How Did Messiah Jesus explain His death to His disciples?

[July 19/2010]

Two questions from a truth-seeking Muslim on the death of Jesus on the cross: DID He die on the cross (which we looked at in Part One), and, if so, WHY did He die on the cross?


“I am looking at the Christians are preparing for this Easter. I have known from friends that it was the real Christ on the Cross. But my Muslim friends and our [Muslim] teachings say that He was another man. I trust if the bible says then it is CHRIST


“Actually in Muslim faith there are some different stories about crucifixion of Christ. But need to know the reality. Perhaps I need to re read it for better understanding...but it is very important for me to learn about why Christ was crucified. He was able to save himself from the enemies...why did he allow them to beat him and take him to the cross?





In the first part of the discussion (Part One), we concluded that the Qur’an does not deny the historical crucifixion of Jesus, but only denies that his Jewish enemies were correct in their boasts to have thwarted God by executing/extinguishing His Messenger with finality. And that the Qur’an does point to a historical death of the historical Jesus—and that it was special in the eyes of God.


The Qur’an does not explicitly discuss the meaning of that death—other than as a martyr before God, as with other prophets—and so to understand the meaning of that death we have to look at the pre-Qur’anic revelation/messages of God (i.e. the Hebrew Bible and the Injil).




In the second part (Part Two) we studied the question of why Jesus/Isa allowed himself to be mistreated/killed, since he did not actually have to.


We saw that:


  • Jesus predicted (over and over) that His earthly life would involve suffering/shame/death at the hands of those who opposed Him, and his subsequent exaltation by God in resurrection.


  • Jesus was not a victim—that He was in control of His destiny (under obedience to God), and that no one killed him (in spite of what they might have thought). It is clear from the Injil, therefore, that Jesus was not a victim--that He knew of His shameful death ahead of time, that He voluntarily laid down His life (no one killed or crucified Him, against His will and against God's purpose), and He could have overthrown by force any and all of His enemies--had He chosen to. But He did not. He accepted this death as a 'commandment' from God the Father. It was, after all, God's will for Jesus and for God's purposes through Jesus.


  • Jesus explicitly identifies the path of suffering and death with the will of God, and which affirm that God was completely in control of the events leading up to, including, and subsequent to the Crucifixion. Strictly speaking, Jesus allowed Himself to be mistreated and executed, because it was the will of God for His life/ministry/death. This is clearly the understanding that Jesus reveals in the Injil.


  • Jesus accepted the shame, suffering, and death at the hands of his enemies because of His complete (and unique!) obedience to God. His complete submission to God’s will—unique among men as the sinless one—resulted in His acceptance of the horrors of the Cross. God was in complete control over those events--in His sovereignty--and Jesus was a part of that plan of God. Jesus consistently portrays the Crucifixion as the will of God the Father for Him, as something He Himself voluntarily accepted, and as an act of supreme obedience to God. He was fully submitted to the will of God--whatever the personal cost.


  • This submission to God is sometimes described as His obedience to God’s will as recorded in the prophetic Scriptures of Israel. These pre-Quranic Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) are consistently upheld as authoritative in the Qur’an. The pre-Quranic revelations (especially the Hebrew Bible and New Testament) are to be used as a source of accurate knowledge about God's actions and will.


  • The content of this will of God for Jesus was described in very strongly unpleasant terms: rejection, the 'cup', the 'hour', suffering, shame, and even terror. This was not the calm death of a martyr--this was something somehow much more horrible.


  • He spoke of His suffering and death as some kind of ‘cup’ which the Father gave Him to drink.  This cup is both a cup of suffering and a cup of wrath/punishment from God—something Jesus did not deserve. Somehow, this punishment-cup was given to Jesus to drink, but not because of some personal sin of His own. He is acknowledged by both Biblical and Islamic tradition as being sinless.


  • Jesus consistently spoke about His death, about His voluntary obedience to God the Father through that death, and about how unusually horrific some aspect of that death would be.


So, the answer to the second part of the question was straight-forward:


Jesus allowed His enemies to do these acts of evil to Him, because He was fully committed, submitted, and obedient to the will of God, as revealed in the prophetic Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament..




In one of His post-resurrection appearances, Jesus pointed out that the Messiah/Christ must have experienced the suffering, in order to then experience His glory:


That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  (Lk 24:13-27).


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Now, in this article in this series, we will look at the prediction of the coming of Israel's Messiah. The Qur'an (and Muslim tradition) identifies the Jewish Messiah with Jesus, and if Israel's Messiah was supposed to suffer (like Jesus did), then we must look at the pre-Quranic Hebrew Bible/Old Testament for WHY the Messiah was supposed to suffer. Then (in the final article in this series) we will consider the explanations of the result of the Cross, as given by Jesus and His disciples in the Injil/New Testament.





First, let's note that the Qur'an explicitly refers to Jesus/Isa as "The Messiah" (al-Masih):


"The Messiah (Al-Masih) Jesus receives the title Messiah (Christ) eleven times in the Qur'an, all in Medinan suras (3,40/45; 4,156/157; 4,169/171; 4,170/172; 5,19/17 twice; 5,76/72 twice; 5,79/75; 9,30; 9,31). Sura 3,40/45 relating the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus says: 'His name shall be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary'... The title is used in a personal way like Jesus, as in 5,76/72: 'The Messiah said, 'O Children of Israel, serve God'... While no explanation is offered of the title Messiah, and it is applied to Jesus at all periods of his life from birth to exaltation, yet it appears to have a particular sense. 'O People of the Book, do not go beyond bounds in your religion, and do not say about God anything but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only the messenger of God' (4, 169/171) " [WR:JIQ:30]



Second, let's note that the word was acknowledged to be a pre-Islamic foreign word:


"The word is of Jewish origin, transmitted through Syriac. It seems to have been known in the north and the south of Arabia in the pre-Islamic period. The Hebrew mashaih was used of the kings and the patriarchs and especially for the awaited Savior. The Septuagint translated it by Christos. Al-Zamakhshari and al-Baydawi admit that the word is foreign and al-Firuzabadi states that there are fifty explanations for this word. In the Kur'an the word is used only to signify Jesus." (EI, s.v. "Jesus")


Third, Muslim commentators gave numerous explanations of what it meant, but that no other prophet or Islamic figure is ever given this unique title--something was recognized as being different about Jesus:


"Firozabadi in his Arabic dictionary said that there were over fifty explanations of Masih. Zamakhshari and Baidawi admitted that it was a foreign word, and the latter commented that Masih was the surname of Jesus, a title of honour like al-Siddiq, the 'truthful', a surname of Abu Bakr the first caliph. That the Hebrew original was used of the 'anointed' kings of Israel and then for the coming Christ, was known to Muslim commentators and they tried to show how Jesus was anointed in this sense. ... Despite the prima facie plausibility of the etymologies mentioned above, however, it should be noted that those which seem to indicate qualities that Jesus shared with other prophets do not do justice to the fact that he alone is called al-Masih in the Quran. It seems likely that the first hearers of the revelations would have been aware that al-Masih was a dignified title which the Christians held was uniquely applicable to Jesus." [EQ, s.v. Jesus, 12b-13a]



Fourth, the term al-Masih is uniquely applied to Jesus/Isa in the hadith literature, especially in the passages about the return of Jesus/Isa in the future. There is also a rebuke again some unidentified Christian heretical group who only worshipped Isa:


"In canonical Hadith al-Masih is found in three main connections: (a) in Muhammad's dream, in which he relates how he saw at the Kaba a very handsome brown-complexioned man with beautiful locks, dripping with water, who walked supported by two men; to his question who this was, the reply was given, 'al-Masih b. Maryam' (al-Bukhari, Libas, bab 68; Tabir, bab 11; Muslim, Iman, trad. 302); (b) in the descriptions of the return of Isa; (c) at the Last Judgment, the Christians will be told; 'What have you worshipped?'. They will replay, 'We have worshipped al-Masih, the Son of God'. For this they shall wallow in Hell' (al-Bukhari, Tafsir, sura IV, bab 8; Tawhid, bab 24; Muslim, Imam, trad 302)." [EI, s.v. 'al-Masih']



Next, it is odd that even though Jesus/Isa is called the Messiah/Christ in the Muslim literature, there did not seem to be any interest in that literature to explore what the pre-Quran scriptures meant by that term. The term is never explained by the Quran or hadith, and only recently has we seen attempts to understand the term in is connection with pre-Quranic literature.


So, for example, in the writings of Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad, we find him attempting to understand the significance of Jesus/Isa in the context of pre-Quranic literature:


"Belief in the expectation of the Messiah was at its height after the kingdom ruled by Da­vid's dynasty had disappeared and the first Temple had been destroyed. The people of Is­rael reverted to statements made by their prophets which promised the return of their king. These claimed that he would come as a prince from among the descendants of David him­self; kings would submit to him and the nations would profess his authority. There was then a development concerning belief in the "Messiah"; rather than being characterized as a king, it was believed that he would be "the chosen one" or "the expected one" who would offer guidance and establish righteousness. This transformation reached a climax in sev­eral prophetic books, among them the book of Isaiah, which is distinguished from the oth­ers by its repetition of these promises. There the portrayal of this figure ranges from the description of his power, might and regal authority, to his gentleness, sacrifice, and endur­ance of the abhorrent things he must bear in the process of warning against judgment and preaching the good news. According to Isaiah chapter 53, the expected messenger is characterized as "despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and grief." It says in Zechariah chapter 9 that he is "just and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, the foal of a donkey." Many passages also agree that the Messiah would be preceded by a forerunner who would announce his coming; this would be the prophet Elijah, resurrected from the dead." [The Genius of Christ, WR:TGOC, 88f]



Now, at a practical level, this means that we will need to use the pre-Quranic Scripture to understand the implications of Jesus/Isa being the Messiah for our understanding of why He died.


The understanding of what the Jewish Messiah was supposed to be and to do is found in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, and it is referred to in the New Testament/Injil.


As the Arabic commentators knew and pointed out, the term 'Messiah' (Christ) means 'anointed one', and this term is used in the Hebrew Bible to refer mainly to prophets, priests, and kings.


The OT contains scores of passages describing the character and ministry of these various 'anointed ones' (messianic figures), and Jesus and His companions/disciples identify them as being fulfilled by Jesus/Isa.


The Islamic faith believes that Isa/Jesus both had a ministry in His first sojourn on earth (the period of time described in the New Testament gospels) and will yet have another future ministry at His return to earth. This conforms to the patterns of prophetic fulfillment pointed out in the New Testament: many of the prophecies of the Anointed One were fulfilled in the lifetime of Jesus, but some of the prophecies will not be fulfilled by Him until His return to earth.


So, we will begin by looking at the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible prophecies of a then-future figure (sent by God to minister to Israel, primarily) which Jesus Himself referred.


There are very, very many of these passages, so I will narrow them down to passages which have an impact on how we understand Jesus’ death on the Cross. (We saw in the previous article that many passages in the Hebrew Bible spoke about the rejection of the Messiah, in His various roles, and even His death--but here we are interested in the passages that explain the 'why' of that death.


There are two major passages that Jesus referred to: the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the New Covenant in Jeremiah.


Jesus identifies himself in Mark 10.45 with the Suffering Servant of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 52-53.


Here is the reference on the lips of Jesus, the Gospel of Mark and its parallel in the Gospel of Matthew:


"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10.45)


"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Gospel of Matthew 20.25-28)


Those who study these passages understand them to be references to Isaiah 53:


By calling himself a “servant” and defining his mission as “giving his life a ransom for the many,” Jesus identifies himself with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:10–12. Although the servant’s mission had been given to Israel as a whole (Is 41:8; 43:10; 44:2, 21; 49:3), Israel through disobedience could not fulfill it (42:19), so that the one who would fulfill it had to restore Israel as well as bring light to the Gentiles (49:5–7; 52:13–53:12). [Keener, C. S. (1997, c1993). The IVP Bible background commentary  : New Testament (electronic ed.) (Mk 10:45). Downers Grove: InterVarsity.]


"The reversal of all human ideas of greatness and rank was achieved when Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve. He voluntarily veiled his glory as the Son of Man (cf. Chs. 8:38; 13:26; 14:62) and assumed the form of a slave who performed his service unto death because this was the will of God (cf. Phil. 2:6–8). In verse 45, which subsumes verses 43–44, the death of Jesus is presented as his service to God and as a vicarious death for many in virtue of which they find release from sin. Each of the components of this highly compressed saying is significant. The formulation “The Son of man came …” places the entire statement in the context of Jesus’ messianic mission (cf. Ch. 2:17). The service in which the royal will of the Son of Man is displayed is fulfilled in his giving of himself. In a Jewish frame of reference this expression was characteristically used of the death of the martyrs (e.g. 1 Macc. 2:50; 6:44; Mekilta to Ex. 12:1). In this context it expresses the element of voluntariness or self-sacrifice in the death of Jesus who offers himself in obedience to the will of God. His death has infinite value because he dies not as a mere martyr but as the transcendent Son of Man. … The ransom metaphor sums up the purpose for which Jesus gave his life and defines the complete expression of his service. The prevailing notion behind the metaphor is that of deliverance by purchase, whether a prisoner of war, a slave, or a forfeited life is the object to be delivered. Because the idea of equivalence, or substitution, was proper to the concept of a ransom, it became an integral element in the vocabulary of redemption in the OT. It speaks of a liberation which connotes a servitude or an imprisonment from which man cannot free himself. In the context of verse 45a, with its reference to the service of the Son of Man, it is appropriate to find an allusion to the Servant of the Lord in Isa. 53, who vicariously and voluntarily suffered and gave his life for the sins of others. The specific thought underlying the reference to the ransom is expressed in Isa. 53:10 which speaks of “making his life an offering for sin.” Jesus, as the messianic Servant, offers himself as a guilt-offering (Lev. 5:14–6:7; 7:1–7; Num. 5:5–8) in compensation for the sins of the people. The release effected by this offering overcomes man’s alienation from God, his subjection to death, and his bondage to sin. Jesus’ service is offered to God to release men from their indebtedness to God. … The thought of substitution is reinforced by the qualifying phrase “a ransom for the many.” The Son of Man takes the place of the many and there happens to him what would have happened to them (cf. Ch. 8:37: what no man can do, Jesus, as the unique Son of Man, achieves). The many had forfeited their lives, and what Jesus gives in their place is his life. In his death, Jesus pays the price that sets men free. The sacrifice of the one is contrasted with those for whom it is made, in allusion to Isa. 53:11f. In rabbinic literature, and even more strikingly at Qumran, “the many” is a technical term for the elect community, the eschatological people of God. The majestic figure of the Son of Man is linked here with the community which will be vindicated and saved in the eschatological judgment because Jesus goes to his death innocently, voluntarily and in accordance with the will of God. This corresponds perfectly with the main thought of Isa. 53. The ultimate meaning of Jesus’ vicarious suffering and his giving himself as a ransom, however, can be understood only from the reality of his life, death and resurrection as narrated in the Gospel. In Mark there is complete correspondence between the ransom saying and the death of Jesus. Because Jesus’ will is synchronous with the will of God he must die in the place of guilty men (Ch. 8:31, 33). This is what it means for him to offer his life as a ransom for the many. … This painful and glorious destiny of the Son of Man is something unique to his mission and in a definite sense is incommunicable: only he can accomplish this service. Nevertheless, his submission to the servant’s vocation is here proposed as an example to the Twelve, who are summoned to pattern their lives after the humility of the Son of Man. Jesus’ sacrifice of his own glory is the ground of a renewal of life to self-sacrificial obedience. The disciples were to experience this power of his death in themselves. That John, the son of Zebedee, ultimately understood Jesus’ intention is clear from 1 John 3:16: “He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” [Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (383). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]



The passage in Isaiah 53 in the Hebrew Bible reads as this:


   1  Who has believed our message?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

    2         For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,

And like a root out of parched ground;

He has no stately form or majesty

That we should look upon Him,

Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

    3         He was despised and forsaken of men,

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

And like one from whom men hide their face

He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

    4         Surely our griefs He Himself bore,

And our sorrows He carried;

Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten of God, and afflicted.

    5         But He was pierced through for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

And by His scourging we are healed.

    6         All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all

To fall on Him.

    7         He was oppressed and He was afflicted,

Yet He did not open His mouth;

Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,

And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,

So He did not open His mouth.

    8         By oppression and judgment He was taken away;

And as for His generation, who considered

That He was cut off out of the land of the living

For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

    9         His grave was assigned with wicked men,

Yet He was with a rich man in His death,

Because He had done no violence,

Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

  10         But the Lord was pleased

To crush Him, putting Him to grief;

If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,

He will see His offspring,

He will prolong His days,

And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

  11         As a result of the anguish of His soul,

He will see it and be satisfied;

By His knowledge the Righteous One,

My Servant, will justify the many,

As He will bear their iniquities.

  12         Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,

And He will divide the booty with the strong;

Because He poured out Himself to death,

And was numbered with the transgressors;

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,

And interceded for the transgressors.




This passage is full of explicit references to the Suffering Messianic Servant taking upon Himself the punishment due to others, and freeing them from that 'debt of death' by dying in their place.


Commenting on "pierced through for our transgressions", one commentator explains:


"Delitzsch goes so far as to say that it is the strongest term for violent and excruciating death in the language. Similarly, “crushed” is stronger than that which Eng. “bruised” implies. It suggests at least breaking into pieces and in some cases even pulverizing (19:10; Job 22:9; Jer. 44:10; Ps. 90:3 [dakkāʾ, “dust,” a noun form of medukkāʾ, “crushed,” here]). … This effect in the Servant is the measure of how seriously God takes our rebellion and crookedness. We typically wish to make light of our “shortcomings,” to explain away our “mistakes.” But God will have none of it. The refusal of humanity to bow to the Creator’s rule, and our insistence on drawing up our own moral codes that pander to our lusts, are not shortcomings or mistakes. They are the stuff of death and corruption, and unless someone can be found to stand in our place, they will see us impaled on the swords of our own making and broken on the racks of our own design. But someone has been found. Someone has taken on himself the results of our rebelliousness, and we have been given the keys of the kingdom (2 Cor. 5:21; 8:9; 1 Pet. 2:24)." [Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (387). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


This is the notion of 'ransom' in Jesus' words, as the Shepard who 'lays down his life for his sheep':


"Jesus characterizes his death as a “ransom” (lytron), employing a word that does not appear elsewhere in the NT (a related word antilytron, also translated “ransom,” is used in 1 Tim 2:6). In extrabiblical sources lytron denotes the price paid to free slaves, and it is likely that it has this meaning here, though obviously it is used in a metaphorical sense. Some scholars think that, when used with reference to God, the term refers to deliverance in a general way, without implying anything about cost. It appears that the related verb lytroō can describe an act of deliverance which does not involve payment, but it is doubtful that lytron is ever used in this way. It specifically designates the means of deliverance and always seems to include the notion of cost. When used metaphorically, however, it need not imply that payment is given to a particular individual, and the NT references to redemption never specify to whom the ransom is paid. In this case the term stresses that the emancipation of the many was accomplished at great cost, namely the death of the Son of man. …If the idea of cost attaches to lytron, the use of this word suggests that the death of Jesus had a substitutionary significance. The presence of the idea of substitution receives further support, if, as argued above, the ransom saying is indebted to Isaiah 53, where the servant is pictured as suffering vicariously. In any case there can be little doubt that the Evangelists thought in terms of substitution, since the saying calls to mind the question “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt 16:26 par. Mk 8:37), which Jesus addressed to the disciples in the teaching he gave on discipleship after the first passion prediction. This passage, which echoes Psalm 49:7–9, indicates that those who forfeit eternal life cannot buy it back. With the ransom saying Jesus claims that he can do for others what they cannot do for themselves. … The idea of substitution is reinforced by the use of the preposition anti after lytron. This preposition normally indicates a relationship of equivalence or exchange. It is most often rendered “instead of” or “in place of.” …The far-reaching effects of the substitutionary death of Jesus are indicated by the phrase “for many.” [NT:DJG, s.v. "Ransom Saying"; Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (661–662). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.]



Thus Jesus explains that His life will be forfeited (by dying) so that others would be set free from death-as-judgement-for-sin.



The second major passage/theme that Jesus speaks of explicitly is about the New Covenant




The references are at Jesus' last supper upon earth. Here are the parallel passages:


While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” [The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mt 26:26-29). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]


While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. [The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mk 14:22-24). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]


And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. [The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Lk 22:19-20). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]


We can see a couple of points here:


  1. His blood was poured out for many
  2. His blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins of the many
  3. His blood was the blood of the New Covenant


Here are some explanations of this by commentators:


"The words by which Jesus explains this extraordinary idea combine three phrases which together draw out the redemptive significance of his death. (a) “Blood of the covenant directly echoes Exod 24:8 (and cf. Exod 24:6 for the “pouring out” of that blood) and so recalls the original basis of Israel’s life as the special people of God; mention of “the covenant” also recalls Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer 31:31–34) that at the heart of God’s restoration of his people there would be a “new covenant,” grounded in a new relationship of “knowing God” and in the forgiving and forgetting of their sins. (b) “Poured out for many” recalls the “many” who are repeatedly referred to in Isa 53:11–12 as the beneficiaries of the suffering and death of the servant of God, an allusion already familiar to us from 20:28, where again it was specifically linked to the purpose of Jesus’ death; here the Isa 53 allusion is further suggested by the verb “poured out” which is used in Isa 53:12 of the servant “pouring out his life to death.”32 (c) The final phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” not only recalls the servant’s death for the sins of his people (Isa 53:5–6, 8, 10, 11, 12) but also further reinforces the allusion to Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy, where the basis of this new relationship is that “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more;” it also recalls to the reader the original statement of Jesus’ mission in 1:21, to “save his people from their sins.” " [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (993–994). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]


"‘Blood of the covenant’ evokes Ex. 24:8, where Moses splashes on the people half of the blood of the sacrifices mentioned in v. 5. The other half had already been splashed against the altar in the normal way (v. 6), but half of it had been kept back and put in basins. The book of the covenant is read out to the people, and they promise obedience to its stipulations. Then the blood is splashed over the people with the explanatory words, ‘See the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words’. The blood, shared between the altar and the people, binds God and the people together, with the people aligned with the holiness of God, and with solemn commitment on both sides. The one definite OT echo of Ex. 24:8 is in Zech. 9:11, ‘Because of the blood of the covenant with you [lit. ‘your covenant’], I [God] will set your prisoners free’. On the basis of his covenant commitment to Israel at Sinai God promises that he will act to liberate. Given the importance of Zechariah in the Passion Narrative, it is likely that Zech. 9:11 is also in mind here, and that Matthew is echoing God’s affirmation there of his covenant commitment to the saving of his people…. Is. 53:10 understands the Servant’s death by viewing his life as given up as a guilt offering. In 4 Macc. 6:29, ‘make my blood their purification’, the language that is borrowed to speak of representative and substitutionary suffering comes from the purification of things and people associated with the temple… The fresh beginning of the covenant anticipated by the prophets is related to forgiveness. For example, Ez. 16:63, discussed above, has, ‘when I [God] forgive you all that you have done’, and Je. 31:34 has, ‘I [God] will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more’.  [Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew : A commentary on the Greek text (1079). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]


"The symbolism of the bread and cup is only fulfilled in the participation of each individual disciple for whom Jesus’ death was to be accomplished. In the parallel sentence to the saying of v. 26 concerning the body of Jesus, “for this is my blood,” we have the same type of symbolism at work: the wine symbolizes the blood of Jesus, and to drink that wine is symbolically to partake of the blood and its atoning effect. This is clear from the three interpretive phrases that follow. First, the blood is described as “of the covenant.” This phrase occurs in the OT (Exod 24:8; Zech 9:11; cf. Heb 9:20). The blood here is not the blood that was necessary to the first covenant (cf. Heb 9:18) but that which inaugurates the new covenant… The phrase “blood of the covenant,” without the adjective “new,” referring to the blood of Christ, is found in Heb 10:29 (cf. 13:20; in the OT, Exod 24:8). The new covenant is that prophesied in Jer 31:31–34 (cf. Heb 8:6–13; 9:15–22). Second, the blood is described as “which is poured out for many” (cf. Isa 53:12). The language “poured out” is itself an allusion to sacrifices of atonement in the temple ritual (e.g., Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34). … The pouring out of the blood of Jesus is to be taken not literally but metaphorically, referring to his death. Third, the blood (or more accurately, the pouring out of the blood) is described as being “for the forgiveness of sins”. This notice links the death of Jesus both with that of the suffering servant of Isaiah (cf. Isa 53:12) and with the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 31:34). It is finally the real purpose of the coming of Jesus (cf. 1:21).  [Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (773). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


"One more OT allusion is worth emphasizing. As in 20:28, it is very probable that Jesus is also portraying himself as Isaiah's Suffering Servant. This is based on three things: (1) “my blood of the covenant” calls to mind that the servant is twice presented as “a covenant for the people” (Isa 42:6 [“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness]; 49:8 [This is what the LORD says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’])—i.e., he will reestablish the covenant; (2) “poured out may well reflect Isaiah 53:12 [Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.]; and (3) “for many” again recalls the work of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13–53:12. [For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.]; " [Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (538–539). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]


"In all four accounts a relation is established between Christ’s blood and his covenant. As reported by Matthew and Mark, Jesus said, “my blood of the covenant.” The expression goes back to Exod. 24:8. See also the significant passage Lev. 17:11. And note: “Apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22; cf. Eph. 1:7); therefore also no covenant, no special relation of friendship between God and his people. Reconciliation with God always requires blood, an atoning sacrifice. And since man himself is unable to render such a sacrifice, a substitutionary offering, accepted by faith, is required (Isa. 53:6, 8, 10, 12; Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 6:51; Rom. 4:19; 8:32; II Cor. 5:20, 21; Gal. 2:20; 3:13; I Peter 2:24). " [Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 9: New Testament commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. New Testament Commentary (910). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.]



The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible passages referred to here are mainly these:


When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” 4 Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.  He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”  8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  [ Exodus 24:3–8)]


For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life." [Leviticus 17.11]


“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  32           It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

33                “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

34                No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” [Jeremiah 31.31-34]




It is important to understand that any religion that claims to accept the Old Testament / Hebrew bible as a revelation from God must admit that the concept of sacrifice is central to the prescribed, revealed religion of the OT, and that this key concept is also the foundation for the death of Jesus on the Cross.


"After the return from the Babylonian exile and the building of the second temple, the Mosaic law of sacrifice was once again put into practice in Jerusalem, and with less interference and fewer distractions, on the whole, than before. In the lifetime of Jesus this observance still continued. He had sacrifice offered for him, or offered it himself, at his presentation in the temple, at his last Passover, and presumably on those other occasions when he went up to Jerusalem for the feasts. After his death and resurrection, the apostles continued to frequent the temple, including even Paul, who went up to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, and on that occasion offered the sacrifices, which included sin offerings, for the interruption of Nazirite vows (Acts 18:18; 21:23–26; see Num. 6:9–12). … Despite this outward continuity through the NT period, the teaching of the NT shows that everything had changed. The sacrifices on which it concentrates attention are not those of the temple but the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the spiritual sacrifices of Christians. In principle, the Mosaic sacrifices were now unnecessary. While the temple stood, Jewish Christians felt some duty to observe its ordinances, but when, in ad 70, the temple was destroyed by the Romans in suppressing the first Jewish revolt, and the offering of sacrifice there came to an end, Christians could see a certain appropriateness in the event. Ever since Jeremiah had announced a new covenant, and had thereby made the covenant of Sinai ‘old’, it had been ‘obsolete and … ready to vanish away’ (Heb. 8:13), and now, through the coming and work of Christ, it had actually done so. … The fullest NT discussion of the OT sacrifices is found in the epistle to the Hebrews. The writer’s teaching on those sacrifices has its positive side (11:4, 17–19, 28), but his great concern is to point out their inadequacy except as types foreshadowing the Christian realities. The fact that they cannot gain human beings entrance into the Holy of Holies proves that they cannot free the conscience from guilt, but are simply fleshly ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation (9:6–10). The rending of the veil came only with the death of Christ (Mark 15:37–38; Heb. 10:20). The inability of the sacrifices to atone is shown also by the fact that mere animals are offered (Heb. 10:4), and by the fact of their repetition (10:1–2). They are not so much remedies for sin as reminders of it (10:3). … The sacrifice of Christ is not only foreshadowed in the OT but also prophesied. The NT identifies Jesus with the suffering servant of Isaiah 52–53, who is to be a guilt offering for others (Is. 53:10), and since the prophecy distinguishes him both from the nation (Is. 53:8) and from the prophet himself (Is. 53:2–6), it is difficult to see who the suffering servant can be except an eschatological figure, such as the Messiah. In this prophecy, the ideas of atoning sacrifice and vicarious punishment are combined. In the law of Moses sacrifice and punishment are closely related concepts, as a comparison of Leviticus 16:16 with Numbers 35:33–34 clearly shows, and in Isaiah 52–53 the punishment sinners deserve is accepted by another, the one who offers himself as a guilt offering." [Alexander, T. D., & Rosner, B. S. (2001). New dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


And God's love for us--and His offer of freedom from sin's consequences and His offer of free forgiveness is based upon Christ's self-sacrifice and our simple trust in that reality. The bible and theologians call this 'atonement'--becoming right with God:


"God is seen as taking the initiative in man’s salvation; thus atonement is the work of God, who opens the possibility for sinful human beings to receive pardoning grace. For the sinner, who cannot know God, who cannot bridge the gap between himself and God, a “new and living way” is opened up by God.

The need for atonement is bound up with man’s thoroughgoing sinfulness. All of Scripture points to the radical nature of that sinfulness. The prophet Isaiah affirmed, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Is 53:6). According to another prophet, Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). David the psalmist cried, “There is none that does good, no, not one” (Ps 14:3). Paul described the degeneracy of man caused by his disobedience and idolatry (Rom 1:18–32) and summed it up: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Elsewhere Paul described men as “enemies of God” (Rom 5:10), as “hostile to God” (Rom 8:7), as “estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col 1:21). Adam’s race is just like Adam: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom 5:12).


"The problem of the sinfulness of man is compounded by the holiness of God, who cannot look upon sin. Isaiah saw the holy God in the temple and drew back because of his own sinfulness (Is 6:1–5). Not only is man terribly sinful, but God is fearfully holy. Consequently man dreads God and can do nothing to change this situation. He is lost, helpless, standing under the awful judgment of God. He cannot justify himself before God and cannot merit God’s concern.The possibility of atonement, then, rests entirely with God. The nature of that atonement, as illustrated in biblical history, affirms simultaneously the nature of both God and man.


"Old Testament. The Hebrew term frequently translated “atone” has the basic meaning “to wipe out,” “to erase,” “to cover,” or perhaps more generally “to remove.” In the King James Version of the Bible it is translated by such expressions as “to make atonement,” “forgive,” “appease,” “pacify,” “pardon,” “purge,” “put off,” and “reconcile.” … The most common OT expression of the means of atonement was the sacrifice and offering up of the blood of a victim. To appreciate the concept of sacrifice it must be understood that God provided for the sacrifice, while man performed the rite. Man is not to be viewed as attempting to do something “on his own” to obtain forgiveness. The sacrifice took place at the initiative of God and was to be seen as God’s gracious provision for sin. “I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls” (Lv 17:11). In the account of Abraham’s willingness to offer up his son Isaac, God provided the sacrifice (Gn 22:9–14). In Genesis 15:17–21 God called Abraham to arrange the covenant sacrifice. Far from being something man did to satisfy God, the sacrifice was an act of God for man. … In a sacrifice the shedding of blood was the central act. Life was in the blood (Lv 17:11); in the pouring out of the blood, life was given up; that is, death occurred. Elsewhere blood may be a symbol for life, but in the sacrificial motif it symbolized death.


"New Testament. Throughout the NT it is made clear that the work of Christ, primarily the cross, is what provides atonement. OT language continues to find expression in the NT, especially the term “blood.” Thus in the NT we have the “blood of the covenant” (Mt 26:28) and the “new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20) as well as the “blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13) and the “blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). Almost equivalent are the frequent references to the cross and the death of Christ. The NT is the “new covenant” of Jesus Christ, sealed by his blood. He represented the once-for-all coming of God to man and for man.

The atoning work of Christ is described as an expression of the love of Christ for humankind. The relationship was expressed clearly by the apostle John (“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” Jn 3:16) and by Paul (“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” Rom 5:8). The atonement is the act of God’s grace whereby he does for man what man could not do for himself. Man is without excuse. The judgment of God is just; yet grace is offered as coming from the very nature of God. The necessity of the work of Christ (“must suffer,” Mk 8:31, etc.) is derived only from the grace and love of God.


"Many terms are employed to express the atoning significance of Christ. His death is the “sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2) and a “single sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:12; cf. 9:26; 7:27). Paul wrote that God set Christ forth to be a “propitiation” (King James Version) or “expiation” (Revised Standard Version). The New International Version of the Bible helps to clarify the concept by using the term “atoning sacrifice,” an expression that includes the ideas of both propitiation and expiation. The death of Christ is seen as the fulfillment of all that was prefigured by the OT sacrificial system.

"The sacrificial nature of Christ’s death is clearly expressed. He was referred to by Paul as “our paschal lamb” (1 Cor 5:7). The apostle Peter stated that believers are rescued “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pt 1:18, 19). So also the references in John 1:29, 36 to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” probably had in mind the idea of sacrifice.


"If Christ is viewed as our sacrifice, he is also viewed as our representative. That is, he represented us in his death. One of the most difficult phrases to interpret precisely is the common biblical expression “for us” (“for me,” etc.). It may mean generally “for my sake” or something more specific. Does Christ represent us? More specifically, is he a substitute for us? Some texts clearly speak of him as our representative. Thus Paul said, “We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Cor 5:14). If “substitution” were meant, the last clause would conclude that we will not, or do not, die. Hebrews speaks of Christ as our high priest before the Father, which is probably what John had in mind when he referred to Christ as our “advocate with the Father” (1 Jn 2:2). … The expression “for us” at times seems to mean much more than representation; it often carries the sense of substitution, an idea prevalent in the OT. So, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Two “ransom sayings” also portray substitution: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45 kjv). He “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tm 2:6). He became a “curse for us” (Gal 3:13). …


"However we describe what Christ has done by way of atonement, it remains for human beings to appropriate it by faith. The human race is not uninvolved in the atonement; the note of grace in the NT is always accompanied by a reference to faith (Eph 2:8). After the indicative of God’s grace comes the imperative of personal belief." [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Map on lining papers. (231). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.]




Summary: We have seen in this article that Jesus himself indicated that His death--as the Messiah--was foretold in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament as both a ransom (for 'buying us' out of slavery to judgment, resulting in the forgiveness of sins) and as an inaugural sacrifice for the New Covenant (which included forgiveness of sins, and the power to submit to God in our very hearts). His death was not an accident, nor was it a failure, nor was it 'only' a human death--it was God's powerful love in action, providing a complete basis for forgiveness to us all. We need only to be honest with God about His work in and through Christ on the Cross, to be able to receive this free gift of forgiveness and a restored relationship with the Living, Loving, and Holy God.


In the next and final section of this series, we will present a quick overview of all the wonderful results of God's work through the Cross of Christ. We will see what God taught Jesus' companions and apostles about the results of the Cross. They wrote these things down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, and these are wonderful blessings of God for us to consider.

The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)