The Biblical book of Ruth is a story of loss, love and restoration that has been loved by generations of readers. It comes to a climax when Boaz, Ruth’s new-found love must confront a kinsman to vie for her hand in marriage and redeem her deceased husband’s land for his posterity. (This means that their first child becomes Ruth’s deceased husband’s child in order to inherit the deceased’s land.) At the root of this strange plot-twist are little-known “legal” passages in the Old Testament, social legislation that was intended to ensure that family land remained in the family forever in order to prevent Israelites from falling into eternal servitude.
Essential to the smooth functioning of this legislation was the “kinsman.” The closest kin to the person in financial trouble (or childless deceased as in the case of Ruth’s first husband) seems to have been required to buy back land sold by that person in order to give it back to the seller’s family if it was financially possible (Deuteronomy 25:25-28). In other words, this was to be an unselfish act. There was no reward for the kinsman for buying the land back for his relative except the satisfaction of helping a less-fortunate family member.
It is easy to see how this role of the “redeemer” is particularly fitting for describing Jesus, who paid for our sins with his own blood. His payment freed believers from a lifetime of bondage to sin – a literal slavery both enslaved to death and bound for death. Jesus’ only reward is the “pleasure” of our company forever. He gets nothing else out of it except whatever a Creator might feel after not allowing his investment in the Creation to go unfulfilled. He owed us nothing when he created us. And owed even less than nothing when redeeming us. We owe him EVERYTHING – and more!
There is another less-known role that was assigned to the nearest kinsman in Numbers 35:12-19. The same word “redeemer” is translated “avenger” in most English versions. This is the person who is supposed to bring the murderer of his close relative to justice by avenging the deceased (literally by killing the murderer). This is not a side of the redeemer that we might think to ascribe to Jesus. But note that in Revelation 6:9-11 and 11:18-19 Jesus is doing precisely that.
There is a line in the Apostles’ Creed that states: “He [Christ] will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Judgment in this case contains both senses of the idea of “redeemer”. Jesus has taken every believer into a close family relationship [Romans 8:12-17]. He has made it his duty to redeem and avenge every member of his chosen family. In other words, Jesus is buying back his people (everyone who will believe in him) and will pay back everyone who harms those same believers. He can be trusted to defend our honour because he has tied his own family honour to our being revealed in glory.
Just as rescue and vengence were tied up in the same person in the kinsman-redeemer of the Old Testament, both are at work in Jesus Christ, the ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer. Mercy and judgment are in perfect balance in Jesus Christ. He is rescuing us. He will vindicate our honour and restore our lives in the eyes the whole earth at his return. There is no reason for any Christian to fear what anyone in the world can do to us.