While salvation comes as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) it was incredibly costly to achieve. It cost Christ his life, so that he might redeem or ransom sinners and restore them to God. A great price was paid so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of our sin and rebellion, but instead be reconciled to God if we come to Christ in faith and repentance.
This is one of the grand teachings not only of the New Testament, but the entire Bible: the payment of a price to make redemption possible. Such majestic themes can here only be given the briefest of introductions. And let me do so by looking at five key Greek terms, examining some biblical texts featuring the terms, and offering some commentary about them.
First we have lutron = ransom (noun), from luo, to loose (verb).
Mark 10:45 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.”
The classic text on the ransom aspect to the death of Christ is this passage from Mark. To properly understand it, we must be aware of the OT background, with the emphasis on sacrifices, the Day of Atonement, and so on. The classic passage about the work of God’s servant as found in Isaiah 53 especially comes into play here.
R.T France notes the “verbal echoes of Is. 53:10-12” especially here. He writes: “the concept of voluntarily giving up life is of course central to Is. 53. The object of the giving of life in 53:10 is as an asam (‘sin offering’), a sacrifice offered in place of a guilty person to remove guilt (Lv. 5:17-19, etc.), and the idea of ransom is close to this.”
Moreover, it must be “recognized that the whole thrust of Is. 53 is to present the servant as one who suffers and dies for the redemption of his people, whose life is offered as a substitute for their guilt. It would be hard to construct a more adequate short summary of this concept than the clause ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’.
Or as John Stott remarks, “It seems to be definite beyond doubt, then, that Jesus applied Isaiah 53 to himself and that he understood his death in light of it as a sin-bearing death. As God’s ‘righteous servant’ he would be able to ‘justify many’, because he was going to ‘bear the sin of many’.
Next we have antilutron = substitute-ransom (noun).
1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.
Leon Morris reminds us that people in Paul’s day were well aware of the concept of a ransom, with slaves being bought (ransomed) from the slave market. Thus,
the atonement looked to them like a process of ransoming. Christians were men who had been under sentence of death (Rom. 6: 23), they had been enslaved to sin (Jn. 8: 34; Rom. 6: 17, 7: 14); but now they were ransomed from the death sentence (free ‘from the law of death’, Rom. 8: 2, and cf. 1 Cor. 15: 54f.; I Jn. 3: 14; 2 Tim. 1: 10, etc.). Processes which were familiar to them from their ordinary daily life gave a vivid picture of what had been happening in the spiritual realm when the Saviour gave His life for them.
Then there is lutroo = to ransom, redeem (verb).
Luke 24:21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.
Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Commenting on the Titus passage, Philip Towner again notes the slave redemption process, as well as God’s dealing with Israel of old:
His self-offering accomplished the removal of “us” from the sphere of sin. To express this aspect, Paul draws on the metaphor of redemption. Behind the metaphor was the practice of buying a slave’s or captive’s freedom by the payment of a ransom. But the verb “to redeem” was used widely in the biblical tradition of the action taken by YHWH to set his people free, and was already closely associated with his deliverance of the people from Egypt (Exod 6:6; Deut 7:8; 2 Sam 7:23); it had become another way of speaking of God’s saving act, and it would have called to mind primarily the OT story of deliverance form Egypt.
Then we have agorazoo = to buy, purchase (verb).
Matthew 13:44 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
1 Corinthians 6:20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
The Corinthian text not only highlights the price paid so that we might be set free, but offers us a moral imperative to holy living because of this. Gordon Fee offers some quite helpful comments here:
Here is Paul’s basic answer to “I have a right to do anything” (6:12). . . . In short, the status and conditions of a slave depended on to whom you belonged. Along with inevitable contemporary associations, Paul drew on the Old Testament theology of redemption. Here in 1 Corinthians 6:20 Paul has in view a change of ownership, not a manumission resulting in unqualified freedom. As Thiselton explains, “The imagery stresses primarily the new ownership, and secondly a costly act on the part of the new owner to whom the believer now belongs.”
Lastly we have exagorazo = to buy up, to redeem (verb).
Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
Galatians 4:4,5 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,
to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Speaking of the first passage, Leon Morris comments:
Redemption points to the payment of a price that sets sinners free. It referred to the practices of warfare. After a battle the victors would not uncommonly capture some of the vanquished. The poorer ones would almost certainly finish up as slaves, but the men of rank, men who mattered in their own country, would be held to ransom. When the people in the homeland had raised the necessary sum of money they would pay it to the victors and the captors were set free. The process was called redemption, the price was called the ransom.
While much more can be said about such grand biblical themes, let me finish by briefly noting and dealing with a question that is often raised here: To whom was the ransom paid? It is often suggested that the ransom was paid to Satan, but this is not justifiable for various reasons. God did not cut a deal with Satan. The debt we owe because of sin is due to God, not Satan. R. C. Sproul explains further:
In the early church, one of the terrible distortions of the work of Christ was the ransom theory of the atonement, which declared that when Jesus was crucified, He made a payment to the Devil, just as we might make a ransom payment to a kidnapper. The idea was that the Devil is the prince of the world and that he held humanity in captivity, so Jesus paid the ransom to the Devil to set us free. However, the Bible never says anything like this. Jesus did not pay a ransom to Satan. He crushed Satan’s head. The ransom was paid to the Father. Christ gave Himself to satisfy the demands of God’s justice, so he purchased our freedom from the just wrath of God. This is why Paul declares, “You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 7:23a). Thus, we who were hopelessly in debt to God are not required to pay. The debt has been paid for us by the Suffering Servant of Israel.
And Trevin Wax also offers the orthodox response to this:
The ransom view of the atonement is similar to the concept of propitiation (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2), which means “to make favorable.” Who has Christ made favorable with His sacrifice on the cross? Certainly not the enemy, whose frustration is compounded eternally knowing that Jesus’ death redeems souls from sin and its punishment, and who at the cross is not paid but actually shamed (Col. 2:15), and not satisfied but actually defeated (Heb. 2:14-15).
No, at the cross, the sinless Jesus has taken the punishment owed by the Father to the sinful rebels against His holiness (Isaiah 53:4-5). The wrath of God has been satisfied at the cross of Christ (Col. 1:20). It is the Father who in holy love sends His Son to make the payment that removes his holy wrath from the children of God (1 John 4:10; John 3:36). The Father has been propitiated. Similarly, then, Christ has paid the ransom to the only one who truly holds life and death in His hands – God Himself.
So in the beautiful irony of the gospel, we are effectively saved from God by God. The only security from God’s wrath, then, is found in God’s love in Christ (Psalm 2:12). The ransom now paid, we have been delivered from the domain of sin and death into perfect union with the Son of God, in whom there is therefore now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
Glorious good news indeed: what we could not do for ourselves, God did for us in the person of his son. The greatest price that could be paid was paid, so that we might be set free and now live for him. In the light of all this, how should we then live?
As Leonard Ravenhill asked: “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”