Last time, I presented the basic idea for the Christus Victor model of the atonement. Not only does this view of the atonement present us with a deep and captivating narrative, but it altogether avoids or addresses all of the problems that I have with the Penal Substitution view. On top of this, I have become convinced that there is an abundance of scriptural evidence for the Christus Victor view.
Oddly enough, Matt Slick, president and founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), wrote in an article “there are no references in the Bible that we were ransomed from the devil.” When I first read this I thought, “Really? Did you even bother to research that before you published it on your highly trafficked website?” Because I’m about to drop more Bible verses than a clumsy person carrying too many gospel tracts.
According to the Christus Victor narrative, long before human history, one of God’s angels (often called “sons of God,” Job 1:6; 2:1; cf. Gen 6:2), whom Scripture refers to as Satan (literally, “accuser”) rebelled against God. Traditionally it is believed that Satan convinced a third of the celestial hosts to join him (cf. Rev 12:4). There was a war in the heavens that resulted in Satan and his angels being cast down (Rev 12:7-9; cf. Isa 14:12-15; Ezek 28:12-13, 14-15). This warfare motif, the teaching that God is waging a cosmic battle against forces of evil (often depicted as hostile waters and malicious sea dragons), is expressed continuously throughout the Old Testament (cf. Ps 29:3-4, 10; 74:10-14; 77:16, 19; 89:9-10; 104:2-9; Prov 8:27-29; Job 7:12; 9:8, 13; 26:12-13; 38:6-11; 40-41; Ezek 29:3; 32:2; Jer 51:34; Hab 3:8-15; Nah 1:4). This is why Scripture portrays Satan as being constantly and genuinely working at cross-purposes with God (1 Chron 21:1; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Zech 3:1-2).
Out of the chaotic aftermath of this war (Gen 1:2), God created a new world (Gen 1-2), and mankind to whom he gave authority over the world (Gen 1:27-29). However, Satan deceived the new earthly rulers into handing their authority over to him (Gen 3:1-6; cf. Lk 4:6; 1 Jn 5:19). Not only did this happen back in the Garden of Eden, but every time we sin we are once again enslaving ourselves to Satan’s rule (Jn 8:34). While the Bible is clear in teaching that God has ultimate authority over creation (1 Chron 29:11; Eph 4:6), nevertheless the New Testament authors portray Satan as being the functional ruler of the world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), and “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), having authority over all worldly kingdoms (Lk 4:5-6). Hence why the apostle John writes that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19), who is ultimately behind all sin (1 Jn 3:8, 10-12; 4:3). This idea is so prevailing in John’s writing that he describes the entire world as single kingdom under Satan’s rule (Rev 11:15; 13).
As the dark ruler of our fallen world, the New Testament teaches that Satan governs his sinister kingdom as a prowling lion (1 Pet 5:8), tempting people to sin (1 Thess 3:5; 1 Cor 7:5; 2 Cor 11:3; Acts 5:3), and blinding unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4). Though he can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:8) and can perform signs and false wonders (2 Thess 2:9-10), he is ultimately behind all false teachings (Gal 4:8-10; Col 2:8; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Jn 4:1-2; 2 Jn 7).
Of course, Satan is not the only malevolent spirit in this twisted empire. The fallen angels, commonly referred to as demons, wreak havoc and torment on mankind (cf. Mk 5:2-5; Lk 9:38-42). Paul referred to these demonic forces as “principalities,” “powers,” and “authorities” (Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10, 15), apocalyptic terms denoting their organized and corporate reign of terror. Like Satan, these too are being who seek to thwart God’s plans and battle against Him and His angels (Dan 10; esp. vv 13 and 20).
This is the mess that Jesus stepped into when he became a human being. And this is the main reason that Jesus came into the world, to overthrow Satan’s dark kingdom (Col 2:15; Heb 2:4; 1 Jn 3:8). Hence, the very first messianic prophecy was entirely about conquering Satan (Gen 3:15; cf. Rom 16:20). Everything Jesus did in his ministry was focused on this goal, tying up the “strong man” so that he could pillage his evil kingdom (Mk 3:26-27; Lk 11:14-26). It was primarily, principally, and entirely about waging war against the forces of evil and defeating Satan (Mk 9:25; Lk 11:14; 13:11-16, 32; Acts 10:38). He wasn’t here to create a legal loophole for sinners in God’s judicial system. He came to save sinners (Lk 19:10; 1 Tim 5:15) from their bondage to Satan’s rebellious rule. Jesus ministry was chiefly concerned with destroy hell on earth and replacing it with heaven (cf. Mt 6:10). Hence, Susan Garrett writes, “Every healing, exorcism, or raising of the dead is a loss for Satan and a gain for God” (Demise of the Devil, 55).
Jesus’ war against the domain of Satan culminated with his death and resurrection. This is the means by which Christ conquered Satan (Jn 12:31; 1 Cor 15:22-25; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 1:13), and subjected all of the powers of darkness to himself (Phil 2:9-11; Col 1:15-20). This is why the Old Testament passage most often quoted in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1, which says that Christ shall reign in the power of God “until [God] makes your enemies your footstool” (Mt 26:64; Acts 2:32-36; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2).
Because of Jesus’ victory over Satan’s broken kingdom we can now be forgiven (Rom 8:33-34, 38-39; Acts 5:31; Eph 1:18-23). You see, unlike the Penal Substitution view that holds that God must punish sinners (or a substitute) before He can forgive them, the Christus Victor view holds that God is eager and willing to forgive sinners without punishment. He just had to break Satan’s legitimate authority over mankind in order to do it. Even baptisms role in our salvation finds its significance in Christ’s victory over evil (1 Pet 3:21-22).
All of this is why (though Matt Slick may not know it) Jesus’ death is a “ransom” (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45; 1 Tim 2:6) and salvation is our “redemption” (Rom 3:24; 8:23; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:15), freeing us from bondage and slavery to Satan.
Now that Jesus’ victory has freed us from Satan’s kingdom (Acts 26:18), we now have been given authority to overcome evil and sin (Mt 28:18-20; Gal 1:4; Heb 2:14-15; 2 Tim 2:26; 1 Jn 2:13-14; 3:6, 9; 5:18; Rev 12:9, 11). This is why the work of the early church consisted largely of healings and exorcisms (Acts 3:1-10; 8:6-7, 13; 14:3, 8-10; 19:11-12; 28:5), freeing a world that is still largely enslaved to evil (Gal 1:4; Eph 5:16). This understanding makes sense of early church discipline. The realization that the church has joined Christ in his war against Satan, and that Satan (though mortally wounded) is still seeking to hang onto some semblance of his former empire, is why excommunicating someone from the fellowship was seen as turning them over to Satan (1 Cor 5:1-5; 1 Tim 1:20; cf. Mt 18:15-20; 1 Tim 5:15).
As Christians, we now align ourselves with God to war against our former captor who is seeking to destroy the church. Having once prevented Paul from teaching in Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:8), Satan discourages Christians and entraps church leaders (2 Thess 3:3-5; 1 Tim 3:7), creating mental strongholds that Christians must battle against (2 Cor 10:3-5). This is why Paul reminds believers that we shouldn’t be ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor 2:11), but remember that our life is a constant war against cosmic darkness (Eph 6:10-18).
As opposed to the Penal Substitution view, Christus Victor Atonement sees Jesus as not merely saving us from the consequences of our sins, but from enslavement to lives that result in those consequences. It’s not about buying into a contract that get’s us off the hook for all of our crimes; it’s about choosing to live a life consistent with the kingdom of which we are now a part (Col 1:13). This is why, like it or not, many of Jesus’ teachings about entering the kingdom of God involve taking action (cf. Mt 25:14-30, 31-46; Mk 10:17-27; Lk 10:25-37; Jn 15:1-11). According to the Christus Victor view, entrance into the kingdom cannot be gained independent of living a kingdom-oriented life. As much as this way of thinking may threaten a Calvinistic/Reformed way of understanding salvation by grace, it is consistent with the New Testament’s assertion that “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:14-26; cf. Gal 5:6). This is not us saving ourselves, since we could not have freed ourselves from Satan’s rule on our own; nor is it works-based salvation, since we cannot earn our place in the kingdom of God. We have already been saved, and now we are merely living out the citizenship that we have in that kingdom. The idea is simply that a person is not really a part of the kingdom of God if they are not actively being a part of the kingdom of God … even if they say the sinners prayer, get baptized and confirmed, and assent to solid doctrine. This isn’t a legal transaction, it’s a revolution!
Christ is victorious! We are free! Now, that is good news!