Last edited on 21/Jan/2021
The doctrine of redemption concerns the state of a person’s salvation, similar to justification, but it has a different emphasis. While justification refers to God declaring the sinner righteous for Christ’s sake, redemption refers to Jesus setting the sinner free from captivity or slavery.1,2 In non-religious usage, redemption simply refers to freeing someone from bondage. It usually involves the paying of a ransom by a redeemer, which is the price that makes freedom possible.2
Redemption can also refer to buying something back.4 Some examples of redemption include slaves obtaining their freedom, people receiving back their properties that they sold due to poverty,3 and prisoners of war being released.2 In Christian usage, redemption refers to Jesus freeing us from bondage to sin, death, and the devil, by the price of his blood, shed on the cross.
Old Testament Teachings on Redemption
God Redeemed Israel
In the Old Testament, redemption is commonly ascribed to God delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Bible teaches that when God brought Israel out of the land he had redeemed them (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Deuteronomy 7:8). Therefore, he is frequently called the Redeemer of Israel (Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 49:7). Redemption is also ascribed to the Babylonian captivity of Israel, when God redeemed Israel by giving Egypt, Cush, and Seba to King Cyrus as their ransom (Isaiah 43:3–4), and freed them from Babylonian occupation (Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 31:10–11).6 Whenever God saves his people from any kind of trouble, he is also said to have redeemed them (Psalm 55:18; Psalm 72:14; Psalm 106:10).
Redemption of Property and Criminals
The Old Testament gives some other examples of redemption. The redemption of property is one of them. If someone became poor and sold part of his property, the Lord commanded that his nearest redeemer come and redeem what his brother had sold (Leviticus 25:25). If that man became wealthy, he could redeem it himself, calculating the cost based on the years since he sold it (Leviticus 25:26–27). If neither option were available, it would be automatically redeemed in the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:28). An example of this was when Boaz, Naomi’s relative, redeemed her property, and married Ruth as part of the contract (Ruth 4). God allowed other people who sold their houses in walled cities to redeem them within a year (Leviticus 25:29–30).
The redemption of those whose lives had become forfeit is another. If a man’s ox gored someone to death, and the owner knew about its dangerous behaviour yet failed to properly restrain it, both the ox and the owner would be put to death; if, however, a ransom was imposed on him, he could pay whatever was demanded for his redemption (Exodus 21:28–30).
Redemption of Firstborns
Another example is the redemption of firstborns. All the male firstborns of Israel were to be set apart to the Lord and sacrificed, as a sign of the Passover event, when God killed every firstborn male animal and human in Egypt as judgement, due to Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal (Exodus 13:14–16), but the Lord commanded that every firstborn donkey in Israel was to be redeemed with a lamb and that every firstborn son was to be redeemed (Exodus 13:11–13; Exodus 34:20). The Levitical priests belonged to the Lord and they redeemed the sons of Israel, but for each son that exceeded the number of Levites, five shekels was required as the redemption price (Numbers 3:44–48).
Redemption of Servants
Another example is the redemption of servants. If a poor man sold himself to a stranger or sojourner in Israel, then after he was sold he could be redeemed, either by one of his brothers, uncles, cousins, or close relatives from his clan, or if he grew rich, then he could redeem himself—the cost of which would vary, based on his years of service (Leviticus 25:47–49). One final example would be the redemption of the census tax. Whenever a census was taken of the people of Israel, each person who was 20 years old and over had to give a ransom for his life, which was half a shekel, as an offering to the Lord (Exodus 30:11–16).
New Testament Teachings on Redemption
Jesus Was Our Ransom Sacrifice
In the New Testament, redemption is always connected to the saving work of Jesus on the cross, and is never used in a non-religious context. Everyone is in need of redemption because we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and inflicted upon ourselves God’s wrath (John 3:36). Furthermore, as a result of our transgressions, we have become slaves to sin (John 8:34–36), the elementary principles of the world (Galatians 4:3), and Satan, the prince of the air (Ephesians 2:1–3). In order to save us from the consequences of sin, Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 1:5–6). The word ransom in these passages involves substitutionary language.3,4 As stated before, ransoms are prices that are demanded or required for the freedom of those in captivity.
Jesus Is the Redeemer of Humanity
Jesus acted as our substitute by offering his own perfect and sinless life (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 9:13–14) on the cross as the price that sets believers free from all their sins (Hebrews 9:15; Revelation 1:5), the power of death, and the devil (Hebrews 2:14–15). The Bible often says that we have redemption through the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:17–19; Revelation 5:9), which refers to his sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus suffered the punishment of our sins in our place, and his innocent death purchased the freedom of our guilty lives.4 It was there on the cross when Jesus paid our sin debt fully (Colossians 2:13–14).
The Benefits of Jesus’ Sacrifice
Therefore, the Bible says that Jesus has redeemed Christians from lawlessness, that is, our sins (Titus 2:13–14), and the curse of the Law, which is the task of obtaining righteousness through perfectly obeying God’s Law, which no one but Jesus has done (Galatians 3:13–14). We are justified by grace alone through faith alone, because of Jesus’ redemption (Romans 3:23–25). His redemption was what made salvation possible to begin with.
In addition to freedom from captivity to sin, death, and the devil, the benefits of Jesus’ redemption also include: the forgiveness of sins, citizenship in his kingdom (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13–14), the gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:13–14), adoption into God’s family (Galatians 4:4–5), and membership in his church (Acts 20:28). It is important to note that Jesus did not pay our ransom to Satan, but rather to God. This is because he offered up his life to God the Father, the first Person of the Holy Trinity, as a propitiation to satisfy divine justice (Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 4:10).3,5
Only God Himself Could Redeem Humanity
This then leaves the question: why could Jesus alone redeem us? Why couldn’t God have sent another righteous prophet like him? The answer is because the Bible teaches that humans cannot ransom one another, or offer to God the price of their lives, but that only God can, because only his life is costly enough to ransom our souls from the power of Sheol (Psalm 49:7–9, 15). Accordingly, the Old Testament prophesied that one day God himself would redeem Israel from its iniquity (Psalm 130:7–8).
Jesus Christ is God incarnate (John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5–8), the second Person of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19), who himself redeemed us from lawlessness and purified for himself a people for his own possession, by giving up his life for us (Titus 2:13–14), in fulfilment of these Scriptures. Thus the Bible can say that God purchased the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
The Messiah Was Prophesied to Be the Redeemer
Furthermore, Jesus is the promised Messiah (John 4:25–26), who was prophesied in the Old Testament as the one who would save God’s people (Jeremiah 23:5–6), remove their iniquity on a single day (Zechariah 3:8–10), and bear the sins of many, accounting them righteous through his suffering and death (Isaiah 53:10–12). Because Jesus is truly God, his life alone was costly enough to redeem us from our sins. Because Jesus was also sinless according to his human nature, he qualified as the only innocent human on earth, and thus was capable of paying our sin ransom or debt on our behalf.
Jesus Secured an Eternal Redemption for Us
The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament provided a temporal covering for sin (Hebrews 9:14–15, 22), but could never take away sin (Hebrews 9:24–26; Hebrews 10:11). Jesus, however, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because Jesus’ single sacrifice was perfect, it secured an eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:11–12). This means that anyone who receives Jesus by grace alone, through faith alone, will enjoy the benefits of his redemption forever. His blood cleanses us from all our sins (1 John 1:7–9), and by it we can enter the holy places of Heaven with full confidence and assurance (Hebrews 10:19–22).
The Day of Redemption
Scripture also mentions a day of redemption. The Holy Spirit seals us for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30), which refers to the day when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead (Luke 21:25–28), and take those who believe in him with him (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17). This is when Christians will receive the redemption of their bodies (Romans 8:22–23), that is, their new heavenly bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42–49) in the New Jerusalem, where we will sing songs of praise to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, for purchasing the elect back to God by his blood (Revelation 5:8–10).
Bible Passages Related to Redemption for Study
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13–14)
he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, (Ephesians 1:5–7)
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14)
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:13–14)
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11–12)
Book of Concord Quotes Related to Redemption
50] Therefore God, out of His immense goodness and mercy, has His divine eternal Law and His wonderful plan concerning our redemption, namely, the holy, alone-saving Gospel of His eternal Son, our only Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, publicly preached; and by this [preaching] collects an eternal Church for Himself from the human race, and works in the hearts of men true repentance and knowledge of sins, and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. (The Book of Concord, The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, II. Free Will, or Human Powers, Paragraph 50)
31] Let this, then, be the sum of this article that the little word Lord signifies simply as much as Redeemer, i.e., He who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same. But all the points which follow in order in this article serve no other end than to explain and express this redemption, how and whereby it was accomplished, that is, how much it cost Him, and what He spent and risked that He might win us and bring us under His dominion, namely, that He became man, conceived and born without [any stain of] sin, of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, that He might overcome sin; moreover, that He suffered, died and was buried, that He might make satisfaction for me and pay what I owe, not with silver nor gold, but with His own precious blood. (The Book of Concord, The Large Catechism, The Apostles’ Creed, Article II., Paragraph 31)
6] 4. We believe, teach, and confess that this faith is not a bare knowledge of the history of Christ, but such a gift of God by which we come to the right knowledge of Christ as our Redeemer in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him that for the sake of His obedience alone we have, by grace, the forgiveness of sins, are regarded as holy and righteous before God the Father, and eternally saved. (The Book of Concord, The Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Affirmative Theses. Pure Doctrine of the Christian Churches against Both Errors Just Mentioned., Paragraph 6)
The Book of Concord contains the confessions and teachings of the Lutheran Church. It is not the Word of God, but is considered to be a correct and faithful summary of the Bible’s teachings.
1. 2007, Redemption and Salvation, Christianity.com, accessed on 13 January 2018, <https://www.christianity.com/theology/redemption-and-salvation-11541696.html>
2. Redemption Means…, Bible.org, accessed on 13 January 2018, <https://bible.org/illustration/redemption-means%E2%80%A6>
3. Redeem, Redemption, Bible Study Tools, accessed on 13 January 2018, <https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/redeem-redemption/>
4. What is the meaning of Christian redemption?, Got Quesetions?.org, accessed on 13 January 2018, <https://www.gotquestions.org/redemption.html>
5. Redemption, Bible Study Tools, accessed on 22 January 2018, <https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/redemption/>
6. Redeem, Redemption, Redeemer, StudyLight.org, accessed on 22 January 2018, <https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/r/redeem-redemption-redeemer.html>
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.