You can read the introductory notes here.
This is one of the variations of the ransom theory of the atonement. In this theory, the Father uses Jesus as bait to get the human race back from Satan. Jesus Himself is the ransom, in the sense that the Father lures Satan into giving back the human race in exchange for the opportunity of killing him. The devil kills Jesus, not knowing He can’t die, and when Jesus is resurrected, death becomes life and Satan loses his claim over humanity. This theory moves the focus from the crucifixion to the resurrection, and so far as that goes, it’s an improvement.
Matthew 20:28, in which the ransom is Jesus’ life
Mark 10:45, in which the ransom is Jesus’ life
1 Timothy 2:5-6, in which the ranson is Jesus Himself
This metaphor is similar to something that actually works in the real world. Traveling salesmen in 19th century America used this technique to sell shoddy products. The salesman presented his sales talk to a crowd. A friend, whom he had planted in the crowd, offers to try the product and pretends that it works wonderfully. As a result of this deception, many people in the crowd buy the product. In this metaphor, Jesus is the salesman, the Father is the friend in the crowd (or the other way around if you like), and Satan is the crowd. We could call this the Traveling Salesman Theory of the atonement.
Problems with the Theory
In this theory, God tricks Satan into implementing what many people call the plan of salvation, which is delightful and fiendishly clever, because it overcomes the problem of enriching Satan or enriching the Father, who already owns everything. It also doesn’t require Satan to be honest in his dealings. However, it is fatally flawed, if only because of the
fiendishly clever part.
How did Satan get so strong?
For this theory to work, Satan has to be strong enough to take the human race away from God and keep us from God until God accedes to his demands. In fact, nothing, not even Satan, can snatch them from Jesus or the Father (John 10:27-29). Satan has no power, only the power to deceive. In the Old Testament, we learn that Satan even has to get permission from God to do anything (Job 1:6-12). This is why everything works out for our good (Romans 8:28).
How did Satan get so stupid?
Satan is a fallen angel, which means he has been around for a long time. He knows who Jesus is, because his subordinates know (Mark 1:24). If Satan knows who Jesus is, he knows that Jesus cannot die, and that means that the Father would not be able to pull off the ruse.
How did God get so weak?
If this theory requires Satan to be strong, it also requires God to be so weak that He can’t hang onto the human race and has to resort to trickery to get us back.
How is God righteous if He resorts to lies, deception, and trickery?
If we learn nothing else about God in the Bible, it is that He is righteous and just. That means God never does anything that is immoral or unfair. Lies, deceit, and trickery are all immoral and unfair. If this theory were true, God would be righteous and unrighteous at the same time, so the theory collapses in on itself.
Problems with the Ransom
Look at the Scriptures I cited above. The ransom is not in some kind of celestial currency, but Jesus Himself, or Jesus’ life, which comes down to the same thing. In this theory, God gives Jesus to Satan. The result? After the crucifixion, Jesus would be Satan’s servant. Do I actually have to quote Scripture here, or is this enough to blow the whole thing out of the water?
The Sad Results
We have to discard this theory not just as unscriptural, but also as nonsensical. We began in Scripture, but we ran off the theological road into a heretical ditch, because we exalted Satan, diminished God, and made Jesus into Satan’s servant. Also in this theory, God is dishonest and Satan is ethical, which is absurd.
The Father did not use Jesus to trick Satan into giving up the human race.
How the Atonement
We stopped reading when we got to the cross, but the resurrection is the main event. The crucifixion is only the set-up. In order to demonstrate His ability to repay our obedience, He resurrects Himself; however, you can’t be resurrected without dying first, and it wouldn’t have any effect on us at all if we could just rub our eyes and convince ourselves that we were mistaken about His death.
God doesn’t need the crucifixion, we do. After a spectacular, government-certified death, and a stint in an inescapable grave long enough for a body to begin to decay, the disciples couldn’t deny the reality of the resurrection. The shock of the revelation of Jesus’ identity and power is enough to propel them to the ends of the world with the gospel and to suffer martyrdom cheerfully, because they know from the resurrection that Jesus can save them even from death.
For our sake, to overcome our incredulousness, we needed to see Him die on the cross and rise from the tomb. How did we receive forgiveness? How did Jesus atone for our sins? He said
you are forgiven. That’s all it takes.