Before they were convinced of the resurrection, two of Jesus’s disciples walked with him along the road. Their words reveal their thoughts about their master.
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:21, ESV)
If Jesus was still in the tomb then their hopes of the redemption of Israel were dashed. Everything hinged on Jesus’s work and resurrection.
If the hope of redemption was so important for these disciples, we should make sure we understand this word. What is a redeemer?
In modern day Christianity, we recognize the word “Redeemer” as referring to Jesus. It’s a popular lyric for hymns and worship songs. But what does it mean? We often use it as a synonym for Savior or Deliverer, but that doesn’t capture all of the biblical weight.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives a concise definition for Redeemer: one charged with the duty of restoring the rights of another and avenging his wrongs. This isn’t the best way to explain the term to the youngest in our churches, but it’s a good start. Easton’s definition has its roots in the Mosaic law of the Old Testament.
Redemption in the Old Testament
There are a whopping 149 occurrences of the words redeem, redeemer, or redemption (or a close variant) in the Old Testament. Many of these instances refer to God delivering the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex 6:6, Dt 7:8, Dt 9:26, Dt 13:5, Dt 15:15, Dt 21:8, Dt 24:18). But a larger number occur within the book of Leviticus.
In both chapters 25 and 27 of Leviticus, Moses writes laws of redemption. If an Israelite was poor and needed to sell his property, home, or himself for money, what was sold could be redeemed by that man (or a relative) for a price. The laws also dictated which of these items sold would be released back to their original state in the Year of Jubilee.
This usage fits with our definition. When a house or a piece of land was redeemed, it was restored to its original state (owner).
The Psalmists plead with God to redeem them or their nation. God is called Redeemer on many occasions in the book of Isaiah. More than just deliverance, God’s people are seeking restoration. Whether oppressed by an enemy or by the weight of their disobedience, they ask God to restore their rights, to restore them to their original state of safety and peace with him.
Redemption in the New Testament
New Testament authors use words like redeem and redemption only 18 times. But these occurrences build on and fill out our understanding of the biblical term.
People must be redeemed from something. Christ redeemed us from “the curse of the law” (Gal 3:13), from “all lawlessness” (Titus 2:14), and from “transgressions committed” (Heb 9:15). This fits with Leviticus, when a possession would be redeemed from someone else who had bought it.
But now we also see the idea of an exchange. To redeem is not merely to set right, but to do so by paying a price. Just as money was exchanged to redeem a piece of land, a price was paid to redeem us from the sin that held us captive. Redeeming is not much different from ransoming.
Jesus is our Redeemer, and the price he paid was his own life (Heb 9:12). We are all caught and imprisoned, willingly, in our sin. We think of our rebellion as freedom, but it binds us in the strongest, foulest chains. In the fullness of time, Jesus paid an enormous redemption price (suffering the wrath of God) for our release. Jesus has become our redemption (1 Cor 1:30). He came “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:5).
Let’s return to the heart of the matter. How should we explain redemption—the work of a redeemer—to a young child?
Try this: A redeemer brings back something that was lost or taken away.
Since that explanation is missing the aspect of payment or exchange, let’s spin a simple story for the under five crowd.
Jimmy is playing trucks in his room with his older brother. Their mother calls them for dinner, so they clean up quickly and rush downstairs. When they start playing the next day, Jimmy’s fire truck is in his brother’s bin, and his brother won’t give it back. His brother agrees to hand over the truck if Jimmy gives him a cherry lollipop. So Jimmy exchanges the lollipop to get his fire truck back.