On a pivotal springtime night, in a lonely grove of olive trees, the long-awaited Messiah knelt in solemn prayer. Through the night He bowed under the weight of unfathomable sin, sorrow, sickness, and more. Though He understood spiritually the depth of His offering, the sheer magnitude of His physical suffering perhaps overwhelmed Him, causing Him to “tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:18). His anguish continued into the next day. Following His agony in the garden, He yielded to the brutal treatment of His own beloved people, hung on a cross, and ultimately gave up His life. These events collectively constitute the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Hebrew word for Atonement—kaphar—literally means “to cover” or “a covering.” In a very real sense, through His Atonement, Jesus offers to cover us—sins, sorrows, sickness, weakness, and all—with His perfect redeeming love. He offers protection from the demands of justice. He offers to do something for us that we can’t do for ourselves. He offers to cover us so we may stand worthy before God.
Adam and Eve in the Garden
This holy covering has been available from the beginning. Shortly after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the garden, they recognized their nakedness (both literally and figuratively) and “sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Genesis 3:7). But the leaves they crafted were insufficient. When God called to them, “[they were] afraid, because [they were] naked; and [they] hid [themselves]” (Genesis 3:10). They recognized their inability to stand in God’s presence with a covering of their own making. They needed something more.
God provided the only adequate solution. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). By shedding the blood of a living thing, symbolic of the blood that would be shed by the Savior, our first parents were given coats of skins by God to remind them of their continual need for an infinite covering by an infinite Being. He provided for them what they could not provide for themselves.
The Parable of the Royal Marriage Feast
During the final week of His mortal ministry, the Savior taught about His holy covering. In the parable of the royal marriage feast, “a certain king … made a marriage for his son” (Matthew 22:2). When the invited guests refused to come, some killing the servants who were sent to gather them, other guests were invited in their place.
Many came and were made ready to receive the king when he entered the celebration. But the scriptures relate, “When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:11–12). Among all the guests in attendance, the king singled out the one who was not prepared, the one who didn’t have the proper covering for the occasion. That man was quickly removed.
As with all of Christ’s parables, this story holds deeper meaning. When we come to stand before God, we must be prepared with the proper covering. Because “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21), we have to apply the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and don His holy covering to make us worthy.
The Covering Offered by Jesus Christ
Many scriptures invoke the imagery of being covered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”
In this heartfelt cry from the Savior to His people, He laments that He would have covered them as a hen covers her chickens under her loving wings to protect them, but they would not be covered.
- 2 Nephi 9:14: “Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.”
Notice how this verse says that at the final judgment, “we” will know our guilt. It doesn’t say “the wicked” will know their guilt. This statement includes each of us. So, what’s the determining factor between guilty and joyful? The righteous, like the wicked, will know their guilt. However, they will recognize their need for assistance beyond themselves. They will be able to stand before the Savior with confidence and enjoyment because they have been “clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness,” the very promise of the Atonement of Christ.
- Isaiah 61:10: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”
The prophet Isaiah understood that salvation comes only through the covering power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, after all we can do (see 2 Nephi 25:23).
What Does It Take to be Covered by Christ’s Atonement?
Once we recognize a need to be covered by Christ’s Atonement, we must understand how His Atonement works. Only then can we claim all the blessings associated with His holy covering.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ provides two major victories over death.
The Unconditional Victory: The first is victory over physical death (separation of body and spirit). This is an unconditional gift, freely given to everyone through the Atonement of Christ. All will be resurrected because He broke the bands of death through His own Resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
The Conditional Victory: The second is victory over spiritual death (our separation from God). Unlike resurrection, this gift is conditional. In order to reenter God’s presence and overcome spiritual death, we must be redeemed (covered) by Christ through the conditions He has set.
We must choose, through our actions, to be redeemed. The Savior taught, “I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will” (Moses 5:9; emphasis added). He further explained that “as many as believed in the Son, and repented of their sins, should be saved; and as many as believed not and repented not, should be damned” (Moses 5:15).
We can enjoy the covering power of Christ’s Atonement when we believe in Him and repent. Additionally, we must obey His commandments and receive a “remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:31).
The Savior’s Invitation
Do you feel burdened by sin? Overwhelmed by loneliness? Clutched in the grip of addiction? Buried in the sorrow of unanswered prayers? Overcome by grief? Debilitated by sickness or disability? Discouraged by weakness? “Afflicted in any manner” (3 Nephi 17:7)? Accept the Savior’s invitation to be covered by His Atonement. He waits to cover us “in the arms of safety” if we will but choose to follow Him.
Check out this really great video about the covering power of Christ’s Atonement. #BecauseofHim: An Easter Message of Hope and Triumph