Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Central to the message of the gospel is the idea of ransom. The Hebrew word (kofer) has the basic meaning of covering; then it means a redemption price, a ransom that sets free, satisfaction. This word is related to the word atonement and the day of atonement (yom kippur), and to the covering of the ark, the mercy seat. Ransom is closely related in thought to the concepts purchase, buy, redeem. The Greek term means to release on receipt of a ransom, to liberate by payment of a ransom, to redeem and deliver from the penalty of sin. When this word is found with a prefix meaning in the place of, instead of, or for the benefit of, there is strong emphasis placed on the idea of substitution. Someone pays the ransom price in the place of others and with great benefit for others.
The idea of ransom was taught the Israelites by several precepts of the Mosaic law. If an ox with a reputation for pushing with his horn kill a man, the owner of the ox shall be put to death; but if a sum of money be laid upon him, he shall give for the ransom of his life (Ex. 21:30). Because the firstborn males of man and of beast belonged to the Lord (Ex. 13:2, 12), the beasts are to be sacrificed to the Lord, but all the firstborn children shall be redeemed (Ex. 13:15). Thus, when Jesus was presented in the temple at the age of eight days, He was circumcised and a ransom price was paid that He might be free to go about His earthly ministry (Luke 2:21-24). If a hungry man steals, he is not despised; if he be found out, he must restore sevenfold (here, the fine is a kind of ransom). But he who committeth adultery lacks understanding, and the offended husband will not be satisfied with any ransom (Prov. 6:35).
But it was always plain to the Israelite that he could not give a ransom for his own soul or for the soul of his brother, “for the redemption of their soul is precious” (Ps. 49:7, 8). Jesus comments on this Psalm, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). The ransom of the soul can be accomplished only by God Himself, as God spoke to proud Ephraim, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death” (Hos. 13:14).
The term ransom is also used with two great deliverances that God gave to the Israelites. Of their deliverance out of the land of Egypt, that great house of bondage, we read, “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life” (Is. 43:3, 4). Concerning their return from captivity in Babylon we read, “For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he” (Jer. 31:11). In both these examples, the idea is not that foreign nations which were wasted by God for the sake of His people were types or pictures of the great ransom price that our sins demanded; this could never be. But these examples reveal the sovereignty of God in the way in which He saved His people under the old covenant. He does what He pleases with nations and peoples. He raises them up, gets glory for Himself, and frees His people from cruel bondage. Secondly, these examples show that reprobation serves election, the world serves the church. All things are for our sakes! All things are ours, we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
A ransom price implies bondage. Man is subject to the dominion and curse of sin (Gal. 3:13 and I Cor. 15:56). In a secondary sense, man is in bondage to Satan as the head of the kingdom of darkness, and to the bondage of the fear of death (Acts 26:18 and Heb. 2:14, 15). But the ransom must not be paid to Satan. Sin is not against Satan; it entered into the world by Satan. Sin is against God. God must be satisfied with a ransom price in order that he might set His people free from bondage. And God alone decides what that price is! The price is death. The price is the death of the Son of God united to human nature. The price is voluntary, willing death. The price is loving God and keeping His law, in the midst of death and at the moment of death. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). The idea of ransom reaches its deepest and fullest meaning in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ!
Instructing His disciples in true greatness, Jesus said, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:18). Instructing the young Timothy in public prayer, that supplications and intercessions be made for all men (all kinds or classes of men, including kings and others in authority), Paul writes that this is good and acceptable to God, “who would have all men to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (I Tim. 2:1-6). Christ gave Himself for all those given Him by the Father. Rich and poor, male and female, Jew and Gentile, of high and low estate, all are under universal bondage. And the only way to be saved is to be freed from sin and death, from the curse and all fear, by the ransom price that Christ alone can bring, and did bring. If He has made you free, then you are free indeed!