Jesus came in the spirit of the OT prophets, and his understanding of what God’s justice means was shaped by the prophetic spirit. The Hebrew word sadak did not mean what the word kaphar (atonement) means. Atonement has to do with making amends – but the word sadak in the prophets is not related to atonement, compensation, price, payment, satisfaction, punishment and the like. When these things are spoken of the OT writers generally use their proper names. Justice is the compassion and love of God that brings deliverance, as it says, “The Lord executes justice on behalf of all that are oppressed.” Thus the story of the Exodus, and justice means to act toward the weak, the fatherless, the one who has no helper, the destitute, the homeless and all the oppressed just as God had acted on behalf of the weak and oppressed down in Egypt. Thus the word came to the King of Babylon, “Break off your sins with sadak by showing mercy to the poor…”
It is very interesting that in our Western thinking (Greco-Roman) the word justice is very closely related to the idea of punishment, and giving wrong doers their deserts. If we hear on the news that someone has been brought to justice, we immediately think of someone being punished by the long arm of the law for his wrongs, like being sentenced to do time. And after a convict serves his time in prison he is wont to say, “I have paid my debt to society.” But none of this is what the prophets mean by justice. You can prove this by taking a concordance and looking up the word justice in the Psalms and Prophets and see what it means in context.
The good people in Jesus’ day were scandalized by his idea of justice – they were like the elder brother who had always done the right thing, like the all-day labourers in the vineyard, and like all those who grumbled when Jesus ate and drank with the unclean.
Think what this means, “Thou desirest not sacrifice, otherwise I would give it.” If justice means acting toward others as God has acted toward us, then forgiveness has to be unconditional or it is not forgiveness at all! If we go back to the original language, the word forgiveness pertains to debt, to forgive sin is to forgive debt. The word itself means “release” – that is, to release a person from his debts. The doctrine of the atonement is based on the idea that God sent his son to pay the debt that we owed and that on this basis God forgives us. It is rather illogical, however, because if the debt has been paid, then there is no debt to forgive. It is like this Adam and Eve fall story. It is not on the forefront of the average person’s consciousness in the Western world, and yet this ancient religious mythology which is so contrary to the story of human progress throughout history, and science as well, still exerts a powerful influence on Western thinking, even in the birth of Marxism and Environmentalism that are just re-interpretations of the Fall story. It is so easy for people to accept that the human race gets worse and worse, the world is getting worse and worse because that sort of pre-supposition is part of the religious culture and comes with our mother’s mild. Nebative Environmentalism, which is anti-human at its core, presses guilt buttons that have been part of our culture and our inherited religious myths for thousands of years.