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)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."
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 gospel of Luke gives us another story that displays Jesus's authority to forgive sins.
Luke 7.36-39, 44-50Again, we see Jesus assuming the Divine prerogative and forgiving sins. And, once again, the people react, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
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.”
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 5.30-31Jesus 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 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.
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,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.
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."
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-24We 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."
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.”
As the Son of Man Jesus had the Divine prerogative to either forgive or to retaliate.
"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.