Adventist teaching: Yes
Biblical teaching: No
In Seventh-Day Adventism, the word atonement is defined differently than how Christian’s define it.
In Christianity, atonement refers to the reconciliation between sinful humanity and God. This reconciliation is possible through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as stated in Romans 3:23-25, Romans 5:9-11, and Romans 5:19. Atonement is the central message of the Bible.
For Seventh-Day Adventist’s, however, atonement means two things: the atonement of the cross and the final atonement. They have two phases of atonement. They say the atonement on the cross is what Jesus did for mankind by offering himself, making salvation possible. But the final atonement involves, among many things, the investigative judgement, the second coming of Jesus, the final destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. Since Jesus’s death on the cross did not bring the entire universe into perfect harmony they will say the atonement isn’t complete. They wrongfully include restoration and the coming judgment under atonement.
Adventist pioneer, Uriah Smith, wrote in the October 19, 1876 issue of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald that the death of Christ and the atonement are not the same thing. And this relieves matter of all difficulty. Christ did not make atonement when He shed his blood upon the cross. Let this fact be fixed forever in the mind—a wildly heretical statement.
While the Adventist Church will be quick to say mans reconciliation with God was completed at the cross, this contradicts their teaching regarding the Investigative Judgment which says that man is on a probationary period (something not found in Holy Scripture), with his life being examined by Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary to see who is shown to be entitled to the benefits of His sacrifice. Only those found worthy (living sinlessly perfect) will have those benefits applied to their account and be saved. Only after one demonstrates perfect obedience to the Law of God, will one then find favor with God. You are reconciled to God by your faith in Christ’s merits as well as your continued obedience to the 10 Commandments. This is heretical.
By way of Ellen G. White, who the SDA Church believes was divinely inspired and corrects inaccurate interpretations of scripture, she taught that the cross was where the atoning sacrifice was completed, but the work of atonement and blotting out sins is happening in heaven today through a work of investigative judgement. She also taught that the blood of Christ did not cancel sin at the cross, contrary to Hebrews 9:26 and Romans 5:8-11.
On top of this, they also include Satan in the atonement by way of their teaching on the Leviticus 16 scapegoat being a type and shadow of Satan. Their 28 Fundamental Beliefs book includes this note in the footnotes of the chapter on this subject.
Hebrews 9:22 is clear that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins taking place. Atonement doesn’t happen in two phases, but when blood is shed. Christ is not in heaven shedding His blood to deal with sins. Yet the SDA Church teaches Jesus is in Heaven blotting out sins in the investigative judgment. Hebrews 9:26 is also clear that sin was “put away” at the cross.
Part of the promise of the New Covenant that believers have by being in union with Christ is that God remembers believers sins no more (Jeremiah 31:31-4). They aren’t stored in heaven to be investigated and blotted out by Christ over a long period of time. The promise is already ours in Christ—our sins are remembered no more.
Jesus said that the blood of the new covenant that He shed was for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28) and John tells us it cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It was the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, that put sin away (Hebrews 9:26) and give us access to enter into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:19-21). The idea that the atonement is still going on, only in Heaven, is contrary to scripture.
Ellen G. White, the SDA Church’s prophetess, contradicted herself on this subject by claiming the atonement wasn’t completed at the cross but would be finished in Heaven, but also that it was completed at the cross. She claimed both of these statements were from God, yet they are mutually exclusive. It can’t be both. She also said that “whatever contradicts God’s Word, we can be sure proceeds from Satan.”