From a purely human perspective, Jesus’ hours of agony upon the Cross appear to be the very inverse of victory. Rejected by His people, abused nearly to point of death, accused and convicted of crimes for which He is known to be innocent and then cruelly affixed to the tortuous tool of death, our senses struggle to see Jesus as being victorious in any context. Time—in this case a couple of days—proves that there is more than meets the eye however. Christ rises, and a new epoch of history follows in his wake.
Atonement has not been explained by a single theological position. At various times in this history of the Church, different theories have attempted to corral the revelation in the Scriptures and explain what was achieved by Calvary. Salvation is a constant, for certain, but humanity is also the beneficiary the multi-faceted view of God’s character that comes into sharp focus. Evil suffers defeat as well. Though often disregarded as the theory of atonement, Christ’s victory over the powers of evil is an aspect of the cross that has far-reaching implications for the lives of Christians today.
The name of this view, Christus Victor, is often attributed to Gustav Aulen and his book of the same title. In this tome he challenged the legal and moral views of atonement as inadequate and proposed a restoration of the view he called ‘classic’, saying that it was “the ruling idea of the Atonement for the first thousand years of Christian history.” (Aulen)
God’s plan for the defeat of evil is a lengthy, multi-faceted process that will not be fully consummated until the parousia, but offering benefits attainable by believers today. The Father set to work immediately after evil entered the world, stating that it would be defeated at a time in the future:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Gen 3:15)
The Messiah is in view as the one who will defeat this enemy, crushing his head, foreshadowing the ministry of Jesus. The Wicked One knows that the arrival of Jesus predicts his end and, as the Conqueror begins His ministry, he makes every attempt to destroy Him. Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he leads Herod to murder the boys and deceives Peter into attempting to dissuade Christ from the completion of His objective (Get behind me, Satan! (Mt 16:23).
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and the authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:13-15)
Conquest is achieved on Golgotha, the strong man is overpowered and bound. As the passage in Colossians attests, Christ accomplishes the disarming of powers and authorities, triumphing over them on the Cross. While the Evil One may have wanted to continue in his deceit, victory is announced and confirmed at the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, Eph 1:20-23). The church on mission extends the conquest, preaching Christ crucified as Lord, summoning others out of bondage through repentance and renewal.
While we avoid the language of triumphalism, victory should be a part of the vocabulary of the believer. As John Stott says “The victory of Christians, therefore, consists of entering into the victory of Christ and enjoying its benefits.. We can thank God that ‘he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’” (1 Cor 15:57). Caution remains in order though, as the Deceiver continues his self-deceit. He is defeated but has not conceded and continues to seek out ways to derail the Christian treading the narrow path (1 Jn 5:18, 1 Pet 5: 8).
Grace and peace to you…
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