Accordingly we discern that the Old Testament ritual of offerings and sacrifices which had its apogee once a year on the Day of Atonement was all focused upon the covering of sin.
The reality of this is confirmed in Hebrews 10 1-18. In this passage the writer is contrasting the covering of sins in the Old Testament and the putting away of sins of the New Testament. Accordingly concerning that ritual in the Old Testament era But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Heb 10:3-4). The contrast with the work of Christ achieved on the cross and sealed in his resurrection is set forth as follows:-
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy (Heb 10:11-14).
A multitude of offerings and sacrifices could only cover sins they could never take away sins. But the one sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ takes away sins. What a triumphant declaration it was that was made by John the Baptist when he declared. ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29b). All the Passover lambs in the Old Testament were scrutinised so as to give temporary protection from the wrath of God as they gave covering for sin. But this One, who is the true Passover lamb takes away the sin of the world and gives permanent protection from the wrath of God. Praise be to God.
You may ask therefore how could Old Testament believers speak of sins being taken away? As David says in Psalm 32:1-2
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
And Hezekish says in Isaiah 38:17
Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.
In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.
I suggest that these believing men, like all true believers in the Old Testament saw, by faith, beyond the sacrifices. They realised that declared in the sacrifices was the fact that one would come who would take away everything that was then being covered by the sacrifices. By faith they understood the whole story through “the trailer” that was relentlessly preached to their eyes by the sacrifices. .
Oh, how glorious is God’s working to bring forth one who would be the taker away once and for all of our sins. As we follow in the believing footsteps of our Old Testament forebears we are privileged to see the fulfilment of all the sacrifices and offerings spoke of.