Christ Our Ransom

Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).

- Mark 10:35–45

The atonement as a substitutionary sacrifice whereby Christ suffered in our place and paid the debt we owe to the Lord is the main thrust of Scripture’s teaching on the cross (Rom. 3:21–26; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24–25). However, there are other ways that the Bible speaks of the atonement and what it accomplished. Jesus describes His death as a “ransom for many” in Mark 10:45, and the term ransom in the first century had connotations similar to those it has today. We typically use it to refer to money paid to a kidnapper in order to induce him to release a victim he is holding hostage. Similarly, a ransom in the ancient world was money paid to rescue someone from captivity. A person paid a ransom to purchase freedom for a slave or release for a hostage.

Obviously, the slaveholder or kidnapper who demands the ransom sets the ransom amount. So, the ransom theory of the atonement must identify the one demanding Christ’s death as a ransom. Throughout church history, many have suggested that Satan is the one to whom the ransom of Jesus’ death was paid. This is no doubt because of texts describing demons’ possession of people (for example, Mark 5:1–20) and passages such as Galatians 4:8, which describes enslavement to “those that by nature are not gods,” a likely reference to the demons that lie behind all false religions (1 Cor. 10:19–20). But while this may seem to be a plausible interpretation at first glance, it fails once we consider that Scripture portrays Jesus’ work as a triumph over the devil (1 John 3:8b). This could not be the case if the devil is the one to whom Jesus paid the ransom, because a slaveowner or kidnapper is the victor when he gets the ransom he demanded.

As a rebel himself, the devil had no right to demand a ransom for our salvation. That is not true of God, who, in His perfect holiness, demands a ransom to release us from the condemnation into which we are born in Adam (Rom. 5:12–21). The atonement does release us from bondage to sin and Satan, but we are saved primarily from the wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:9–10). The former kind of salvation is impossible without the latter.

Christ’s atonement placates our Creator’s wrath. This is what the term propitiation means. Our holy Lord demands perfection from His creatures and justly condemns us for even the tiniest infraction of His law. Jesus bears this punishment in place of His people, allowing the Lord to be propitious—favorable—to all who are in Christ.

Coram Deo

Jesus ransoms us from the wrath of God, which means that we never need fear His condemnation if we trust in Christ alone for our salvation. In ransoming us from God’s wrath, our Savior also rescues us from bondage to sin and Satan. That means that we are no longer compelled to sin but may please the Lord through our love of God and neighbor. As Christians, let us live out the reality that we are in Christ, daily turning from sin and walking in His ways by the power of the Spirit.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 57:14–19
Romans 5:6–11
2 Corinthians 5:11–21
1 John 4:7–12

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