Matthew 26:27-28 (Christ’s Sacrifice for Our Forgiveness: Penal or Heroic?)

At Jesus’ last Passover with His disciples He announced that one of them closest to Him would betray Him, and instituted the Lord’s Supper.  We have seen that the bread He broke was much more than just a symbol of His physical body that was given for them; it was also a symbol of His spiritual body of which they were a part, and of the communion they shared with one another by partaking of the one loaf.  Hence Judas’ traitorous deed, like so many similar to it throughout history, was not against Christ alone, but against all with whom He was in fellowship.  The cup of wine, on the other hand, represented “My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Mat 26:28).  And just as Christ’s blood was poured out, so was His Spirit of sacrifice also poured out in order that those who in faith would receive Him as their Redeemer would also receive His Spirit as an inheritance.  For it is the Holy Spirit of Christ that was poured out through His sacrificial death who writes His royal law of love on our hearts to follow Him in the way of the cross as living sacrifices to receive God’s promised kingdom as sons of God and fellow heirs with Christ; Rom 8:14-17.

So then, does the forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant in Christ’s blood come because the justice of God demands satisfaction for our sins and Christ paid our penalty of death so we can be forgiven—as if God could not or would not forgive us apart from such satisfaction, similar to the pagan notions that their false gods must be appeased with blood to gain their approval?  Cf. Mat 18:21-35 and think: Did the lord, who represents God, forgive the man because his justice was satisfied, or because he was merciful?  And if forgiveness happens because God’s justice is satisfied and sin’s penalty is paid, how could He justly reimpose the man’s sentence after he had once been forgiven?  Think too: if God demands satisfaction for sin before extending forgiveness, and we are to be like God, are we then wrong to forgive without first receiving satisfaction for wrongs committed against us?  Cf. Mar 11:25-26.  Consider also: If the penalty for sin is physical death, could not our own physical death have paid that penalty?  Cf. Psa 49:7-8.  And if the penalty is eternal death, would not the man Christ have had to remain eternally separated from God to pay that penalty for us?  Cf. Joh 19:30, Col 2:13-14.  Finally, is God’s justice really satisfied by Him putting to death one who is innocent, especially His own Son, to pay the penalty of those who are guilty?  See Gen 18:25, Eze 18:4,20.  Rather, is it possible that God’s forgiveness of sins and release from our indebtedness come simply from sincere repentance, as illustrated by the slave in Jesus’ parable (Mat 18:26), but it was impossible for man to find a complete release from the bondage of sin to fully repent unto eternal life until Christ’s eternal Spirit had been poured out through His cleansing blood by His sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead?  Cf. Luk 3:3, Mat 3:11, Luk 17:3-4, 24:47, Act 2:38, 5:31, 26:18,20.

See also Heb 9:22 where we find the same verbiage Christ used for His blood that was poured out or shed.  Does it specifically say that without the shedding of blood God won’t forgive, or simply that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness?  I.e., is there no forgiveness without the shedding of blood because God’s justice demands the satisfaction of blood for sins committed as the penalty for violating His holiness before He will forgive?  Or rather, does forgiveness simply not happen (literal rendering) without the shedding of blood for reasons unspecified, perhaps because only a sacrifice of life-blood demonstrates the sort of sincere repentance that makes reconciliation and forgiveness possible, and in regard to Christ’s sacrifice, it is only the Spirit of righteousness that was poured out through His blood that is able to grant us the repentance unto life whereby we receive God’s forgiveness?  Cf. Act 11:15-18, 1Jo 1:7-9, Rev 1:5, 7:14.

Notice too that the word for forgiveness in Heb 9:22 and throughout the New Testament means literally a release from captivity: see Luk 4:18 where the same word occurs twice in reference to Christ’s ministry and is translated as release to the captives and to set free the oppressed.  Hence, God’s forgiveness of our sins is not just a release from the debt we owe to Him against whom we have sinned, but is also inseparably related to our release from the bondage of sin lest we continue to serve sin and receive its wages of death in spite of having received forgiveness or not having sin imputed to us; see again Mat 18:27-28 as well as Rom 5:12-14; cf. Act 14:16, 17:30, Rom 3:25, Joh 8:34-36.

Thus, atonement is not a matter of reconciling God to us by satisfying His justice, but of reconciling us to Him through our deliverance from sin.  For the issue isn’t that God can’t or won’t forgive without the shedding of blood—He can and does forgive us, repeatedly, whenever we come with a broken spirit and a contrite heart in repentance for our sins; cf. Psa 51:16-17, Isa 66:2, Jer 44:10, Luk 17:3-4.  The issue is that until the power of sin is broken and man is released from its bondage, he is still a slave to the darkness of sin and its wages and so cannot walk in the way of the cross unto eternal life.  Only through the cleansing power of the sacrificial blood of Christ and the hope of the resurrection that frees him from the fear of death is he able to come to a complete repentance of death to sin to find a complete deliverance from the power of sin; cf. Heb 2:14-15.  What does this remind us about the way of salvation being the way of the cross, and it is only as we in repentant faith embrace death to take up our cross daily after the manner of Christ as partakers of His Spirit that we are able to enter into that life which is life indeed?  Cf. Mat 16:24-25.  In this light, should we understand Christ’s death as a penal sacrifice to appease the wrath of God, or as a heroic sacrifice, such as when a soldier sacrifices his own life to save others? Whereas God through Christ is merciful to sinners who in humble contrition turn to Him for forgiveness, for whom is His wrath reserved, for which no blood can appease?  See Rom 2:5; cf. 2Ch 36:16, Ezra 5:12.

Note: for a brief overview and history of the differing understandings of the atonement, see the following Wikipedia articles: Ransom Theory of Atonement, Christus Victor, Satisfaction Theory of Atonement, Penal Substitution (Forensic Theory), Moral Influence Theory of Atonement.