“As for our Redeemer, the Lord of hosts is His name, the Holy One of Israel” ~ Is. 47:4
Each of God’s holy days has many themes to be explored, Passover maybe even more so because it has already been fulfilled—so we see much more of the whole picture.
The first time we see the Passover commanded and celebrated in the bible, it directly precedes God redeeming His chosen nation out of slavery and leading them toward the Promised Land. Many see this story as a specific event in time that the Passover commemorates, and nothing more. However, the theme of redemption from slavery and how it ties to the Passover goes far beyond just Israel and Egypt. It’s actually one of two core stories that permeate the entire bible from start to finish (the other being that of a betrothal and marriage that build a family).
Debt and Slavery in Ancient Israel
Many of the laws of the Old Testament revolve around family and inheritance (particularly some of the ones we consider super weird in our modern times, like a man having to marry his brother’s widow). In ancient Israel, this involved land that was passed down from generation to generation and tied to the family. The land was theirs in perpetuity, but sometimes through bad luck, laziness, or poor choices, a person could not only lose their family’s land but get in debt to the point of having to sell themselves into slavery (or indentured servitude, as we’d understand it today). The societal structures and laws that God put into place were meant to minimize the potential for poverty and oppression, and clearly outlined not only how these people should be treated as slaves, but the conditions for their debts’ forgiveness and release.
“Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family, after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle or his uncle’s son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself” (Lev. 25:47-49)
God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, not only prophesied the eventual redemption of mankind from the very beginning (Gen. 3:14-15), but also built a physical shadow of this process into the laws of the nation of Israel so they (and we) could get a picture of His intent.
In Hebrew the word for “redeemer” is ga’al (or ga’el), which means to redeem, be next of kin (and as such buy back a relative’s property or marry his widow), to avenge or deliver, purchase or ransom. It’s a primitive root word, so it can have many applications. It’s used as Redeemer (speaking of the Son) mostly in Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, but also translated as kinsman (all throughout Ruth), revenger, avenger, and ransomed.
In ancient Israel, the family had a responsibility to look after family members who had come under hardship. This responsibility required that all possible means be exhausted in order to meet a family member’s debt, including selling family land and even family members (including the debtor) to attempt to meet the obligation—the law and honor demanded debt repayment no matter what. The law also provided a way for mercy to be extended to a person through family. As Leviticus 25 shows, the closest family member had a right—indeed, an obligation—to redeem, or buy back, family land or family members who had been sold. The man who bought his kinsman and family land back was known as the redeemer, or the ga’al. This was not freedom given through a random act of mercy by the debt-holder; this was deliverance based on a specified price. The kinsman-redeemer paid that price and nullified the debt owed by his relative, which that relative was unable to pay on his own.
There are four qualifications for a kinsman redeemer as laid out in Leviticus:
- He must be a kinsman
- He must be free himself
- He must be able to pay the price
- He must be willing to pay the price
All of these qualifications must be met in order for the person to be freed from slavery and regain their inheritance. But what does this mean for us, you might ask?
We, too, have incurred debt—a debt we have no hope of repaying
In the beginning, God created man through His Son. He gave mankind dominion over the earth as an inheritance, and for a very short time man was free, without sin, and in relationship with God. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they forfeited their inheritance (which included dominion over the earth as well as eternal life) to Satan.
We today are no different. We’ve all sinned. Not just once, though even that would have earned us the death penalty—dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of times in some cases. By sinning, we sold ourselves into bondage to Satan. And in so doing, we also sold or gave up our inheritance, ceded what was ours by right of birth. Paul tells us, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16).
What is the inheritance we were promised? Peter tells us that we are begotten “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven” (I Pet. 1:4). The elect of God are to inherit not a physical land with earthly bounty but eternal life in the kingdom of God (I Cor. 15:50, Matt. 25:34). However, because we sold ourselves into bondage to sin, we forfeited our right to the promised blessings. This slavery is a lifetime sentence with eternal death at the end (Rom. 6:23). But not all hope is lost—there is still the chance of being purchased out of slavery by a kinsman redeemer.
Establishing a family relationship through adoption
As mentioned above, the first requirement that a kinsman redeemer must meet is that he is kin to the debtor. It was the responsibility of the closest relation when more than one existed. Unfortunately for us, this doesn’t help, since we have no family (physical man) who can pay back our debt—all have sinned.
However, the Mosaic law’s abundant mercy and concern for all—especially those most in need—also included a provision for those who were destitute of both material means and family. If no family ties existed, they could be established through covenants that created family ties between people. In fact, it is this creation of a covenant adoptive relationship that is the basis for Christ redeeming us.
Paul describes how this process worked for us:
“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:3-7)
That scripture doesn’t beat around the bush. The Son, a member of the God family, became a physical human being, with as much capability of sinning as the rest of us. And in doing so, He became a near-kinsman to us, giving Him the right and the obligation to redeem us from our bondage. Paul made a very similar statement in Romans, calling it the “spirit of adoption”, and reiterating our status as not only children of God, but joint heirs of the kingdom with Christ (Rom. 8:14-17). Indeed, He is not merely a distant relative, but has become our elder brother, the firstborn among many children of God (Rom. 8:29).
Can the kinsman meet the requirements and pay the price?
Once the adoptive family relationship was established, our Messiah had the right and obligation to pay our debt and buy us back out of slavery, but He also had to have the ability and willingness to pay the price. In the case of debtors in ancient Israel, this was just money, but for our adoptive elder brother the price was much higher—the willing sacrifice of a sinless individual.
We established earlier that our sins have earned us the death penalty. The only way that sentence could be commuted was for someone not owing the same debt to step in and pay the same price (death) in our stead. Jesus was the only person in the history of the world who met that criteria, since He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Peter explains that “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (I Pet. 2:22-24). Earlier in the book Peter ties this redemption directly to the Passover, reminding us, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet 1:18-19).
This took an enormous act of love and humility! Paul reminded the Philippians of this, explaining, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). The divine Son of God—creator of us and the universe—divested Himself of divinity, lived a perfect physical life resisting all temptation, and allowed Himself to be tortured and killed all so that we could be offered eternal life in the family of God.
Why was Jesus willing to go through this for us? Besides the fact that He helped create us, it was so “that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:13-14). In light of this, it’s very interesting that the passage Jesus chose to recite when formally announcing His ministry was not one about His omnipotence or His future reign on earth—it was one about His role as Redeemer. He read from the book of Isaiah, quoting, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Is. 61:1-3; Luke 4:18-19). His purpose from the very beginning has been to redeem mankind from the bondage they sold themselves into, from Adam on.
Paul, in his somewhat convoluted way, laid this entire process of redemption out in one breath:
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels [i.e. human], for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory…for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren [or brothers]…
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage….Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted”
~ Heb. 2:9-11, 14-15, 17-18
In so doing, Christ offered Himself “once to bear the sins of many”, and with His death provided a way for “the redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15, 28). He bought our freedom, wiping out our debt of sin, and by that action made us eligible to receive our promised inheritance of eternal life.
We’ve been redeemed—& can’t return to the bondage of sin
“But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:22-23)
As outlined above, our Messiah uniquely met all of the qualifications to become our Kinsman-Redeemer:
- He must be a kinsman – Jesus shed His divinity and became a physical human being
- He must be free himself – He lived a sin-free life as a human
- He must be able to pay the price – By living a sin-free life, His blood would make atonement for us and purchase us out of bondage to death
- He must be willing to pay the price – He willingly gave His life and shed His blood so that we might have our sins forgiven and have a chance at eternal life
By fulfilling these criteria and giving His life for us, God “has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). It’s hard for our brains to even grasp the magnitude of that forgiveness, which brings with it the promise of our inheritance, with the holy spirit as guarantee of that future gift (Eph. 1:13-14).
That is not the end of the story—rather, it’s the beginning for each and every one of us. Christ’s sacrifice as our Passover Lamb is the springboard for how the story plays out on an individual level, entirely up to each and every one of us. Here’s a question for you—how would you choose to live if you knew that each time you sinned, Christ would have to be sacrificed all over again? Each little lie, every slanderous comment, every temptation you talk yourself into giving in to. This question forms the basis for our individual journeys out of sin and bondage, pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Much of Paul’s writings focused on the fact that we were bought back out of slavery and made free, but that we must take exceptional care not to fall back into debt and become slaves again. He repeatedly reminded the Corinthians that they were bought at a price, and cautioned the Galatians to “stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
Contrary to mainstream Christianity’s “once saved, always saved” mantra, this warns that we can again lose our way if we’re not careful. Paul writes, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:1, 3). In fact, he later says that if we sin willfully after coming to the knowledge of the truth and having Christ’s sacrifice applied to our sins, then that sacrifice and its effects will be removed (Heb. 10:26). The New Testament makes clear time and time again that the price paid to buy us back out of slavery is far too precious to treat it cheaply, and that the consequences of doing so are enormous.
Christ paid the price to buy us back and free us from bondage, and at the jubilee we will receive our inheritance—eternal life in God’s kingdom. If we continue on our path after baptism and live faithful and repentant lives, we have the opportunity to be firstfuit children of God. We’re shown a glimpse of our potential future in Revelation, where we’re told of our Kinsman-Redeemer and Passover Lamb. John writes, “They sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed them to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And have made them kings and priests to our God; and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth” ~ Job 19:25