This past Sunday I preached on redemption. Redemption is a word all about freedom. It's closely tied to the word ransom. So as I studied scripture and read about redemption, I also studied and read about ransom.
A question kept nagging at me: if Christ gave himself as a "ransom" for many (which he says so himself in Matthew 20:28) then who was the recipient of the payment? The Bible doesn't come right out and say who is paid the ransom. Here are four options for who received payment:
1. Satan - to say this would mean that God owed Satan. God never has and never will owe Satan (or anyone else) anything. I do like the idea of Satan being tricked and walking away empty handed if indeed there was some sort of transaction between God and Satan, however, I do not subscribe to the Ransom Theory of the Atonement.
2. God - This makes the most sense if we are going to take a ransom being paid literally. Still, it doesn't make sense to me that God would owe God. The wrath of God upon sin and evil can still be satisfied without God being paid a ransom...in fact, it was God in Christ who did just that. The problem is that a ransom assumes that someone was captured, again, it doesn't make sense that God would capture himself, then pay himself to set humanity free.
3. Humanity - While humanity definitely benefits from Jesus' loving sacrifice on the cross God doesn't owe us anything.
4. None of the Above - The ransom was not literally paid to anyone. It is a metaphor used to describe the significance and dramatic effect of Jesus' death. I do not think this substracts or deters in any way from the need, power and absolute miracle of Jesus' death.
The fourth option is what I subscribe too, even though I don't think option 2 is out of the question if understood correctly.
The quintessential story for the writers of the New Testament was the Exodus. In the Exodus the Egyptians are the enemy and they walk away empty handed. They aren't paid anything for the freedom of the Israelites. This I believe is the single most informative understanding of what redemption and ransom is all about. The story of the Exodus is the story of being set free from slavery.
Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin, evil and death. The New Testament writers were more concerned with the truth of what Christ has done for us than answering a question like "who was the ransom paid too." Therefore, I think they used the word "ransom" to mean saved, redeemed and set free more than to signify someone being paid something.
I would love to hear what others think.