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 17:11

Study the Inner Meaning


11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of John 17      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Explaining the Inner Meaning of John 17

Verse 17:1. That the Lord, perceiving from his divine truth, that his Humanity was in a state capable of being fully united to his Divinity, is led from his divine love to desire that union.

Verse 17:2. That thus he might be the God of heaven and earth, and communicate his divine love and wisdom to all who were prepared to receive.

Verses 17:3, 4. Which divine love and wisdom consist in the heart-felt acknowledgement, that in the Lord, God is Man, and Man God, in One Divine Person, and that by and through the Manhood, of Humanity, the eternal Godhead, or Divinity, is made known in the church, and the great work of man's redemption completed.

Verses 17:5, 6. Which work required that the Divinity and Humanity should be made eternally one, as the divine love and divine wisdom are eternally one, and that thus mankind should become acquainted with the nature of that worship which the divinity requires, and should transfer all worship from the invisible Divinity to the visible Divine Humanity, living according to his precepts.

Verses 17:7, 8. And acknowledging that in the Divine Humanity are contained all things of the Divinity, and that through and by the Divine Humanity is communicated divine love and divine wisdom to such as can receive it, who are thus taught that the Humanity is from the Divinity, and that a right faith consists in so believing.

Verses 17:9, 10. Because through the Lord's Divine Humanity they have continual access to the divine good, which otherwise they could not have, and thus are convinced that the union of the Divinity and Humanity is reciprocal, and that the Divine Humanity, through that union, is all in all in heaven and in the church.

Verses 17:11, 12. Imparting the good of heavenly love and life to all who desire it, that they also may have reciprocal conjunction with the Humanity, as the humanity has reciprocal union with the Divinity, and may thus be preserved from evils and falsities, according to prediction.

Verses 17:13, 14, 15, 16. And through the eternal truth may attain conjunction with heavenly good, and thus be admitted into spiritual temptations, which are permitted for final purification and deliverance from evil, in like manner as the Lord by temptation-combats made his humanity divine.

Verses 17:17, 18, 19. For the eternal truth, or the Word, is the only medium of man's purification, and therefore all, who receive the truth, pass through a similar process of purification and trial with the Lord himself, and as he thereby glorified or made divine his humanity, in like manner they become spiritual, and are regenerated.

Verses 17:20, 21, 22, 23. For the divine love is willing to draw all to itself, and therefore the end of the Lord's glorification of his humanity was, that he might gift mankind with intelligence and wisdom, and thus lead them to conjunction of life and love with himself in every process of their purification and regeneration.

Verses 17:24, 25, 26. And that thus they might live perpetually in the light of the divine presence, and be made sensible of the divine love, and by the acknowledgement of the reciprocal union of the Divinity and Humanity, might no longer remain in evil and error, but attain to eternal conjunction with the Lord, in love and in truth.

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2025, 2724, 3704, 9133, 9199

Doctrine of the Lord 35

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

An Invitation to the New Church 1

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

  Bible Study Videos:  (see all)

Bible Word Meanings

The term "world" has both general and more specific meanings in the Bible, including the relatively literal sense of the natural, physical world. In more...

Coming (Gen. 41:14) denotes communication by influx.

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.

 Jesus Prays
Jesus finished His farewell speech with a three-part prayer; that He be united with the Father; that the disciples might be united with Him; and that all believers might be unified.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Prayer and the Question of Intercession
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Why a “New Church”?
Article | Ages 15 - 17