“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:13-15).
Jesus’ atonement has been the subject of much debate over the centuries. People often wonder why He sacrificed Himself via excruciating pain for our sins. Multiple theories have been put forth, including: Ransom Theory (God paid a ransom to Satan for our sins), Penal Substitution Theory (Jesus died as a substitute for us for our sins), Moral Influence Theory (Jesus came to serve as an exemplar to us), Christus Victor Theory (Jesus died to defeat the powers of evil), and Satisfaction Theory (Jesus died to satisfy God’s justice). Each of these theories has been backed by passages in either or both the Old and New Testament. In the present blog, I will advance another theory to further explain Jesus’ atonement, which is based on God’s perfect justice, perfect mercy, and perfect love. This is a theory based on God’s perfection. This blog will further address the questions I have seen from atheists on why “God sent God to die for God” – and – why God required a “blood” sacrifice.
Throughout the Old Testament, we are given a foreshadowing of Jesus’ atonement for our sins. Animals, which were required to be free from defects or stains, were routinely sacrificed to God as offerings (Genesis 3:21; 4:4-5; 8:20-21; Leviticus 4:35; 5:10). According to Hebrews 9:22, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Blood represents life, as one of the first things that happens when someone dies is their heart stops pumping blood. Leviticus 17:11 states: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
The Passover further delineates the blood sacrifice. The Passover is the oldest of Jewish festivals, which is still practiced by Jews annually today. This festival originated over three thousand years ago when God freed the Israelite slaves from the Egyptians after bondage for four hundred years. God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb without defect and to take some of the blood from the lamb and to put it on their doorposts (see Exodus 12:1 – 13:6). Those who were faithful to God were redeemed.
At the Last Supper, which was a Passover Supper, Jesus Himself served as the sacrificial lamb. Through His death and resurrection, He extended the Passover to all of humanity (instead of only God’s chosen people). Those who have been and are faithful to God and who accept the body and blood of Jesus are redeemed. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The new and everlasting blood covenant from God replaced the old covenant and eliminated the requirement of animal sacrifices to God, which is why people stopped sacrificing animals to God.
The Blood Covenant
A covenant refers to a promise or a contract between two parties and a contract set in blood implies permanence. “When God made His covenant to Abraham, since there was no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself” (Hebrews 6:13-18). The New Covenant involves two parties as well: God and humanity. The New Covenant is the promise that God made to humanity to forgive sins and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned to Him. Everything in the New Covenant depends on God and nothing depends on humanity. Like the first covenant, since there was no one greater to swear by, God swore by Himself.
Why Didn’t God Simply Forgive Us?
The answer to this question lies in the reconciliation of God’s perfect justice and mercy. God’s perfect justice requires punishment for sins, while God’s perfect mercy requires forgiveness. The Bible has made it clear that everyone sins and all fall short of the Glory of God (e.g., Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20) and the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23) since the impact of sin goes beyond the sinner to transcend generations. So a perfectly just and merciful God cannot fairly grant eternal life to sinners He has forgiven through His perfect mercy without paying the debts for their sins.
To further explain these points, consider the role of a perfectly just judge. We expect our judges to punish wrongdoers. Those who have greatly wronged society are often imprisoned by judges. Yet the long-term impact of their sins is often not “cured” by the imprisonment. As an example, people whose loved ones were killed by murderers bear the pain of being without their lost loved ones for the rest of their lives. If our judges merely forgave their sins and let the murderers walk free, more murders would likely occur. Therefore, we would not want our judges to forgive those who have trespassed against us.
In contrast, consider the role of a perfectly merciful father. We expect our father to forgive us when we make bad decisions in our lives. If as a teen, we borrowed the family car without asking or took money from our father’s wallet or threw a party when he was out of town, we might have felt guilty and confessed. Maybe we did not confess until we hit the age of thirty. What if at that age, our father decided not to forgive us and held the grudge for the rest of our lives? We expected that he would forgive us, yet he instead punished us long after the crime was committed. In contrast to the judge from whom we expect punishment, from our father we expect forgiveness.
The perfectly just judge cannot both punish sins, which equate to death, and forgive sins to grant eternal life. As sinners, we do not deserve eternal life. Yet our Father, in His perfect and complete love for us, granted us that which we do not deserve through the ultimate sacrifice from His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly bore the brunt of our sins through His death on the cross and resurrection. Like the Passover lamb, which is always free from blemish, the sacrifice for our sins had to come from one who had not sinned. Only one who manifested as a human and who is free from sin could break the binds of sin and death for humanity.
Why Didn’t God Just Make An Exception To His Own Rule?
One might protest that since God made the rules, He could have made the rules differently. Instead of blood, which represents life, God could have chosen to sacrifice an inanimate object, like a chair. Instead of the sacrifice of His own Son, God could have chosen to sacrifice an animal, like a deer. Yet neither an inanimate object nor an animal (or another human, for that matter) would equitably pay the price for the sins of humanity. The price is too great. Furthermore, a sinner cannot pay the price for sin.
Ransom theorists suggest that God had to sacrifice His Son to pay the price to Satan, yet such a theory gives Satan undeserved power and an elevation to a higher status than he deserves. Furthermore, had Satan known that God would resurrect Jesus from the dead to free us from the bondage of our sins, he would not have stepped into Judas to betray Jesus. Satan’s goal is not to decrease the numbers of those in his captivity, but to increase his power and numbers.
To whom did God make the payment then? God made the payment to His children in both this realm and the next. God paid His children by upholding the coherence, consistency and perfection of His moral laws that guide us. The answer to the question of why God sacrificed God is because He is perfect justice, mercy, and love. The Christian Lord is the only higher power who has reconciled the “dilemma” of perfect justice and perfect mercy. Justice was not compromised by His mercy.
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Thank you for your time.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay one’s life down for one’s friends.” – Jesus in John 15:13
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).