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


Psalms 31:5

Study the Inner Meaning


5 Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 31      

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Psalm 31's theme is that the Lord is a fortress for us in adversity. It's quite a long psalm, and it is filled with rich imagery in almost every verse and phrase -- the Lord’s ear, the rock of refuge, the fortress, the net, the hand of the enemy, setting feet in a wide place, and more.

The psalmist exposes his feelings of rejection by others, saying again and again that his adversaries are full of hatred towards him. He feels that he is being held in contempt by his enemies, especially by his neighbours. He says that he is a reproach among them; he is repulsive to them; he is forgotten like a dead man, and that he is a broken vessel. He feels that they are against him, because of what he has chosen to stand for and uphold in his life.

This, like every other psalm, is also dealing with the inner states of Jesus in his humanity, in his work of redemption for our spiritual freedom. The Lord knew the opposition and rejection of many people. He also knew and had to deal with the attacks from the hells which took him into severe temptation. And he knew the subtleties and weaknesses of his own inherited humanity and the temptation to give in to their promptings. (Arcana Caelestia 1557)

This is an important challenge in our spiritual life. Our spiritual stands can set us against being accepted by other people who may have been friendly towards us before, but who are now against us. Spiritual commitment can bring us into an loneliness where our love of the Lord is the only fortress of our life. (Divine Providence 61)

When we bring this Psalm, spiritually, inside ourselves, and see our states reflected in what it says, we see that there is a tension between our natural life – fed by merely human values and expectations – and our spiritual life which is fed by the Word and the commands of the Lord. Both are there, co-habiting in us. We need to recognise this and manage the situation. It is a comfort to us to know that the Lord completely understands how it is for us. This is why the Lord feels like our fortress. (Arcana Caelestia 6343)

We’ll now take a look at some of the phrases and images used in this psalm and their spiritual meanings for us and also their correspondences.

Verse 2 says “Be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defence to save me.” The height and hardness of rock give us the idea of the need for refuge, something higher than our confused thoughts, something firmer and steadier than our shifting emotions. This is the prayer to be made to the Lord. (Apocalypse Explained 411)

Verse 4 gives us the picture of a ‘net’: “Pull me out of the net they have secretly laid to trap me.” We know the phrase “a web of lies” in which we can become entangled to the point of not knowing truth from falsity, and a net, like a web, is all interconnected lines with no obvious beginning or end. False ideas create devious pathways to make them seem true.

Verse 8 says “You have set my feet in a wide place”. Our feet carry our body along. They are in touch with the ground. They stand for our life, with its actions, contact, use and dealings. The wideness means firmness, and breadth, which strengthens the balance of the body. To devote ourselves to the Lord sets our life on a sure base. (Apocalypse Revealed 510)

Finally, verse 10 tells us “And my bones waste away.” Our physical body is firmly built on a hard scaffolding on bones which allow us to act and move. Spiritually this stands for the truths we understand and have made our truth which support all our spiritual life and intentions. But here the speaker feels that this sureness is disappearing. It is the plea of one who is overwhelmed by the “smoke and mirrors” of opposing forces, and as the psalm constantly brings out, he can turn only to the Lord to uphold him, and he does. (Arcana Caelestia 9447)

From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 281

Other references to this verse:

Apocalypse Revealed 281, 613

Doctrine of the Lord 38, 49

True Christian Religion 83

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 328

Marriage 83

Scriptural Confirmations 19, 100

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

Bible Word Meanings

In Genesis 27:22, 'voice' relates to truth, and 'hand,' to good.

The Lord, in the simplest terms, is love itself expressed as wisdom itself. In philosophic terms, love is the Lord's substance and wisdom is His...

There's a great deal of talk in Swedenborg about "truth" as a concept – it's how we learn the Lord's will, what we must seek...

Resources for parents and teachers

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