Joseph Smith took the gospel of Christ back even before Abraham to Adam and beyond, revealing the Atonement as “the plan of redemption … prepared from the foundation of the world” (Alma 12:30)—that is, when it was approved at the Council in Heaven. This event is often mentioned in the earliest Christian and Jewish literature, one of the most notable texts being the “Discourse on Abbaton” by Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria (circa a.d. 380). When the plan was voted on, according to this account and others, it was turned down. The earth herself complained, as in the Book of Moses and other Enoch literature, of the defilement it would bring upon her, knowing the kind of inhabitants to come (see Moses 7:48–49); and the heavenly host objected to a plan that would cause such a vast amount of sin and suffering.
The Only Begotten broke the deadlock by volunteering to go down and pay the price. This opened the way; the plan could go forward; and the sons of God and the morning stars all sang and shouted for joy (see Job 38:7) in a great creation hymn that has left an indelible mark in ancient literature and ritual. The Lord had made it all possible, leaving men their agency, and obeying the Father in all things. But Satan and his followers refused to accept the majority vote; for that, Satan was deprived of his glory in a reversal of the ritual endowment and was cast out of heaven, which was the reverse of at-one-ment.
Only in such a context does the Atonement, otherwise so baffling, take on its full significance. There is not a word among those translated as “atonement” which does not plainly indicate the return to a former state or condition; one rejoins the family, returns to the Father, becomes united, reconciled, embracing and sitting down happily with others after a sad separation. We want to get back, but to do that, we must resist the alternative: being taken into the community of “the prince of this world.” (John 12:31.)
Hugh W. Nibley
“The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 2” Ensign, Aug 1990, 30