Earlier in this chapter, Mark has provided additional information that deepens the meaning of this profound moment: Not long before this time, Jesus had encountered a rich young ruler who wanted to know how to earn eter¬nal life. After hearing the Savior’s answer, the disciples had been “exceedingly astonished” and had asked Him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus had looked at them and replied, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v. 27).

Having revealed the impossibility of salvation apart from God, now Jesus is revealing how God will save. The Savior describes His coming death as a “ransom.” He’s intentional and strategic in His use of that word.

Unfortunately, ransom has a fairly limited meaning to us. We don’t encounter it much except while watching TV shows or movies with a kidnapping in the plot. But the meaning of this word was much more intense and imme¬diate and familiar to the disciples that day. As Donald English reminds us, “Ransom was a familiar image in the Jewish, Roman, and Greek cultures. It was the price paid to liberate a slave, a prisoner of war, or a condemned per¬son.” A ransom represented the payment of a price required for deliverance from various forms of bondage, captivity, or condemnation that were common in those days.

Missing Respectability

Moreover, ransom wasn’t a term associated with respectability. The person being ransomed was either a slave, an imprisoned enemy, or a condemned criminal.

How does that apply to us? Only too well. As John Stott writes in The Cross of Christ, the emphasis of the ransom image “is on our sorry state—indeed our captivity in sin—which made the act of divine rescue necessary.” That’s the focus revealed here. So to hear the Savior speak the word ransom and understand it rightly is to be freshly reminded and affected by our own serious and sorry state, our miserable lostness and wretched bondage to sin. We cannot free ourselves from pride and selfish ambition; a divine rescue is absolutely necessary.

Jesus is seeking to impress this message on each one of us: “You’re lost. Your situation couldn’t be more hope¬less. And on your own, you’re incapable of altering or escaping it.”

Why was the death of Jesus necessary? Because all of humanity is corrupt and condemned, and we all have an acute tendency to deny the reality of our lost state before God.

Here We Are

To clarify the seriousness of our plight, we need look no further than here in Mark 10. Observe carefully and you’ll find your own face among the various portraits Mark pro¬vides in this passage of Scripture.

Perhaps you recognize yourself in the rich young ruler who valued his possessions more highly than the Savior’s words. Perhaps you see yourself in James and John and their selfish ambitions. Or, if you consider yourself superior to James and John and their attitude, then you’ll fit among the other disciples in their indignation, which revealed not only their own desire for glory but also their self-righteousness—possibly a far more serious sin than James and John’s.

But let me be clear. All of us appear somewhere in Mark’s portrait gallery of sinners. And Jesus Himself drives home for us what that means—a humanly unalterable condition of captivity to sin.

Our situation couldn’t be more serious. Prior to our conversion we were sin’s prisoners, and even after our conversion we continue to fight the presence of sin, though we’re freed from the power and penalty of sin. And if you aren’t aware of this danger, you’ll never suf¬ficiently appreciate the significance of His death. It’s this captivity to sin and continued tendency to sin that necessitates the Savior’s death as a ransom for many. That’s the price the ransom requires: the life of God’s only Son.