A Ransom for Many - What can that mean?


By New Christian Bible Study Staff

A Ransom for Many - What can that mean?

Almost 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth -- Jesus Christ -- was crucified. He died. Painfully. And then, by the second morning after that, He was risen from the dead. His physical body was gone - or, rather, in light of subsequent events, it seems to have been transformed into a spiritual one. (That's an interesting thing to think through, in itself, but it's not the focus of this article.)

Instead, here we want to focus on some of the things that are said in the Bible about why Jesus died. There's an almost-2000-year-old confusion about it. Let's dig into it...

In Mark 10:42-45 (and in Matthew 20:25-28), we find this well-known lesson, which occurs late in Jesus's ministry. James and John - still not really understanding the depth of what was going on, were lobbying Jesus for promises of sitting at His left and right hand when he was "king". The other disciples were displeased, of course. Jesus knows what's going on, so He gathers them all, and tries to explain the real nature of His mission, and what their mission should be, too.

Here's the text:

"But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

A ransom. The Greek word used here is λύτρον, or lutron, which means the price for redeeming or ransoming, from λύω, luo, for loosening, untying, or setting free.

Some theologians have taken this text, and combined it with the text from the crucifixion story, when Jesus says three things that show his distress, and his feeling of separation from his Divine essence -- "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?", and "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done", and "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

It can certainly be interpreted as a sort of sacrifice, in which Jesus acts as a sort of scapegoat, substituting his death for the human race that had disappointed His Father. Some theologians have done that. Anselm of Canterbury, in around 1000 AD, was one of the leaders of a faction that made that argument. But we don't think that's the right track; in fact, we think it was a wrong track that's been pretty damaging.

In New Christian theology, it doesn't make sense that God was angry. He's love itself. Is He disappointed when we don't reciprocate His love? Sure. But angry? No. There's certainly the appearance of it, especially in the Old Testament at times, but the core nature of God is love.

What's more, it should be even clearer that the death of Jesus's physical body wouldn't make God the Father feel better. Remember, they are really ONE person, of one mind - not two.

Instead, the whole cycle of God's incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection was undertaken so that new truths could reach humankind.

In Arcana Coelestia 1419,

"The Lord, being love itself, or the essence and life of the love of all in the heavens, wills to give to the human race all things that are His; which is signified by His saying that the Son of man came to give His life a ransom for many."

In Apocalypse Explained 328:15, we find this explanation:

“The phrase ‘to ransom’ means to free people from falsities and reform them by means of truths. This is signified by the words, ‘Ransom [redeem] me, O Jehovah, God of truth’” (Psalm 31:5)

One reason Jesus died was to overcome the power of hell. Jesus fought against evil spirits throughout His life. The clearest description of this is just after his baptism, when he spends 40 days in the wilderness. His suffering on the cross was the final struggle against evil, and His resurrection was his final victory over it.

For every person, overcoming evil involves temptation or a struggle against evil. As we struggle against evil individually, Christ struggled against evil on a cosmic scale. His death was the conclusion of that struggle, but it wasn't a loss; it was a win. The Bible says that God took on flesh and blood so that “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14,15)

Another reason that Bible gives for Jesus’ death was that He might unite His human nature with His Divine nature, so that He could “make in Himself, of two, one new man,” (Ephesians 2:14-16, cf. John 17:11, 21; 10:30).

There are other reasons mentioned, too:

He could "go to the Father" (John 13:3; 14:2, 28; 16:10).
He could be "glorified" (John 17:1,5) or "enter into His glory" (Luke 24:26).
He could be "perfected" (Luke 13:32), or "sanctified" (John 17:19).

In Swedenborg's True Christianity 86, it says,

"Jehovah God came into the world as divine truth for the purpose of redeeming people. Redemption was a matter of gaining control of the hells, restructuring the heavens, and then establishing a church."

At the crucifixion, the forces of evil thought they had won. The religious and civic powers of the day led the way in condemning him. He was mocked. The crowd turned against him.

The death of Jesus' physical body was a "ransom" in this way: by undergoing that torture and death, He could then show that his spiritual power transcended natural death. He freed us, loosened us, from domination by the hells, and established a new church -- a new way that we can follow.

The Bible


John 10:30

Study the Inner Meaning


30 I and my Father are one.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of John 10      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Explaining the Inner Meaning of John 10

Verse 10:1. The Lord in his Divine Humanity teaches, that whoever does not approach him in that humanity, by faith and love, destroys in himself the goods of faith by falsities, and thus seeks to establish his own merit.

Verse 10:2. Whereas all they, who by faith and love approach him in his humanity, cherish and keep alive in themselves those goods.

Verse 10:3. Therefore their interiors are opened to the life of heaven, and they obey the divine precepts, and are gifted with heaven according to the good of love and faith, and are led of the Lord, and not of themselves.

Verses 10:4, 5. And in all their operations they have respect to the Lord, and acknowledge the divinity of his humanity, because they obey his precepts, and shun all false principles, as not being in agreement with their love.

Verses 10:6, 7, 8. That this teaching is not understood by the men of the perverted church, therefore they are expressly taught again, that the only entrance to the life of heaven is through the Lord's Divine Humanity, and that all who exalt themselves above that Humanity, destroy in themselves the life of heaven, and are opposed to all heavenly good.

Verse 10:9. Whereas they, who by faith and love acknowledge the Lord in his Divine Humanity, are made partakers of his good and truth in every state of life both internal and external.

Verse 10:10. For as evil and false principles deprive good and truth of their proper life, so the Lord in his Divine Humanity was manifested for the purpose of communicating heavenly life to every good and truth, and this in a greater fullness than had ever been before experienced.

Verse 10:11. Therefore the Lord teaches and leads to all truth, whilst by temptation combats, through his own proper power, he unites his divinity to his humanity.

Verses 10:12, 13. Whereas they, who seek their own glory in what they do, having no regard to the good of others, fall in temptations, and are deprived of all heavenly good, inasmuch as they look more at recompense than at that good.

Verse 10:14. But the Lord in his Divine Humanity imparts heavenly good, acknowledging all who receive that good, as his children, and being reciprocally acknowledged by them as their Father.

Verse 10:15. In like manner as the divinity acknowledges the humanity, and the humanity reciprocally acknowledges the divinity, and by enduring temptations unites itself with the divinity.

Verse 10:16. Thus effecting the salvation of the spiritual, or those who are in the good of faith, and who, through the Lord's Divine Humanity will make one with the celestial, or those who are in the good of love.

Verses 10:17, 18. For by temptations, inmost and plenary union of the divinity with the humanity, and of the humanity with the divinity, was effected until the humanity became divine.

Verses 10:19, 20, 21. That these truths effect a work of judgement in the perverted church, by separating those, who reject and blaspheme the Lord's humanity, from those who acknowledge its divine power manifested in the restoration of the understanding of truth.

Verses 10:22, 23. So that some in the church are in the warmth of heavenly affection and life, whilst others are in the warmth of infernal affection and life, and the Lord in his humanity was instilling introductory truths of wisdom.

Verses 10:24, 25. On which occasion, an apparently ardent desire is kindled in the perverted church, to know the truth respecting the Lord's humanity, and they are instructed, that the truth has been declared to them, but they did not receive it, which truth is, that the operation of the Lord's humanity proved it to be derived from the divinity.

Verses 10:26, 27. This truth however they did not admit, because they were not principled in good, for all they, who are principled in good receive the doctrine of the Lord's Divine Humanity, and are acknowledged by that Humanity, and are obedient to its guidance.

Verses 10:28, 29, 30. They receive also from that humanity the life of heavenly love, and are never separated from it, because there is no power which is able to separate them, since the divine good, by which they are drawn to the Divine Humanity, is above every other power, and one with that humanity.

Verses 10:31, 32, 33. That they, who are of the perverted church, oppose the above divine truths with falsities, and being questioned why they thus set themselves against the operation of the divine good, they reply, that they do not oppose the divine good, but the blasphemous idea that humanity can be divine.

Verses 10:34, 35, 36. But this humanity on the contrary teaches, that there is no blasphemy in calling itself divine, since the Holy Word, which is eternal truth, ascribes divinity to those who receive it, and therefore divinity ought more especially to be ascribed to that humanity which proceeded from it, and which is it.

Verses 10:37, 38. And the humanity ought to be judged from its operation, since if its operation be divine, it is a manifest proof that it has reciprocal union with the divine good.

Verse 10:39. That this reasoning is not apprehended by those who are of the perverted church, and therefore they again seek to destroy the Lord's humanity, but in vain.

Verses 10:40, 41, 42. For the Lord in his humanity applies himself to the Gentiles, who are principled in introductory truths, and amongst them he establishes his church, being received by them with affection, and with faith, not grounded in miraculous testimony, but in the love of truth for its own sake.

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2004, 2005, 3704, 7456, 9199, 9315, 9818, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 21, 294, 520, 613, 618, 693, 743, ...

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 44, 120

Conjugial Love 82, 118

Doctrine of the Lord 32

Worlds in Space 141

Heaven and Hell 2

True Christian Religion 98, 111, 112, 136, 188, 379, 583, ...

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 283

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 26, 32, 114, 200, 411, 649, 655, ...

Canons of the New Church 40, 43

Charity 201

De Domino 40

Divine Wisdom 1

Marriage 98, 111, 112

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 14, 25

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

  Spiritual Topics:

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

 Building Our Faith
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 For Reflection: Other Sheep
In John 10:16, Jesus talked about “other sheep.” What are some ways we can reach out to people whose lives we touch?)
Activity | Ages over 14

 Gentle Leading
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 I Have Come that You Might Have Life
Illustrated poster: "I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly" from John 10:10. The Lord's creation is filled with abundance and variety to bring us joy.
Picture | Ages over 7

 Memory Verse: The Lord Is My Shepherd
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Other Sheep
This journal activity can help us reflect on ways that we can help the Lord by reaching out to people whose lives we touch.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Prayers for Teens and Adults: The Good Shepherd
Activity | Ages 15 - 17

 Reflect on Abundance
Activity | Ages over 15

 Sheepfold Collage
The sheepfold is a protected place for the sheep to gather at night. The shepherd counts the sheep when they enter the sheepfold to make sure that all the sheep are safely within. Make a picture showing the Lord standing at the door of the sheepfold.
Project | Ages up to 6

 Shepherd and His Sheep Diorama
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Shepherds, Hirelings, Sheep
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Good Shepherd
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Good Shepherd
Family lessons provide a worship talk and a variety of activities for children and teens..
Religion Lesson | Ages 4 - 17

 The Good Shepherd
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Good Shepherd
In saying He was the Good Shepherd Jesus proclaimed Himself the shepherd of Israel--God Himself in human form.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 The Good Shepherd (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Good Shepherd (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Good Shepherd (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Greatest Gift
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Lord Is My Shepherd
"The teaching that the Lord is our Shepherd is a powerful and comforting one. The relationship between the sheep and their shepherd involves a sense of trust and security.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord, the Good Shepherd
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Shepherds Visit
The Word is the story of ourselves. What are our "sheep", "shepherds", and the miracle of the Lord's birth in our lives?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Worms and Butterflies
Did you know that the Psalms of David foretell the events of the Lord’s life, His thoughts, and His feelings? This article looks at how Psalm 22 allows us to glimpse what went on in the days before the Lord was put to death. 
Article | Ages 7 - 14