Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Christus Victor and The Gospels

Christus Victor and The Gospels

In John 6:15, after Jesus feeds the 5000, we read: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” This verse has been of particular interest to me as I’ve thought about the Christus Victor atonement theme. In my mind it relates to another Gospel passage (Matthew 12:22-32), briefly considered in an earlier post from this series. For despite Christ’s evident authority and power, not only over demons but Satan too, his inauguration as king must wait for after the cross. Thus in John 6, though fully deserving of kingship and seemingly unchallenged were he to accept people’s coronation, Christ refuses. Why is this so?

To answer, let us consider Matthew 12 again, in a little more detail. Though the language of “victory” and overcoming is prominent in Revelation, it is surprisingly rare in the remainder of the New Testament. This should give pause to proponents of ‘victorious Christianity,’ but we will leave that point for another post. In 1 Corinthians we learn that death was swallowed up in victory (15:54-55), through the Lord Jesus Christ (15:57). “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (15:56). Thus, in Christ’s work, believers enjoy victory over death because we are set free from the penalty of sin. This link was argued in my post on Christus Victor and the New Testament (linked above). Thus, in Paul, victory language is inseparable from Christ’s cross work. The Christian’s confidence in the face of death is that Christ overcame it, both in his resurrection and through suffering God’s judgment against sin.

As I have repeatedly argued, in his Christus Victor, Gustav Aulén cannot persuasively explain why Jesus goes to the cross. As far as many Jewish people were concerned, Jesus was already their king (John 6:15). His many miracles and remarkable power indicated that he was God’s Messiah, the longed for Davidic king. Linking John 6 to Matthew 12, in the latter Jesus describes his ministry as a conflict between God’s and Satan’s kingdom (Matthew 12:25-26). After casting out the demon from a man who was blind and mute, Jesus speaks of his “victory” (12:20). A few verses later he says that the strong man, very likely Satan, is already bound (12:29). Simply put: the conflict between Christ and Satan was hardly contested. This victory might be traced back to Christ’s temptation (4:1-17). For immediately after that incident Christ begins to preach that the kingdom of God is at hand (4:17). Yet this still begs the question: why does the Christ continue to Jerusalem and the cross?

This question is, for the most part, left hanging in Aulén’s work. Though I have picked just two Gospel passages, many more could be cited proving that Christ’s kingdom was not threatened by Satan. Satan is called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; similarly Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). Yet throughout the Gospels he is no match for Jesus Christ. Demons tremble and the darkness retreats. In his ministry, Jesus is already the conquerer—he is victorious. However, he is still lifted up on the cross (12:32). Jesus was never troubled by Satan, but his anticipation of the cross was near overwhelming (12:27). It was at the cross that the ultimate battle was fought and won. Paradoxically, in Christ’s death he was victorious. At the epicentre of God’s mysterious restoration of all things is Christ’s agonising and lonely death. As Luther put it, in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: The Prince of Darkness grim, / We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, / For lo! His doom is sure.”

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