To use a very biblical word, sinners are slaves. Second Peter 2:19b explains it this way: “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” Like a prisoner locked in a cell who cannot escape, so sinners too are locked in a prison of sin and cannot get free. This includes self-selected slavery, such as addictions and sin patterns that are habitual.
In the book of Exodus, God’s people were enslaved to a king named Pharaoh who ruled over the most powerful nation on the earth, Egypt. He was worshiped as a god and brutally mistreated the people whom he enslaved. God raised up a man named Moses to speak on his behalf to the pharaoh, demanding that the slaves be set free in order to live new lives in worship to the real God. God graciously, but authoritatively, called him to righteousness. Pharaoh became hardhearted under God’s provocation, just as God said he would, and he refused to release the people from their brutal slavery. As a result, God sent a succession of plagues as judgments and warnings upon the pharaoh, kindly giving him many opportunities to repent and do what God demanded.
The pharaoh repeatedly refused to repent of his ways and release the people, so God sent a terrible series of judgments upon the entire nation. The wrath of God was eventually poured out on the firstborn son of every household, each killed in one night. As we have noted, the only households spared from death to their firstborn son were those families who, in faith, took a young, healthy lamb without blemish or defect and slaughtered it as a substitute and then took its blood and covered the doorposts around the entry to their home with it. As a result, the wrath of God passed over them and was diverted because of the lamb.
Like the people in Moses’ day, we sinners are completely unable to free ourselves from slavery. As slaves we need to be redeemed from our slavery. Redemption is synonymous with being liberated, freed, or rescued from bondage and slavery to a person or thing. The word and its derivatives (e.g., redeemer, redeem) appear roughly 150 times in the English Bible, with only roughly twenty occurrences in the New Testament.
Sadly, it has been commonly taught by some Christian theologians since the early days of the church (e.g., Origen) that the concept of redemption was adopted from the pagan slave market where a price was paid to free a slave. This led to wild speculation that Jesus died to pay off Satan, which is preposterous because Jesus owes Satan nothing.
The prototype for redemption is not the pagan slave market but rather the exodus. There, God liberated his people but in no way paid off the satanic pharaoh. God simply crushed him. Exodus 6:6 is one of many Bible verses that present the exodus as the prototype of redemption: “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.”1
The theme of God the Redeemer echoes throughout the Old Testament.2 Even before Jesus’ birth it was prophesied that he was God coming into human history to redeem sinners from slavery.3 At the birth of Jesus, it was prophesied that he is God the Redeemer.4 Paul often spoke of Jesus as our redeemer: “Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for us to redeem us” and “Redemption . . . is in Christ Jesus.”5 Many more examples of Jesus’ being offered as the redeemer of slaves are scattered throughout the New Testament.6
When Jesus was crucified and his blood was shed, he suffered and died in our place for our sins so that we could be redeemed.7 Jesus has redeemed us from and to many things. Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law,8 Satan and demons,9 our sinful flesh,10 and sin.11 Furthermore, Jesus has redeemed us to eternal life with God,12 the return of Jesus,13 and a glorified resurrection body.14
Other than Jesus, who has been the one person in your life that has done the most to save you from danger, devastation, or distress?