When we hear the word ‘ransom’ we tend to think of kidnapping, like Liam Neeson faces in the Taken movies. The bad guys kidnap someone, usually someone from a wealthy family, then they demand a ransom payment to return the person.
And then we come across this verse in the Bible:
45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45 ESV)
It is easy to transfer that kidnapping idea across to this text and assume that people actually belong to Satan because he has stolen them. Satan might be thought of as the owner of people and Jesus’ death pays Satan the price he demands to set us free. So, the ransom is thought of being payment to Satan.
This is wrong and unhelpful for us because it ascribes power and authority to Satan that he does not have. Satan has some power, that is true, but the consistent Biblical description of Satan’s power is that it is restricted by God. In Job 1-2, for example, Satan can only carry out his will as far as God allows. We do not live in a universe with God and Satan being of equal power, some kind of yin-yang or good-side-of-the-force – bad-side-of-the-force situation. God is the king of the universe, including of Satan. There is no doubt who is in charge.
So, what can it mean that Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many? Jesus paid the ransom to God, not Satan. That can be a strange concept, so let me explain. God is angry with our sin and by rights all of us should receive eternal punishment for it. There is a great cost that we all owe to God, a price that we cannot pay. But Jesus in his death paid that price and bore the anger of God himself. He paid the ransom, the price that was needed to buy our freedom. Instead of being slaves to our sin heading to certain eternal death, we are freed to serve our God and rejoice in Him forever.
And because Jesus is actually fully God, this is no third-party transaction. God is providing the payment for sin, the ransom to free us from his own wrath and judgment.
The concept of ransom is one of many that helps us appreciate how much we have been saved from, and the wonder of what has been given us. Let’s not ascribe power to Satan he does not have and instead reflect on God’s anger on sin and the fact that the price has been paid to set us free from that.