For Jesus to have gone voluntarily, even willingly, to his death, he must have been aware of an overwhelming benefit, which later theology tells us is the forgiveness of sins. In this regard, Rhoads, Dewey and Michie, in Mark as Story, page 113, caution the modern reader not to read into Mark [the first New Testament gospel to be written] theological meanings that later came to be associated with Jesus' death. They say that Mark does not portray Jesus' death as a sacrifice for sin.
Along similar lines, Thomas Kazen (Stockholm School of Theology) says in his paper entitled 'Why is Jesus’ death described as a sacrifice', page 4,
- In Mark the Son of Man has come to
“give his life a ransom for many” (10:45), but much more than this is not to be found. At the
last supper the Markan Jesus says: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for
many” (14:24). The saying alludes to the covenant sacrifice at Sinai (Exod 24:4-8) which is
neither about sin, nor about atonement, but rather like a vassal treaty confirmed by sacrifice.
- The Lukan writings in fact never relate the forgiveness of sins to
the death of Jesus, in spite of the fact that both themes are
important by themselves. Faith in Jesus is sufficient for
forgiveness. Jesus’ death was predicted and provides a background for
- Matthew, in contrast, adds “for the forgiveness of sins” after the phrase about the blood of the covenant (Matt 26:28), which fits well into his general tendency. (For example, he downplays forgiveness of sins in his narrative of John’s baptism, since he associates forgiveness with the death of Jesus.) Matthew probably did not consider Jesus’ death only in view of the covenant sacrifice, but also in view of the chattat offering, although this is never stated explicitly.
So, among the synoptic gospels, it is only Matthew that suggests the crucifixion was a sacrifice for sins, giving Jesus a strong reason to go voluntarily to his death, although Matthew follows Mark in having Jesus beg God that if it be possible, to let this cup pass from him. The following section looks more closely at the gospel accounts.
Mark's Gospel does not tell us how Jesus made any preparations for the forgiveness of sins after his departure from earth. There is no suggestion of his crucifixion being a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
In Luke 24:47, Jesus talks of remission of sins coming from repentance, not from his sacrifice:
Luke 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Similarly, in John's Gospel, Jesus told the disciples that in receiving the Holy Spirit, they would be empowered to forgive sins. This was subsequent to the crucifixion and the resurrection, but there is no suggestion that Jesus believed his death was a sacrifice without which the disciples would be unable to forgive sins:
John 20:22-23: And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
Matthew 26:28 does give us something to show that Jesus knew his death was indeed a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (although we should not read from this that Jesus would shed his blood voluntarily, in the light of Matthew 26:38-39, which is explained below):
Matthew 26:28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
As to whether Jesus went to his death voluntarily:
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus' own words show that he was resigned to his fate, if that was the wish of his father, but nevertheless he did not go voluntarily to his crucifixion, for example Matthew 26:38-39, Mark 14:34-36 and Luke 22:42:
Matthew 26:38-39: Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
On the other hand, Jesus went triumphantly to his crucifixion in John's Gospel. Instead of going a little way from the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus spoke to them then lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed in words that can only mean he was going voluntarily to his death:
John 17:1-5: These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.