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For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.
– 1 Timothy 2: 5, 6 –
CAPTURING AND HOLDING to ransom is a practice not unfamiliar in today’s news-saturated world. Most commonly it relates to the abduction of a person of some importance, who is kept hostage and only released on payment of a demand for cash, or sometimes on fulfillment of some other condition. It may also refer to the demanding of concessions from a person or organization by threatening damaging action. It is, of course, a criminal offence punishable by law.
As long ago as 78-75 BC, pirates abducted Julius Caesar and held him on a small Greek island until someone paid a fee for him. In Europe during the Middle Ages, ransom became an important custom of chivalric warfare. An important knight, especially nobility or royalty, was worth a significant sum of money if captured, but nothing if he was killed. For this reason, the practice of ransom contributed to the development of heraldry, which allowed knights to advertise their identities, and by implication their ransom value, and made them less likely to be killed out of hand.
The word ‘ransom’ is related to the word ‘redemption’ – a buying back, and in the Biblical context has immense significance in referring to the recovery of all people – Adam and Eve, together with their entire offspring – from sin and its consequences.
What was the sin, and what were its consequences? Adam and his wife Eve were created in God’s image, perfect in their intellectual, artistic, moral and religious faculties. They were instructed to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, and were given charge over the earth and its creatures. They were to care for their environment, a garden home that provided all that was necessary to sustain life and health, to ensure their physical and mental well-being everlastingly.
But a prohibition was laid upon them. The fruit of one particular tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – was forbidden to them and partaking of this fruit would bring death. That this caution was given shows that they possessed free will – they could choose to obey, though there was a possibility that they might choose otherwise.
The story is told in few words. Satan, God’s Adversary, beguiled Eve, assuring her she would not really die, but rather would be enlightened and become like the celestial beings. Deceived, Eve ate the forbidden fruit, then gave it to Adam, who also ate. But Adam was not deceived (1 Timothy 2: 14). He chose to share in the sin of disobedience and its penalty, rather than continue in Divine favour without Eve, and thus he forfeited the right to life. Expelled from the garden, deprived of its life-sustaining food, and alienated from their Creator, the first human pair began the bitter experience of toil and hardship, weariness, sorrow and death that became the inevitable legacy of every generation thereafter.
The story in the modern mind has almost universally assumed the nature of myth, yet it lies at the root of the Christian faith. Man’s fall from Divine favour as a result of what appears on the surface to be a trivial act of rebellion, set in motion a process of degeneration which unfailingly ends in death.
WERE THEY JUSTLY CONDEMNED?
Though our first parents had no practical experience of evil before eating the forbidden fruit, it cannot be assumed that they understood nothing of right and wrong, of obedience and disobedience. Eve’s conversation with the Adversary shows that she understood the prohibition, while possibly underestimating the consequences of a little taste of rebellion. Satan’s suggestion that ‘You will not surely die’ was crafty and clever, having in it an element of truth, and his victims thereafter learned from bitter experience the folly of their action (Genesis 3: 2, 3).
Awareness of a proper code of conduct, a sense of justice, an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong, seems to be programmed into the human psyche, evidenced even today in the behaviour of young, inexperienced children.
Some may ask why God put temptation in the way of the first man and woman. Had there been no forbidden fruit they might have continued forever in a blissful existence, generating a perfect race of offspring to populate a perfect earth. But God’s purposes for the human family were vastly more complex and far reaching than the greatest human mind can conceive, and He knew that a personal experience of sin and death with all its concomitant ailments would in due time create a race tried and tested, rooted in righteousness, a noble people worthy of everlasting life and rejoicing again in fellowship with their Creator.
Others might ask, ‘Why couldn’t God forgive this early act of disobedience and give them another chance? If they had known what grief would result, they might have paid attention.’ The answer is that they knew enough. Loving parents requiring their children’s obedience will usually make clear what punishment will follow in the case of defiance, and while misdemeanours may sometimes be overlooked, it is often wise to have a child learn from experience the consequences of wrongdoing. As in the adult world, the child learns respect for parents who can be relied on to keep their word.
Can we expect less of our Heavenly Father?
The role of Satan in this drama may seem to be something of an enigma. The Bible has the answers, but it is enough to remember the account of his personal ambition related in Isaiah 14: 12-14: ‘I will make myself like the Most High.’ His attempt to deceive even the Lord Jesus, and his subsequent domination over mankind, shows an insatiable desire for power and lordship, which God in His wisdom has tolerated for a while, pending the further development of His plan for the deliverance and blessing of Satan’s victims.
While the Adversary was clearly the agent of their fall, it was upon Adam and Eve that the Divine prohibition had been laid. Consequently they, and logically their entire offspring, became captives of Divine Justice. God cannot violate His own perfect attributes of character or undermine His Justice, which is the foundation of His throne (Psalm 89: 14). His justice is unbending and therefore exacting. But, blessed be His name, His love also operates and comes to the rescue of the stricken race.
Newman’s hymn, ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’, expresses the drama poetically:
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.[fn1]
When God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, His purpose was to provide one who would be an equivalent of Adam, a second perfect man who would take upon himself the guilt of the first. This would satisfy in every particular the requirements of Divine Justice, freeing from the death sentence not only Adam, but also Eve, being a genetic extraction of her husband, and also their entire offspring, unborn at the time of their disobedience.
Our Lord Jesus identified Himself as the one who would provide a ransom price to redeem mankind (Matthew 20: 28), and the theme is reiterated by the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy: ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time’ (1 Timothy 2: 5, 6). The Greek word here translated ‘ransom’ is antilutron, which means a price instead, or a corresponding price.
An objection might be raised by some who, seeing that Jesus was raised to life again on the third day after His crucifixion, would challenge the genuineness of the sacrifice. After His resurrection the disciples did not recognise the Lord by His physical appearance, but by some familiar feature of His character, and they had no doubt that the Jesus they had known was dead, and the risen Lord who appeared to them was a heavenly being.
But something more than the death of the Saviour is involved. While His was a life that came from above, He relinquished that life in the hope that as an exact equivalent of Adam, he might lift from the earth the death sentence (John 6: 38, 51). Had He not faithfully accomplished His Father’s purpose, not only would His death as a man have been fruitless, but His former existence as God’s well-beloved Son, would be forever lost. This was no charade. Christ’s agony in Gethsemane was real, and His prayer to the Father a little while earlier, ‘. . . glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’ (John 17: 5), highlights the staggering magnitude of the potential loss.
Had Jesus been nothing more than a perfect man, He must have remained in the grave forever. That is to say, the essential person would have ceased to exist. And in such a situation, how would the price of Adam’s release be applied? How would earth’s millions be called out of their graves? How would they learn to rehabilitate themselves in a vastly more complex environment than they had known before?
The practical outworking of God’s eternal purposes no doubt awaits further revelation, but – praise the Lord! – ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven’ (Hebrews 1: 3). And what He began on earth as a man He will in His coming Kingdom bring to a glorious completion.
Did Jesus forfeit His right to earthly life? A forfeited life is one that is taken away for some just cause, as was Adam’s. A sacrificed life, however, is one that is taken away without just cause – one that is freely offered as was the life of Jesus. For the joy of doing His Father’s will He relinquished all His earthly rights and privileges. But those rights and privileges were not abolished or cancelled. They were, so to speak, deposited in the hands of Divine Justice, to be made available in due time to the human family – specifically to Adam. Jesus’ dying words were, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23: 46). Nearly two thousand years have passed, and it is evident that the ransom’s merit has not yet been applied on behalf of the whole world.
Why the delay?
The answer is that a further amazing feature of God’s plan was to be brought into effect before the price of redemption would be paid to release the world from death. Even Christ’s most intimate companions had no understanding of this additional arrangement – that is, not until they were enlightened by the holy spirit. They were aware of the call to take up their cross and follow Him – the invitation to share His persecutions and sufferings, even unto death.
Then the enlightenment of the spirit at Pentecost opened their eyes of understanding, and they became aware that they had entered into a new sacrificial relationship with the Heavenly Father, along with the Lord Jesus.
But how could God accept imperfect men and women to be His special children, joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8: 16, 17)? He could do so because Jesus imputed His ransom merit to them – not the actual application of it, which is reserved to free Adam, but by viewing it as a borrowing against a deposit held in safe custody for a future need. By this means God could regard the believers as perfect and sinless. This is the basis of justification by faith – being made right in the eyes of a just God. And during the Gospel Age, the body of Christ has been gathered and prepared through their earthly sacrificial course to share in the vast work of administering the Kingdom of God for the blessing of restored humanity in due time.
God’s eternal purpose for the human family will astonish an unbelieving world, as the prisoners of death are released, their ransom paid in full, their lives restored and their right to life no longer in question.
But the Scriptures do not teach universal eternal salvation (John 3: 36). There must be a period of instruction in righteousness, a reformation of character, and a genuine, heartfelt appreciation of Christ as their Redeemer. No longer condemned by Adam’s sin, each will be personally responsible before the Christ and, ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him’ (Ezekiel 18: 20).
The Apostle Peter, speaking of Jesus, declared: ‘Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people’ (Acts 3: 23). But it is clear that a personal experience of the consequences of sin will predispose the vast majority to choose righteousness, to become honourable citizens of the Kingdom of God, and to enter into everlasting life.
Close your eyes for a moment to the scenes of misery and woe, degradation and sorrow that yet prevail on account of sin, and picture before your mental vision the glory of a perfect earth. Not a stain of sin mars the harmony and peace of a perfect society; not a bitter thought, not an unkind look or word; love, welling up from every heart, meets a kindred response in every other heart, and benevolence marks every act. There sickness shall be no more – not an ache nor a pain, nor any evidence of decay – not even the fear of such things. Think of all the pictures of comparative health and beauty that you have ever seen, and know that perfect humanity will be of still surpassing loveliness. Then inward purity and mental and moral perfection will stamp and glorify every radiant countenance. Such will earth’s society be; and weeping bereaved ones will have their tears all wiped away, when thus they realize the resurrection work complete.[fn2]
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The work was later set to music by Edward Elgar.
http://www.aylesburychoral.org.uk/concerts/works/elgar_dreamofgerontius.htm (link broken)
http://www.stpetersnottingham.org/hymns/holiest.htm (link broken)
^[fn2] From, The Divine Plan of the Ages, IBSA, 1914 ed., p. 191.