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Taylor Halverson: Reflections on symbolism in the Atonement

I love the various ways in which words and symbolism can instruct us about the Atonement.

For example, I've seen in the scriptures how blood is a symbol of responsibility. The Atonement is inseparable from blood. Therefore, the atoning blood of Jesus Christ can absolve us of the responsibility of our own sins, symbolized by bloody garments, if we repent. Here are the words of Jacob, King Benjamin and God who speak of the symbolic nature of blood on garments representing responsibility and sin.

Jacob preached: “O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood” (2 Nephi 9:44).

Jacob used symbolic imagery of blood on garments to describe how the atonement had saved him from the sins of those over whom he had responsibility because he had faithfully taught the truth.

Later, Jacob recorded: “And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day” (Jacob 1:19).

Giving further explanation, Jacob expounded on his priestly responsibilities, again using the symbol of blood: “Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God” (Jacob 2:2).

Other Book of Mormon prophets understood that blood is a symbol of responsibility and expressed through vivid imagery that the Atonement had washed them clean from the blood (i.e., sins) of those over whom they had responsibility. King Benjamin declared: “I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God” (Mosiah 2:28).

In the latter-days, God has renewed this blood-cleansing promise to all those who faithfully declare the truth: “And inasmuch as they do this they shall rid their garments, and they shall be spotless before me” (Doctrine and Covenants 61:34).

Unexpectedly, the only way to purify our garments from blood and sins is to fully wash our garments in blood, but not in the impure blood of our sins or the sins of this world. Rather, we must completely wash our garments in the blood of Jesus Christ, that is to take advantage of the Atonement.

If we stand before Jesus Christ in the last day with our garments spotted with our sins, or the sins of this world, we stand condemned. On the other hand, if we stand before the Lord with the purifying and cleansing blood of the lamb covering our garments, effectively erasing our own blood, we have the promise of the Lord’s kingdom.

The Atonement is real only for those who seek to be real. In other words, the Atonement has no efficacious power in our lives if we flee from recognizing, confessing, confronting and overcoming our sins and weaknesses. Or if we attempt to save ourselves then indeed we have no need of the Atonement and hence the Atonement is dead unto us; it is not real.

But if in humility we acknowledge our sins, pride and weaknesses before the Lord and stand courageously to confront them in the power of his almighty Atonement, then we are the most real, then we are the most alive, enlivened and empowered through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In him we are alive; without him we are dead. Only those who recognize their need for the Savior and have enough faith to turn to him are those who are real and for whom the Atonement is real.