Saved by the Blood

Why does the blood of Jesus signify God's forgiveness?

To start, who was Jesus? Christians confess that Jesus was God Incarnate. The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.

Only God has authority to forgive sins. Thus, as Immanuel--God with us--Jesus has the authority to forgive sins on earth.

Mark 2.1-12 (see also Matthew 9.1-8; Luke 5.17-26)
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
The people know the truth, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Forgiveness is the Divine prerogative. But Jesus declares, "Your sins are forgiven." Jesus assumes the Divine prerogative and is accused of blasphemy. But Jesus reveals his Sonship by declaring "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins."

The gospel of Luke gives us another story that displays Jesus's authority to forgive sins.
Luke 7.36-39, 44-50
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

...Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Again, we see Jesus assuming the Divine prerogative and forgiving sins. And, once again, the people react, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

The point in all this is that forgiveness of sins has to do with the Divine prerogative and authority. God can forgive whoever God wants, whenever God wants. It is all a matter of authority. As we see in the gospels, nothing else is necessary.

Jesus's claim that "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” was vindicated when he was raised from the dead. As Peter declares in Acts:
Acts 5.30-31
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
Jesus brings forgiveness of sins because of who he revealed to be! Jesus was telling the truth! The one forgiving sins on earth really was the Prince of Heaven!

The key issue throughout the book of Acts is the identity of Jesus. And it is the answer to the question we've observed running through the gospels. Does this man have the authority to forgive sins? In the book of Acts the resurrection of Jesus answers with a resounding "Yes!"

It is true, Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.

But if this is so, why is the blood of Jesus associated with the forgiveness of sins? Again, if forgiveness of sin is a matter of authority, an authority Jesus claimed on God's behalf and a claim vindicated at Easter, then why is the blood of Jesus necessary for the forgiveness of sins?

The light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not understand it. The Son of God came and was killed by a blood-thirsty humanity. And in the face of our violence the Lamb of God remained non-violent.
"He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth."
By refusing to retaliate--refusing to "treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103.10)--Jesus loved "to the end" (John 13.1)--to the point of death, to the point of blood.

We know Jesus had both the authority to retaliate (John 19.11) or to forgive (Mark 2.1-12; Matthew 9.1-8; Luke 5.17-26). Jesus chose forgiveness and non-retaliation. Jesus chose crucifixion over vengeance and wrath. In Jesus God "turns the other cheek" and does not "repay evil for evil." In Jesus God "returns a blessing for a curse."
1 Peter 2.20b-24
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
We are "healed by the wounds of Christ." How? It's right there in 1 Peter. We are "healed" by the blood because "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."

As the Son of Man Jesus had the Divine prerogative to either forgive or to retaliate.

He forgave.

"Father forgive them!"

And by refusing to retaliate Jesus was led to his death, to his crucifixion. By refusing to retaliate Jesus's blood was shed. For us. By his wounds we are healed.

That is why the blood of Jesus signifies the Divine forgiveness.

Because what if there were no blood in the story? What if Jesus refused to allow his blood to be spilled? What if Jesus resisted the cross as Peter tried to do when he pulled his sword? What if when they "hurled insults at him" Jesus chose to retaliate?

What if Jesus would have chosen wrath, justice and an eye for an eye? What if Jesus chose to repay evil for evil? What if Jesus, contra Psalm 103, decided he would treat us as our sins deserved and repaid us according to our iniquities?

That would have been a very different kind of story. That wouldn't have been a story of forgiveness and grace. That would have been a story of Divine wrath and judgment.

But that's not the story we find.

Instead we find something totally different, something totally shocking and unexpected.

What we find is blood.

When faced with the choice, he chose to forgive.

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65 thoughts on “Saved by the Blood”

  1. Richard, I like how you move here from the sign to the thing signified to the action. Nice work! I recently posted a quote on my Facebook page for Perichorectic Life that echos some related ideas:

    “Mahatma Gandhi did not see in the Cross what the convinced Christian sees, namely, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself and that He was bearing our sins in His body on the Tree. Gandhi did not see that. But what he did see, namely, that you can take on yourself suffering, and not give it, and thus conquer the heart of another – that he did see in the Cross and that he put into practice and put into practice on a national scale. The difference, then, is this: we as Christians saw more in the Cross than Gandhi and put it into operation less; Gandhi saw less in the Cross than we and put it into practice more. We left the Cross a doctrine, Gandhi left it a deed.” --Stanley Jones

  2. This post, and Michael's response, remind me of a chapter in the book Who Is My Enemy, by Lee Camp, which I just finished reading.  He talks about the fact that Muslims don't believe that Jesus was crucified, since God would not have allowed a great prophet (let alone the Son of God) to suffer such an ignominious death.  Christians, on the other hand, believe that Jesus' death demonstrates (among other things) Jesus' forgiveness, his willingness to lay down his life for his enemies, and his willingness to practice the non-violence and non-retaliation that he preached.  Nonetheless, Camp notes, ever since a few hundred years after the crucifixion (starting with Constantine) Christians have been trying to live down the non-violent principles that Jesus preached and practiced and in so doing have essentially assented to the principle that underlies the Muslim rejection of the crucifixion.

  3. Yes, it's interesting that 1 Peter calls the cross "an example for us." This echoes Jesus's own "take up your cross and follow me." Why don't we take that more seriously?

    My take: Because I think people have understood the cross to be something we cannot do. If the cross was Jesus somehow mystically absorbing the sins of the world or suffering the full wrath of God to atone for humankind we look on and say, "I can't do that." Suddenly, then, the cross isn't anything I can do or am expected to do. Only Jesus can do it.

    This is not to say there wasn't a mystical or heroic aspect to Jesus' death. Just that when we frame the cross as a mystical subsitutionary sin transaction between Jesus and God we're a bit stuck in trying to understand what it might mean for us to "take up our cross and follow."

  4. Thanks Richard, once more you have written something that both starts the mental wheels racing to integrate other themes, texts and theories and also, prior to that  further study, has the "click" of truth - as a resonant explanation that is more deeply satisfying than some of the others in use. It has set me to thinking about "the blood" in Penal Sustitutionary Atonement, somethign I have enjoyed readig you deal with in your CV / PSA series and other places. One of the nice things about your reading above is how fully monotheistic it is (within a fully incarnational Christology) - it makes me think quite how many versions of PSA are either di-theistic or end up with a low non-incarnational Christology. I.e., although the presenters won't be so blatant about it, you either have a soteriology whereby one mighty god kicks the crap out of another victim god, and somehow by this conflict all are saved - like some reversed Babylonian creation myth, or a story in which a rather uppity god  feels so slighted about some past indignity that he needs to murder someone, and then a rather more courageous lesser god says "you want some blood? have a go at me, I can take your best shot." Cue the rousing theme music of Rocky... I suppose both of these stories chime in an Imperial cuture of violence, power and death.

    In the little sketch today you have shown a way to a story of blood and atonement, that remains monotheistic, and consistent with the good God of peace and justice seen in Jesus. I'd like to think through the CV / Ricoeur stuff in this light, it strikes me they will be very harmonious. I also like to think this is an important step towards a a story in which the saving death / resurrection of Jesus in the proclaimation of the early church, makes sense in terms of the life / teaching of Jesus - which seems to be a huge gulf in many versions of contemporary Christianity.

    Great stuff.    

  5. These verses came to my attention during the sermon at church yesterday:

    "The high priest carries
    the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but
    the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come." (Hebrews 13:11-14)

    It's interesting to me that while the writer of Hebrews is big on substitutionary atonement (including verse 12 of this chapter), s/he closes with an admonition that focuses on following Jesus' example (not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course....)

  6. I certainly agree with you that we should take that 'take up your cross' statement more seriously. First, of course, one ought to understand it as it was intended. I'm probably completely wrong in this; but, just in case . . .
    The 1 Peter 'example' is about trusting God when we are being unfairly treated. The 'cross' statement is not exactly about unfair treatment.
    In Rome, the one about to be crucified, for having thumbed his nose at the state by committing a crime, was required to carry their own means of death to the place of their death. They carried their own cross. It was the ultimate admission of submission to the state.
    That is the point of this statement. What Jesus is saying is that a disciple of His must stop being in control of their life and completely submit to Jesus' leadership. Only then can one truly 'follow Jesus.'
    The statement has little to do with one living with a terrible boss, or bad health, or whatever 'cross' he thinks he must bear. It is about submission and trust of God vs. self.

  7.  "That is why the blood of Jesus signifies the Divine forgiveness."

    Well, another beautifully presented thesis.  Sadly, it is so wrong.  The blood does not signify forgiveness; it is required for it.  God has said that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  That's the reason there was blood.  Jesus can say to the paralyzed man that His sins were forgiven because He both had the authority to forgive and He knew there would be blood.  This idea that it was His choice to suffer death and thereby offer His blood rather than to retaliate as the reason for the blood is simply error.  Why did those declared righteous by God before the cross have to go to Hades rather than heaven when they died?  Why do those who die now who have been declared righteous go directly to be with the Lord?  Before the cross, there was no blood to take away the sins.  And, please save me from the 'we are both biblical' comment; we aren't.

  8. Simon -- I like what you say.  It makes sense to me, especially your second paragraph.  

    Could it be that the Jesus narrative in the New Testament is a re-telling of older religions and myths (e.g., Zoroastrianism) which earlier speculated about monotheism and animal sacrifice? 
    What do you say about Hebrews 9:22?  Even the first mention of sacrifice as atonement in the OT shows God's preference for blood vs. grain.  Richard seems to assume that Jesus had but two choices -- submission (forgiveness) or retaliation.  Can you speculate about a third way?
    I must wonder what the world would look like today if every Christian since Paul had willingly laid down to the sword rather than resist aggressors and bullies.  Would there be any Christians left today?  Even the Quakers need protection once in a while.  There is really no way to know.

  9. Blood is clearly not necessary for forgiveness. See Mark 2.1-12; Matthew 9.1-8; Luke 5.17-26; 7.36-50.

    Again, I'm citing the bible here. So who isn't being biblical?

  10. I am willing to accept your definition of 'being biblical' as 'citing the bible.'

    Would you then help me find a word to describe 'interpreting the Bible as God intended for it to be understood?'

    When Jesus said your sins are forgiven it was true and there was no blood yet (i.e., He was still alive).  But, that person could not go to be with God when they died until the cross.  There was something missing, no?  That forgiveness is not the same forgiveness that you and I now possess.  What's the difference?

  11. Wow! I have read and re-read this several times. It's amazing. It's funny how people can never understand why Christ has to die. The atonement doctrines that abound just seem to muddy the waters more and more. I have spent the last several years trying to divest myself of everything that is not Biblical. This seems like it is heading that direction, but I am not sure how it fits with Hebrews 9. There maybe other scriptures, but this is the only one that came to my head. 9:22...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. What does that mean in this context? My next question would be was Jesus' death un-necessary? He could have forgiven them, and they could have said,"Cool! This guy is really serious. Pull him down." Now Jesus never died. Was the OT pointing that he was going to die or that he had to die?

  12. One other point regarding your comment above about blood being "required" for forgiveness.

    To claim that blood is "required" or necessary for God's forgiveness is idolatrous and heretical. Nothing is required of God. God is Sovereign and free. Thus God's forgiveness is an act of Divine, free and Sovereign prerogative. To suggest otherwise is a from of idolatry, a claim that God must submit to some higher law of necessity.

  13. Paleeeez.  Idolatrous???  Heretical???

    I am not claiming anything.  Scripture presents it in no uncertain terms.  God, put that requirement in place.  Freely.  Sovereignly.  Of His own prerogative.  Who killed the animal to cloth Adam and Eve?  Who spilled blood for that sin?  Sadly, the blind can not see; but, they can be biblical.

  14. I'm biblical but blind. I'll accept that. I think it's an accurate description. Thanks for helping me find the way forward.

  15. We don't go to be with God. Golgotha is YHWH as Jesus going to be with those who are lost, dead and without hope. Those who cannot repent, who can neither say "no" or "yes" to God. Jesus is the "Yes" of God the "Word of God" spoken to those who have no voice and no breath to speak. He goes into that godforsaken place and by doing so becomes Immanuel with the godless and brings the presence of the source of Life into the nothingness of death. The Resurrection of Jesus is the wellspring of the living waters of the Life that fills the bottomless abyss and emerges as a geyser of all-bountifulness enundating the cosmos with resurrecting, healing and renewing waters of life. Jesus' resurrection is not for Himself it is for all others--without exception.

    YHWH comes to us. Not from above in almighty power but from below, from the very depths of godforsakeness as a powerless lambkin. And He has done this not to establish conditions for God to forgive us but because He has already forgiven us. He has forgiven us since the foundation of the cosmos.

  16. The ritual sacrifice of animals can't take away sin. I can understand that.

    How does the ritual sacrifice of the Son of God take away sin?

    I believe it does, because God said it did, He even tells us about propitiation and expiation to clarify why it had to be so.

    The thing is, near as I can tell, He never mentioned how such a thing works.

    How is it that the ritual earthly sacrifice of anything, be it dove, bull, goat or Son of God, can push forward or remove sin?

  17. Why did Jesus have to say "Father forgive them." If His blood was taking away their sin in a couple of minutes anyway. It isn't logical. God isn't illogical.

  18. And if they didn't know what they were doing, as Jesus said, what was to forgive?

  19. "We don't go to be with God."
    OK.Where does a non-Christian go when they die physically?Where does a Christian go when they die physically?Where did Abraham go when he died physically?

  20. David, you ARE claiming it, precisely by asserting that the way Scripture presents it is, in your words, " no uncertain terms."  Prima facie evidence that there IS uncertainty would consist in at least one, but perhaps more, pieces of Scriptural evidence to the contrary of your claim, that is, extensions of forgiveness that do NOT require blood - for example, John 8:1ff, in which the spilling of blood for atonement is explicitly and forcefully REJECTED.

    You will undoubtedly claim, as is your standard M. O., that counterexamples such as John 8:1ff - which are sufficient, logically, to refute your claim - are just incidences of others' criminal neglect in interpretation, which of course means any interpretation that does not align with David's Plain Reading of Scripture [TM].



  21. Hi Richard

    Reading these comments, I'm reminded of your musings both on ontology (If you start from position A, then you're going to reach conclusion B) and on the psychology of disgust ('you're obviously wrong - there's nothing to discuss').  What is the Christ-like response in such a theological cleft-stick?  I'm guessing logic isn't going to get either side very far.  Like those who encountered Jesus in the gospels, I only have my own story.  I used to be convinced by one side of the argument, and put all the bits that didn't fit into a box on the top shelf - and now I'm convinced by the other and everything makes wonderful sense.  May the Lord make his light to shine upon us and grant us peace.

  22. "Would you then help me find a word to describe 'interpreting the Bible as God intended for it to be understood?'"

    How about two? - David's opinion.

  23. Let me expand on this part: "When Jesus said your sins are forgiven it was true and there was no
    blood yet (i.e., He was still alive).  But, that person could not go to
    be with God when they died until the cross"

    Let's imagine this. Imagine that Jesus lived forever on earth, that each generation of humans allowed Jesus to live and that Jesus could live forever.

    During his time on earth, never dying, Jesus keeps forgiving sins. Just like he did in the gospels. And, let's say, this keep happening until God wraps up history. Now, are those sins that Jesus forgave forgiven? Jesus said they were forgiven. Are they?

    I think they are. And this goes to illustrate the truth: Jesus's death isn't "required" for God/Jesus to forgive sins. As long as Jesus is alive he can keep forgiving sins.

    And isn't that the whole point of Jesus' resurrection? The point of every sermon in the book of Acts?

    My hypothetical isn't hypothetical. Jesus is still alive. That's the point: The one who forgave us on earth, who had the authority to do so, IS STILL ALIVE!

    This is also known as "good news."

  24. You know, I don't know how to respond. I'd rather not respond at all. But as the host of the blog I try to respond from time to time so that readers don't have to get tangled up in fruitless exchanges. If I engage from time to time that saves someone else from doing so and it also helps those who feel like they have to jump in to defend me or the post. Because nothing really needs defending. Either you find a post helpful or you don't. If you find the meditations I post here an encouragement please come on back. But if I start hurting your walk then, please, find a place that refreshes your soul. Life's too short.

    In sum, I engage people like David so that others don't have to. I'll be the scapegoat to save others. :-)

  25. qb,

    *sighing* is good; it relaxes the body.

    Are you claiming that John 8:1-11 are explicit?  Are you claiming that John 8:1ff are logically sufficient to refute my claim???  That these verses show that Jesus 'forgave' her sin without any blood?  That these verses state the obvious " no uncertain terms?"

    And yet, there is nothing in the word 'krino' (John 8:11) that implies anything about forgiveness.  Jesus was just supporting what John 3:17 said about Him.  He did not come to judge or condemn.  Surely you (and I mean that as a compliment) knows the difference between "I believe such and such to be the case" and "here is why I think that" vs. "Such and such is the TRUTH" and "nothing you can say can possibly change my mind."

    So, please stop the clever ad hominems and deal with the issue.

  26. Jim,

    Sorry, only one word is required to put the 'I'm just being biblical if I cite a bible verse or two' statement to sleep.By the way, sarcasm does not become you.

  27. I'm sorry for butting in once again, but I really would like to know:

    Just what is your point in all of this... all of your challenges to Richard's view that God will save ALL men?

  28. Jim,

    As I have told you before, you never have to apologize to me for 'butting in.'

    "Just what is your point in all of this..."

    I made a specific point early on in this 'exchange' without any malice intended.  That has apparently gotten lost in all the dust that has been thrown into the air.  The discussion of 'blood' is an important one that certainly should not have degraded as it has.

  29. From Richard:

    "Either you find a post helpful or you don't. If you find the meditations I post here an encouragement please come on back. But if I start hurting your walk then, please, find a place that refreshes your soul. Life's too short."

  30. "Let's imagine this."

    No, I prefer to stick with what actually happened.

    Further, your hypothetical is hypothetical.  For, it includes the end points and leaves out the middle of the story.  All of the story has to be considered or error results.

  31. Ah, there's the problem. This is the history of the church we are dealing with. Church history, like all history, requires imagination to understand.

    A good historian requires the reader to imagine, unless there is lots of raw video of the event.

  32. Thanks, Richard.  This was a genuine question, by the way, and not rhetoric.  I think reading so much MacDonald has made me reflect on how incompetent I feel sometimes to find the right response to situations - his protagonists are wonderfully, but a little intimidatingly sure of themselves sometimes.  I guess my training and experience in psychology have taught me to try and listen for the need behind the emotions.  Needs seem to have a way of connecting us rather than dividing us.  But more than that, I think Jesus's example in the gospels is a tour de force in refusing to let others set the agenda.  I would love to get there one day...  Overall, I'm a big fan of dissent, but personally I like it mixed with equal parts curiosity and respect.

  33. Andrew, I think you have the only credible solution to this theological conundrum.  
    What I am realizing over these past few months is that there is a list of verses in the Bible which teach about death, sheep, goats, fig trees, sin, punishment, damnation, heaven, hell -- and then there are others which teach about life, God's nature and purposes, universal atonement, and reconciliation.  And yet -- two opposing views cannot logically both simultaneously be correct. 
    I have been outside the church now for forty years, and this is one reason why.  In the end, reading the Scriptures is a subjective activity, concerning metaphysical matters, and though there are some very rational and logical Christian apologists (Lewis being my personal favorite), at the end of the day enlightenment has eluded me.  The arguments never end, and only the topics and players change.
    What does this teach me?  I do not know how to read the Bible.  For every "therefore" there is a "but" or "maybe", cross-referenced to a verse which says, perhaps, something quite different.  All of which makes that "box on the shelf" necessary, if only to preserve one's sanity.

  34. In case you missed it in David J Blackburn's helpful post below, let qb spell it out for you:  you NEVER have access to "all of the story."  Not EVER.  Even in the case of first-hand witness, you STILL do not have access to the internals of those involved, including each person's experience, thought process, emotional state, etc.  But that can be shoved aside, because in this case we're not even talking about events to which David the Omniscient had first-hand access.  Your access to all of the events in question is derivative, so its incompleteness goes further still.  And you have the nerve to criticize others for not considering "all of the story?"  Now THAT is chutzpah.


  35. Hi Sam

    Thanks for sharing your story.  Part of my own journey has been to realise that I was wearing tinted glasses when reading the Bible - it wasn't until I had my theological assumptions pointed out that I could take these specs off and come to the text assumption free(r).  What, or rather who, I discovered was a beating heart of love in every verse.   Ironically, the Bible makes complete logical sense to me now, where I used to have to gloss over some passages before.  There are still bits that get me scratching my beard (pictured left), but I now trust that it is my understanding that needs work, not the character of God.  As Robert Falconer (one of MacDonald's characters) says: "When anything looks strange, you must look the deeper."  I still have that box, but I've stuck another label over it with "deeper truth to discover" written on it. 

  36. qb,

    A Christian that uses so many ad hominems!  Is that really the witness you intend?  Further,  you must be able to defend your 'opinions' with more than that sort of approach?  For example, how about a response to the John 8 rebuttal?  But, I will apologize that I did not have my lawyer's hat on and so I neglected to dot all of the i's.

    When I talked about "all of the story" I was referring to 'all of the story that God has seen fit to reveal to us.'  And, since God is not a God of confusion, it is possible for His own to understand Him.  Also, since God is not an historian who is just trying to figure it all out, we don't have to read the Scriptures as if it is a history book.  (Although, of course it is partly a book of history, just not written by a fallible historian.)

    Well, I may or not have chutzpah (don't you just love the way that word sounds!) but I meant no criticism by the factual statement that the 'middle' was not included in the hypothetical.

  37. I do like so much the book Robert Falconer (as I think I've said before, him and his interaction with his Granny are what led me to Macdonald's unspoken sermons)

  38. One of the questions I had second time through reading Richard's post (I loved it the first read, started asking questions the second time through) was...  but hold on a minute ....didn't Jesus come to accomplish something rather than *just* to show us what God is like .... so I found your post above  really helpful cleanslate - thanks for that.

    (for what its worth, my other questions/ thoughts that sprung to mind are:

    Was the decision (not to retaliate but to forgive) already made as part of God's nature - since (or perhaps rather before) the foundation of the cosmos  - or is it that God actually made a decision in that moment of time in the Garden of Gethsemene - He could have gone either way at this point....if Jesus was fully God (yet fully man).

    and...So what were all those animal sacrifices in the old Testament about then....if God forgave us since/before the foundation of the cosmos)

  39. Have you read Craig Hovey's theology of martyrdom in To Share in the Body? He makes the point about the disciples failure to follow their Lord to his cross (and potentially theirs)

  40. I've been thinking about this exact question a ton lately, and I find myself only more confused.  From what I'm getting from this (and maybe I'm missing something), you're saying the bloodshed is associated with forgiveness, but not strictly required for forgiveness.  But then you say, "by his wounds, we are healed."  How is the crucifixion healing for us?  I'm an engineer, so- what is the mechanism here? What if Jesus had lived a relatively peaceful life and didn't have a violent death.  Would anything about salvation change?

  41. There isn't a mechanism. If we posit a mechanism we posit something over and above God, that something is necessary for God to forgive. Again, God's forgiveness is an act of God's freedom. There is no mechanism that compels God or that must be "satisfied" for God to act. 

    As I see it, the blood of Jesus is a declaration and witness within human history, the incarnation of the love of God. And what that declaration says is this: God will love to the end, to the point of death. That God forgives humanity rather than meting out wrath as we deserve.

    Regarding your question about if Jesus didn't die I don't know how things would have changed. But here's a first pass. If Jesus isn't pushed to the limit by human sin--tortured and killed--the question would have remained outstanding as to how far God would go, and by contrast how far Christians should go, in loving us. That is, if Jesus doesn't go to the end we'd wonder, could we push God too far? Does God really forgive us, to the limits of our sinfulness? Is there a line in the sand that, if we crossed it, where God stops forgiving and starts pushing back? In short, we can only know that God will go to the limit because of the death of Jesus. So while there is no mechanism I do think God providentially selected this sort of death in history--Roman crucifixion--as the witness that forgiveness goes to the very limits of human sinfulness. More, this also show how far Christian love should go. In short, without the death of Jesus we wouldn't have a clear incarnation of God's love, as both witness and example.

    Because at the end of the day, Jesus is on earth not to die per se but to show us the Father.

  42. Thanks Sam, good questions to which I really don't know the answers.

    For me the history of the church shows than whenever Christians have turned from the teachings of Jesus (and Paul) and taken up the sword, good has not come of it. I think there have always been a few who have not been tempted by the lazy exercise of brutal power (even for "good" ends). To name a few I think the  Nestorians, Waldensians, Lollards, Franciscans, Beguines, Anabaptists, Diggers, Levellers to name a few who have refused to answer evil with evil. It might even be said that the form of Christianity seen under the combination of persecution and non-violence, has often been one of the most vital and strangely attractive to others. 

  43. Richard,

    Alas, squaring the atonement circle is very difficult since we deserve punishment, now don't we.  After all, we are flung into a world not of our making and are called on to choose to live our lives in the midst of others somewhere along the continuum of absolute certainty and bewilderment, between faith and doubt, joy and despair.  Maybe we need to consider Jesus' "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice."  I certainly do--every day.  


  44. This is a very impressive presentation of the non-resistance, non-retaliatory passion of Jesus. It also strongly implies that the decision to forgive was based on the decision itself to not retaliate. How does this relate to sacrifice in the Old Testament and the connotations sacrificial blood had in Jewish theology? Is "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" just a metaphorical play on words or does something "really" happen at least in a new born Christian's heart when "the blood is applied"? How think you? Is it all just a bunch of metaphysics?

  45. Al,
    You can approach the question of sacrifice and forgiveness from two directions. From an exegetical (biblical analysis of the text and context) which is all well and good but quiet technical and involved.

    For example exegesis will tell you that Hebrew kippurim, which is typically translated as atonement really is something quite different than what is meant by atonement. Kipper (the verb) means to cover, not cover the sin as in God cannot look at sin kind of way but to cover and protect the sinner. All of the ritual sacrifices were not to appease an angry offended God. They were to illustrate in a dramatic and visible way that they were still included in the covenantal community (forgiven). The ritual was for the benefit of the sinner. YHWH did not demand or need sacrifices what he desired was the Hebrew sadaq (justice). Making it right and restoring the ruptured relationships. Restorative not retributive justice. Healing not punishment.

    A good discussion of all this can be found here:

    The other approach is the Gospel. Christianity has spent the better part of the past two millennia trying to make a proper religion of the gospel by developing various systems of salvation that focus on what the individual needs to do to get right with God and end up in heaven in the end. This includes all sorts of theories of salvation: substitutionary, satisfaction, ransom, etc.  All very intricate and reasoned, but not the Good News you can communicate to all creatures.

    The Gospel is, simply put, is what YHWH as Jesus does for us--all us and the whole of creation. It is about His faithfulness and not our faith, is is about His coming to us and not our finding our way to Him, it is about His resounding "Yes" to us and not about our feeble delusional "no" to Him. It is YHWH rolling up His sleeve and taking full responsibility, the burden and the cost; to not only rescue the creation from the abyss of death but to bring the creation to its completion. An ever expanding creation that extends beyond the far horizon of open ended possibilities and is given freely and unreservedly to all.

  46. They go to sleep.  Jesus spoke of Lazarus being "asleep", he spoke of "waking" a girl who had died.  When Paul spoke of Jesus's appearing he said, "we shall not all sleep," meaning some would still be alive then.

    In Acts 2, Peter mentioned that David was dead and his tomb was with them - and therefore David had not ascended to heaven: only Jesus could ascend to heaven, as he was the only one who had been resurrected.  We will not follow him there: Paul tells us that those of us who die will "sleep" until his return and will then go to meet him as he arrives.  That will be when YHWH makes his dwelling place with us in this universe.

  47. Cleanslate

    I can't see the reply button for your response to me .... so I'll put it here...thanks for this- it looks really helpful .... I'm going to spend a bit of time thinking it all through...renewing my mind hurts sometimes!

  48. rjacob,

    You seem to be answering my 'where' questions with a 'what' answer and also to be saying there is no difference for the three 'types' of people I asked about.

    "only Jesus could ascend to heaven, as he was the only one who had been resurrected."

    How do you understand Revelation 6:9ff? Or, Revelation 7:9ff? By the way, the fact that 'David's tomb was with them' really says nothing about where David is.

  49. I missed all the drama, can't say I'm sad about that (wink) but to what you've actually written in your post here, I find it interesting. I have been toying in my mind for some time now, "what happened at the cross? what exactly happened?"  It's been my question long before I embraced universalism.  It's the crucial question. 

    As for what you're written, it seems to agree perfectly with Paul who said God reconciled - past tense - the world to himself in Jesus. 

  50. David

    "You seem to be answering my 'where' questions with a 'what' answer"

    You asked, "where do they go": Jesus's answer, Peter's answer, and Paul's answer is that they "go" to sleep.  In other words, they don't "go" anywhere.  You are making the unbiblical assumption that there is somehow a "real us" that is not our body, and that it must exist continuously, and be conscious continuously. But there is nowhere to go, and nothing that can go there.

    "...and also to be saying there is no difference for the three 'types' of people I asked about."

    You understood that correctly.  All of the creation (including us) is subject to death.  If Jesus had not died to give his (YHWH's) life to the creation, it would all stay dead.  But because of Jesus's death and resurrection, all who have died will wake up - thus, death can be referred to as "sleep".

    "the fact that 'David's tomb was with them' really says nothing about where David is."

    It does, that was exactly Peter's point: David *cannot* be in heaven *because* he's dead in his tomb down the road (for Peter, it was David himself in that tomb, not just David's remains).  Only someone living (i.e. Jesus) can be in heaven.  But don't take my word for it, here's what Jesus said: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man."

    "How do you understand Revelation 6:9ff? Or, Revelation 7:9ff?"

    I understand Revelation as a set of visions that John was given by Jesus, to understand Jesus better and to have an overview of what was going to happen in that light, including and especially that YHWH would make his home with us in the universe, and that he will make all things new.

  51. How about, instead of focusing on ourselves and what *we* deserve, we focus on Jesus and what *he* deserves.

    He surely deserves to achieve what he came for - to save the cosmos, as he put it, to save what is lost, to give life to the world.

  52. "But there is nowhere to go, and nothing that can go there."
    I actually agree with much of what you say about 'sleep.'  However, given your statement above what do you think Paul was thinking in Philippians 1:21-25 about something other than the body and a  place other than 'here?'

  53. RJ,

    Was meant tongue in cheek.  Thinking punitively at all is not thinking redemptively.

  54. Look at the context - he's not talking about dying, he's talking about ecstatic experiences.

  55. Sorry, I promise I've read the whole post and all the comments, but somewhere in the fray I've missed one important point, which from my perspective goes - a little ramblingly - like this:

    So. I'm an Evangelical and have always been in Evangelical churches, where we do see what Christ did on the cross as being firstly a substitutionary thang (although very definitely it is all these other things people are discussing here too!). But I'm enjoying this post because I've never really understood all that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin" business: If God says it's true, then I'm happy to accept it, but I'd like to understand it, too - why the leaking of iron-rich fluid out of veins should be necessary for God to make his mercy triumph over his justice? Not seeking to be irreverent; it's a real question. So my question to Richard is - and, again, I'm sorry if it's already been answered:

    What *are* you going to do with that verse? The one about "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins", I mean. It seems to be saying pretty clearly what conservative Evangelicals think it's saying. So what do you do with it?

    Thanks Richard, and thanks all commenters for making this a fun place to lurk =o)

  56. I've tried and have to admit that I can't see it.  Would you shed some light on what in the context leads you to this conclusion?

  57. Hi Nathan,
    You've got me in a pickle as I think my post was my answer as to why I think Christ's blood was necessary for forgiveness. No blood, no forgiveness. Christ would have retaliated. That's my point. God has two options in facing human sin. Eye for an eye or love. Either we'll have to die/sacrifice/bleed or God will. The gospels say that God bled. That means we've been forgiven.

    In this I'm saying the blood of Jesus isn't magical or transactional. It's Incarnational. It shows us, in history, how God feels about us, what God's fundamental stance toward us is like. When we wonder if God will or has forgiveness us we point to the cross and say, "Yes. That blood is the sign of God's love." For without that blood we'd never know how God felt about us or if we really are forgiven.

  58. Richard,

    Over the past five years, I have read the Hebrews writer's "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin" as sarcasm.  I believe the context allows for it.  Agreed that the blood isn't magical or transactional, but I see it as nothing other than a sign of political expediency and murder.  It is, of course, possible to spiritualize it.  And maybe that's what I need to do in order to come to grips with the terror of looking into my own murderous heart.  But I prefer to see it as proof that I, given the right circumstances, might also murder an innocent.  


  59. I wonder, although I'm sure Nathan himself doesn't hold this theology explicitly, if some people find this difficult because of the di-theistic strain in some versions of Calvinism, in which one divine agent (Christ) somehow, through courage, trickery or some other ruse, defeats the overaching plan of the other divine agent (a holy and pure God), which was to annihilate or punish sin /sinners. I have heard this story of "mercy triumphing over judgement" in an number of folksy evangelistic illustrations, rather than more theological expositions of the atonement, leading to an ill defined sense that the blood was about satisfying one of these gods, for the benefit of humanity (or an elect portion of humanity if one prefers. As I posted before, you have rooted the atonement in a monotheistic and incarnational christology, which makes it impossible to sustain some of the narrative tensions in these evangelistic illustrations. Don't know if that helps, Nathan, or makes it worse - and please don't take from this that I don't think you are monotheistic nor incarnational. 

  60. David

    My apologies, I thought this reference was to something else and answered hurriedly when I wasn't feeling well.  Having said that, it would be helpful if you would actually quote, rather than just giving references that we have to look up. 

    So here's what you were asking about:

    ”to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”

    First, it is not explicitly clear that that means a conscious existence, nor is it clear that he is not talking about dying and awaking in his new resurrected form.

    However, let’s suppose means what it at first appears to mean – that Paul is saying there is some kind of consciousness without the body.  This is a single statement that is inconsistent with the rest of the bible. 

    So if you rely on this one verse (which could be open to interpretation) rather than the whole of the rest of the biblical witness, I'd be interested to know why you think this one sentence overrides everything else.

  61. "The more abstract the text, the
    less likely it is to be rendered accurately"

    Are you saying that our confidence
    level in the text we have should be about the same as that for any
    man made text from antiquity? For, if that is the case, why bother?
    On the other hand, if this is actually God speaking to us (through
    the agency of man) then maybe we might be on reasonable ground to say
    it is what God has for us. Not that it is to be taken in a woodenly
    literal sense since nothing we communicate to one another would fit
    that description except possibly a mathematical proof.

    I certainly believe in the death,
    resurrection, and restoration of creation as you state. But, if the
    translated text is so suspect, then in fact why should either of us
    believe that we have an accurate description of even these
    foundational items to believe in? This idea that we can be 'more
    confident' in the stable or concrete portions just leaves each of us
    in the position of deciding what is believable or not.

    “that only he could ascend to heaven,
    because he came from there, and because he is alive.”

    This is not proven. I agree He was
    there in the form of God before He 'descended' to earth. And, He
    came to earth in the form of man. He is now God and man in a
    spiritual (i.e., not material) resurrection body. The reason He is
    there now is that that is where God, the Father, wants Him to be.
    But, to say that only He could go there is unproven. God can not
    bring anybody He wishes there?

    “It’s a bit like quoting, “no one
    can say Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit” and then saying it
    implies that there must be some who will never call him Lord – when
    it implies no such thing.”

    I agree with your statement. I do not
    think it is the same construction as my interpretation of 1
    Thessalonians 4:14. Let me ask you a question. Can you think of any
    rational reason for verse 14 to have the modifying phrase 'who have
    fallen asleep in Jesus' if there is not a group who have not so
    fallen asleep? Why would God have cluttered up the text with the
    superfluous modifiers?

    However, isn't it clear that He brings
    some kind of people with Him? And, that the ones He brings have the
    characteristics of 1) being asleep and 2) being 'in Him?'

    You raise many other interesting
    points; but, this is already too long. Let me just respond to your
    view of Revelation. It is either inspired or not. I say it is
    inspired and a message that God intended for believers. And yes, it
    is filled with symbols that are less clear to us than to the original
    readers. But, that aside, what does the fact that they kept blood
    under the altar have to do with the text which says these 'souls'
    spoke and heard? Why go to the figurative length that you have taken
    here of negating cognitive beings and seeing just a liquid because of some unrelated historical fact?

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