In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote that the one mediator between God and mankind “is the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Tim. 2:5b-6a). What does it mean that Jesus is a “ransom for all”? This is a bigger discussion, to be sure, but here’s one helpful answer by Philip Ryken in his commentary on 1 Timothy:
Calling Jesus a ransom for all men is something like calling your local physician the town doctor. In a small town, he is the only doctor there is. When you see him on the street, you say, “There goes our doctor.” This does not necessarily mean that we are presently going to him for treatment. Whether or not he turns out to be our doctor depends on whether or not we get sick, and whether we are willing to go to him when we do. But he is still the town doctor.
Jesus is like the town doctor. He is the Savior of the world. He is accessible to everyone. He has promised to save anyone who comes to him in faith and repentance. But the fact that his death is a ransom does not mean that our own sins have been paid for. Whether we go to him for salvation or not depends on whether or not we realize that we need to be saved, and whether we are willing to go to him when we do. But whether we go to him or not, he is still the Savior of the world, “who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
Once it is understood that “all” means “all kinds” rather than “each and every,” we can reconcile what Paul said to Timothy with what Jesus said to his disciples: “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). Paul is not saying anything more than Jesus said. A ransom for many is a ransom for all when “all” means “all kinds.”
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015