1, 2. How does the Bible describe the state of mankind, and what is the only way out?
“ALL creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together.” (Romans 8:22) With those words the apostle Paul describes the pitiful state in which we find ourselves. From a human standpoint, there seems to be no way out of suffering, sin, and death. But Jehovah does not have human limitations. (Numbers 23:19) The God of justice has provided us with a way out of our distress. It is called the ransom.
2 The ransom is Jehovah’s greatest gift to mankind. It makes possible our deliverance from sin and death. (Ephesians 1:7) It is the foundation of the hope of everlasting life, whether in heaven or on a paradise earth. (Luke 23:43; John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:4) But just what is the ransom? How does it teach us about Jehovah’s superlative justice?
How the Need for a Ransom Arose
3. (a) Why did the ransom become necessary? (b) Why could God not simply commute the death sentence on Adam’s offspring?
3 The ransom became necessary because of the sin of Adam. By disobeying God, Adam bequeathed to his offspring a legacy of sickness, sorrow, pain, and death. (Genesis 2:17; Romans 8:20) God could not yield to sentiment and simply commute the death sentence. To do so would be to ignore his own law: “The wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) And were Jehovah to invalidate his own standards of justice, then universal chaos and lawlessness would reign!
4, 5. (a) How did Satan slander God, and why was Jehovah obliged to answer those challenges? (b) What charge did Satan make regarding Jehovah’s loyal servants?
4 As we saw in Chapter 12, the rebellion in Eden raised even greater issues. Satan cast a dark shadow across God’s good name. In effect, he accused Jehovah of being a liar and a cruel dictator who deprived his creatures of freedom. (Genesis 3:1-5) By seemingly thwarting God’s purpose to fill the earth with righteous humans, Satan also labeled God a failure. (Genesis 1:28; Isaiah 55:10, 11) Had Jehovah left these challenges unanswered, many of his intelligent creatures might well have lost a measure of confidence in his rulership.
5 Satan also slandered Jehovah’s loyal servants, charging that they served Him only out of selfish motives and that if placed under pressure, none would remain faithful to God. (Job 1:9-11) These issues were of far greater importance than the human predicament. Jehovah rightly felt obliged to answer Satan’s slanderous charges. But how could God settle these issues and also save mankind?
6. What are some of the expressions used in the Bible to describe God’s means of saving mankind?
6 Jehovah’s solution was both supremely merciful and profoundly just—one that no human could ever have devised. Yet, it was elegantly simple. It is variously referred to as a purchase, a reconciliation, a redemption, a propitiation, and an atonement. (Psalm 49:8, footnote; Daniel 9:24; Galatians 3:13; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 2:17) But the expression that perhaps best describes matters is the one used by Jesus himself. He said: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his life as a ransom [Greek, lyʹtron] in exchange for many.”—Matthew 20:28.
7, 8. (a) What does the term “ransom” mean in the Scriptures? (b) In what way does a ransom involve equivalency?
7 What is a ransom? The Greek word used here comes from a verb meaning “to let loose, to release.” This term was used to describe money paid in exchange for the release of prisoners of war. Basically, then, a ransom can be defined as something paid to buy something back. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word for “ransom” (koʹpher) comes from a verb meaning “to cover.” For example, God told Noah that he must “cover” (a form of the same word) the ark with tar. (Genesis 6:14) This helps us appreciate that to ransom also means to cover sins.—Psalm 65:3.
8 Significantly, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament observes that this word (koʹpher) “always denotes an equivalent,” or a correspondency. Thus, in order to ransom, or cover, sin, a price must be paid that fully corresponds to, or fully covers, the damage caused by the sin. God’s Law to Israel thus stated: “Life will be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”—Deuteronomy 19:21.
9. Why did men of faith offer up animal sacrifices, and how did Jehovah view such sacrifices?
9 Men of faith from Abel onward offered animal sacrifices to God. In so doing, they demonstrated their awareness of sin and of the need for redemption, and they showed their faith in God’s promised liberation through his “offspring.” (Genesis 3:15; 4:1-4; Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 11:4) Jehovah looked upon such sacrifices with favor and granted these worshippers a good standing. Nevertheless, animal offerings were, at best, a mere token. Animals could not really cover man’s sin, for they are inferior to humans. (Psalm 8:4-8) Hence, the Bible says: “It is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take sins away.” (Hebrews 10:1-4) Such sacrifices were only pictorial, or symbolic, of the true ransom sacrifice that was to come.
“A Corresponding Ransom”
10. (a) To whom did the ransomer have to correspond, and why? (b) Why was only one human sacrifice necessary?
10 “In Adam all are dying,” said the apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 15:22) The ransom thus had to involve the death of the exact equal of Adam—a perfect human. (Romans 5:14) No other kind of creature could balance the scales of justice. Only a perfect human, someone not under the Adamic death sentence, could offer “a corresponding ransom for all”—one corresponding perfectly to Adam. (1 Timothy 2:6) It would not be necessary for untold millions of individual humans to be sacrificed so as to correspond to each descendant of Adam. The apostle Paul explained: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin.” (Romans 5:12) And “since death came through a man,” God provided for the redemption of mankind “through a man.” (1 Corinthians 15:21) How?
“A corresponding ransom for all”
11. (a) How would the ransomer “taste death for everyone”? (b) Why could Adam and Eve not have benefited from the ransom? (See footnote.)
11 Jehovah arranged to have a perfect man voluntarily sacrifice his life. According to Romans 6:23, “the wages sin pays is death.” In sacrificing his life, the ransomer would “taste death for everyone.” In other words, he would pay the wage for Adam’s sin. (Hebrews 2:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24) This would have profound legal consequences. By nullifying the death sentence upon Adam’s obedient offspring, the ransom would cut off the destructive power of sin right at its source.a—Romans 5:16.
12. Illustrate how paying one debt can benefit many people.
12 To illustrate: Imagine that you live in a town where most of the residents are employed at a large factory. You and your neighbors are well paid for your labors and lead comfortable lives. That is, until the day the factory closes its doors. The reason? The factory manager turned corrupt, forcing the business into bankruptcy. Suddenly out of work, you and your neighbors are unable to pay the bills. Marriage mates, children, and creditors suffer because of that one man’s corruption. Is there a way out? Yes! A wealthy benefactor decides to intervene. He appreciates the value of the company. He also feels for its many employees and their families. So he arranges to pay off the company’s debt and reopen the factory. The cancellation of that one debt brings relief to the many employees and their families and to the creditors. Similarly, the cancellation of Adam’s debt benefits untold millions.
Who Provides the Ransom?
13, 14. (a) How did Jehovah provide the ransom for mankind? (b) To whom is the ransom paid, and why is such a payment necessary?
13 Only Jehovah could provide “the Lamb . . . who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) But God did not send just any angel to rescue mankind. Instead, he sent the One who could furnish the ultimate, conclusive answer to Satan’s charge against Jehovah’s servants. Yes, Jehovah made the supreme sacrifice of sending his only-begotten Son, “the one he was especially fond of.” (Proverbs 8:30) Willingly, God’s Son “emptied himself” of his spirit nature. (Philippians 2:7) Miraculously, Jehovah transferred the life of his firstborn heavenly Son to the womb of a Jewish virgin named Mary. (Luke 1:27, 35) As a man, he would be called Jesus. But in a legal sense, he could be called the second Adam, for he corresponded perfectly to Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47) Jesus could thus offer himself up in sacrifice as a ransom for sinful mankind.
14 To whom would that ransom be paid? Psalm 49:7 specifically says that the ransom is paid “to God.” But is not Jehovah the one who arranges for the ransom in the first place? Yes, but this does not reduce the ransom to a pointless, mechanical exchange—like taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. It must be appreciated that the ransom is, not a physical exchange, but a legal transaction. By providing for the payment of the ransom, even at enormous cost to himself, Jehovah affirmed his unwavering adherence to his own perfect justice.—Genesis 22:7, 8, 11-13; Hebrews 11:17; James 1:17.
15. Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die?
15 In the spring of 33 C.E., Jesus Christ willingly submitted to an ordeal that led to the payment of the ransom. He allowed himself to be arrested on false charges, judged guilty, and nailed to a stake of execution. Was it really necessary for Jesus to suffer so much? Yes, because the issue of the integrity of God’s servants had to be settled. Significantly, God did not allow the infant Jesus to be killed by Herod. (Matthew 2:13-18) But when Jesus was an adult, he was able to withstand the brunt of Satan’s attacks with full comprehension of the issues.b By remaining “loyal, innocent, undefiled, separated from the sinners” in spite of horrific treatment, Jesus proved with dramatic finality that Jehovah does have servants who remain faithful under trial. (Hebrews 7:26) No wonder, then, that at the moment before his death, Jesus cried out triumphantly: “It has been accomplished!”—John 19:30.
Finishing His Redemptive Work
16, 17. (a) How did Jesus continue his redemptive work? (b) Why was it necessary for Jesus to appear “before God on our behalf”?
16 Jesus had yet to finish his redemptive work. On the third day after Jesus’ death, Jehovah raised him from the dead. (Acts 3:15; 10:40) By this momentous act, Jehovah not only rewarded his Son for his faithful service but gave him the opportunity to finish his redemptive work as God’s High Priest. (Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) The apostle Paul explains: “When Christ came as a high priest . . . , he entered into the holy place, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time, and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, so that he now appears before God on our behalf.”—Hebrews 9:11, 12, 24.
17 Christ could not take his literal blood into heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:50) Rather, he took what that blood symbolized: the legal value of his sacrificed perfect human life. Then, before the Person of God, he made formal presentation of the value of that life as a ransom in exchange for sinful mankind. Did Jehovah accept that sacrifice? Yes, and this became evident at Pentecost 33 C.E., when the holy spirit was poured out on about 120 disciples in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:1-4) Thrilling though that was, the ransom was then just beginning to provide marvelous benefits.
Benefits of the Ransom
18, 19. (a) What two groups of individuals benefit from the reconciliation made possible by Christ’s blood? (b) For those of the “great crowd,” what are some of the present and future benefits of the ransom?
18 In his letter to the Colossians, Paul explains that God saw good through Christ to reconcile to Himself all other things by making peace through the blood Jesus shed on the torture stake. Paul also explains that this reconciliation involves two distinct groups of individuals, namely, “the things in the heavens” and “the things on the earth.” (Colossians 1:19, 20; Ephesians 1:10) That first group consists of 144,000 Christians who are given the hope of serving as heavenly priests and ruling as kings over the earth with Christ Jesus. (Revelation 5:9, 10; 7:4; 14:1-3) Through them, the benefits of the ransom will gradually be applied to obedient mankind over a period of a thousand years.—1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Revelation 20:6; 21:3, 4.
19 “The things on the earth” are those individuals in line to enjoy perfect life in Paradise on earth. Revelation 7:9-17 describes them as “a great crowd” who will survive the coming “great tribulation.” But they do not have to wait until then to enjoy the benefits of the ransom. They have already “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Because they exercise faith in the ransom, they are even now receiving spiritual benefits from that loving provision. They have been declared righteous as God’s friends! (James 2:23) As a result of Jesus’ sacrifice, they can “approach the throne of undeserved kindness with freeness of speech.” (Hebrews 4:14-16) When they err, they receive real forgiveness. (Ephesians 1:7) In spite of being imperfect, they enjoy a cleansed conscience. (Hebrews 9:9; 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21) Being reconciled to God is thus, not some hoped-for development, but a present reality! (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20) During the Millennium, they will gradually “be set free from enslavement to corruption” and will finally “have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Romans 8:21.
20. How does contemplating the ransom affect you personally?
20 “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ” for the ransom! (Romans 7:25) It is simple in principle, yet profound enough to fill us with awe. (Romans 11:33) And by our meditating appreciatively on it, the ransom touches our hearts, drawing us ever closer to the God of justice. Like the psalmist, we have every reason to praise Jehovah as a God who “loves righteousness and justice.”—Psalm 33:5.
a Adam and Eve could not have benefited from the ransom. The Mosaic Law stated this principle regarding a willful murderer: “You must take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is deserving to die.” (Numbers 35:31) Clearly, Adam and Eve deserved to die because they willingly and knowingly disobeyed God. They thereby gave up their prospect of everlasting life.
b In order to counterbalance the sin of Adam, Jesus had to die, not as a perfect child, but as a perfect man. Remember, Adam’s sin was willful, carried out with full knowledge of the seriousness of the act and its consequences. So in order to become “the last Adam” and cover that sin, Jesus had to make a mature, knowing choice to keep his integrity to Jehovah. (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47) Thus Jesus’ entire faithful life course—including his sacrificial death—served as “one act of justification.”—Romans 5:18, 19.