Throughout history people have sought to appease the wrath of their gods through sacrifice. If it does not want to rain, throw a virgin in a volcano or slit someone’s throat. You need a blessing or desire prosperity? Maybe you need to sacrifice your firstborn to the gods…Yet despite the overwhelming testimony of scripture that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not like any other god, somehow this pagan mindset has slowly infiltrated and infected our understanding of the purpose behind the death of Christ and we (the western church) have come to believe that Jesus’ death was all about satisfying the wrath of God or that God needed to be appeased and someone had to be sacrificed for His wrath to be quenched.
But before I go down the rabbit hole that is penal substitution, let me get back to the topic of this post which is Hebrews 9:22 which says this:-
“According to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no remission.”
Immediately when reading this, one realizes that we tend to delete and add a few things subconsciously to the text; most people would simply leave out the first part, change a few words in the middle and add a few more at the end interpreting it as, “Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins.”
So was God really harboring unforgiveness in His heart and did He need to sacrifice His own Son in order to stomach the site of you and I? Well, let’s backtrack a bit right to the beginning of the letter in chapter 1 verse 3 where we read that Jesus is the exact image of God and He reveals to us exactly what our Father is like. I mention the likeness of Father and Son because Jesus had no qualms about going around and freely forgiving people when He walked the earth, something which upset the religious authorities because they believed that only God Himself could forgive people of their sins (Mark 2:7-8). Even when Jesus hung on the cross He could say, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”. So are we to believe that Jesus was simply better at practicing 1 Corinthians 13:5 than His Father was? Of course not, all throughout the Old Testament we can see that God was able to forgive without the need to kill someone off first. Here are a few examples:-
The LORD (Yaweh) is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. – Numbers 14:18
But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. – Nehemiah 9:17
Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all. – Psalm 65:3
Their hearts were not loyal to him. They did not keep his covenant. Yet he was merciful and forgave their sins and did not destroy them all.” – Psalm 78:37-38
O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. – Psalm 86:5
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases –Psalm 102:3
Interestingly, Hebrews 9:22 also reveals that “almost all things are purified by blood”. Under the Old Covenant forgiveness could also be obtained using, among other things, water (Leviticus 15:16-17), oil (Leviticus 14:29) and even flour (Leviticus 5:11-13). And the most interesting thing of all is that all of the sacrifices and offerings mentioned in the law were for unintentional sins only (see Leviticus 4 and 5 and Hebrews 9:7). That means that even under the old covenant people had to rely on God’s grace and mercy to find pardon for their wrong doings (just like you and I do).
So clearly God can freely forgive without needing some sort of retribution but it still leaves us with the words in Hebrews 9:22 and how we should correctly understand them. If we go back to verse 21, we see that the context is that in the tabernacle the religious items were cleansed with blood and the preceding verse (20) says that “the blood confirms the covenant God has made”. In the Hebrew mind, blood did not symbolize death as we think of it but rather it was associated with life (Leviticus 17:11). The blood therefore had to do with cleansing which is important because the Greek word aphesis which in some bible versions gets translated as forgiveness does not mean ‘pardon’ as we may be lead to believe but rather it has to do with ‘a release from bondage’. This idea of cleansing, purifying or the taking away of sin is found all throughout this portion of Hebrews (see chapter 9:13, 14, 26, 28 and chapter 10:4, 10, 11 and 18).
Blood is absolutely vital
So if God didn’t need Jesus to die so that He could bring Himself to forgive us, the next question would be why then was Christ’s death necessary? The short and simple answer here is that the death of Christ was necessary to overcome sin, Satan, death and the law. The blood ushered in a new covenant (Matthew 26:28) and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
Without the shedding of blood, there can be no release from the bondage of sin and death. On the cross Christ conquered both and not only are we then pardoned for our transgressions but we are also freed from the very power that they hold over us. In other words, the blood (life) of Christ empowers us to break free from the chains of sin and the consequences thereof (Romans 6:23).