QUESTION: Why did Jesus come to earth? Is it to cleanse our sins? But Jesus forgave many people before his death (Luke 7:48). Is the death of Jesus, and shedding of His blood necessary to cleanse the sins of anyone?
ANSWER: Those are important questions. First, you ask why the Lord Jesus came to this earth. There are a number of reasons. Here are several of them.
1) For one thing, as perfect Man, He gave human beings a pattern to follow. When He lived among us a sinless life, the Lord Jesus was able to show us the perfect example of goodness, love, righteousness, and so on (Acts 10:38; Heb. 4:15; I Pet. 2:21-22).
2) As God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, He gave us a revelation of God. The Bible says, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). In Him people saw “the glory of God the Father” (Jn. 1:14).
The Jewish leaders were right when they said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone” (Lk. 5:21). By the occasions when the Lord forgave sins (as you point out that He did), He was showing His deity and divine authority. But He still had to die to provide the final answer, as we'll see.
3) He also came to fulfil promises made to Israel, long before. Promises concerning their coming Messiah-King (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:31-33). In this role He was rejected the first time. But He’s coming back again to set up His kingdom, and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).
4) Most importantly for us, today, He came to pay our debt of sin. So many Scriptures say this that it’s impossible to miss. The Lord Himself told us He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
In His saving work, He fulfilled a promise made to Adam and Eve, after they sinned in response to Satan’s temptation. God gave a promise that One would be born of woman who would crush the serpent’s (Satan’s) head (Gen. 3:15).
And He fulfilled the promise made to Abraham that, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Jesus was born of a descendant of Abraham (Matt. 1:1). He also fulfilled the prophetic vision of Isaiah that “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).
God had provided a temporary answer to the sin problem from the beginning. The death of sacrificial animals, when offered in faith, provided forgiveness of sins, until the coming of Christ. They all represented the death of an innocent substitute in place of the guilty sinner. When an individual placed his hand upon the sacrifice (Lev. 1:4), he was saying, in effect, “This is me; this animal is dying in my place.”
However, the Bible makes it clear that the death of an animal can’t, in any full and perfect sense, deal with the sin problem (Heb. 10:4). The many sacrifices were all pictures of Christ, the final “innocent Substitute.” They pointed forward to the Saviour yet to come, the one John the Baptist called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).
The New Testament writers understood and confirmed that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3). He "Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Pet. 3:18). “Nor is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12; cf. Jn. 14:6).
In fulfilment of the Old Testament symbolism (Lev. 17:11), it was necessary that the Lord Jesus shed His blood on the cross, because, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission [forgiveness]” (Heb. 9:22). For that, He had to become Man (Heb. 2:9), as He did through the virgin birth.
Note, in the following verses, how many times the shed blood of Christ is mentioned.
Through the cross, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). “Being justified [pronounced righteous] freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [the full satisfaction of God’s justice] by His blood, through faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom. 5:9).
Was it necessary for the sinless Son of God to shed His blood in order to save us? Yes! That is the provision God has made for our need. And it is the repeated testimony of the Word of God (see also: Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12; I Pet. 1:18-19).
Salvation for all men has been paid for in full by Christ on the cross. That is what the Lord meant, when He said from the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). In the Greek language in which John wrote, that is only one word, “Tetelestia!” It’s a word that was often stamped at the bottom of bills when the debt was paid. It means “Paid in full.”
Now, God’s salvation is received as a gift is received, through simple faith in Christ. We cannot work for our eternal salvation. Nothing we can do will fully satisfy the justice of a holy God (Eph. 2:8-9). But there is no need to try to earn our salvation. It has already been paid for on the cross.
When we put our faith in Christ as Saviour, we are accepting His payment on our behalf (Jn. 3:16). When the jailor in Philippi asked how he could be saved, Paul’s answer was plain: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).