Lecture 10: The Suffering Servant of the Lord and Lecture 11: The Ransom Theory

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We’ve been looking at motifs in the Bible characterizing the atonement wrought by Christ.
We’ve seen that one of the most important of these is sacrifice.
We looked at the Old Testament sacrifices and saw that they filled a dual function of expiating sin and of propitiating God.

Now we want to look at Christ as a sacrifice.

When we return to the New Testament construal of Jesus’ death as a sacrificial offering to God, we find that the New Testament writers preach of Christ’s death as both expiatory and propitiatory.

With regard to the expiation of sins:

The author of the book of Hebrews hammers this point home.
In contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices:
Hebrews 10:11 KJV 1900
11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
Christ did!
Hebrews 9:28 KJV 1900
28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
And the result:
Hebrews 10:10 KJV 1900
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
In the Gospel of John, John presents Christ as a Passover lamb whose death, in contrast to the original Passover sacrifices, is expiatory.
We see this in John the Baptist’s words in John 1:29:
John 1:29 KJV 1900
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
Paul also uses technical Levitical terminology from the Greek Old Testament in order to characterize Christ’s death as “a sin offering.”
Romans 8:3 KJV 1900
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

With respect to propitiation

We have in Romans 3:24-25
Romans 3:24–25 KJV 1900
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Both of these concepts are beautifully summarized in Romans 5:9:
Romans 5:9 KJV 1900
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Any biblically adequate theory of the atonement must make good sense of Christ’s death as a sacrificial offering which is both expiatory of sin and propitiatory of God’s wrath and justice.
With all the biblical Data in check we can now begin to look and asses the various models or theories of the atonement:

Lecture 14: The Ransom Theory

We are discussing the doctrine of the atonement, and we've just begun a survey of Christian thinking about the atonement over the centuries. We want to start with the church fathers.
For about nine hundred years from the time of Irenaeus and Origen up until the time of St. Anselm the ransom theory was popular among the church fathers.
According to this theory the sacrifice of Christ’s life served as a ransom to deliver man from the bondage to Satan and from the corruption and death that were the consequences of sin.
The church fathers tended to interpret Jesus’ ransom saying (remember Mark 10:45 that the Son of Man has come to give his life as a ransom for many) very literally to mean that he made a payment in exchange for which human beings were set free from bondage.
Much as a ransom payment might be made to terrorists who are holding a group of hostages in order to get those hostages liberated, so the sacrifice of Christ’s life was a ransom given to liberate human beings from bondage to sin and death.
This interpretation naturally raised the question as to whom the ransom was paid.
The obvious answer to this question seemed to be the devil – Satan – because it was the devil who held men in bondage.
2 Timothy 2:25–26 KJV 1900
25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
Here he says that human beings have been ensnared by the devil and are in bondage to him.
Similarly in 1 John 5:19 we have a very sweeping statement:
1 John 5:19 KJV 1900
19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
According to 1 John 5:19 the entire world lies in bondage to Satan.
So God agreed to give over his Son to Satan’s power in exchange for the human beings that he held captive.
Not all of the church fathers agreed with this ransom theory.
Gregory Nazianzus, for example, was sharply critical of the ransom theory. He did not want to make Satan the object of Christ’s atoning death.
It seemed inappropriate to say that Satan would be the one to whom atonement is directed.
But most of the church fathers agreed with Origen who wrote,
To whom gave he his life ‘a ransom for many’? It cannot have been to God. Was it not then to the evil one? For he held us until the ransom for us, even the soul of Jesus, was paid to him, being deceived into thinking that he could be its lord, and not seeing that he could not bear the torment of holding it.
As Origen’s statement revealed, the fathers typically thought of this arrangement between God and Satan as a very clever ruse on God’s part.
He tricked Satan into making this exchange.
You see, as the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God could not possibly have been held captive by Satan.
But by his incarnation – by becoming a man – Christ appeared to be just as weak and vulnerable as other human beings who were under Satan’s control, and it was only after the captives had been freed by Satan that the Son of God manifested his full divine power by rising from the dead and breaking the bonds of death and hell and thus escaping from Satan's power.
Gregory of Nyssa, one of the other Cappadocian church fathers, gives the following very colorful analogy to illustrate how God cleverly deceived Satan.
He says,
In order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it, the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh.
Here he says that Christ’s flesh is like the bait to lure Satan and inside is hidden this hook of the deity of Christ that will ensnare Satan and in fact undo him.
With that we’ll close.
Next time we will look at St. Anselm’s satisfaction theory which effectively undid the ransom theory so that it never really appeared again prominently in church history.
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