Christus Victor (The Victory of Christ) – Part 3

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.—Hebrews 2.14.Part 3

This week, I thought I was going to be concluding a three-part series, but I’ve decided it needs at least one more eSight next week, so this is part three of what is now our four-part eSight series on the Christus Victor paradigm of interpreting the purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. If you’ve been with me for the last two weeks and you’re still with me, let me first say thank you for taking an interest in this subject, and I pray that what I am about to share will “click” for you, the coin will drop into the slot, and your heart will grasp, on a deeply profound level, how radical, self-sacrificial, and other-centered God’s love for you truly is. Let’s begin.

First, I want to start with the purpose for what theologically is called the Incarnation. In-carne. It means “in the flesh”. What made God “become flesh” (John 1.14)? First and foremost, I believe the answer is given to us by the author of the book of Hebrews:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil. Hebrews 2.14.

We must go all the way back the beginning, to the Genesis narrative. Here we find a man, a woman, a snake, and a tree. Now, I know the problems this story produces for my brothers and sisters out there with a post-modern, naturalist worldview (talking snakes and all), but whether you believe this story is to be taken literally or whether you believe it’s there simply to teach a spiritual lesson, all will agree that there is a truth within this story to be grasped. The snake says to Eve, “Can you not eat of the trees of the garden?” Eve then proceeds to explain, “No, we can eat of all the other trees; we are simply not to eat of just this one, for God has said we are not to eat from it or touch it or we will die.” The response of the snake to Eve’s explanation is where we pick up their conversation:

The serpent then says to the woman, “You won’t die. God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Him, knowing good and evil. . . . she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3.4-6.

Remember from the last two eSights that Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3.8). What exactly was the Devil up to in this story? As we said last week, the Devil’s work was two-faceted. The first facet was to corrupt our picture of God, our belief in what type of a being God was. Then, the second facet would be easy. Based on this underlying deception regarding God’s character, the Devil would lead us to rebel against this “God” and follow him instead. And it worked! Consider the claim that the Devil made to Jesus in the wilderness:

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me [by Adam and Eve long ago in the garden], and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Luke 4.5-7 (emphasis added).

Jesus does not dispute the Accuser’s claim over us here. Jesus himself repeatedly refers to the Devil as “the ruler of this world”:

“. . . now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” — John 12.31

“. . . the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” — John 14.30

“. . . because the ruler of this world has been judged.” — John 16.11

The apostle John calls him the Accuser, who accuses us before God day and night, accusing us of rebellion against God, of following him, and therefore, belonging to him.

Revelation 12.10, 11 — “. . . the Accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night. . .”

This is where we enter the subject. Once again, meditate on the following passage:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2.14).

We shared last week how Christ death destroyed the first facet of the Devil’s work. But how did the Cross destroy this second facet of the Devil’s work (1 John 3.8)? What I am about to share with you I will freely admit has been abused by some when used within Anselm’s penal substitutionary paradigm. However, when we seek to understand these same realities from within the Christus Victor paradigm of first-century Christianity, they reveal that the Cross was a dramatic rescue mission which in turn shines bright with brilliant rays the beauty of the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of our God in His Son, Jesus Christ.

The answer to our question is actually hidden right there within our passage. God would share in our flesh-and-blood humanity. But not just as another son (or daughter) of Adam. No, no, God would join us as a new, a second, the last “head” of our flesh-and-blood human race. God would become incarnate not just as one of us living among us. Our incarnate God would come to us as the “Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15.45).

Follow carefully what this really means. There is a sense, within the culture of the Old Testament, that ancestors and their descendants were connected as one. Two Biblical examples will suffice to illustrate this:

“The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger’” (Genesis 25.22-23).

The Lord does not tell Rebekah that she has “twins” and that these two “twins” are wrestling within her womb. The Lord tells Rebekah that she has “two nations” in her womb. Forgive the crudeness of my illustration, but either this woman is the largest pregnant lady ever seen (literally two nations inside her womb?) or something else is at work here. Look closely at my second example:

“One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham” (Hebrews 7.9).

Levi is Abraham’s great grandson, but when Abraham gives tithes to the priest Melchizedek, Levi is considered as having paid tithe to him, too. This is how the author of Hebrews proves that the priesthood of Levi is subservient to the priesthood of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 7, where Christ, a priest of the Melchizedek priesthood, is shown to be of a greater priesthood than Levi’s, but this is a tangent to our present discussion).

But what does all of this mean when we apply it to God’s becoming incarnate and coming to us as the new head of the human race? It means that all of us are, in a sense, connected to God now, too, with him being our new “Adam.” Watch how Paul puts it and please keep in mind the two nations, represented by Esau and Jacob, as well as how Abraham represents even his great-grandson Levi.

“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Corinthians 5.14).

Whatever God incarnate as our “Adam” (Jesus Christ) did, please don’t miss this: you are seen as having done it, too. You see, just as Jesus Christ was a living revelation of God as a being of radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love, Jesus Christ was also a living revelation of what you and I (the human race) would have been had we not been deceived in regard to our understanding of God in the garden long ago. The difference between Jesus and us was not that he wasn’t human but, rather, that he was a human with the right understanding of God’s character left intact. It was His understanding of His Father’s character that caused Him, even though He was human, to live a radically self-sacrificial, other-centered life, (John 5.19) even to the point of death, even death on a cross:

“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be held on to, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human likeness, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.6-8).

Note that Jesus did this not only as a revelation of God’s character but also as a revelation of what humanity would have been had they not been deceived regarding God’s character. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13.1). Again, this not only shows how radically other-centered and selfless God really was but also how radically other-centered and selfless we too would have been had we not been lied to and deceived concerning “God.” The Cross reveals not only God but the truth about you and me as well. And what was the result?

“It follows, then, that, as a result of one misdeed (our original Adam’s) was condemnation for all people, so the result of one righteous act (our new Adam’s) is acquittal and life for all” (Romans 5.18).

Did you catch that? The Cross resulted in acquittal for all. Acquittal and pardon are not the same. Pardon means you are guilty of rebellion but pardoned. THAT is not acquittal. If someone is acquitted of charges that have been brought against them, they are shown to be not guilty but innocent. They are shown to be not deserving of punishment. Our Accuser, who accuses us before God day and night, is accusing us of rebellion against “God” and of following him, thus deserving to share in the same fate. What Jesus proved is that, yes, humanity has rebelled, but humanity’s rebellion is different. It is one thing to know God truly and rebel. It is quite another matter to be deceived by the Accuser about the character of God and to rebel thinking that the lies you’ve been told about God are true. An example of this is modern atheism in the wake of the misrepresentation that Christianity has also given regarding what kind of a person God really is. What Calvary proved is that humanity’s rebellion against “God” and choice to follow Satan was rooted in deception and, therefore, cannot be proven to be legitimate or genuine. Remember, acquittal means that the charges have been dropped, accusations regarded as unfounded. Our rebellion has been shown to be based on deception rather than truth; therefore, it is invalid. The human race is to be forgiven its rebellion, not punished for it, for that rebellion has been, from the very beginning, based not on reality; rather, “they did not know what they were doing” (see Luke 23.34). Again, look carefully at Paul’s words in Colossians 2.14-15:

“He has canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross, having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2.14,15).

He “cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness.” He showed the charges against us by our Accuser to be false. He showed us to be deserving of acquittal rather than punishment. He proved the Accuser’s claim over this world, including us, to be invalid. Far from forcing us to suffer our penalty, He cancelled the legal charges that we were even deserving of a penalty to begin with, thereby disarming the Devil and making a public spectacle of him, triumphing over him by the Cross! What the Cross proved was that the “sale” of this world and its inhabitants by Adam to the Devil was based on a lie; therefore, the sale is seen to be invalid and, therefore, cancelled. The property will now be taken back from the Devil and returned to its rightful owner.

“When a strong man, armed to the teeth, stands guard in his front yard, his property is safe and sound. But what if a stronger man comes along with superior weapons? Then he’s beaten at his own game, the arsenal that gave him such confidence hauled off, and his precious possessions plundered” (Luke 11.21-22, The Message).

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down’” (Revelation 12.10).

Look closely at how the first-century church understood this:

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2.9-10).

“Jesus Christ, who is now at the right hand of God, having entered heaven and received the submission of angels, authorities, and powers” (1 Peter 3.21-22, REB).

The prophecy had been foretold, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3.15). In the narrative of the Cross, we see this prophecy come true. God, through the person of His Son Jesus Christ, “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Colossians 1.13).

This facet of the Christus Victor paradigm, I believe, profoundly affects us in three very real ways. First and foremost, it dramatically affects what we begin to believe is really in God’s heart toward us. Notice Paul’s insight in the following passage. Up until the cross, God had left us, according to Paul, unpunished for our rebellion. God knew that our rebellion was not genuine, but this would not be proven until the Cross. Up until the Cross, you must picture the Accuser, face to face with God, claiming dominion over us and, therefore, deserving his same fate. These were the Accuser’s demands and yet God continually refused to punish. This would lead the Accuser to also then accuse God of being unjust in leaving us unpunished. Remember, “justification” or “to justify” is a legal term that means a declaration of innocence, not deserving of punishment, not guilty. Now read the following passage:

“God did this [the Cross] to demonstrate his justice [in leaving our sins unpunished], because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it [the Cross] to demonstrate his justice [He wasn’t ignoring our rebellion, rather He knew our rebellion was not founded on truth but deception] at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies [declares not guilty, innocent, and not deserving of punishment] those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3.25,26).

God’s heart toward us has always been one of forgiveness, for He has known all along that we did not know what we were doing (Luke 23.34). For clarification’s sake, we must not go too far and say that the Cross proves that, if we all knew the truth, we would all love. If we all knew the truth, we would still be free to return God’s love or to refuse it. What the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus proved is that humanity is capable of emulating God’s radically other-centered love if we can only see what the truth concerning who and what our God really is. Again, the Cross demonstrated what humanity would have been had we not been deceived into rebellion in the garden long ago. Thus, it cancels all accusations of the Accuser.

Second, and this is truly life changing, it changes the way we look at everyone else around us, too:

“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died . . . From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” (2 Corinthians 5.14-16, emphasis added).

We do not have the capacity to know how much others are really accountable for and what they are not. How much do others really understand and know about what they are doing? None of us asked to be born, much less to be born into the situations that many of us find ourselves in. Each one of us has a life story. It is not simply that God tells us not to judge one another; if the revelation of the Cross is true, then we don’t even have the ability to judge one another correctly. Society may need to put some of us away to keep us from hurting others and ourselves, but in the larger scheme, God only knows how much each person is really accountable for and how much they are not. This is the root of why he tells us not to judge but, rather, to love as indiscriminately as the sun shines and the rain falls (see Matthew 5.44-45).

Finally, a healthy interpretation of the Christus Victor paradigm, affects how we see ourselves, and this is where the truth concerning both God and you at the Cross has the ability to save you from the intrinsic death that sin produces. Listen to me carefully. If God can forgive you, can’t you forgive yourself, too? Let it go. Do not allow your guilt and shame to define you any longer. God isn’t defining you by your past mistakes, so why should you? He loves you. He forgives you. It’s time for you to forgive you, too. He knows that humanity’s rebellion is rooted and grounded in the reality that our picture of God has been corrupted and that we do not really know what we are doing. It’s time for you, too, to let go of your guilt and embrace His acquittal. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9.14, emphasis added.)

The God of this universe became us not simply to defend our innocence but to take on our Accuser face to face and prove it. He not only challenged the Accuser’s claim over us but won the challenge! We are no longer the claim of the Enemy. We have an Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous! He is our matchless Savior! He is Christus Victor! Christ, the Victorious! Christ our rightful King!

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power . . . His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7.13-14, emphasis added).

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies [declares innocent, not guilty, not deserving of punishment]. Who then can condemn? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us [against our Accuser]. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers [cf. Colossians 2.15, Ephesians 6.21], neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.31-39, emphasis added).

He gave Himself as a ransom for you, dear reader. Go live in His radical self-sacrificial love this week, and GO BUILD THE KINGDOM!

I love you guys. We’ll wrap this up next week with one final facet.

Herb