Come with me to Golgotha hill, just outside of Jerusalem. It’s Friday the third of April, 33 A.D. That is, 1990 years ago (I’m writing this in April of 2023). It is around 3 p.m. and darker than usual. This is the most important day in all history. Right here, right now, from that Roman cross over there, the eternal Son of God is redeeming his sinful people from the guilt of their sins and the realm of sin (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 6:10). He’s doing so by the spilling of his “precious blood” (1 Pet. 1:19). Behold the Lamb of God. Behold the Redeemer as he is suffering to free us from the penalty and power of sin.
A legitimate question arises at this point: to whom is Christ’s blood being paid, as a ransom or a price, for these polluted, guilty, and enslaved sinners? Who is receiving the ransom? One way to answer this question is by saying, “no one, since the biblical language of redemption and ransom is metaphorical.” That could be true. But along with many others I believe the Bible does provide us with a better answer to our question. Psalm 49:7–9 says, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” According to this passage (and other passages can and will be added) the triune God is the one who demands payment for our sinful souls. Why? Because it’s before him we stand guilty. It’s to him we owe a debt. It is his law we have broken. It is his retribution we deserve. According to Romans 3:19 the whole world stands condemned before God the Judge. And so, we are at his mercy.
The cross and the Devil
In the early church some of the church fathers thought and taught that Jesus, through his atoning death, had paid the price to Satan, buying sinners from his legitimate claim on them. This view has in modern times been reinforced through C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tale. At the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe Aslan—representing Christ—pays the ransom price, that is, his life, to the White Witch—representing Satan. He sacrifices himself to redeem the naughty and guilty lad Edmund from the witch’s claim on him. It is unfortunate that Lewis subscribed to this strange view of Christ’s redemptive work. For the fact is that not a single Scripture passage implies that God paid Satan as much as a penny.
By bearing the punishment due to our guilt, as our sinless substitute, Christ removed Satan’s primary weapon against all those who trust in him.
Now, obviously Christ’s death upon the cross affects Satan and the dark forces. After all, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Joh. 3:8). By his death Christ took away the legitimate ground upon which Satan, also known as the accuser (Rev. 12:10; Job. 1–2; Zec. 3:1), points his finger at us, accusing us before the judgement seat of God. This is a biblical gospel truth! On the cross Christ triumphs over Satan and his hordes “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Col. 2:14). By bearing the punishment due to our guilt, as our sinless substitute, Christ removed Satan’s primary weapon against all those who trust in him. And the weapon he removed was Satan’s legitimate accusation against us before God. No longer can the accuser accuse us (Rom. 8:33–34). Not because we’re not sinners anymore—we are. But because we’re not guilty sinners anymore. Our guilt has been dealt with in Christ’s body once and for all, and “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). So yes, Christ crushed the serpent’s skull when he died! He disarmed, defeated, and publicly humiliated him (Col. 2:15). These are glorious truths! But no, he did not give his life as a ransom to Satan. In vain will we search for a single passage of Scripture claiming anything like this. Satan may be our prosecutor, but he is not our judge. He may deceive us, tempt us, rage at us, slander us and discourage us. Be he may not punish us. He has no right to us, and as a matter of fact, he stands with greater guilt than anyone else and his “rights” are limited to being eternally punished in hell (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20).
The Lord God himself
The Lord God, on the other hand, says that from “man I will require a reckoning for the life of man” (Gen. 9:5). The psalmist asks, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). And if these and other similar verses were not enough, the First Letter to Timothy 2:5–6 says that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Christ is not the mediator between Satan and men since the main conflict is not between Satan and men. No, the conflict is between a holy, righteous God and law-breaking, guilty sinners. Sacred Scripture answers the question, “who shall receive the ransom price for the souls of guilty sinners?” The Lord God himself. God, the just and offended Judge, demands a price for our souls. He is righteous, and he will be satisfied.
God demanded a price and God paid the price.
But here is the breath-taking wonder of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ; the same Psalm that tells us that God is the one who demands a ransom for our lives (49:7–9), just a couple of verses later proclaims, “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (49:15). And this is exactly what God the Son did on Golgotha hill all those years ago. He willingly gave his life “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) and by doing so, redeemed their lives from the pit (Ps. 103:4). Yes, he secured us an eternal redemption, in the words of Hebrews 9:12. God demanded a price and God paid the price.
Precious Christian! You’ve been bought at a high price (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23)—now worship the Lamb of God!