To Give His Life A Ransom For Many

Mark 10:45 (NKJV)

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

I will be arguing that this verse is not only the key verse of the gospel of Mark, but the key verse of the Gospel itself—i.e., the gospel in miniature, if you will. As such, it is a sketch of the greatest Life and Work the world has ever known.[1]

This means, among other things, that Mark 10:45 is not a proof-text for the “L” (limited atonement) in Calvinism’s bouquet of T-U-L-I-Ps. Although Calvinists claim that the “many” of this verse refers to the elect in contrast to the all of such passages as 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 Timothy 2:4, such is patently absurd. The Scriptures do not—indeed, they cannot—contradict themselves, and any such claim sets up an irreconcilable contradiction between the all and the many (i.e., the elect), a contrast that violates Reformed theology’s own “analogy of faith” doctrine.[2] So, instead of letting such a blatant contradiction stand, Calvinists get busy doing everything they can to explain away the force of “all” in these passages by claiming its usage is qualified by the elect, which is but a subset of all mankind. What this means, then, is that all isn’t all at all. The bottom line for Calvinists is always their doctrine (i.e., Jesus died only for the elect). Thus, doctrine trumps Scripture and its context every time. Only a dyed in the wool Calvinist could turn the “all” passages mentioned above into proof-texts for the man-made doctrine that says God only died for the elect—a limited number of individuals who God chose in “eternity past” to be saved apart from anything they would or world not do of their own free wills.

Instead, what Mark 10:45 teaches is that Jesus (the one) came into this world to “give His life” (i.e. to suffer and die) as “a ransom” (lútron, a price paid to release one from bondage) “for” (anti, “in the place of” or “instead of”) the “many” (i.e., all of us who have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, which is every last one of us, cf. Rom. 3:23). When echoing these words, Paul wrote, “who gave Himself a ransom for [huper] all” (1 Tim. 2:6, emp. mine). As already pointed out in earlier posts, both of these prepositions, whether it be the more general huper or the more specific anti, can mean, depending on the context, “in the place of,” “instead of,” or “in exchange for” (cf. Did Jesus Die “In Our Place”?). This could be why Paul, when speaking of the “ransom” in 1 Timothy 2:6, uses the rare word antilutron instead of the more common lútron, for when combined as antilutron huper, as in this passage, the ideas of “exchange” and “substitution” are very much in play.[3] Thus, when the Lord died in our place, He died as both our representative and substitute.

In coming back to Mark 10:45, we see that the cross-work of the Son of Man, which was the culmination of God’s great scheme of redemption, is framed by the self-sacrificing suffering and death of the One who was Himself the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. And even though it was, in the fulness of time, the Father’s will to offer up His only begotten Son on that cruel Roman cross outside the walled city of Jerusalem for the benefit of fallen man (cf. Acts 2:23), it was the divine Logos’ own will, in His role as the vicarious suffering servant of Isaiah 53, “to give His life a ransom in the place of many.” In fact, it is the “many” of Isaiah 53:11-12 that supports the idea that the “many” of whom Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28 speak was never intended to be contrasted with the “all” of 1 Timothy 2:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. Instead, the contrast, as was previously stated, is between the One who gives His life and the many who would benefit from such a sacrifice, which is everyone in the world (cf. 1 Jn. 2:2). For an even further validation of this point, see Romans 5:12-19, where the beneficiaries of Christ’s death are spoken of as “all” in verses 12 and 18, but as “many” in verses 15 and 19.[4]

A tangent all too frequently pursued by my non-vicarious-death-of-Jesus brethren is the one that asks, “To whom was the ransom paid?” Although I dealt with this in an earlier post, I’ll respond to it again as such appears designed to “steal the thunder” from an obvious vicarious-death-of-Jesus passage. Truth is, neither Mark 10:45 nor Matthew 20:28 say anything about who received the ransom. Nevertheless, the “early church father” and subsequent “heretic” Origen (A.D. 185-254) believed the ransom was paid to Satan, which is summarized as follows:

Essentially, this theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the Devil at the time of the Fall; hence, justice required that God pay the Devil a ransom to free us from the Devil’s clutches. God, however, tricked the Devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom, for the Devil did not realize that Christ could not be held in the bonds of death. Once the Devil accepted Christ’s death as a ransom, this theory concluded, justice was satisfied and God was able to free us from Satan’s grip.[5]

Nevertheless, it would seem much more reasonable, from a scriptural standpoint, to infer that the ransom was instead paid to the Father:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed (Rom. 3:23-25).

Although I believed and taught this latter position up to a few years ago, I now believe the issue of to whom the ransom was paid is not one of which we should concern ourselves, as this does not appear to be the point of lútron in this and other passages where this term is applied to Jesus’ death.[6] It seems, instead, that the ransom metaphor is designed to focus our attention on (1) the hopeless predicament in which we find ourselves as a result of sin, and (2) the “cost”/“price” of our redemption which, due to our situation, could have been nothing short of the precious blood of Deity incarnate (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 10:5-10; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:9). In other words, Jesus was not a way by which fallen man could be redeemed, He was the way (cf. Jn. 14:6), “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Indeed, it was to Him that all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive the remission of sins (cf. Acts 10:43). This, then, according to Paul, is the essence of the gospel of Christ, for fleshing out a bit what the Lord had said about Himself in Mark 10:45,  the apostle wrote:

5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim. 2:5-7).

Soli Deo gloria
Thinking it out!


1 See commentary on this verse in William MacDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary.

2 “The analogy of faith was a key principle of interpretation taught by the Reformers which teaches that Scripture should interpret Scripture. This principle is stated in the Westminster Confession (1.9) in this manner: ‘The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly’” (emp. in original,

3 See Robertson’s Word Pictures on this verse.

4 For the latter, see the commentary on Matthew 20:28 in the New International Commentary on the New Testament.

5 See Robin Collins’ excerpt from Understanding Atonement: A New and Orthodox Theory, 1995, at

6 See Chap. 1, Sec. V, a. λύτρον of Leon Morris’ The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *