R is for Ransom
Mothers! Sometimes it seems that you can’t live with them but you certainly cannot live without them. In Matthew chapter twenty we have a mother petitioning Jesus on behalf of her boys, James and John. Like many “stage-mothers” she is seeking what she thinks is best for her boys. She wants them to be granted places of honor; one on either side of Jesus, when He inaugurates His kingdom.
Jesus tells this dear mother that she doesn’t know what she is asking. Jesus asks her boys, James and John, if they are able to drink from the cup that He is about to drink from. Without hesitation, and if I might add, without thinking, they both said yes. We know that Jesus said that they indeed would drink from His cup, in other words, they both would die as a result of their association with Him. He also told them it was not His right to give this honor away, it was the Father who would determine this honor.
Then Jesus rebuked them gently with a reminder of “lording” it over others, or really, seeking positions of honor and authority. For that is what is meant by sitting on the left and right hand of Jesus – those are places of honor and authority.
Then Jesus says this to the boys, “You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and who ever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, ESV)
The paradox of Christianity is that to be great you must be less, a servant; if you want authority you must serve. Jesus used Himself in this passage as an illustration of this great paradoxical truth. Jesus also said something that has been misinterpreted and misconstrued in many of our churches today, when he said, “…to give his life a ransom for many.” What did he mean by that? What is a ransom?
Jesus spoke of this as a metaphor linking it with the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. The Greek word for ransom is λυτρον. It comes from two Greek words which mean “to release” and the other “to terminate.” This word is used only twice in the New Testament. It is used for the price for redeeming, or ransoming. It is the price that is paid to redeem or buy back slaves or captives releasing them from and terminating their bondage or captivity. It is also used for the process that liberates people from misery and from the penalty of their sins. It means “a price paid”, or “a transaction made” in order to obtain the freedom of someone else. The idea of this word is grounded in the ancient world when slaves and captured soldiers were given their freedom upon the payment of an agreed upon price.
The idea of ransom or to redeem is linked with the deliverance of the children of Israel, or the Israelites from the land of Egypt. It is also the basis of the book of Ruth. The important thing to note is that in these references the focus is not on the price but the focus is on the deliverance that is achieved and the freedom that has been obtained. Did you get that? The focus is on the deliverance and the freedom, not on the price.
Why is this so important? The focus on the activity of God when He “delivered” many from their sins and obtained “freedom” for many is not on the price but on the results. When the concept of ransom is applied to the saving work of God the focus is on the results.
When the bible speaks of ransom relating to the work of Jesus Christ it is not implying a “transaction” where a deal is done. The focus is on the saving power of the work of Christ on the cross. Jesus speaks of his death as a means of releasing or delivering many people from the bondage of their sin, judgment, and punishment.
Why is this important to understand? I think for at least three reasons. The first reason is this; you do not have to wonder or ask who the ransom was paid to. I say this because people are absolutely wrong when they say the ransom was paid to Satan. It was not.
Satan did not judge nor condemn sinners. God did. God had no obligation to Satan nor did God have to meet any demand of Satan. For the record Jesus did not pay the ransom price to God either. If you study the Scriptures carefully you will see that God is the author of salvation. God saves through Jesus Christ. The ransom was not “paid” to Satan or God.
The second reason this is important is so that you and I can fully appreciate our salvation, our redemption from sin, bondage, judgment, condemnation, and death. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God takes it upon Himself to free and release his people, the many, from sin. In other words, God meets the demands of His own Being, of His own character and nature through the sacrificial and atoning death of Christ.
The third reason is very simple; God receives all the glory. God is very jealous about His glory. Everything that God does is to promote, protect, preserve, and present His glory. God makes that very clear in Isaiah when he says that He will not share His glory with any other person or entity.