When my wife and I bought our first home, we were both excited and nervous—30 years of payments was a big commitment. But we believed it was worth it because we wanted to create a space for our family to grow. Similarly, God wants to live life together with His people. And there’s perhaps no better word in Scripture than redemption to explore the great cost He willingly paid for each of us.
Out of Egypt If you said that word in the ancient world, slavery would be the first image that came to mind. It literally meant to set someone free from bondage, usually by making a payment. So, for example, prisoners of war, slaves, and condemned men and women could be set free—if the price was right.
God’s central act of redemption in the Old Testament—the archetype, so to speak—was His liberation of Israel. In slavery, they had long suffered under the mighty Egyptian empire and were powerless to change their condition. But God promised, “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments” (Ex. 6:6). And He fulfilled His promise, breaking the chains of bondage to bring them into the Promised Land and life with Himself.
This backdrop gives us a fresh glimpse of Jesus, our Deliverer. When we were held by the mighty empire of sin, enslaved under the oppressive weight of a world distanced from God, Jesus came to lead us out from our captivity and return us to His kingdom. (See Col. 1:14.) In Him, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). And because Jesus pays with His own life, He doesn’t just accomplish redemption—He is our redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
Three Words After the Exodus, three different Hebrew words for “redemption” are used in Scripture. The first, pada, concerns the practice of offering firstborn males back to God in recognition that everything was a gift from the Creator’s hands. So the firstborn of ritually clean animals were sacrificed, while the unclean animals, as well as baby boys, were redeemed—usually by paying a price or substituting another animal. (See Num. 18:15-16; Ex. 13:13; Ex. 34:20.)
The second word, gaal, applies to things like property and freedom. If debt or poverty caused someone to lose his land or sell himself into slavery, a kinsman could redeem the land to keep it in the family or pay to redeem the relative from these difficult circumstances. (See Lev. 25.)
The final word, kapar, means “to cover.” The sacrificial system covered Israel’s sin by atoning, or making expiation, for it—similar to the Passover lambs that covered Israel’s sin. Animals were currency in the ancient world; think of them as four-legged thousand-dollar bills. So, what all three of these “redemption” words have in common is this: an emphasis on the great cost involved to free people and bring them into life with God.
Our Great Redeemer All this points to Jesus, the one who paid the great cost to set us free. Just as it was possible to deliver someone from slavery through payment, we “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold,” Peter tells us, “but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Unlike the ransoms of the Old Testament, however, Jesus wasn’t a passive chunk of change or some animal indifferently passed from hand to hand. On the contrary, the Savior actively gave Himself, surrendering His life sacrificially to deliver us. Rejoicing in “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,” Paul says that the Son of God loved us and gave Himself up for our sins (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 1:4; Gal. 2:20).
When we see what a great cost Christ was willing to pay, our hearts cry out in praise to our Redeemer, whose mighty love has set us free.
From and To We’re not just redeemed from sin; we’re redeemed to God. Israel wasn’t just pulled out of Egypt, she was welcomed into life in the Promised Land. These are two sides of the same coin: It is precisely in our union with God that we find freedom from the alienation of sin.
We are not freed to live for ourselves. We are freed from ourselves to live unto God. As Paul reminds us, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body … do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Cor. 7:23). Indeed, life without God is bondage, and there we remain enslaved to ourselves and the destructive powers unleashed by the world.
Christ brings freedom and a future. While we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit “as a pledge” today, we also await the coming “redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). Though we experience freedom in Christ today through the power of God’s Spirit, we still live in a world groaning in its distance from God, so we hunger and long for the “day of redemption” that’s coming, when creation will be liberated into the glorious freedom of God’s kingdom (Luke 4:30; Rom. 8:18-21). Jesus tells us to look toward His return, and when we see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27-28), that is the time to stand and raise our heads—to look up and see our Redeemer drawing near.
Illustrations by Adam Cruft