Q&R with Brad: Matthew 26:28 / Hebrews 9:22 – Is “shedding blood” necessary for forgiveness?
I have a question about Matthew 26:28 and “the remission of sins” being based on the shed blood of Jesus. It seems to tie into the Hebrews 9:22 passage but as it’s out of the mouth of Jesus, I would like more clarity.
- Matthew 26:28 “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
- Hebrews 9:22 “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”
I don’t actually see Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel as problematic UNLESS we’re wearing the old atonement lenses of “appeasing God’s wrath” through the necessary sacrifice of an innocent victim who satisfies an offended God’s just requirements through the punishment of sin. (What we called penal substitutionary atonement but what NT Wright finally calls ‘paganizing the gospel’).
But if we break down the verse carefully, stripping back our assumptions, everything we see there actually happens: (1) the death of Jesus is central to our faith (so yes, his blood was shed, even willingly, from Jesus’ point of view), and (2) when Jesus died, a new covenant indeed was established, and (3) that covenant includes the forgiveness of sins. Blood, covenant, forgiveness. Yes, that’s what we mean by “the Cross.”
BUT now to our assumptions: Who demands that blood? God? NO.
Who demanded Jesus’ blood? It was an angry mob, an occupying imperial force, a cruel governor, and a conspiratorial temple establishment.
Who killed Jesus? Peter said to members of the Sanhedrin, “You killed him, but God raised him.”
While being stoned to death, Stephen said, “You murdered him, but God raised him.”
Whose wrath are we seeing at the Cross? Defiant humanity, driven by the religious powers, executed by the governmental structures.
THEY shed his blood to satisfy their own blood-lust. NOT God the Father.
The Father didn’t need to be appeased. The Father doesn’t require retribution.
But yes, there was blood, which represents (in part) the death of Jesus at the hands of wicked men.
BUT that same blood, that same death, is also the sign of a new covenant because Jesus laid down his lifeblood willingly. The key to this covenant, though, is NOT that God punishes Jesus for our sins. The key is that God in Christ forgave his murderers and conspirators, even while he was being tortured and murdered. God was establishing a new and unconditional covenant right in the heart of human darkness and rebellion. Right in that terrible moment, God’s infinite, unfailing love was refracted through human sin and shines through as radical forgiveness. That radical forgiveness was then totalized to all sin, for all people, and across all time.
What made the Cross (the death of Jesus) necessary was NOT that God needed it to rectify some issue in himself before he was able to forgive us. The Cross was necessary because through the death of the “God-man” Jesus Christ, God was able to enter death and destroy it from the inside. What humanity meant for evil, God subverted for our salvation.
Hebrews 9 is partly related, but note the difference: “According to the Law, without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.” And then the author goes on to say, in effect, “That system didn’t work anyway.” What ritual laws requiring a sacrifice failed to do, God in Christ did at the Cross when WE sacrificed him to our own wrath and violence, and GOD’s response was not punishment, retribution, or wrath. Instead, he forgave us instead of smiting us. So the death of Jesus was indeed an act of sacrificial (self-giving) love that establishes forgiveness at the heart of God’s new covenant, but it is NOT a wrath-appeasement transaction in any way.
You may find it helpful to read the whole atonement section (a few chapters) in A More Christlike God to get a broader feel for it, but maybe this post will begin to help.