By Femi Aribisala
If Jesus’ death was a sacrifice, it can only atone for sins committed before his death. High priests don’t atone for future sins.
I often ask fellow Christians if our sins are forgiven or if they are paid for. Did Jesus die for our sins or do we need to repent? Most say it is both, but it cannot be. If our sins are forgiven, nobody needs to pay for them. But if our sins are paid for, then we don’t need to be forgiven. If I owe a man one thousand naira and Jesus pays my debt, then I was not forgiven the debt. Indeed, if Jesus died for our sins then God never forgave anyone.
Jesus teaches about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. But Paul talks about blood payment for sins. Whose report should we believe? Most Christians disagree with Jesus. Jesus says God does not desire sacrifices. (Matthew 9:13). But Paul says Jesus sacrificed himself to God for us. (Ephesians 5:2). Whose report should we believe? Most Christians disagree with Jesus. Nevertheless, we say Jesus is “the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). This statement is often mistaken as indicating that Jesus will die as a sacrifice for sins. However, since the ways of God are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8); the good shepherd must not be confused with the typical shepherd. Indeed, the life of the good shepherd is a deliberate anti-type of the Mosaic sin-sacrifice.
In the typical sacrifice, the life of the sheep is sacrificed for the shepherd. But Jesus contradicts this by saying he is the shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. Obviously, this cannot be about dying for the sheep for the simple reason that a dead shepherd is of no use to his sheep. On the contrary, Jesus is talking about living for the sheep. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep by devoting his eternal life to taking care of them. Without a doubt, it is far more difficult to live for the sheep than to die for them. Indeed, when you give your life for someone, you don’t have to die.
Jesus’ crucifixion was a one-time event, but his priesthood as our shepherd is everlasting. Jesus did not say “the good shepherd will give his life for the sheep.” Instead, he talks in the present continuous because he is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” This shows Jesus is not talking about Calvary. Jesus remains our shepherd today and he is still giving his life for us. The enemy decided to kill the shepherd so that the sheep would scatter. (Zechariah 13:7). However, God countered this by raising him from the dead, showing that this shepherd cannot be sacrificed or killed.
Jesus teaches that physical life is inconsequential. He says: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew10:28). Therefore, the life he lays down cannot be the inconsequential life. It must surely be the spiritual life. Hear him: “My Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:17-18).
This shows the life Jesus laid down is not his physical life, as many Christians presume in the sacrificial atonement fallacy. The physical life was taken from Jesus against his will. When he was to be crucified by men, he said to God: “Not my will, but yours be done.”(Luke 22:42). However, no one took his divine (eternal) life from him. He voluntarily relinquished this in order to take up a mortal life on earth.
This shows the cross of Jesus was fundamentally his incarnation. His cross was in laying down his life in heaven in order to come to earth as a man to show us the way of salvation. After his earthly death and resurrection, he took up again his heavenly life.
Ransom not sacrifice
Before Jesus went to the cross, he says to his disciples: “Love each other as I have loved you.” He then describes his love for them as laying down his life: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13). This love was expressed in the past; before his crucifixion. Therefore, Jesus’ definition of laying down his life has nothing to do with dying on the cross. It is about loving others and living a life of service for them.
The laying down of life that Jesus talks about cannot be about Calvary because he asks his disciples to lay down their lives also. Surely, it cannot be said that he was requiring them to die also as sacrifices for sins, especially since misguided Christian doctrine says Jesus laid down his life once for all. (Hebrews 10:10).
Furthermore, Jesus says to his disciples: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).
This injunction is further proof that the doctrine of Jesus has nothing to do with sacrifices for sins. Jesus says he gives his life as a ransom. However, a ransom is fundamentally different from a sacrifice. A ransom is not paid as atonement for sins but for the release of captives. It is not given to God but to kidnappers. Kidnappers are evil, but God is righteous. Ransoms are paid by the innocent, but sacrifices are given by the guilty.
If Jesus’ death was a sacrifice, it can only atone for sins committed before his death. High priests don’t atone for future sins. However, if Jesus’ life is seen correctly as a ransom, its lessons remain relevant even to those of us born after his death.
Fear of death
Satan holds men captive through our love of life. We sin as we try to save our lives. Therefore, Jesus warns: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew16:25). Jesus ransomed captives with his life by allowing himself to be killed; only to rise from the dead. Thereby, he exposed the counterfeit of death by demonstrating that our fear of death is baseless.
Hebrews says: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death- that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The Good Shepherd lays down his life and takes it up again. Therefore, we can now confidently lay down our lives, without fear of losing our lives. Thanks to Jesus: “Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.” (Psalms 124:7).