“life.” See commentary on Matthew 20:28, which is a similar verse.
“ransom.” The Greek word is lutron (#3083 λύτρον; pronounced loo’-tron). In the Greek literature, the lutron, “ransom” was the price paid for the release of a slave or prisoner of war. There has been huge debates in Christendom about to whom the ransom is paid. Before summarizing some basics, it is important that we realize that the Bible never says to whom the “ransom” is paid. This should speak volumes to us. God certainly could have told us. The word ransom is specifically used in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45, and the closely related word antilutron, also translated “ransom,” is used in 1 Timothy 2:6. The New Testament tells us that we, by our sin, earned “death.” “The wages of sin are death” (Rom. 6:23). Then to magnify the work of Christ, we are told that Christ paid the price that we owed and died in our behalf (cp. Rom. 5:6, 8; Heb. 2:9). The sinner is “ransomed,” “redeemed,” “bought with a price” “declared righteous,” etc.
God could have told us “to whom” the ransom or price of redemption was paid. He did not clearly say it. This should tell us that we should not put our emphasis there. We can talk about it, surely, but the obvious emphasis in the Word is that redemption is done. It is accomplished. To go beyond “It is finished” is to drift from the realm of certainty into, to some degree anyway, into the realm of speculation. That can be seen at once simply by studying the “theories of atonement.” Dozens of books have been written on the subject specifically because there are unclear issues involved. What is clear is that we are ransomed, we are redeemed, the price has been paid on our behalf, and when we have trust (“faith”) in Christ we are saved and promised everlasting life.
That having been said, it may help to briefly cover a few points. One is that many unbelievers reject the theory of atonement altogether and say that it in and of itself disproves Christianity. They say that no matter to whom the ransom is paid, how can one man righteously die for another? We answer that by saying that unbelievers did not create the universe nor the rules by which God governs it or the people who live in it. It is clear from the sacrifices in the Old Testament that God righteously accepts substitutionary sacrifice, and if He does, He does.
The Church Father Origen said that the ransom paid by the death of Jesus was paid to Satan, and many people still believe that. However, it seems clear that both righteousness (holiness), and the penalty for acting and becoming unholy and unrighteous was established by God. Satan has power today only by virtue of the fact that he is a liar and murderer. He lied his way into getting his power, and will end up destroyed in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10). Satan was not owed any ransom just because he tricked mankind into sin; mankind did not break any of his laws; and Satan cannot, in fact, would not, accept the blood of Christ as a ransom. He cannot because he does not have the power to release mankind from the penalty of sin, he did not give the laws or set the penalty in the first place. Furthermore, if a person is jailed in lieu or payment of a fine, would he pay it to the jailer? No, he would pay it to the court, the system that put the law in place. Lastly, Satan would not accept the ransom of Christ because it is against his purposes: he does not desire mankind to be saved; he desires the destruction of all mankind.
That having been said, there are two more theories of atonement that should be mentioned. The first is that the ransom or redemption price is paid to God. That theory in and of itself has so many variations that books have been written on that alone. The basics of the theory that the payment is made to God as expounded by Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury (1033-1109) is that because God is righteous He must respond with anger and punishment when His laws are broken, thus the payment of breaking those laws is made to Him. Adding to the logic of this theory is that under the Law of Moses, the sacrifices for sin were offered to Yahweh (cp. Exod. 12:48; Lev. 4:3, 4, 14, 15, 24; 5:6, 7, 15; 22:24; 23:12; etc.), and the Passover, and sacrifices, were shadows of Christ. In contrast, sacrifices to the Devil or demons was strictly forbidden. It foreshadowed nothing (cp. Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:20). It is this theory of atonement that has dominated the orthodox Church for some 1000 years.
Another theory of atonement is that the payment was not actually made to anyone. God set up the laws, and His justice required death for sin. When Christ died, that fulfilled the law, it did not actually “pay” anyone. In that sense, the word “ransom” is understood figuratively, as if “Justice” was personified. We can best understand this in terms of someone paying for his crime by being imprisoned. If a person is in prison for a year and “pays his debt to society,” who gets paid? Not society, they do not receive a dime. Not the jailor (Satan), not the Judge (God). The debt is “paid” in a figurative sense simply by fulfilling the law. The strongest evidence for this argument is that of all the scriptures that refer to the death of Christ, atonement, ransom, redemption, substitution, being “bought with a price,” etc., not once is anyone said to be paid. Not God, and certainly not the Devil. The simple biblical truth would be that Jesus paid the legal price required by mankind’s sin, which was death, and thus fulfilled the legal requirement that the wages of sin is death.