Why Such a Costly Ransom Price?
DURING the course of history there have been people who sacrificed their lives so that fellow humans might continue living a few more years. What these persons did has been viewed as noble and praiseworthy. Among those laying down their lives was one whose death accomplished far more than that of all the others combined. This one was Jesus Christ. His sacrificial death on an executional stake laid the basis for humans to gain, not just a few additional years of life, but unending life.
That Jesus Christ’s death accomplished so much has not been easy for most persons to understand. In other cases, as when people’s lives are threatened by fire, floods and the like, the need for action and the benefits resulting therefrom can be readily seen. But it has proved to be an entirely different matter with Jesus’ laying down his life. Many have allowed his sacrificial death on an executional stake to be an obstacle to their embracing Christian truth. Over nineteen centuries ago, the apostle Paul wrote: “The speech about the torture stake is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power. . . . We preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness.”—1 Cor. 1:18, 23.
The apostle Paul’s words indicate that there is a grave danger in viewing Jesus’ death and what it accomplished as “foolishness” or in allowing oneself to be stumbled thereby. As he says, this is the effect it has upon “those who are perishing.” It is wisdom on our part, therefore, to consider just why Jesus Christ’s ransoming of humankind could be done only by the laying down of his life in sacrifice.
HEBREW-SCRIPTURE USE OF RANSOM
An examination of the way the Hebrew Scriptures use the word “ransom” can help us in this regard. At Exodus 21:29-31 the term “ransom” is first used in connection with the law involving a goring bull. We read: “If a bull was formerly in the habit of goring and warning was served on its owner but he would not keep it under guard, and it did put a man or a woman to death, the bull is to be stoned and also its owner is to be put to death. If a ransom should be imposed upon him, then he must give the redemption price for his soul according to all that may be imposed upon him. Whether it gored a son or gored a daughter, it is to be done to him according to this judicial decision.”
From this law we can see that a ransom involves a balancing of matters. By killing a person, the bull forfeited its life. Likewise, the owner, in allowing a dangerous animal to run loose, shared responsibility in the death of the one whom his bull gored. That is why the owner might have to pay for the life of the killed person with his own life. One life, one human soul, would thus have been counterbalanced with another human soul.
However, the owner of the dangerous bull did not in all cases have to be put to death. In view of extenuating circumstances, a ransom might be imposed upon him. So that his life could be spared, the owner had to comply with the terms of the law and pay the redemption price for his own soul or life.
The law also said: “If it was a slave man or a slave girl that the bull gored, he will give the price of thirty shekels to that one’s master, and the bull will be stoned.” (Ex. 21:32) Was that really a balancing of matters? Yes, from the standpoint of the then-existing society and its allowance of slavery. The slave was considered to be private property. As a soul, he was owned by his master and therefore had a legally fixed commercial value—thirty shekels. Hence, the owner of the goring bull had to pay thirty shekels so that he himself could continue living. The master of the killed slave could then buy another slave for thirty shekels, thus replacing the lost slave-life with another slave-life. In this way an equalizing of matters was brought about.
Against this background and the principles involved, we can better appreciate why the human race needed to be ransomed and how Jesus Christ could accomplish this. Consider:
THE NEED FOR A RANSOM
At the time that the first man Adam transgressed God’s law he forfeited perfect human life with its rights and prospects. As an imperfect man, he could now father only imperfect offspring, men and women who would be incapable of measuring up to the Creator’s perfect standards. All of Adam’s offspring thus came to be in a dying condition from birth onward. By reason of their being sinful humans, they were under the condemnation of death. As the Bible puts it: “One man’s fall brought condemnation on everyone.”—Rom. 5:18, Jerusalem Bible.
So the position of humankind as a whole is comparable to that of the Israelite owner of a dangerous bull that gored a human to death. How so? In that, like such an Israelite, they are under condemnation. Unless the Israelite’s case was judged as one that could be handled by payment of a ransom, nothing could shield him from having the full penalty of the law—death—enforced upon him. Similarly, in the case of humankind, there can be no release from the condemnation of death without a ransom that would meet God’s perfect standard of justice.
As is evident from the Mosaic law, such a ransom for humankind must result in a balancing—on the scales of justice—of what was forfeited. Adam lost perfect human life. Hence, the ransom price for the human race would have to be a perfect human life. Only a perfect human life could balance the scale of perfect justice. Not one of the descendants of Adam could provide such a precious price for himself or for anyone else. The incapability of mankind is well described in the Bible: “Not one of them can by any means redeem even a brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; (and the redemption price of their soul is so precious that it has ceased to time indefinite) that he should still live forever and not see the pit.”—Ps. 49:7-9.
HOW GOD PROVIDED THE NEEDED RANSOM
Accordingly, the condemned human race was in the helpless position of one who could not pay the required redemption price. There was no hope of ever escaping death. In his boundless mercy, Jehovah God, however, arranged that this precious price be paid. How? By means of his holy spirit, God transferred the life of his only-begotten Son to the womb of a Jewish virgin named Mary. This made it possible for His Son, Jesus, to be born “holy,” without sin. The angel Gabriel explained this to Mary, saying: “Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will be called holy, God’s Son.”—Luke 1:35.
As the perfect Son of God, Jesus could lay down his perfect human life in sacrifice, thereby furnishing the valuable price needed for ransoming the human race. Jesus Christ voluntarily stepped in and accepted the penalty that was meant for us. Calling attention to this, the apostle Peter wrote: “He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake, in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness. And ‘by his stripes you were healed.’” (1 Pet. 2:24) In thus ‘giving his soul a ransom in exchange for many,’ Jesus Christ bought the human race.—Matt. 20:28.
After his death, resurrection to spirit life and ascension to heaven, Jesus Christ presented the merit of his precious sacrifice to Jehovah God. His Father accepted that price as counterbalancing what had been forfeited for the entire human race by the first man Adam.
Now that the costly price for ransoming the human race has been paid, there is a basis for shielding us from the condemnation of death. As the Israelite whose dangerous bull killed a man had to accept the redemption price decided upon by the judges, we can gain from Christ’s ransom only if we accept the benefits resulting therefrom on God’s terms.
On the basis of the precious ransom price, Jehovah God can declare humans meeting his requirements righteous and, by spirit begettal, adopt them as his sons, with a view to their being joint heirs with Jesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom. With reference to this, the apostle Paul wrote: “God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God, those who are the ones called according to his purpose; because those whom he gave his first recognition he also foreordained to be patterned after the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, those whom he foreordained are the ones he also called; and those whom he called are the ones he also declared to be righteous. Finally those whom he declared righteous are the ones he also glorified. . . . Who will file accusation against God’s chosen ones? God is the One who declares them righteous. Who is he that will condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died, yes, rather the one who was raised up from the dead, who is on the right hand of God, who also pleads for us.”—Rom. 8:28-34.
Besides those given the “first recognition,” that is, those receiving a heavenly calling as joint heirs of Christ, many others of humankind, including billions now dead, are in need of having the ransom benefits applied in their behalf. For this very reason, Jehovah God has purposed that his Son along with those called to be Jesus’ “brothers” serve as heavenly kings and priests for a thousand years. Of this, Revelation 20:6 tells us: “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” Like ancient Israel’s priests who offered sacrifices to atone for sins, these king-priests will be applying the sin-atoning benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice. Toward whom?
Along with Jesus Christ, they will aid humans on earth, including those raised from the dead, to overcome their weaknesses and imperfections, finally to stand before God as perfect humans free from all condemnation. Then by choosing God’s sovereignty they can become members of God’s family. Based on what was revealed to him in a vision, the apostle John described the pure means for bringing life and healing to mankind as being like a crystal-clear river with fruit-bearing trees along its banks. We read: “He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of [the city’s] broad way. And on this side of the river and on that side there were trees of life producing twelve crops of fruit, yielding their fruits each month. And the leaves of the trees were for the curing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:1, 2; An American Translation; Moffatt) Accordingly, for one to be completely healed from sin and its effects, it will require obedient response to Jesus Christ and his king-priests. Only then will a person be partaking fully from Jehovah God’s provisions for life.
Thanks be to God for his boundless mercy in providing the ransom price needed for counterbalancing what was lost for us through Adam’s sin. Only the precious life of the perfect man Jesus could meet the requirements of perfect justice. May what Jehovah God has done for humankind move us to want to measure up to his requirements for having the sin-atoning benefits of his Son’s sacrifice applied in our behalf, with eternal life in view.