A Corresponding Ransom for All
“The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”—MATTHEW 20:28.
1, 2. (a) Why can it be said that the ransom is God’s greatest gift to mankind? (b) What benefit comes from examining the ransom?
THE ransom is God’s greatest gift to mankind. By means of “the release by ransom,” we can have “the forgiveness of our trespasses.” (Ephesians 1:7) It is the foundation of a hope of everlasting life, whether in heaven or on a paradise earth. (Luke 23:43; John 3:16) And because of it, Christians may enjoy a clean standing before God even now.—Revelation 7:14, 15.
2 The ransom is therefore not something vague or abstract. Having a legal foundation in divine principles, the ransom can bring real, tangible benefits. Certain aspects of this doctrine may be “hard to understand.” (2 Peter 3:16) But you will find it well worth the effort to examine the ransom closely, for it reflects God’s surpassing love for mankind. To grasp the meaning of the ransom is to understand a key feature of God’s unfathomable “riches and wisdom and knowledge.”—Romans 5:8; 11:33.
Issues to Be Settled
3. How did a ransom become necessary, and why could God not simply excuse mankind’s sinfulness?
3 The ransom became necessary due to the sin of the first human, Adam, who bequeathed his offspring a futile legacy of sickness, disease, sorrow, and pain. (Romans 8:20) By virtue of their inherited imperfection, all of Adam’s descendants are “children of wrath,” deserving of death. (Ephesians 2:3; Deuteronomy 32:5) God could not yield to unprincipled sentiment and simply forgive mankind out of hand. His own Word shows that “the wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) To excuse mankind’s sinfulness, God would have had to ignore his own righteous standards, to invalidate his own legal justice! (Job 40:8) Yet, “righteousness and judgment are the established place of [God’s] throne.” (Psalm 89:14) Any deflection from righteousness on his part would only encourage lawlessness and undermine his position as Universal Sovereign.—Compare Ecclesiastes 8:11.
4. Satan’s rebellion raised what issues?
4 God also had to settle other issues raised by Satan’s rebellion, issues of far greater significance than the human predicament. Satan cast a dark shadow across God’s good name by accusing Jehovah of being a liar and a cruel dictator who deprived his creatures of knowledge and freedom. (Genesis 3:1-5) Furthermore, by seemingly thwarting God’s purpose to fill the earth with righteous humans, Satan made God appear to be a failure. (Genesis 1:28; Isaiah 55:10, 11) Satan also emboldened himself to slander God’s loyal servants, charging that they served Him only out of selfish motives. If placed under pressure, boasted Satan, none of them would remain loyal to God!—Job 1:9-11.
5. Why could God not ignore Satan’s challenges?
5 These challenges could not be ignored. If they were left unanswered, confidence in and support for God’s rulership would finally be eroded. (Proverbs 14:28) If law and order deteriorated, would havoc not reign throughout the universe? God thus owed it to himself and to his righteous ways to vindicate his sovereignty. He owed it to his faithful servants to allow them to demonstrate their unbreakable loyalty to him. This meant dealing with the plight of sinful humanity in a way that gave precedence to the paramount issues. He later told Israel: “I—I am the One that is wiping out your transgressions for my own sake.”—Isaiah 43:25.
Ransom: A Covering
6. What are some of the terms used in the Bible to describe God’s means of saving mankind?
6 At Psalm 92:5, we read: “How great your works are, O Jehovah! Very deep your thoughts are.” It therefore requires effort for us to comprehend what God did for mankind. (Compare Psalm 36:5, 6.) Happily, the Bible helps us understand matters by using a number of terms that describe or illustrate God’s grand works from a variety of viewpoints. The Bible speaks of the ransom in terms of a purchase, a reconciliation, a propitiation, a redemption, and an atonement. (Psalm 49:8; Daniel 9:24; Galatians 3:13; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 2:17) But perhaps the expression that best describes matters was the one used by Jesus himself at Matthew 20:28: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom [Greek, lyʹtron] in exchange for many.”
7, 8. (a) What do we learn from the Greek and Hebrew words for ransom? (b) Illustrate how a ransom involves correspondency.
7 What is a ransom? The Greek word lyʹtron comes from a verb meaning “to loose.” It was used to describe money paid in exchange for the releasing of prisoners of war. In the Hebrew Scriptures, however, the word for ransom, koʹpher, comes from a verb meaning to “cover” or “overlay.” For example, God told Noah to cover (ka·pharʹ) the ark with tar. (Genesis 6:14) From this viewpoint, then, to ransom, or to atone for sins, means to cover sins.—Psalm 65:3.
8 The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament notes that koʹpher “always denotes an equivalent,” or correspondency. Thus, the cover (kap·poʹreth) of the ark of the covenant corresponded in shape to the ark itself. Likewise, in atoning for sin, or ransoming, divine justice demands ‘soul for soul, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.’ (Deuteronomy 19:21) At times, though, justice can be satisfied if an equivalent is offered in lieu of strict punishment. To illustrate: Exodus 21:28-32 speaks of a bull that gores a person to death. If the owner knew of the bull’s disposition but did not take proper precautions, he could be made to cover, or pay, for the life of the slain one with his own! Yet, what if the owner was only partially responsible? He would need a koʹpher, something to cover his error. Appointed judges could impose upon him a ransom, or fine, as a redemption price.
9. How does a situation involving Israel’s firstborn illustrate the exactness required in a redemption price?
9 Another Hebrew term related to “ransoming” is pa·dhahʹ, a verb that basically means to “redeem.” Numbers 3:39-51 illustrates how exact the price of redemption was to be. Having rescued the Israelite firstborn from execution at Passover 1513 B.C.E., God owned them. He could thus have required every Israelite firstborn son to serve him in the temple. Instead, God accepted a “redemption price” (pidh·yohmʹ, a noun derived from pa·dhahʹ), decreeing: “Take the Levites for me . . . in place of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel.” But the substitution had to be exact. A census of the tribe of Levi was taken: 22,000 males. Next, a census of all Israelite firstborn: 22,273 males. Only by the paying of a “ransom price” of five shekels for each individual could the 273 excess firstborn be redeemed, excused from temple service.
A Corresponding Ransom
10. Why could animal sacrifices not adequately cover mankind’s sins?
10 The foregoing illustrates that a ransom must be the equivalent of that for which it substitutes, or covers. The animal sacrifices that men of faith from Abel onward offered up could not really cover men’s sins, since humans are superior to brute beasts. (Psalm 8:4-8) Paul could thus write that “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take sins away.” Such sacrifices could serve simply as a pictorial, or symbolic, covering in anticipation of the ransom that was to come.—Hebrews 10:1-4.
11, 12. (a) Why did thousands of millions of humans not have to die sacrificial deaths to cover mankind’s sinfulness? (b) Who alone could serve as “a corresponding ransom,” and what purpose does his death serve?
11 This foreshadowed ransom had to be the exact equivalent of Adam, since the death penalty that God justly applied to Adam resulted in the condemnation of the human race. “In Adam all are dying,” says 1 Corinthians 15:22. So it was not necessary for thousands of millions of individual humans to die sacrificial deaths to correspond to each individual of Adam’s progeny. “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin.” (Romans 5:12) And “since death is through a man,” redemption of mankind could also come “through a man.”—1 Corinthians 15:21.
12 The man who could be the ransom had to be a perfect human of flesh and blood—the exact equal of Adam. (Romans 5:14) A spirit creature or a “God-man” would not balance the scales of justice. Only a perfect human, someone not under the Adamic death sentence, could offer “a corresponding ransom,” one corresponding perfectly to Adam. (1 Timothy 2:6)* By voluntarily sacrificing his life, this “last Adam” could pay the wage for the sin of the “first man Adam.”—1 Corinthians 15:45; Romans 6:23.
13, 14. (a) Do Adam and Eve benefit from the ransom? Explain. (b) How does the ransom benefit Adam’s descendants? Illustrate.
13 Neither Adam nor Eve, however, benefit from the ransom. The Mosaic Law contained this principle: “You must take no ransom for the soul of a murderer who is deserving to die.” (Numbers 35:31) Adam was not deceived, so his sin was willful, deliberate. (1 Timothy 2:14) It amounted to the murder of his offspring, for they now inherited his imperfection, thus coming under sentence of death. Clearly, Adam deserved to die, for as a perfect man, he had willfully chosen to disobey God’s law. It would have been contrary to Jehovah’s righteous principles for him to apply the ransom in Adam’s behalf. Paying the wage for Adam’s sin, however, does provide for the nullifying of the death sentence upon Adam’s offspring! (Romans 5:16) In a legal sense, the destructive power of sin is cut off right at its source. The ransomer ‘tastes death for every man,’ bearing the consequences of sin for all of Adam’s children.—Hebrews 2:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24.
14 To illustrate: Imagine a large factory with hundreds of employees. A dishonest factory manager bankrupts the business; the factory closes its doors. Hundreds are now out of work and unable to pay their bills. Their marriage mates, children, and, yes, creditors all suffer because of that one man’s corruption! Then along comes a wealthy benefactor who pays off the company’s debt and reopens the factory. The cancellation of that one debt, in turn, brings full relief to the many employees, their families, and the creditors. But does the original manager get to share in the new prosperity? No, he is in prison and thus permanently out of his job! Similarly, the cancellation of Adam’s one debt brings benefits to millions of his descendants—but not to Adam.
Who Provides the Ransom?
15. Who could provide a ransom for mankind, and why?
15 The psalmist lamented: “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).” The New English Bible says that the ransom price was “for ever beyond his power to pay.” (Psalm 49:7, 8) Who, then, would provide the ransom? Only Jehovah could provide the perfect “Lamb . . . that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) God did not send some angel to rescue mankind. He made the supreme sacrifice of sending his only-begotten Son, “the one he was specially fond of.”—Proverbs 8:30; John 3:16.
16. (a) How did God’s Son come to be born as a perfect human? (b) What could Jesus be called in a legal sense?
16 By his willing participation in the divine arrangement, God’s Son “emptied himself” of his heavenly nature. (Philippians 2:7) Jehovah transferred the life-force and the personality pattern of his firstborn heavenly Son to the womb of a Jewish virgin named Mary. Holy spirit then ‘overshadowed her,’ guaranteeing that the child growing in her womb would be holy, absolutely free of sin. (Luke 1:35; 1 Peter 2:22) 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 “an unblemished and spotless lamb,” a ransom for sinful mankind.—1 Peter 1:18, 19.
17. (a) To whom is the ransom paid, and why? (b) Since God both provides and receives the ransom, why is the exchange made at all?
17 To whom, though, would that ransom be paid? For centuries Christendom’s theologians argued that it was paid to Satan the Devil. The fact is that mankind has been “sold under” sin and thus has come under the control of Satan. (Romans 7:14; 1 John 5:19) Still, Jehovah, not Satan, “exacts punishment” for wrongdoing. (1 Thessalonians 4:6) Therefore, as Psalm 49:7 explicitly states, the ransom is to be paid “to God.” Jehovah makes the ransom available, but after the Lamb of God has been sacrificed, the value of his ransom must be paid to God. (Compare Genesis 22:7, 8, 11-13; Hebrews 11:17.) This does not reduce the ransom to a pointless, mechanical exchange, as if money were taken out of one pocket and put in another. The ransom involves not so much a physical exchange as a legal transaction. By insisting that a ransom be paid—even at great cost to himself—Jehovah affirmed his unwavering adherence to righteous principles.—James 1:17.
“It Has Been Accomplished!”
18, 19. Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer?
18 In the spring of 33 C.E., it was time for the ransom to be paid. Jesus Christ was arrested on false charges, judged guilty, and nailed to a stake of execution. He petitioned God with “strong outcries and tears” because of the intense pain and the humiliation involved. (Hebrews 5:7) Was it necessary for Jesus to suffer so? Yes, for by remaining “loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners,” right down to the end, Jesus settled with dramatic finality the issue of the integrity of God’s servants.—Hebrews 7:26.
19 Christ’s sufferings also served to perfect him for his role as High Priest for mankind. As such, he would not be some cold, detached bureaucrat. “For in that he himself has suffered when being put to the test, he is able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test.” (Hebrews 2:10, 18; 4:15) With his dying breath, Jesus could cry out in triumph, “It has been accomplished!” (John 19:30) Not only had he proved his own integrity but he had succeeded in laying the basis for the salvation of mankind—and more important, the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty!
20, 21. (a) Why was Christ raised from the dead? (b) Why was Jesus Christ “made alive in the spirit”?
20 In what manner, though, would the ransom actually be applied to sinful mankind? When? How? These matters were not left to chance. On the third day after Christ’s death, Jehovah raised him from the dead. (Acts 3:15; 10:40) By this momentous act, a fact verified by hundreds of eyewitnesses, Jehovah not only rewarded his Son’s faithful service but gave him opportunity to finish his redemptive work.—Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
21 Jesus was “made alive in the spirit,” his earthly remains disposed of in some undisclosed manner. (1 Peter 3:18; Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27) As a spirit creature, the resurrected Jesus could now make a triumphant return to heaven. What unbridled jubilation there must have been in heaven on that occasion! (Compare Job 38:7.) Jesus did not return simply to enjoy his welcome. He came to perform other work, including that of making it possible for the whole human race to benefit from his ransom. (Compare John 5:17, 20, 21.) Just how he accomplished this and what it means for mankind will be discussed in the next article.
The Greek word here used, an·tiʹly·tron, appears nowhere else in the Bible. It is related to the word that Jesus used for ransom (lyʹtron) at Mark 10:45. However, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology points out that an·tiʹly·tron ‘accentuates the notion of exchange.’ Appropriately, the New World Translation renders it “corresponding ransom.”
◻ What issues were of even greater importance than the salvation of mankind?
◻ What does it mean to “ransom” sinners?
◻ To whom did Jesus have to correspond, and why?
◻ Who provides the ransom, and to whom is it paid?
◻ Why was it necessary that Christ be raised from the dead as a spirit?
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Animal sacrifices were inadequate to cover human sins; they pictured the greater sacrifice to come