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 13:3

Study the Inner Meaning


3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of John 13      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Explaining the Inner Meaning of John 13

Verses 13:1, 2. That previous to the glorification of the Lord's humanity, perception is given to him of the approaching event, together with unabated love towards his church, on which occasion infernal hatred is the more excited against him.

Verse 13:3. But perception is given to the humanity, that all things of divinity are appropriated to it, since it was assumed by the divinity, and united itself with the divinity.

Verses 13:4, 5. Therefore being elevated by this perception, and having provided an order of truth adapted to the natural principle of the church, the Lord in his humanity is intent on purifying that principle from the defilements of evil.

Verses 13:6, 7, 8. But they, who are principled in the truths of faith, are not aware of the necessity of such purification, until they are instructed, that they cannot otherwise be purified to eternity, and that all purification comes from the Lord alone in his Divine Humanity.

Verses 13:9, 10. Hence they are urgent for the purification of the internal or spiritual man, as well as of the external or natural, until they are instructed further, that if the external or natural principle be purified, the internal or spiritual principle will be also purified.

Verses latter part of 10, 11. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the purification which the Lord, in his Divine Humanity, is ever intent on accomplishing in his church, there are some who still remain in their natural defilements, and this is perceived by the Lord.

Verses 13:12, 13, 14, 15. Who therefore inculcates the necessity of enquiring into the nature of spiritual purification, until it be seen that if he, who is the divine source of all truth and good, is interested in the purification of man, and is continually operative to effect it, man himself ought also to be interested in, and intent on effecting it in like manner, both in respect to himself and others.

Verses 13:16, 17. Otherwise he inverts all divine order, by setting himself above the Lord, and his own wisdom above the divine wisdom, whereas his happiness consists in practising those precepts which he has received from the Lord.

Verse 13:18. Yet all do not so practise, and therefore are not accepted, agreeable to what had been predicted, namely that the natural man, although instructed in the knowledge of truth, would exalt himself above the spiritual man, and thus above the Lord.

Verses 13:19, 20. Which prediction was intended to teach, by its accomplishment, the Lord's divinity, and that he is Jehovah, and consequently whoever receives truth, which is from the Word, receives divine truth, or the Lord in his Divine Humanity, and whoever receives divine truth, receives divine good, or Jehovah.

Verse 13:21. Still the Lord, as to his humanity, is grieved at the thought, that he will be rejected even by those who are instructed in the knowledge of the truth.

Verses 13:22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and former part of 27. But they, who are so instructed, cannot comprehend how this should be, and therefore they seek information on the subject, first from principles of faith, and next from principles of love, and are thereby taught, that the Lord will be rejected by all those, who receive the knowledge of truth, and afterwards profane it through infernal love, since where this is the case, man enters into consociation with the powers of darkness.

Verses latter part of 13:27, 28, 29, 30. Which rejection of the Lord is required to be full and entire; but the reason of this is not seen by those who have received instruction in truth, until the rejection takes place, and the church comes to its end.

Verses 13:31, 32. On which occasion they are instructed, that all opposition of evil men and of evil spirits, in their rejection of the Lord, when he was here on earth, tended only to unite more fully his divinity with his humanity, and his humanity with his divinity, mutually and reciprocally.

Verse 13:33. They are instructed yet further, that the infirm humanity must, by such union, be entirely put off, and that in such case the Divine Humanity will be an object of speculation with those who are principled in truth, but not an object of love.

Verses 13:34, 35. Until to faith they join charity, and until charity be grounded in the divine love, which is the sure mark and character of a right faith.

Verse 13:36. Hence enquiry is made, by those who are principled in faith, concerning the Lord's glorification, and they are instructed, that they cannot comprehend it so long as they remain in faith alone, but will comprehend it when they conjoin faith with charity.

Verses 13:37, 38. Enquiry is further made, why they cannot comprehend it so long as they remain in faith alone, and again they are instructed, that at the end of the church there is no faith in the Lord, because there is no charity.

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 3704, 3736

Apocalypse Revealed 613, 618, 693, 738, 743

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 200, 820, 852

Canons of the New Church 40

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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.

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