Christianity 201

May 12, 2014

Unpacking the Meaning of Redemption

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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While looking for something else today I stumbled across Experimental Theology, the blog of Richard Beck. As always, you’re encouraged to not read the articles here, but click through to read them at source. This appeared under the title Redemption and Goel.


What does redemption mean?

That was a question I was dealing with the other night out at the prison bible study.

It’s an interesting question as other than a vague sense that redemption is synonymous with “salvation,” I don’t know if many Christians have a ready definition for “redemption.”

What I pointed out in my study was how redemption has strong associations with Christus Victor views of salvation, the notion that “salvation” is fundamentally about deliverance, liberation, freedom and emancipation from dark enslaving forces.

The idea that Christ is a “redeemer” goes back to the Old Testament notion of the goel, what is sometimes translated as “kinsmen-redeemer.” The kinsmen-redeemer is related to the Hebrew word ga’al which means to buy back, to regain possession of by payment, or to ransom. The kinsmen-redeemer is the one who buys back and pays the ransom.

The basic function goes back to Leviticus 25. When Israelites fell into debt they sometimes would have to sell their ancestral property. When this happened the kinsmen-redeemer was to buy the land so that the land remained in the family:

Leviticus 25.25
If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold. 

This role of buying back–redeeming–ancestral land to keep it in the family is nicely illustrated in the book of Ruth where Boaz, as kinsmen-redeemer, seeks to buy the ancestral land of Elimelek, Naomi’s deceased husband. 

But sometimes things would get worse and an Israelite would have to sell more than the land, he would have to sell himself as a debt-slave. When that happened the kinsmen-redeemer was to rescue their kinsman from debt-slavery by buying him back:

Leviticus 25.47-49a
If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. 

Basically, the idea of “redemption” is rooted in the notion of debt-slavery. To be “redeemed” or “ransomed” is to be bought back from slavery, from the ownership of another person. And the one who makes the payment is the goel, the kinsmen-redeemer.

In the book of Isaiah God becomes identified as the goel, as the Redeemer of Israel. For example,

Isaiah 41.14
“Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the LORD, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 

And while the name “redeemer” doesn’t occur in the New Testament, in many places Jesus is described as performing the role of the goel. For example,

Mark 10.45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Ephesians 1.7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

1 Peter 1.18
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors…

The words “redemption” and “redeemed” in these texts tend to obscure the OT echoes. That is, I don’t think many modern readers know how to translate the word “redeemed.” Though you do notice echos of the OT economic, buying-back overtones when we do things like redeeming coupons at the store. Translation-wise, I think the rendering of the NLT does nice job of highlighting the kinsmen-redeemer overtones in some of these NT texts:

Ephesians 1.7
He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

Ephesians 1.14
The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

The connections here with Christus Victor theology should be obvious. The function of the goel–the “redeemer”–has to do with emancipation and liberation from slavery, the “buying us back” from the ownership of another person.

And as should be clear, there is little in any of the NT texts that suggests that we were once enslaved or in bondage to God. No, our bondage was to dark spiritual forces. Thus Jesus, as kinsmen-redeemer, saves us by securing our liberation from these enslaving forces.

That is the meaning of “redemption.”


September 5, 2013

God’s Epistles

Lying in bed this morning, I was thinking about the idea that while books like Galatians and Ephesians constitute Paul’s epistles, I & II Peter are Peter’s epistles, James is James’, and I, II and III John are John’s; in a very real sense the second and third chapters of Revelation constitute God’s epistles. Imprisoned on Patmos, John receives a dramatic vision that apparently begins with him taking some dictation. (For the record, I believe in plenary inspiration, but in this case, would lean toward these chapters being more precisely commanded.)

Most analysis of these chapters focus on God’s assessment of each of the seven churches to whom sections are addressed in terms of what each is doing right and what each needs to do. This reminds me of a previous item I posted here which paraphrases II Tim. 3:16 — All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness — to read:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

Today’s blog post appeared a year ago at the blog Gospel Musings, and was written by Ben Toh who is a bi-vocational pastor in Chicago. Instead of looking at the two chapters church-by-church, he looked at the content each contains. You can read this at source where it was titled: Christian, Listen Up! (Rev 2:1-3:22)

Text: Rev 2:1-3:22


Revelation 2:1-3:22; Key Verse Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:6, 13, 22

“He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (1984, 2011 NIV).

All human beings suffer from a selective hearing disorder. No one ever forgets a pretty girl saying to them, “You’re cute.” But when our boss calls us into his office to chew us out, we tune him out and don’t hear well. We also have selective spiritual hearing disorder. No Christian ever dislikes hearing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). But will we listen if God says, as he does to the church in Laodicea, “…because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. …you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:16,17)? To stress the utmost importance of listening to the Spirit, Jesus repeats 7 times to the 7 churches the exact same plea: “He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Rev 1:1-20 reveals Jesus as the one who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood (Rev 1:5). This is the gospel, the foundation of the Bible and of Revelation. In Rev 2:1-3:22, Jesus addresses the 7 churches in Asia (Rev 1:4,11), which is modern day Turkey. These 2 chapters may be the easiest in Revelations to understand, for they do not have an abundance of difficult symbols and prophesies. But to hear Jesus’ assessment, admonition, indictment, rebuke and challenge to the churches may not be easy to hear. Thus, Jesus repeats the exact same encouragement 7 times: “He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Instead of going through each church in sequence, let us look at all 7 churches together in the following parts:

  1. The Church.
  2. The Commendation.
  3. The Condemnation.
  4. The Command.
  5. The Christ.

I. The Church What are these 7 churches like?

  1. Ephesus: The Loveless Church (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: The Suffering Church (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: The Worldly Church (Rev 2:14).
  4. Thyatira: The Immoral Church (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: The Dead Church (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: The Faithful Church (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church (Rev 3:16).

1 and 7 are in grave danger. 2 and 6 are in excellent shape (no condemnations). 3-5 are in between, nether good nor bad, with 5 being the worst of this lot.

II. The Commendation

  1. Ephesus: Deeds, hard work, perseverance, uncompromising, enduring hardships (Rev 2:2-3).
  2. Smyrna: Affliction, poverty, slander, suffering, imprisonment, death (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: Unwavering in faith (Rev 2:13).
  4. Thyatira: Deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance, doing more than before (Rev 2:19).
  5. Sardis: None!
  6. Philadelphis: Faithfulness, patient endurance (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: None!

Church going, but dead and lukewarm Christians are the worst (Laodicea). But even those with good deeds, hard work, faithfulness, uncompromising, persevering, doctrinally sound, innovative, “improving” churches may be loveless (Ephesus), worldly (Pergamum), immoral (Thyatira), and dead (Sardis).

III. The Condemnation

  1. Ephesus: Lost their first love (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: None.
  3. Pergamum: False teaching (Rev 2:14-15).
  4. Thyatira: False teaching (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: Fake reputation (Rev 3:1). Incomplete deeds (Rev 3:2).
  6. Philadelphia: None.
  7. Laodicea: Lukewarm (Rev 3:16). Wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, naked (Rev 3:17).

The holy God expects a holy church with holy Christians. Though we may be good in many ways, God is sorry when our love is lacking, when we compromise with the world, when we are pretentious rather than authentic, and especially when we are lukewarm and blindly unaware of our true inner state. On the last day, they will be many who say, “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus will respond, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!” (Mt 7:21,23).

IV. The Command: All are encouraged to listen and overcome (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 29; 3:5-6, 12-13, 21-22), and they will be blessed. “To him who overcomes” (NIV 1984) is replaced with “To the one who is victorious” (NIV 2011).

  1. Ephesus: Remember. Repent (Rev 2:5). {Eat from the tree of life (Rev 2:7)}
  2. Smyrna: Be faithful (Rev 2:10). {Receive the crown of life (Rev 2:10); not hurt by the second death (Rev 2:11)}
  3. Pergamum: Repent (Rev 2:16). {Hidden manna, white stone, new name (Rev 2:17)}
  4. Thyatira: Hold on (Rev 2:25). {Authority over the nations, morning star (Rev 2:27-28)}
  5. Sardis: Wake up. Remember. Repent (Rev 3:2,3). {Dressed in white, name acknowledged in heaven (Rev 3:5)}
  6. Philadelphia: Hold on (Rev 3:11). {God’s name, God’s city, new name written on him (Rev 3:12)}
  7. Laodicea: Buy gold, white clothes, salve (Rev 3:18). {Sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21)}

We should remember God’s grace, repent of our sins, and faithfully persevere by his grace. Yet all of these biblical commands and imperatives, even if obeyed, would be unable to save us, for our own deceitful hearts incline toward evil (Gen 6:5), and deceive ourselves (Jer 17:9). Even our very best and pure deeds are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Thus, all of these commands are able to give life only because of what Jesus has already done for us on the cross (Rev 1:5). When we remember the grace of Jesus, his commands are never burdensome (1 Jn 5:3). If they are, it is because we fail to understand the gospel on account of our own hearts being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13).

V. The Christ

  1. Ephesus: Faithful Friend (Rev 2:1).
  2. Smyrna: Living Savior (Rev 2:8).
  3. Pergamum: Warrior Lord (Rev 2:12).
  4. Thyatira: Heart-Searcher (Rev 2:18,23).
  5. Sardis: Judge (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: Sovereign King (Rev 3:7)
  7. Laodicea: Ruler of Creation (Rev 3:14)

Despite our incorrigible sins, Jesus is ever faithful to love us (Jn 13:1; Heb 13:8; 2 Tim 2:13). He is our friend who never leaves us or forsakes us (Heb 13:5), and who promises to be with us to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20). He died for us and now lives forever (Rev 1:18), so that we who should die may live. He is the Living Word, the searcher of our hearts and the righteous Judge to help us truly know ourselves, so that we may come clean before him, and be purified. He is the Sovereign King and Ruler of all Creation, the King of kings and Lord of lords, yet he is ever loving and merciful, and rich in kindness, tolerance (forbearance) and patience (Rom 2:4; Eph 2:4; Tit 3:5).

When David stumbled in the sin of adultery and murder, God, through the prophet Nathan, said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?'” (2 Sam 12:7-9) Though David was blessed in countless ways, he stumbled in sin. Though David was far from God, God’s love for him did not change, and through Nathan, called him back to repentance, as recorded in Psalm 51. As David did, may we listen to his word, repent, and overcome by God’s help. Behold him, so that by his grace we may be transformed into his image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

Let us hear and listen and take to heart a final word from Rev 3:19-20. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” God is not like a homeless transient who needs to come in to be helped and served by us. The doctrine of divine aseity holds that God is entirely self-sufficient, that he is not dependent upon any other thing either for his existence or for his nature. Our God of aseity (self-existence) has no needs (Acts 17:25; Ps 90:2), including no need of us humans. But God has bound himself to us to share with us his boundless love and joy. Yet in our sin, foolishness and self-deception, we think and live and express ourselves as though we might find fulfillment somewhere in the world and became vile idolators. Despite ourselves, God graciously continues his appeal to the churches and to us, at great cost to himself (Rev 1:5), so that we might listen to his tender voice, and open the door of our hearts to him. Will you do so?


  1. Morris, Leon, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987, 46-57.

  2. Jensen, Irving L, Revelation: A Self-Study Guide. Chicago: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition, 1990.

  3. MacArthur, John, Because the Time is Near: John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007.

  4. MacArthur, John, The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, updated edition, 2006.

  5. The ESV Study Bible.