What is redemption?
Redemption is the act of purchasing something.
Why is this important for our understanding of the work of Christ?
Because the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the New Testament to use this picture of redemption as a way for us to understand the work of Jesus and to understand it correctly.
How can we come to a better understanding of what the Bible wants us to learn from this idea of redemption?
We can study this practice both as it occurred in Israelite society of the Old Testament and the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament.
What was the practice in Israelite society?
We can read about this in Leviticus 25 where God states the basic principle: “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to Me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for Me.” (Leviticus 25:23) Because of this basic principle, God stipulates that the land must always belong to its original owner. Even if the owner of the property came on hard times and had to sell the property to survive, he had to have the redemption-right, i.e. the right to redeem it or to buy it back. (Leviticus 25:24) In these circumstances, a close relative should try to purchase the land for the owner, so it could stay in the original owners possession. (Leviticus 25:25) If there was no close relative, then the land would return to the original owner in the Jubilee. (Leviticus 25:28) This law does not apply to houses in walled towns (Leviticus 25:30) but does apply to houses in unwalled towns. (Leviticus 25:31)
Where else do we see the idea of redemption in the Old Testament?
We read already in the Old Testament that the idea of redemption was used to convey the idea of deliverance, rescue, and salvation. For example, God redeemed His people out of the bondage of Egypt:
I prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deuteronomy 9:26)
And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land, before Your people whom You have redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, from nations and their gods? (2 Samuel 7:23)
And what one nation in the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself [as] a people, to make You a name by great and terrible things, in driving out nations from before Your people, whom You redeemed out of Egypt? (1 Chronicles 17:21)
The word is also used to mean being rescued from different misfortunes such as the exile (Isaiah 52:9; 63:9), or plague (Psalm 78:35), or troubles of all kinds (Psalm 25:22).
What does this teach us about the practice of redemption?
It shows us that the literal meaning of redemption is to purchase something back which once belonged to you. It also teaches us the metaphorical use of this word to refer to God’s saving work in the lives of His people.
What was the practice of redemption in Greco-Roman society?
Here we see the practice of redemption is closely tied to that of the freedom of slaves.