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What Does it Mean to be Redeemed?

I do not claim to be a Bible Scholar. I do, however enjoy reading the Bible, and finding the life of Christ within its pages. Explaining the term "redeemed" is a huge task, and surely I will not be able to completely explore that word. Yet while I was reading through the book of "Leviticus" recently (commonly thought of as a "dry" book), I was very blessed by a passage that dealt with "redeeming" things and people.

So often, we call Jesus our "redeemer", yet that word is only rarely used in our day and age. The way in which it is usually used in our culture is to redeem a coupon. Thinking of the word in that way may help a little--giving something over, and getting something valuable back in return...

Dictionary definitions help in some ways too. Here are some of the phrases used by Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary in defining "redeem": to buy back; repurchase; to get or win back; to free from what distresses or harms; to free from captivity by payment of ransom (among other definitions).

The thing that has opened my eyes even more to the meaning of that term (redeem) has been the way the Bible itself deals with the word.

From what I gather, "ownership" seems to have been quite different in the culture and times of the Bible. In Leviticus chapter 25, the Lord spoke through Moses to the Israelites about the "Sabbath Year". A sabbath is usually understood to be one seven-day week. Yet in this passage, it is referring to sabbaths of years (seven years). And during the seventh year, the Israelites were to let the land "rest". "But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest... Do not sow... prune... reap.... Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you...." (portions of Leviticus 25;4-6).

Year of Jubilee

Then, the seven year cycles were also counted off into seven groups ... to make a total of forty-nine years. The next year, the fiftieth, was called the "Year of Jubilee". During that year, the Israelites were to do something that I find remarkable. They were to proclaim liberty throughout the land, and each one was to return to his original family property. ("It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan" Leviticus 25:10b).

When they sold land to each other during the intervening years, they were to base the price upon how many years existed until the next Jubilee (because land sold earlier in those forty-nine years would be of more value to the purchaser than land bought directly prior to the Jubilee--since it would have to be returned to the original family in that fiftieth year).

God explains His reasoning in all this, by reminding them that the land was not truly "owned" by the people: "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants." (Leviticus 25:23)


This is where "redeeming" things starts to come into play. In a passage from Leviticus (25:25-28), God explains that if someone became poor, and sold some of his land, his nearest relative was to come and buy it back, or redeem it. Also, the man who sold it, if he became wealthy enough in the coming years, could redeem it himself. (As before, the land's price was based on the number of years until the Jubilee; because in that year, everything was returned to that clan or family once again.)

There were even provisions for Israelites to sell themselves to their countrymen if they became poor. The "purchasers" were not to treat their fellow countrymen as slaves, but rather as hired workers or temporary residents (Leviticus 25:39-40) in such cases.

Israelites could also sell themselves (if they became poor) to an "alien or a temporary resident" living among them (verse 47). And in such a case (referring to the man who sold himself) "...he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in his clan may redeem him." (verses 48-49a)

The price to buy such a person back was also based upon the amount of years that existed until the Jubilee, because in that year, all these "sold" people were to be freed as well.

"Even if he is not redeemed in any of these ways, he and his children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 25:54-55)

My Redeemer Lives

The New Testament often refers to us as having been sold as "slaves" or "prisoners" to sin. Paul tends to use this terminology, as well as big words such as "redemption", because he had a background in the Old Testament understanding. Now that you have a brief glimpse of what that word meant in that culture, see if these passages seem to make more sense to you, and if they don't thrill your heart just a little bit more:

"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
(Colossians 1:13-14)

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."
(Ephesians 1:7-8)

"And you also were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory."
(Ephesians 1:13-14)

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." (Galatians 3:29-4:7)

Truly, when He poured out His blood on the cross, the "price" was paid to purchase us back from the one who held us captive ... to whom we were indebted ... the one who thought and claimed that he owned us. But God is our true Owner, and He has paid the price to purchase us back, to forever be His possession. If you have not yet become a child of His, won't you consider accepting His payment on your behalf, to rescue you, to pay your ransom ... to redeem you? Truly, today would be a great time to celebrate His wonderful Year of Jubilee...

March 10, 2004

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