Ransom For (The) Many

The Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  (Mark 10:45)                                                                        

Did Christ really die for all, or, as the verse before us seems to indicate, did He give His life as a ransom for only many?  The Apostles of our Lord indicate that Christ Jesus paid the atoning cost for the entire world.  Thus the Apostle Paul would be inspired to write, He died for all, and again, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them [2 Cor 5:15,19]. Likewise the Apostle John would clearly explain Christ’s universal purchase: He is the propitiation [atoning sacrifice] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world [1 Jn 2:2].  So is there disagreement between Jesus and the Apostles Paul and John?  Did Christ die for many or for all?

Again the Lord Jesus seems to indicate a limited atonement when He institutes the Holy Supper by declaring of the chalice of wine, …this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins [Mt 26:28].  So is Jesus’ blood shed for many or for all?  Scholars of Old Testament Hebrew indicate that the Hebrew word for “many” does not mean the same as our English word.  In common English “many” conveys “most” or a “large number”.  Thus if we say that during a catastrophe many died, we mean most of them or a large number died.  However for a Jew to say in Hebrew that many died, he could mean that all died!  A good way to understand this is to put the word “the” in front of the word “many,” because in English “the many” often refers to “all”.  Of the word “many” in the instituting words of Lord’s Supper, famed theologian Joachim Jeremias would write: “Whereas it [the word “many”] occurs relatively rarely in the Old Testament, it appears no less than five times in Isaiah 53; it is virtually the link word of this chapter.” Then Jeremias almost seems to exaggerate when he concludes, “Without Isaiah 53 the Eucharist words remain incomprehensible.”[1] 

From what Jeremias writes, a logical extension would be that if the Lord’s Supper wording (especially the use of the word “many”) is incomprehensible without Isaiah 53, this would seem to indicate that the verse before us, in which Jesus predicts that He will give His life as a ransom for [the] many, is also made comprehensible by Isaiah 53. 

How wonderfully unified is Holy Scripture!  In Isaiah 53:12 God the Father says of His Son:  He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many… In what is called the “prophetic past tense” this verse predicts of the coming Savior by stating, He bore the sin of (the) many.  Indeed this is the same usage of the word “many” employed by the one who fulfills this prediction:  The Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for (the) many [Mark 10:45].  And again in His institution of the Holy Eucharist Jesus says,…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for (the) many for the forgiveness of sins [Mt 26:28].  Not only do the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jesus correspond in their use of “many,” they also correspond perfectly as the word “many” is employed by both to refer to the Lord’s universal payment for sin upon the cross. 

Jesus truly died for the many…for all!  He died for the sins of the most disgusting and foul criminal, as well as for those who commit the grave sin of claiming self-righteousness.  Jesus fulfills what He and Isaiah predicted, that He would give His life as a ransom for the many, for the world.

[1] Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 291. Actually it is not in Isaiah 53 alone, but from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 the word “many” is used five times.