Who Killed Jesus?


Who Killed Jesus?
Brian Zahnd

Two years ago during Lent I preached a series of sermons grappling with the horror of the cross. Why was Jesus murdered? Why was he tortured? Why was he crucified? And most pointedly, who killed Jesus? Throughout this Lenten series I made it clear that God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was killed by the principalities and powers — a term used by the Apostle Paul to describe the very powerful, the very rich, the very religious, the institutions they represent, and the spirits that operate within these institutions. Jesus was put to death by the structures of political, economic, and religious power represented by Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, and Joseph Caiaphas. In the Gospel narratives we see the Roman governor, the king of Judea, and the high priest acting in demonic concert to execute Jesus. God did not kill Jesus; human culture and civilization did. God did not demand the death of Jesus — we did.

These Lenten sermons on the cross turned out to be surprisingly popular. I’ve discovered that most Christians are deeply relieved to learn that the forgiveness of our sins is not predicated upon God killing Jesus. Most people take it as good news to learn that child sacrifice is not part of God’s plan to save the world. Due to the popularity of these sermons a Bible college invited me to participate in a public debate on whether or not God killed Jesus. My debate opponent held to John Calvin’s theory that God had to expend his anger upon an innocent victim before he could find it within himself to forgive sin.

Among the many problems of Calvin’s theory of the cross, one is that it turns God into a petty tyrant and a moral monster. Punishing the innocent in order to forgive the guilty is monstrous logic, atrocious theology, and a gross distortion of the idea of justice. This debate — billed as “The Monster God Debate” — was recorded and eventually viewed thousands of times online. Over the next year I received hundreds of correspondences from people around the world relieved to learn that Good Friday was not the day when God killed his Son.

What Jesus did on the cross is far more mysterious and beautiful than simply offering himself as a primitive ritual sacrifice. Ritual sacrifice may appease the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, but it has nothing to do with the Father of Jesus. The cross is a cataclysmic collision of violence and forgiveness. The violence part of the cross is entirely human. The forgiveness part of the cross is entirely divine. God’s nature is revealed in love, not in violence. The Roman cross was an instrument of imperial violence that Jesus transformed into a symbol of divine love.

In our scriptures and creeds we confess that Christ died for our sins, but this does not mean we should interpret the cross according to an economic model where God had to gain the necessary capital to forgive sins through the vicious murder of his Son. How would this “pay off God” theory of the cross work anyway? Did God have some scale of torture that once met would extinguish his wrath? If God required the death of Jesus in order to forgive, did it have to be a violent death? Did it have to be by crucifixion? Did it have to involve the torture of the Roman scourging? Did God require a minimum number of lashes that Jesus had to endure? Was the crown of thorns necessary? Did God require a specific number of thorns to expiate his anger? And if you say, “No, that’s absurd! Some of the abuse Jesus suffered was gratuitous torture by the hands of cruel men.” Well, please explain just how this division of labor works? How much of the torture of Jesus was necessary to satisfy God’s wrath and how much was just for the sport of it? A theory of the cross that says it was God who desired the torture and murder of Jesus on Good Friday turns the Father of Jesus into a cruel and sadistic monster. It’s salvation by divine sadism.

Or perhaps we want to say it wasn’t God who demanded the violent death of Jesus, but justice. Justice demanded the crucifixion of Jesus. But this begs the question of who is really in charge? Is God merely a penultimate deity subordinate to the goddess Justice? Are we to imagine God saying, “Look, I’d really like to forgive you, but I’ve got to pay off Lady Justice first, and she’s a cruel goddess who demands the blood of an innocent victim through a torturous death?” No! God is not beholden to retributive justice.

We are the ones who demand sacrificial victims, not God. We are the ones who insist upon a brutal logic that says God can’t just forgive. We are the ones who mindlessly say, “God can’t forgive, he has to satisfy justice.” But this is ridiculous. It’s a projection of our own pettiness upon the grandeur of God. Of course God can just forgive! That’s what forgiveness is! Forgiveness is not receiving payment for a debt — forgiveness is the gracious cancellation of debt. There is no payment in forgiveness. Forgiveness is grace. God’s justice is not reprisal. The justice of God is not an abstract concept where somehow sin can only be forgiven if an innocent victim suffers a severe enough penalty. In the final analysis punitive justice is not justice at all — it’s merely retribution. The only justice God will accept as justice is actually setting the world right! Justice is not the punishment of a surrogate whipping boy! That’s injustice!

In the parable of the prodigal son, the father doesn’t rush to the servants’ quarters to beat a whipping boy and vent his anger before he can forgive his son. Yet Calvin’s theory of the cross would require this ugly insertion into Jesus’ most beautiful parable. No, in the story of the prodigal son, the father bears the loss and forgives his son from his treasury of inexhaustible love. He just forgives. There is no payment. Justice as punishment is what the older brother called justice. The only wrath we find in the parable belongs to the Pharisee-like older brother, not the God-like father. Justice as the restoration of relationship is what the father called justice. The ritual sacrifice of a substitute victim has nothing to do with the justice of God. Ritual sacrifice has its dark origins in the scapegoat mechanism where the tribe extinguishes the danger of all-against-all violence by killing a single victim. Ritual sacrifice does not originate in the heart of God, it originates in the violent heart of humanity.

In the earliest history of Israel the Law of Moses required blood sacrifices for the remission of sins. But this idea was later challenged by the prophets. Six hundred years after Moses gave the Law regarding ritual sacrifice, David said,

“Sacrifice and offering you do not desire…burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” (Psalm 40:6)

Hosea says that God desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)

This is why the writer of Hebrews says,

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,” (Hebrews 9:22) but then goes on to say,

“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said,
“See, God, I have come to do your will, O God”
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’
When he said above,
‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’
(these are offered according to the law),
then he added,
‘See, I have come to do your will.’
He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.”
(Hebrews 10:5–9)

In other words, the psalmists, the prophets and the writer of Hebrews come to understand that God abolishes primitive ritual sacrifice in order to establish actually doing God’s will as justice. This is what we see in the life of Jesus.

Jesus was faithful to embody God’s will even to the point of shedding blood as he forgave sinners. Jesus did not shed his blood to pay off God in the form of a ritual sacrifice. That’s not what God wanted. Jesus shed his blood in faithful obedience to his Father’s will, demonstrating divine forgiveness…even as he was crucified! As Jesus told the sacrificed-obsessed Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice!’” (Matthew 9:13)

God desires lives marked by mercy, not the sacrifice of victims. Jesus’ death was not a ritual sacrifice of appeasement, but the supreme demonstration of God’s mercy. Jesus did not shed his blood to buy God’s forgiveness, Jesus shed his blood to embody God’s forgiveness!


(The artwork is Study for Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland, 1947)

  • doug sayers

    I can’t stand by and watch on this one, Brian. If we are going to use the Bible we really need to use all of it.

    You insist that “Punishing the innocent in order to forgive the guilty is monstrous logic, atrocious theology, and a gross distortion of the idea of justice.”

    Not when the scapegoat is a volunteer. “I lay down my life… No man takes it from me.”(John 10; Phil 2…)

    It is clear that Jesus had the power to stop the principalities, powers, and “us” dead in their tracks but chose not to. (I would bet a Friday steak dinner during Lent that your Roman Catholic friends would question your assessment of biblical justice.

    The Lord has laid on him the inequity of us all. (Is 53:6) This too would be unjust if Jesus was not divine and a willing accomplice in His own death.

    I do think one of the most unfortunate translations in the KJV and NKJV is in Is 53:10 where it says “… it pleased the Lord to bruise him…” In our contemporary language, this does open the door to think of God as sadistic. The ESV puts it better when it says, Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

    This is an important distinction: God did not *desire* the torture and murder of Jesus but He *willed* it. So did Jesus, as evidenced by His very famous prayer, “Nevertheless not my will be done but yours….”

    It is clear in Scripture that Jesus was on board with the plan to “drink the cup.” He could have called for angels to deliver Him but didn’t want to.

  • Brandon Canning

    Yes, of course Jesus cold have stopped it but He didn’t. That’s the point. Christ endured the horrific violence of humanity. He was treated as guilty though innocent. And it’s in His prayer that the Father forgive his murderers all the while enduring this monstrous human violence that He reveals that he truly is the Son. He submitted to the will of the Father, but the will of the Father was not that Jesus’ blood appease Justice or that Jesus suffer the violent wrath of the Father but that in suffering violence at the hands of sinful humanity Christ would reveal the Father’s heart which is mercy.

  • “I would bet a Friday steak dinner during Lent that your Roman Catholic
    friends would question your assessment of biblical justice.”

    You would lose that bet.

  • Johannes Richter

    “God did not *desire* the torture and murder of Jesus but He *willed* it.”

    This would have God undermining his own will – IF God indeed had willed sacrifice, and it wasn’t just an incomplete understanding (of all cultures and religions) of how gods are appeased. What Jesus did was lift God, identified as his Father (invoking his Jewish heritage), as ‘the One who does not desire sacrifice’ out of the mire of sacrificial logic. He thereby revealed a particular understanding of God that is not doctrinally located behind the knife of Abraham, but within the life of the son on the altar. This knowledge – this good news – was temporarily represented (and simultaneously obscured) by the sacrificial scapegoating mechanism, and finally, fully borne out by Jesus as he “became sin”. His innocence in heaven and on earth was vindicated by the resurrection, which means both religious and secular judgements of him – and of what God and state expected of them – was mistaken and exposed as devoid of love, care and compassion and unable to bring peace on earth or in heaven.

  • Did God require the crucifixion of Jesus in order to forgive?

  • God the Trinity – one God 3 persons – (greatest mystery of all) divinely planned the cross together. Multiple reasons I believe. It was a “pre-arranged plan” (Acts 2.23) and yes, in the eternal understanding of God, beyond us in totality I’m sure, He did need to bring His *blood* into the heavenly sanctuary “on our behalf” (Heb. 9.24) and this was necessary to “*secure* our redemption” as Heb. 9.12 so clearly says. Notice that this was the real fulfillment of the OT system. The real of the shadow. Sacrifice was fulfilled in Jesus. The animal sacrifices are gone as you quoted in Ps. 40. But they were not replaced by “non-sacrifice” as you assert. They were fulfilled in Christ and He took His blood into Heaven! Heb. 9.12 states this unequivocally. Heb. 9.14 makes it even clearer “Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect *sacrifice* for our sins.”

  • JD

    Amazing post! Thank you for so beautifully articulating this message. Jesus is what God looks like….arms spread wide longing to embrace His prodigal children, absorbing all the hate and violence the world can throw at Him, and responding with love and forgiveness. The cross truly is a symbol of divine love.

  • I would question a Friday steak dinner during Lent.

  • To add one point – I’m not saying this is the *only* aspect of the cross. There are many, and they are beautiful (spiritually, not always naturally, much of that was horrendous as you pointed out). But nevertheless it cannot be excluded.

  • Eric Jennings

    Wait, what!? Jesus shed his blood to embody FORGIVENESS!? How does that work? And forgiveness for what? Eating an apple? And if you don’t get forgiven, what happens? You get tortured for eternity? You know what? With that kind of system of justice the blood sacrifice makes more sense.

  • Karl Clark

    Brian Zahnd – Beautiful article! I just wish you could expand upon the concept that man requires retribution to perceive justice has been given. I think God knows this, which makes what Jesus did on the cross even more special. God knows those under the law need to see blood, so he selected himself to be our sacrifice. He’s willing to stoop to our level so that we can feel loved. Furthermore, I believe the cross is actually a crossing point for every individual. We cross from believeing in the law (which requires blood) to believing in God’s grace (seeing His love).

    I feel the reason Jesus only had to die once is because once you cross over from lie to truth, you no longer need blood to perceive forgiveness. In this sense, penal subsititution is not a dangerous doctrine, but an inevitable one. We must all go through this stage before seeing the truth of God’s love. For this reason, you should not be surprised that those who are immature in the faith, those that haven’t truly learned the depths of God’s love, will still embrace penal substitution. Don’t let this bother you brother. This is the reason why Christ went to the cross. The revelation is working and God love will patiently wait on it to work.

  • Tony_C

    Did you mention that it didn’t involve payment of a ransom to a cosmic boogey man either…. ?

  • David Seal (KeepWalkingByFaith

    Hi brother Brian.

    I am a fan of your writing and always note your compassion, which is a breath of fresh air. God bless you and your desire to make the heart of the Good News known.

    I have been reading your post and the comments below and felt that I should give my “two cents.”

    I find it interesting that when discussing theological ideas, men often jump to a conclusion of “either, or” rather than “both, and.” I also find it interesting that most Christian theologians start from the New Covenant and go backwards the same way they start with their western ideas and appropriate them into our faith, which is inherently eastern (philosophically speaking).

    My point is this: start with the Torah and move forward. For Yeshua (Jesus) is the fulfillment of it all. We all agree here. So why not follow the precedent?

    It is agreed by early Jewish commentators that animal sacrifice was not originally required of Israel as they were freed from Egypt. Before the sin of the golden calf, all God required was that we should listen and obey His word (Cf. Jeremiah 7:22-23). After the sin of idol worship, God–knowing that Israel would need great discipline in order to refine her into the nation of priests she would be destined to become–implemented many other commands (which is now the Torah) and restored her with a second pair of tablets.

    Using the common practice of sacrificial ceremony and reappropriating it for His own purpose, God would then teach Israel the importance of a sinless life–which is required to partake in God’s eternal presence in heaven.

    Therefore, God would now require innocent blood for atonement of sin.

    As it is written:

    “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the soul.”

    (Va’ Yikra / Leviticus 17:11)

    However, contrary to popular belief, this was not done because of the blood itself or the system or, worse still, because God is somehow a vindictive Father figure. This was done to later prove to Israel (and the world over) that her Messiah is the only possible, innocent soul required for the atonement of sins necessary for an eternal covenant and the redemption of mankind before God. For it is well known that animals cannot make the choice to sin and, therefore, were considered a temporal substitutionary device. But rather than making atonement for one moment and one sin, God through His eternal nature, laid out a plan to cover all sin by the shedding of His Son’s innocent blood. Meaning, one must be as “innocent as a lamb” to behold God’s eternal glory. And being that we are not and this is a reflection unto our weakness, we should now come to understand how much we need the eternal Atonement, i.e, the eternal substitutionary Soul for our sins.

    You are right to say, “We are the ones who demand sacrificial victims…” But to say, “The ritual sacrifice of a substitute victim has nothing to do with the justice of God” is a bit overstated.

    To your defense, I am in agreement that it wasn’t God who killed His Son. It is our sin which created the evil which made it necessary for Him to die in order to exemplify God’s divine grace. But truly as the Scriptures say, “[He]…gave up Himself as a ransom” (Cf. 1Timothy 2:3-6)–no entity could take from Him what was not theirs to take. To say the Pharisees killed Messiah Yeshua is to perpetuate the anti-Semitic lie that the Jews killed God. To say that the Romans killed Yeshua perpetuates the lie that He died for political reasons, which is often the argument made by our Rabinnic, anti-missionary detractors. No. Though satan did work through men to be used as weapons of unmerited wrath against Yeshua, satan himself can do nothing without God allowing it to be (this is well proven throughout the book of Job). And even satan himself nor man could kill Yeshua.

    For it is written:

    “Yeshua, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit.”

    (‭Matthew‬ ‭27:50‬‬)

    Even the two men being crucified on either side of Him did not die in this time frame. They had to be killed. Whereas, even Yeshua’s death was a Divine miracle that astounded those witnessing the event.

    For when men said, “…His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25), He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do…”
    ‭‭(Luke‬ ‭23:34‬).

    Thus, Yeshua offered us His life so that we might be redeemed through the fulfillment of the requirements of the Torah. Our weakness created the situation which God chose to bring to rest before Him in His Son, blessed be He, our Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth. Though God did not kill His Son, He did will His death so that He might be resurrected for us all–leading unto the way of eternal life.

    Now we owe Yeshua our life as a testament unto His sacrifice. And I pray that we hear God and stop dividing and creating schisms strictly based on our perceived wisdom. After all, we are all meant to be one as Yeshua is one with His Father. We do this through Him in His spirit–not by our agreement on ideas.

    There will arise new perspectives which give new insights into our ancient faith. And there will likewise be seemingly polar ideas which state another perspective on the same truth. All theology and philosophy should be regarded as a conversation towards seeking the truth–not an implement to conquer and divide. Our only black-and-white truth is what is received in love and Spirit and backed by the Scriptures. The rest, though seemingly well-guided, should be regarded as conjecture.

    In the reading of the commentators of this post and to the act of you debating another brother over this subject, I pray this deep desire of open conversation without division is realized. Not to call you or any other into a judgement I myself could not stand under (for I know not if God called you to this conclusion and subsequent debate to offer a new perspective), but for the purpose of fulfilling the commandment to “love one another” (John 15:12) as He loves us.

    To the heart of your message: God did not kill His Son because of His lust for blood, but rather as an implement of His love and mercy–and it is us who is at fault for this need–I agree.

    Once again, God bless you for your courage and desire to make Him known.

    In Messiah,

    David Seal (KeepWalkingByFaith.org)

  • doug sayers

    The “loss” would be worth the opportunity to discuss it. ( I expect that there is a great deal of diversity within the rank and file in the RCC but I think their upper management and creeds would vindicate the claim.)

  • Phil McCarthy

    As someone born and raised Catholic, I agree Brian. Here’s a great and relevant article from the February edition of a New Zealand Catholic magazine. https://hail.to/tui-motu-interislands-magazine/publication/zr5ZOnp/article/T3Ffzd8

  • Phil McCarthy
  • Good stuff. Thank you.

  • doug sayers

    I did read this one Brian and it seems clear to me that you suffer with a case of theological either-or-ism. It sounds like we need the old Jesus Freak Brian back. This trajectory is going nowhere good.

    The cross of Christ is BOTH the propitiation of God’s wrath for the whole world AND the demonstration of His love and mercy. Not one or the other. (I John 2:2; John 3:16; Rom 5:8…)

    God is BOTH love and a consuming fire – not one or the other. (1 John 4; Heb 12:29)

    Both are true: God “struck” Jesus AND the Jewish leadership conspired with the Roman rulers to crucify Him:


    And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

    “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Mark 14:27; Mt 26:3; Acts 2:23, 36; 4:10)

    The Bible speaks often of the cross in economic terms (redemption, Redeemer, debts…) It is God’s law that I broke thus it is His justice that must be met. Jesus not only made atonement for me but he also lived perfectly for me. Its awesome.

    To conflate a pagan virgin sacrifice with the sacrifice of the Lamb of God is really weak; it will only work with people who don’t read the Bible. As mentioned before, this is where we must understand what Jesus meant when He said, I and the “Father are one” and “if you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father.” A lot of religions and worldviews involve sacrifices; only the Christian faith has God making the sacrifice. Only the Christian faith has God *being* the sacrifice. When the Father gave His only Son to be lifted up on the cross for our sins it was not child abuse… it was self sacrifice. When God says he doesn’t desire sacrifice it was because He was to provide the ultimate sacrifice and it is impossible for our human sacrifices to completely take away sin. (Heb 10:4)

    I think John puts these together wonderfully in 1 John 4:

    God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

    They got it right when they said that on the cross of Christ justice and mercy kissed.

    Sorry so long but this one matters. We ought not make the Bible dance a jig to apologize for its content and accommodate the world’s misunderstanding. If what you say is true then I think you just kicked me out of your eclectic tent!.


  • Matthew

    Thanks Brian.

    Although I´m still a bit peeved at my evangelical teachers for not coming clean about all the views of atonement that have been in our church throughout history, I still think that penal substitutionary atonement is part of the larger picture of atonement. I think it can be supported both biblically and historically. Without it, I tend to think we are left with a stool that simply doesn´t have enough support.

    I read this just yesterday or so:

    Christus Victor explains the “why”, penal substitution explains the “how”, and moral influence explains what must be done in response.

    I´ll admit, I have my personal problems with penal substitution as well. My God given sense of morality and justice certainly question it. That said, I feel we lose an important and central piece of the Gospel without it. I have come to find no greater news than the news which proclaims I receive Christ´s righteousness through Christ´s work … not my own works. I grew up Roman Catholic and over the years, for all its problems, I have come to really treasure this view of the atonement.

    I know we probably won´t agree on this point … but that´s O.K. Have a great Easter and I´m looking forward to your next book.

  • Matthew

    I´m wondering why, as a Roman Catholic (or former Roman Catholic), you would have problems with a view of atonement that credits you with righteousness based on the finished work of Christ? It´s this view of atonement that set me free from the shackles of religion in general.

    I´ll admit (as I have in another comment) that this viewpoint doesn´t (and shouldn´t) stand alone, but it certainly provides more freedom (I think) than the Roman Catholic system (please understand that I am not anti-Roman Catholic, but that I can only speak from my own personal religious history).

  • Matthew

    I´m pretty certain you are right … N.T. Wright does not reject penal substitution, although he certainly understands it differently than most evangelicals I think.

  • Diann

    God as Jesus’ Father is not Jesus merely “invoking His Jewish heritage” – God was Jesus’ Father and this is important because only the precious blood of God the Son could atone infinitely for our sins.

  • Diann

    No not forgiveness for eating an apple (where in Genesis do people get that “apple” idea, especially when Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves and a fig tree was cursed by Jesus?) – but forgiveness for our very real trespasses before a holy, just, but loving and merciful God. And if we don’t get forgiven, we get to reap what we have sown in this life, Eric, the first reaping being everything that comes with the rejection of God’s loving provision for salvation. I do not relate that happily, but sadly.

  • Diann

    But the blood of Christ also covers our sins. It is the propitiation of our sins, and without it, we have no access to our Heavenly Father.

  • Jordan

    One point on the “Jesus gave up his life” argument. If I have a gun, and a mugger comes at me with a knife, and I choose not to forcefully defend myself, getting life-ending blade to the heart, did my attacker kill me, or did I give up my life? Obviously, both are true. That point is moot.

  • Jordan, Jesus purposely escaped trouble many times, and could have done so easily here. In fact, He acknowledged such. 12 legions. And He also made clear He had a deeper purpose for not doing that and for allowing His arrest and ultimate crucifixion. That purpose He said was also related to the Scriptures about Him. That’s very different than your illustration of being mugged and just not resisting.

  • Right. PSA certainly does need proper explanation and exegesis!

  • Tony – now that is a real *misunderstanding* of PSA! 🙂

  • Karen

    I’m confused. Isn’t Jesus the incarnation of God, aka God in the flesh? Jesus is God and God is Jesus, right? So if you are asking “did God kill Jesus?” isn’t that the same as asking “Did God kill himself?” Isn’t it rather that God sacrificed HIMSELF, not some innocent third party?

    Doesn’t scripture say in multiple places that Jesus’ death *is* payment for sin?

    “You are to give him the name “Jesus” because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21)

    “Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
    yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
    We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-7)

    “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

    “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

    “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26) This just a few sentences after “The wages of sin is death.” Aka, the *payment* for sin is death. And God paid it himself. Isn’t this the ultimate act of grace and mercy, not a sign of being a petty tyrant and monster? To cancel the debt by paying for it himself? Isn’t canceling a debt the same as eating that cost yourself? Are not love and sacrifice one and the same, in Jesus’ own words? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

    Jesus death IS the payment for sin, and God himself died to pay that debt. Does not the entire book of Hebrews say exactly this, that the animal sacrifices as payment for sin were just a foreshadowing of how God was going to pay for sin by becoming the sacrifice himself? And in Ephesians 5: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” A sacrifice TO GOD. No? So I guess I am extremely confused on this one, sorry. Did I miss something??

  • Matthew

    It doesn’t sound like you’re confused :-).

  • doug sayers

    … even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45;)

    For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Tim 2)

    Brian, I include the last line about Paul’s claim to be trustworthy because you will soon need to be writing on why we can’t trust the entire Bible. (Perhaps, you already have and I missed it.) You seem to be making the same mistake as our Calvinist friends. They read more books about the Bible than the Bible itself. They presume they understand God’s omniscience and start seeing and inserting the word “irresistible” all over the place!

  • “… Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

  • Joe, did you even read the original post? I specifically address Hebrews 9:22.

  • “… God abolishes primitive ritual sacrifice in order to establish actually doing God’s will as justice,” and to fulfill that justice Jesus sheds his blood unto death as per his Father’s will to drink that cup (Matthew 26:39-42).

    And I fail to grasp how any Old Testament prophet — including David — can successfully challenge the New Testament letter to the Hebrews?

  • Charles Lindsey

    Boy pastor Brian you sure lit a fire. You sure tell who reads the bible as a idol or reads the bible through the lenses of Jesus. We are so quick to defend scripture when Jesus didn’t even do that. People let’s remember that the bible is ancient books, letters and stories put together and written in foreign languages. Just my 2 cents worth.

  • You can read it that way if you prefer Charles. I prefer to read it as Jesus said. “The Scripture cannot be broken.” And Paul… “ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” It does have to be interpreted. But one cannot set it aside.

  • doug sayers

    Its an old fire Charles.

    It doesn’t get any more through the lense of Jesus than this:

    … even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45;)

    Jesus propitiated the wrath of God for the whole world and that is Good News.

  • Charles Lindsey

    Propitiated or propitiation isnt the right word that should have been used for translation… but we will agree to disagree respectfully. Blessings.

  • Jennifer Simpson

    I love this, but how does 1 John 4:10 get reconciled with this. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

  • Matt


    Great post! I have been moved by your teaching via podcasts over the last couple years. You have been one of the few Christian voices challenging violent views of God in our culture. But while I want to agree with you (that God didn’t require Jesus blood), it seems very obvious that (despite the prophets later resistance) at one point in the history of the world Yahweh did require blood sacrifice — death of an innocent for forgiveness of sins. So while I want to agree with you that “ritual sacrifice… has nothing to do with the Father of Jesus,” I can’t reconcile that statement with the facts of the OT. What am I missing here?


  • Mark

    Thanks for the article Brian, right on, keep up the good work eventually the world will realize that God is good and looks a lot like Jesus, and is not the opposite of Him.
    I love the verse that says no one knows the Father, it strikes a cord with me in that after all their years studying scripture they had no clue what the Father was like and unfortunately a lot of people in the church agree with the parishes, not Jesus that God demanded a sacrifice and was all about justice before Love. It is a shame we don’t know the Father and could relate him to the world, there would be a lot less violence and a lot more believers.

  • Chris Stone

    I think that you all must be careful with literalism here. The KJV is not the be all/end all of biblical authority. Please remember that Aramaic, Greek, and Latin languages provide several layers of interpretation. The story is one of love, grace, and redemption. To parse it into more is a “Gentile Heresy”.

  • I’ve heard some really good teaching on the OT sacrifices being more a function of God meeting people where they were culturally rather than a demand or ultimately needed or desired by Him. That God didn’t originally ask for the sacrifices of Cain and Able (the first) but rather accepted what they brought. He meet us where we were and then worked to lead us out of those traditions to see that it was never about shedding blood but about grace. It was never about the old covenant but about grace. He never wanted any of it, but we needed it before we could see God.

  • Gerard Jaytileke

    “Only the Christian faith has God *being* the sacrifice”


    In Hinduism, the god Prajapathi known as the Lord of all creatures is said to sacrifice himself for his creatures..

  • David Bablitz

    You should probably read Isaiah. Also, the entire Old Testament. But at least read Isaiah.

  • Phil McCarthy

    Sorry Matthew, been busy. I happened to notice this comment from Bryce on the more recent post which neatly sums up my own views. And no, having been raised Catholic, I do not believe in the imputation theory of some protestants. One of the issues here is that people raised on PSA find it very difficult to take those lenses off and read back into scripture much that is not there. That especially relates to the question “how does the transaction’ work under other theories. For me there is no transaction. And I side with those who translate ‘Pistis Christou” as (we are saved by…. )’the faithfulness of Christ”.

    ” I think of salvation as God’s rescue and restoration of his creation. By his death, Jesus conquers death, thus lancing our fear, rage, and shame. We who die to self as we renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, then turn to Jesus as our Savior, place our whole trust in his grace and mercy, and vow to obey him as Lord of our lives, are buried with him in baptism, then raised with him to new life. Jesus’ “payment” for our sins is to obliterate Sin, to conquer death which is the wages of Sin, and raise us to new life. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is passing away, behold the new is appearing. All this is from God, who in Christ reconciled us to himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-18″

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much Phil.

    I recently heard a teaching about some aspects of the atonement.

    The teacher said that although the first 1000 years of the church believed the ransom was paid to the devil, then Anselm of Canterbury said the ransom was paid to God, then Calvin started the PSA ball rolling, that scripture doesn´t really explicitly offer us a picture of how the transaction takes place. One has to bend the words of scripture in order to come to a transaction theory. His teaching did offer up some things to consider.

    I suppose one could argue even if we don´t know the “how”, we still receive the benefits anyway by faith in Jesus Christ.

    “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

  • Joel Furrow

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. Why can’t it be both? It seems that scripture points to both. I understand that we may not like the idea of Jesus having to die to satisfy the wrath of God, but I think we have to use scripture to back up why that isn’t true – just because it’s not something that we like doesn’t make it untrue.

  • JenellYB

    But wouldn’t is be more like “suicide by cop?”

  • Dan Held

    Two points in support of Brian ‘ s important message. Christian archeologists and anthropologists have evidenced how Abram grew up in Ur with the Mesopotamian practice of animal blood sacrifice for atonement. It’s not a God – thing but a human ritual of ancient origins carried into Hebrew history. Secondly, the discipline of mathematics reveals a commodity of sorts called “game theory” where in the zero sum game by which most societies operate, the Zero Sum game requires someone to lose so someone else can win. By adequate means of knowledge through communication / communion, Jesus brings about the Positive Sum game where everyone wins………even the victims of savage torture and murder. Even the lowest of the low enjoy the win/win of forgiveness. Resurrection is the ending of Zero Sum and win/lose. It is the beginning of win/win. It is God’s Positive Sum game that is heaven’s own commodity given to the world God so loved.

  • Schuh

    I agree with the main point, that “Jesus did not shed his blood to buy God’s forgiveness,” but I disagree with Brian’s alternative, that “Jesus shed his blood to embody God’s forgiveness”. Jesus’ crucifixion only demonstrated violence and injustice; there was no love or forgiveness or divine will in his suffering. It was, rather, in the forgiveness Jesus offered his killers WHILE they were shedding his blood that grace was embodied. His example of forgiving in the cruelest of circumstances is the great revelation of this story. Salvation is not in the violence done to him but in our imitation of the god-like forgiveness he modeled.

  • No, because suicide and Jesus’ purpose in allowing Himself to be crucified are not even remotely related.