While reading the Book of Mormon in the temple last December, I felt the Spirit in a particularly strong manner. I was assigned to the recommend desk which lends itself to some reading and meditation. I opened to Mosiah 18 in my guided meanderings and read the last part of the second verse which came to me with great spiritual force. I noted that Alma, in a single sentence listed the five necessary elements of the atonement at least as to the Savior's role:
1. The power, 2. The sufferings (plural), 3. The death, 4. The resurrection, 5. The ascension of Christ.
No one of these elements were adequate for the completion of the redemption. The missing element is what I must do for my own redemption.
Look at each element individually:
1. Power. My impression is that at Gethsemane and Calvary, He did not yet have all power given unto him. He did have power to perform miracles and forgive sins. He even had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again (John 10:17-18). On the cross he knew when the time was right and he shouted with a loud voice, "It is finished." "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit," and he gave up the ghost. On the third day he was resurrected. With that power, why couldn't he just lie down and die, then three days later rise again and skip all the rest of it? Obviously, even with all that power, power, in itself was not enough.
2. Sufferings. Some have assumed that he suffered on Gethsemane because he knew his death was imminent. Yet we know he did not fear death; even as painful as death on a cross. Many people died on crosses, but they did not agonize over it to the point of bleeding from every pore.
His suffering was sufficient to pay for all our sins, pains sorrows, sicknesses and infirmities that we may be made whole if we would repent (Alma 7:11). It was suffering so great that it caused Christ, the greatest of all, to suffer both body and spirit. Pain that would be beyond anything we would ever have the capacity to endure as mortals (D&C 19:15-20). We note that the term in this verse is plural. I think both because what he endured was infinite and for all of mankind and because it was suffered both on Gethsemane and again on the cross.
3. Death. Elijah, Moses, John and the Three Nephites were transfigured rather than tasting death. Christ was transfigured before Peter, James and John, but chose to return to his mortal state and die. He had power to lay down his life and to take it up again, yet he chose to allow one the most ignominious methods of death. Death on the cross which was preceded by sham trials, scourging, humiliation, physical deprivation and exertion. He was affixed to the cross by spikes driven through his hands, wrists, and feet where the nervous systems converge to result in maximum pain and a slow, tortuous death. He was not alone in this as all who were crucified died in a similar manner. The point is that he could have avoided it, but chose not to. Why, we do not know entirely. We know that it was prophesied that his hands would be pierced. He prophesied in the book of John that he would be crucified. It was a very public event, so there were many witnesses to his death. It exacerbated suffering that began in Gethsemane. But in the end we only know that it was necessary.
But power, sufferings, and death were not enough to redeem mankind. "My God, my God why hast Thou forsaken me?" The climax of his suffering - he had to "...tread the wine press alone..." "It is finished." And death came as he allowed his Godliness to finally give way to his humanness and his heart literally broke as the necessary conclusion to the final sacrifice.
4. Resurrection. Having descended below all things through his sufferings and death, the resurrection was the necessary next step. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." I Cor. 15:22 The transgression of Adam and Eve allowed for bodies to become mortal with our spirits to inhabit them, but they are subject to corruption and death. Prior to the fall there was no sickness, no injury, no aging, no sin and no death. The fullness of the atonement, the resurrection, redeemed mankind from all those maladies upon condition of our repentance and submission to the will of God.
Our own resurrection will result from that of Christ. Our corruptible bodies will be transformed in an incorruptible form. I Cor. 15:42
Our sins produce the separation of man (ourselves) from God - our spiritual death. The resurrection allows for our repentance and reconciliation with God. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Rom. 6:23 To accomplish that a final sacrifice was necessary. Not an animal sacrifice or even a human sacrifice, but an infinite and eternal sacrifice of the Son of God. Alma 34:9-15 The sacrifice culminated in Christ's resurrection, the result of which allows us hope for eternal life through faith in Him.
5. The Ascension. Yet even the resurrection of Christ did not complete the atonement. It was necessary that Christ ascend into heaven. If he remained on the earth, less faith would be required, no person would be called upon to sacrifice in service as Christ would lead the Church and perform the miracles.
The scriptures indicate that a second coming is prophesied, but for now we live in his absence. His perfection required that he be in the presence of God the Father where no unclean thing can dwell and that He no longer dwell with man whose physical, imperfect state would be consumed in His perfect presence. There He shall reign in mighty power according to the will of the Father until he returns in glory. D&C 20:24
6. Our Redemption. Thus, the Atonement required all five elements: the power, sufferings, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. It is His redeeming power that gives us hope to someday be with Him - perfected, purified and holy. The sixth element is our own efforts in becoming the persons who would be comfortable in His eternal presence. D&C 88:22. In the April 2011 Conference, Elder D. Todd Christopherson stated, "In all of this, God’s purpose is that we, His children, may be able to experience ultimate joy, to be with Him eternally, and to become even as He is. Some years ago Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained: 'The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.'" That "becoming" I have discovered is a lifetime quest.