The term “redemption” means “the release of people, animals, or property from bondage through outside help” (The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 716). In the Biblical purview one particular historical event informs New Testament soteriology unlike any other. To fully understand our redemption, then, we ought to look backwards beyond, even, the cross.
All men are born in bondage to sin. We are in a desperate state and we need someone outside to step in and rescue us. There is no hope of us freeing ourselves, it must be an external hero who comes to our aid. That is the story of redemption in Jesus Christ, but it has an older story behind it, one that dates back thousands of years to the people of Israel captive in the land of Egypt. The Exodus event is a paradigm for New Testament salvation. By understanding it we can glean better insight into the concept of redemption itself.
The people of Israel have been in bondage for over 400 years. They have been oppressed and many have died in captivity. But finally God decides it is time to intervene and rescue them from captivity. This He does by sending Moses to demand their release from Pharaoh. R.L. Hubbard has keenly observed that there are three important lessons we learn about redemption from the Exodus event. He writes:
The Exodus introduces three theologically significant themes. First, this redemption frees slaves from brutal oppressive captivity under Pharaoh (Ex 6:6; Deut. 7:8; 13:5; Mic. 6:4)…Secondly, this redemption happens, not through repayment of money owed or outright mercy, but because Yahweh overcomes Pharaoh’s tight grip (Deut. 9:26; Neh. 1:10; Ps. 77:17). Finally, Yahweh redeems Israel because of his prior covenant relationship as “God of your ancestors” (Ex. 3:6, 15-16; 4:5) and because of his covenant promise to give them land (6:4, 8; Deut. 7:8; 9:26). (717)
This is not a simple redemption analogy. The way we understand it is important to our sound doctrine, so there is real value in letting the Exodus event shape our understanding of the New Testament redemption.
There has been a popular view of Christ’s atoning work that views him as making payment to Satan for our souls. This view has so many things wrong with it, though, that it is important to pause and consider carefully its failures. For starters, it views God as making payment to Satan. Now if the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists why would almighty God? God owes nothing to Satan and does not need to make payment to Him to get His way. Secondly, any payment is really owed to God, for it is against Him that man has sinned. His wrath is ready to be poured out on us, not Satan’s. Finally, and most importantly, we simply don’t have any Scriptural support for this view. Rather, if we let the Exodus event shape our thinking here we can see “redemption” differently and more accurately.
In the Exodus event we have God rescuing His people, doing it by force, and doing it because of His covenant relationship with them. When these three elements shape our theology of redemption we get a different picture than the ransom theory of the atonement. What we get is a picture pointing us forward to Jesus’ death for our sins where he crushed Satan’s head and robbed death of its sting! It is clearly the Exodus that Paul has in mind when he says:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
Salvation in that passage is viewed as a transference of kingdoms, leaving the kingdom of darkness and entering the kingdom of the Son. It’s the Exodus all over again, where Israel left the kingdom of darkness (Egypt) and was brought into the Kingdom of God.
Redemption is a Biblical term used to describe our salvation. But if we are not careful to understand it from within the Bible’s own world then we will apply unbiblical ideas to our salvation. God’s rescue of His people is all by His grace and His might, and it is all for our joy.