Yeshua was quite outspoken on the exact mechanism by which people’s sins are forgiven. And it has nothing to do with the “sacrifice” of anything living.
The mechanism Yeshua taught for the forgiveness of sins is simple, very specific, and very Jewish. He taught the self-liberation from spiritual bondage to the consequences of our sins, by releasing others from the consequences of their sins against us. The forgiveness of sins resides solely with the responsibility of the individual person and is not the product of any external intervention.
Yeshua’s name in Hebrew literally means “God saves” and is stated as such in this passage from the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew 1:20-21: But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus (Yeshua, Joshua), for he will save (liberate) his people from their sins.
Yeshua begins his ministry of liberation with the reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 in his local synagogue.
Luke 4:16-21, Now when he went to Natzeret, where he had been brought up, on Shabbat he went to the synagogue as usual. He stood up to read, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Yesha‘yahu. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of ADONAI is upon me; because he has anointed me to announce Good News to the poor; he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned and renewed sight for the blind, to release those who have been crushed, to proclaim a year of the favor of ADONAI.”
After closing the scroll and returning it to the shammash (sexton) , he sat down; and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He started to speak to them:
“Today, as you heard it read, this passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled!”
The salvific power that Yeshua offers us today is found in his teachings. We have already considered Yeshua’s negative opinion on the value of Jewish blood sacrifices in a previous post. The liberation that Yeshua offered was not political freedom from Rome, nor political or military victory over any other oppressors. Yeshua clearly separates the spiritual from the “political and military” with his response to the question about taxes in the Gospel of Mark. What Yeshua offered was spiritual liberation from sin, the self-created consequences of sin, and the existential condition of God’s seeming absence from the world.
Mark 12:14-17, They came and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you tell the truth and are not concerned with what people think about you, since you pay no attention to a person’s status but really teach what God’s way is. Does Torah say that taxes are to be paid to the Roman Emperor, or not?” But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you trying to trap me? Bring me a denarius so I can look at it.” They brought one; and he asked them, “Whose name and picture are these?” “The Emperor’s,” they replied. Yeshua said, “Give the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor. And give to God what belongs to God!” And they were amazed at him.
Yeshua taught the practice of Shalach, the spiritual science of forgiveness and non-retaliation. The Aramaic word Shalach as used by Yeshua means liberation or release from the consequences of sin. In modern day English translations of the New Testament it is translated as forgiveness. Please note that the “sin” we are discussing here is personal sin accrued from our actions as mortal human beings. This is the sin that separates us from God. It is not the “original sin” that was invented by Augustine of Hippo as a response to several Christian heresies the church was opposed to at the time. People are born mortal, fallible, ignorant, and prone to poor judgment; but they are not born “fallen”. People learn how to sin on their own, it is not an inherited trait. Judaism and Yeshua had no concept of “original sin”. In the Torah God pronounced both man and the world as “very good” in Genesis.
A person who intentionally harms another creates an injustice that sets up a destructive existential imbalance in nature that is beyond their control to amend. In other words, you can’t un-rape or un-kill somebody. In Judaism sin generates hub, an Aramaic word meaning the same as karma. Hub implies necessary consequences similar to Newton’s third law where every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It’s like a bullet shot straight up in the air that eventually stops and falls back onto the shooter, but with the same force and muzzle velocity.
The ancient Semitic Philosophy of Justice, Lex Tailones (the law of retaliation) states “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and is the practice of justice without mercy (or grace if you like). Yeshua’s Shalach is to “forgive” someone who sins, offends, or commits injustices against you, thereby releasing that person from the inevitable natural consequences that will rebound back upon them. In other words, it breaks the cycle of “what goes around, comes around”. This is Yeshua’s science of non-retaliation. God’s justice is tempered by mercy and compassion. One must honor the Way of God, not the ways of men and the world of politics. This is the higher law that the Kingdom of God is called towards.
It should be noted that the victim is the only one who has the spiritual power to end the ancient cycle of retaliation. With Shalach the cycle of karmic retaliation is put on hold and the bondage of sin is loosened for both victim and offender. By releasing an enemy from the consequences of his injustice against you, two people are liberated from sin. Desire for vengeance becomes a self-destructive poison in the heart of the victim, but a compassionate desire for the liberation of all beings from bondage to evil is healing. The concept of Shalach is deeply embedded into the Lord’s Prayer as seen in Yeshua’s commentary on the prayer in Matthew.
Matthew 6:9-15, You, therefore, pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven! May your Name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us the food we need today.
Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us.
And do not lead us into hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One. For kingship, power and glory are yours forever. Amen.’
For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will not forgive yours.
More from the Gospel of Luke:
Luke 6:27-32, Nevertheless, to you who are listening, what I say is this:
“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
“If someone hits you on one cheek, offer the other too; if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well
“If someone asks you for something, give it to him; if someone takes what belongs to you, don’t demand it back.”
Treat other people as you would like them to treat you. What credit is it to you if you love only those who love you? Why, even sinners love those who love them.
Luke 6:37-38, Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive gifts, the full measure, compacted, shaken together and overflowing, will be put right in your lap. For the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure back to you!”
How can you practice Shalach? Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart. For Yeshua, forgiveness of others is a Halakic imperative. (Halakha is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from both the Written and Oral Torah.)
Matthew 18:21-22, Then Kefa (Peter) came up and said to him, “Rabbi, how often can my brother sin against me and I have to forgive him? As many as seven times?” “No, not seven times,” answered Yeshua, “but seventy times seven!”
Members of Yeshua’s Kingdom of God are required to forgive in order to gain forgiveness for themselves. It is a sign of the Bar-Enash, the Son of Man Messiah. So how do you release your enemies truly and sincerely from your heart??
- Cultivate inner strength by first trying to understand the offenders point of view, pressures, weaknesses, negative influences, and ignorance of your point of view.
- Cultivate interior fairness and impartiality: “Love your enemies” means to have compassion (Hesed) on them. It doesn’t mean you have to like them, pal around with them, or invite them over for dinner! It does mean that you must deal fairly, faithfully, and honorably with them. It also means not to gossip and spread false rumors about them.
- Cultivate right intentions: Real forgiveness can be based only on your own sincere compassion and understanding for others. This is derived for Yeshua’s comment on the greatest commandment, to love God and your neighbor as yourself. It is a “sacrificial offering” from the human soul, not just an external ritual or hollow words from the lips.
These points would be very familiar to any Buddhist, they are the essence of the dharma teaching on the mechanism for practicing loving kindness and compassion. The Christ and the Buddha are spiritual brothers in their teachings. But that’s another post!!
OK, I can hear the question forming in your head right now. “But what about truly evil people like Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong Un, Islamic terrorists, Christian terrorists….. the list is a long one!! Yeshua was certainly aware of the differences between “personal enemies” and “mortal enemies” and differentiated between the two as far as forgiveness was concerned.
Personal enemies are people like family, friends. neighbors, people we meet in day to day life, and the like. When Yeshua’s own villagers tried to stone him to death, he merely parted the crown and walked away; thereby, averting a confrontation. He did not retaliate in kind. These were not mortal enemies.
Mortal enemies are evil that can’t be reasoned with, the true sociopath unable to even recognize compassion. Yeshua aggressively attacked and destroyed all “evil spirits” and yet he prayed forgiveness for the soldiers who crucified him, again not mortal enemies. While Yeshua did not retaliate in kind against mortal enemies, he did attack and destroy the evil forces and mechanisms that motivated them. He was a Spiritual Warrior against the invisible forces of evil.
A recent example of this would be when Syria used chemical weapons against non-combatants. This is a mortal enemy and the US responded, not in kind, but with an attack against the infrastructure and the capacity to do evil. Warning was even given before the attack.
Ephesians 6:12, For we are not struggling against human beings, but against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers governing this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.
Romans 12:19-21, Never seek revenge, my friends; instead, leave that to God’s anger; for in the Tanakh it is written, “ADONAI says, ‘Vengeance is my responsibility; I will repay.’” On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For by doing this, you will heap fiery coals [of shame] on his head.” Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
This actually worked as a US foreign policy after World War II with the Marshall Plan. Thus forgiveness is a kind of spiritual martial art or science of defense, not offense.
So Yeshua did indeed free us from the bondage of our sins. But he did it by his teachings and our faith in acting on his teachings.