The New Testament (writes John Stott) sounds a note of victory that is sadly muted in many parts of the church today. The victory is God’s and he has achieved it through Jesus Christ; more specifically, through the cross of Christ (1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 2:14; Col 2:15; Rom 8:37; Rev 3:21; 5:5; 12:11).
What seemed like the defeat of goodness by evil was, in fact, the defeat of evil by goodness. The victim is the victor. The cross secured the conquest of evil.
Gustav Aulen, in his book Christus Victor (1930) claimed that the two traditional theories of atonement (the ‘legal’ view of Anselm and the ‘moral’ view of Abelard) were both unsatisfactory. He proposed a recovery of the ‘dramatic’ view, which sees the atonement as a cosmic drama in which God in Christ defeats the powers of evil. Aulen thought that this was the dominant view of the New Testament, and that it had been held by the Greek Fathers (just as it continues to be held by the Eastern Orthodox churches today).
Although we cannot agree with Aulen’s rejection of the ‘legal’ (or ‘satisfaction’) model, he was right to draw attention to the cross as victory. Jesus has indeed saved us not only from sin and guilt, but from death and the devil, and from all evil powers as well. Incidently, Aulen saw that Luther had a strong doctrine of the cross as victory over the devil, who had previously held us in the captivity of sin, law, curse and death.
Moreover, Aulen made too sharp a distinction between the ‘satisfaction’ and ‘victory’ motifs, as if they were mutually incompatible. As John Eadie has written,
Our redemption is a work at once of price and of power – of expiation and of conquest. On the cross was the purchase made, and on the cross was the victory gained. The blood which wipes out the sentence against us was there shed, and the death which was the death-blow of Satan’s kingdom was there inedured.
In fact, suggests Stott, all three explanations of the cross can be harmonised:-
In the ‘objective’ view God satisfies himself, in the ‘subjective’ he inspires us, and in the ‘classic’ he overcomes the devil. Thus Jesus Christ is successively the Saviour, the Teacher and the Victor, because we ourselves are guilty, apathetic and in bondage.
The New Testament affirms that at the cross Jesus disarmed and triumphed over the devil and all the ‘principalities and powers’ at his command. This was achieved in six stages:-
1. The conquest predicted. Gen 3:15 and many other Old Testament passages speak of God’s present and final rule.
2. The conquest begun. Despite Satan’s many attempts to thwart him, Jesus demonstrated his authority and announcedthe coming of God’s righteous kingdom.
3. The conquest achieved. See Col 2:14-15; Heb 2:15f. In the words of H.C.G. Moule, the cross was ‘his scaffold from one viewpoint, his imperial chariot from another.’
4. The conquest confirmed and announced. This was the achieved through the resurrection. We are not to regard the cross as defeat and the cross as victory. Rather, the cross was victory won, and the resurrection was victory endorsed and proclaimed.
5. The conquest extended. The church goes out in the power of the Spirit to preached Christ crucified as Lord and to summon people to repent and believe in him. Conversion is a turning from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, from idols to the living and true God, from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son God loves, Acts 26:18; 1 Thess 1:9; Col 1:13.
6. The conquest consummated. The day is coming when Christ’s enemies become his footstool, when every knee will bow before him, when the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire, when death, the last enemy, will be no more.
In Christ, we are ‘overcomers’, 1 Jn 2:13; Rev 3:21. It is true that our conflict against sin, the world and devil continues, for Satan has not yet conceded defeat. In fact, he still prowl around ‘like a roaring lion’, 1 Pet 5:8. We may not take either the triumphalist position, or the defeatist position. The tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ continues.
Over what has Christ conquered?
What are the works of the devil which Christ’s death has conquered (1 Jn 3:8)? According to Anders Nygren Romans 5-8 describes the justified person as free from wrath, sin, law, and death respectively. But the New Testament as a whole concentrates on the following:-
1. The tyranny of the law. The law is good and holy. But all who disobey it are under its curse. Christ has redeemed us from this curse by becoming a curse for us. ‘The law no longer enslaves us by its condemnation’.
2. The tyranny of the flesh (that is, our fallen nature or unredeemed humanity). But now we are no longer slaves to sin, Gal 5:19-21; Tit 3:3; Jn 8:34-36; Rom 6:6.
3. The tyranny of the world (that is, godless human society). Jesus has overcome the world, and in him we too are overcomers, Jn 16:33; 1 Jn 2:15f; 5:4f.
4. The tryanny of death. Sin leads to death, and death leads to judgment. But Christ has vanquished this ‘last enemy’, 1 Jn 11:25f; Cor 15:26; Heb 2:14.
The four tyrannies characterise the old ‘aeon’ (age) which was inaugurated by Adam. In it the law enslaves, the flesh dominates, the world beguiles and death reigns. Th new ‘aeon’, however, which was inaugurated by Christ, is characterised by grace not law, the Spirit not the flesh, the will of God not the fashions of the world, and the abundant life not death.
No book of the New Testament bears a stronger testimony to Christ’s victory that the book of Revelation.
Its message is that Jesus Christ has defeated Satan and will one day destroy him altogether. It is in the light of these certainties that we are to confront his continuing malicious activity, whether physical (through persecution), intellectual (through deception) or moral (through corruption).
Our task is, firstly, to resist the devil, 1 Pet 5:8f, and, secondly, to proclaim Jesus Christ. The preaching of the cross is still the power of God. It is still the means by which eople shall be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, Acts 26:18. God’s people still overcome ‘by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’, Rev 12:11.
Based on Stott, The Cross of Christ, 227-251.