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Redemption - Theology from the Slave Market

Julian Spriggs M.A.

In every-day use, redemption meant the payment of money to liberate someone from captivity. It was especially associated with the slave market, when a slave was purchased and then set free, or otherwise to buy back prisoners of war. Throughout the NT it is used to describe the way salvation was achieved, by the payment of a ransom to liberate believers from a life of bondage from which they could not rescue themselves (Mk 10:45, Gal 3:13, Heb 9:15). It also shows the great personal cost to God of our salvation. The price was the death of Christ (Eph 1:7, 1 Pet 1:18, Heb 9:12). Because purchasing means a change of ownership, redemption also therefore strongly implies the lordship of Christ over the life of a believer, who now belongs to God, as a servant or slave of Christ (1 Cor 6:19), which is true freedom. The purpose of redemption is to create a people dedicated to God (Titus 2:14, Rev 14:4).

In the gospels, the term is only infrequently used. Jesus summarised the purpose of his ministry to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). His earthly ministry would conclude with him voluntarily dying on the cross, which would bring life and freedom from the bondage of sin to those who respond to him in faith, thus making a link to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

In his birth narratives, Luke uses redemption to describe the popular hopes of Israel for deliverance from foreign powers (Lk 1:68, 2:38). This was the association familiar to Israel in Old Testament times. Jesus, however, will redeem his people from the greater power of the devil and the bondage of sin.

The doctrine of redemption is particularly developed by Paul in his letters. In Galatians, Paul states that believers were in bondage to the law and therefore under a curse, but Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse himself, by dying on a tree (Gal 3:13). This clearly shows Christ died as a substitution for us, taking the penalty we deserved. He redeemed those under the law, so we might be adopted as children (Gal 4:5), showing the freedom and privileges we have in Christ. In Romans 3, he brings together justification, redemption and propitiation in a powerful statement describing the work of the cross. Believers are declared not guilty, the price is paid to set them free, and a sacrifice has been made to satisfy the wrath of God. In his doxology proclaiming the spiritual blessings in Christ, Paul includes redemption through his blood (Eph 1:7), again stating that the death of Christ bought our freedom. Christ gave himself to redeem us from iniquity in order that we may belong to him and be zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14), again showing that the price was paid to release us from sin, as well as the purpose of redemption - to belong to God and serve him.

Paul also speaks of a future redemption. In the future, the body will set free from its bondage to decay (Rom 8:23) on the day of redemption (Eph 4:30), when the body will also be included in the salvation we already enjoy.

The author of Hebrews contrasts the temporary redemption achieved through the repeated sacrifices of bulls and goats under the old covenant with the eternal redemption attained through Christ shedding his own blood in order to establish the new covenant (Heb 9:12,15).

Peter states that Christians were redeemed from the futile ways of their ancestors with the precious blood of Jesus, not with silver or gold (1 Pet 1:18-19). Redemption was not possible through things valuable to mankind, but needed the shedding of blood of the perfect sacrifice of God’s own Son.

In Revelation, the lamb is worthy to be praised because he ransomed saints from every tribe and people on the earth, and made them to be a kingdom and priests before God (5:9-10). Thus the result of redemption is royal and priestly service to God. Later, the 144,000 who have been redeemed as first-fruits from the earth (14:3,5) follow the lamb wherever he goes and are blameless. The redeemed are set apart and now belong to God, turning away from falsehood and evil.


D. Guthrie. New Testament Theology. IVP 1981. Pages 476-481.
E.F. Harrison: Redeemer, Redemption in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. ed. W.A. Elwell. Baker 1984
G.E. Ladd. A Theology of the New Testament. Eerdmans 1974. Pages 474-476.
L. Morris. New Testament Theology. Zondervan 1986. Page 317.
J. Murray: Redeemer, Redemption, in International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE). ed. GW Bromiley. Eerdmans 1986
H.N. Ridderbos: Kingdom of God, Kingdom of heaven in Illustrated Bible Dictionary ed. JD Douglas. IVP 1986