In Luke 10:25-37 Jesus answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” with a story about a good Samaritan.
In a similar way, one answer to the question of “who is Jesus?” may be answered, in part, with a story. 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.) He succeeds and they live happily together, incidently becoming ancestors of Israel’s most famous king, David.
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.
Certain important obligations devolved upon the nearest male blood relative alive toward his next of kin. This “nearest male relative” is usually referred to as the kinsman-redeemer of his relative.
If anyone was unable to redeem his inheritance due to poverty, it was the duty of the kinsman to redeem it (Lev. 25:25,28; Ruth 3:9, 12). He was also required to redeem his nearest kin who had sold himself into slavery (Lev. 25:48-49).
It is easy to see how this role of the “kinsman-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.
Acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice and His Lordship over oneself brings us into God’s family as children. Jesus becomes our closest relative – our elder brother – among God’s children. He therefore undertakes to assist us out of our own slavery to sin and into our inheritance.
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! Acts 2:41-47.
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.