“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”
Lehi’s explanation of the purpose of the law and the purpose of the Atonement are both incredibly powerful here. He notes that ultimately by the law we are all cut off from God due to sin. None of us live up fully to the laws and commandments given by God. Even those who didn’t have the law of Moses given were given some sort of law that they were expected to live up to. But we all ultimately fall short of that lofty standard.
Christ’s atonement is an answer to the end of the law. What is the end of the law? Ultimately, the law is meant to bring us to the state where our heart is broken and our spirit contrite. It is only when we have that spiritual state, that we can accept the bounteous blessing of the Atonement. It is only in that state that we can be cleansed and ultimately brought back to the presence of God. For there is “no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.”
Lehi speaks of both the universal and individual facets of the Atonement. Because of Christ’s intercession for all all come back to the presence of God. But only those who have repented and believe in him can be saved. Ultimately, only for them is the end of the law fulfilled. For others, the end of the law will be punishment rather than happiness. Because they have not accepted their Redeemer, they can not access the grace of his atonement, and must answer for the ends of the law.
In a very few verses here in 2 Nephi 2, Lehi has laid down a clear and compelling theological interpretation of the Atonement, and helped us gain a far deeper appreciation for its significance.