Atonement: Further on Christus Victor and Paul’s Epistles

We’ve taken this detour through the “powers” to better understand why the early church fathers would imagine that the atonement is all about God’s defeat of the powers, authorities, princes, etc. — especially Satan. That seems foreign to modern ears, but it obviously would have made a lot of sense to Jesus, Paul, and Peter.

The ancients saw the world as having both a physical and spiritual existence, and the physical world often reflected what was a truer reality in the spiritual world.

This is not Grecian Platonism but the Jewish perception that the spiritual world is real. After all, God is spirit, and there is more to reality than what we can perceive.

This worldview lives in the Gospels in the frequent references to Satan as well as references to demons. The worldview continues in Paul and Peter by explicit references to spiritual beings — demons, powers, authorities, princes, etc. — that are weaker than God but often in rebellion to God.

The Scriptures declare that the fate of such beings has already been determined, but that they remain in existence and in rebellion, although greatly weakened and limited by the power of the cross.

Ephesians

Ephesians is filled with such references —

(Eph 1:18-23 ESV) hat you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Jesus is pictured as having been put over all such spiritual beings — as well as their earthly equivalents: kings and rulers. This is done by God’s immeasurably great power — the play on words is, of course, quite intentional. God’s power overwhelms the so-called powers.

(Eph 2:1-3 ESV) And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Those who are now saved were once following the “prince of the power of the air,” that is, Satan — the ruler of rebellious spiritual beings.

(Eph 3:7-10 ESV) 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.  8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,  10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

God used his immeasurable power to equip Paul to preach the gospel so that the “manifold wisdom of God” would be known even among these spiritual beings. God’s power is so supreme that God uses it to announce the gospel to rebellious spiritual beings.

Paul prays for his readers that they may have power —

(Eph 3:14-21 ESV)  14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

God’s power — the same power that defeats the powers in heaven — is available to Christians through the Spirit.

(Eph 6:11-12 ESV) 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

But the powers will fight back, and so we need the full armor of God to defeat them.

Colossians

Colossians presents a similar line of thought —

(Col 1:11-14 ESV) 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  13 He has delivered us from the domain [authority] of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Having freed us from the “domain” of darkness, Paul prays that we’ll be strengthened with the power of God. “Domain” translates the same word usually translated “authority” and often used in conjunction with “powers.”

(Col 1:16 ESV) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions [kuriotes] or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.

But we should not fear the authorities, because they were created through and for the Christ. (The rebellious ones, too, it would appear.) That Christ created them means he will ultimately prevail over them because he is superior to them.

(Col 2:9-10 ESV)  9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Again, Jesus reigns over these beings.

(Col 2:13-15 ESV)  13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Jesus defeated these authorities by the cross. They were in rebellion, but by the cross, the proper order was restored — or, at least, their defeat was sealed and their power limited as they are opposed by the overwhelming, immeasurable power of God.

The Colossians actually worshiped these lesser beings (Col 2:18), and so Paul emphasizes and re-emphasizes their inferiority to Jesus. But in so doing, we learn how Paul sees the geography of the spiritual world.

God, through his Word, created these powers, they rebelled, and they are now defeated so that their fate is sealed by the power of the cross.

And this tells us some very important things.

The victory

The powers are condemned in Psalm 82 because —

(Psa 82:2-4 ESV)  2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah  3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.  4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Therefore, how are they to be defeated? With heavenly arrows and Blackhawk helicopters? No, by God learning obedience on the cross through his Son. By God taking human form and becoming the weak, the destitute, the needy, and the victim of injustice.

This is not merely taking on human form, but rather becoming the victim of the powers, the authorities, and even Satan. And he took their best shot, arose victorious, and so demonstrated his ultimate power and sealed their fate.

How does God rescue the damned from the domain (authority) of darkness? By the cross. By the cross, he not only proves that the weak, the destitute, the needy, and the victim will prevail (sounds like the Beatitudes, doesn’t it?), but also those with faith join him on the cross and so join him in his victory by the resurrection.

Indeed, the resurrection promised us by the resurrection of Jesus will be the ultimate defeat of the powers. Because Jesus could die at the hands of the powers and be resurrected, we know that God can and will do the same for us. We have nothing to fear. God has proved that he is the One True God, Lord of lords, King of kings, Lord of hosts.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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9 Responses to Atonement: Further on Christus Victor and Paul’s Epistles

  1. Jerry says:

    Indeed, the resurrection promised us by the resurrection of Jesus will be the ultimate defeat of the powers. Because Jesus could die at the hands of the powers and be resurrected, we know that God can and will do the same for us. We have nothing to fear. God has proved that he is the One True God, Lord of lords, King of kings, Lord of hosts.

    Indeed.

    In fact, as I understand Ephesians 1:18-23 & Ephesians 2:1-7, the same power that raised Jesus is with us to enable victorious living even today, as we are raised with him from our death in trespasses and sins to sit with him in the heavenlies.

    There is a vivid contrast between where we were and where God has placed us with Christ. That this is our present condition, I believe, is shown by Paul’s reference to the purpose of this resurrection and being seated with Christ. In 2:7 he states that this is “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

    Though our modern ears are not tuned to language that deals with the “authorities” and “powers” in the spirit realm, even as late as Luther (16th century), he referenced it in these words from his hymn, A Mighty Fortress

    Did we in our own strength confide,
    Our striving would be losing.
    For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe.
    His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate.
    On earth is not his equal.

    This is why we need God’s power – in us by the Holy Spirit – to overcome with Christ, even though He has already won the victory.

    Great post!

  2. guy says:

    Jay,

    What struck me in this post was how when you’re entrenched in a juridical/forensic model of understand the atonement and salvation, Eph 2 is your bread and butter. Yet that very passage speaks of this cosmic drama which saturates the writings of Paul, and i remember reading that passage and having to just breeze by the “prince of the power of the air” bit with puzzlement because i had to hurry up and get to vss 8-10 — as though Paul took some weird tangent or detour early in the chapter! (Perhaps not everyone’s experience, but that was consistently my experience with this and other bizarre “powers” passages.)

    –guy

  3. laymond says:

    Guy, I have spoken to many people who claim they are guided by the inner spirit, the indwelt HG. Yet they have changed their theology numerous times over their lifetime. When asked if they were lied to before, they say “no I just didn’t understand what “He” said. But they are positive now. The bible tells the same story over, and over again the same way.

  4. guy says:

    Laymond,

    Okay…? Not sure what you’re after there.

    i grew up around the language you’re talking about–“Well, the Spirit led me…”, “the Spirit put it on my heart that….”

    i remember when i was a young teen feeling really, really left out because all my friends talked this way and i honestly never felt any such thing. i remember one time in particular just begging God to give it to me too if it was something everyone was obviously and normally suppose to feel (as their language made it seem). i’ve still never felt or experienced anything like that.

    –guy

  5. Jerry says:

    After posting above, I realized that I had omitted two important lines in the verse of A Mighty Fortress The entire verse is

    Did we in our own strength confide,
    Our striving would be losing,
    Were not the right one on on our side,
    the Man of God’s own choosing.

    For still our ancient foe
    Doth seek to work us woe;
    His craft and pow’r are great
    And armed with cruel hate.
    On earth is not his equal.

  6. eric says:

    I really like this post for a number of reasons. First the spiritual having a physical representation. Jesus often used the physical workings of nature to explain spiritual matters I think this is because He of all people knew what he meant when he made a grape vine and so on. George MacDonald had a great insight on this subject as well when he noted that Jesus only did in small what God the Father continually did in heaven. God has been turning water to wine for ages in all the complexities of nature. Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father in heaven doing. He came to reveal the Father to us. I think God has been forgiving us since the first sin. Jesus brought that to the physical world by living the perfect godly life and dieing to that for us. Philosophically speaking forgiving someone especially when your perfect requires you to die to yourself. You have to die to what is right and just. We were made by God to glorify God by living as He lives loving as He loves yet we failed destroying the reason for our existence. Yet He saw fit to salvage the relationship through forgiveness if we repent and seek Him through faith in Christ. The powers have sought our demise for reasons we can’t know weather jealousy or power over us or who knows. They enticed Adam and Eve into failure. Christ on the other hand could not be persuaded away from the perfect and true relationship He held with the Father. So in my opinion the powers are defeated because of the forgiveness we have in Christ. They remain defeated as long as we are not enticed away from the faith that saves.

  7. laymond says:

    Guy, I was just trying to figure out why one who is guided by the HG would change their mind so often.. Many folks here admit to having believed one thing and changing their mind. did they also chang HG? just asking.

  8. Royce Ogle says:

    Sure Christ was/is victorious. He is the one who announced “I have all power in heaven and on earth”.

    Are there Christians who doubt his victory? Who else was raised from the dead and still lives?

    It isn’t either or concerning Christ’s victory is it?

  9. rich constant says:

    would not the end of the age represent the promised blessing along with Romans 4:13
    the tabernacle of David reestablished an acts
    also the son of man standing(, “when Steven is stoned )on his throne.?
    for me all these isolated scripture seem to validate what you were saying in mark.
    anyway thanks again .
    ‘so as an explanation for this last post.
    through the faithfulness of the trinities act of deliverance in which the gentiles have hope, or all those that believe,( Romans the third chapter)
    the father has brought about what was promised in the son, which is life through the spirit (Galatians 3:21-22 ),
    the curse of the law ( Romans 7-8:1-4being nullified (eph. saved by grace through faith by the blood of his cross) and completed the reconciliation,
    bringing about the new Eden of the father which is the very good of god because of his glory he will and Zeal and promise for those that believe, a habitation of of fellowship in ,by, and through the Spirit of his beloved the new Age EPH 1:18-23
    (ROM 4). (the new cosmos) creating in his son the new nation which will abide for ever.A kingdom of priests and kings in the spirit (Heb?pet)in which only righteousness dwells in which we are adopted as son’s believing in a god that cannot lie.
    having the faith hope and love. exercised through the death of his son for us that believe,because of his resurrection.
    and through that , we have all been translated into the kingdom through his spirit that dwells in us. so that through the scriptures we might have hope.rom3;3-4 gods utter faithfulness to his words
    one new priest one new king ,reconciled nation, THE new creation that, was, is, and will be realize in the father’s good time ,so that we the people do eagerly wait as Paul did to be with the lord.
    .’so as an explanation for this.
    through the faithfulness of the trinities act of deliverance in which the gentiles have hope, or all those that believe,( Romans the third chapter)
    the father has brought about what was promised in the son, which is life through the spirit (Galatians 3.21 ),
    the curse of the law ( Romans 7-8:1-4being nullified (eph. saved by grace through faith by the blood of his cross) and completed the reconciliation,
    bringing about the new Eden of the father which is the very good of god because of his glory, and his will .and promise for those that believe, a habitation of of fellowship in ,by, and through the Spirit of his beloved the new Age EPH 1:18-23
    (ROM 4). (the new cosmos) creating in his son the new nation which will abide for ever.A kingdom of priests and kings in the spirit (Heb?pet)in which only righteous dwells in which we are adopted as son’s believing in a god that cannot lie.
    having the faith hope and love. exercised through the death of his son for us that believe,
    and through that , we have all been translated into the kingdom through his spirit that dwells in us. so that through the scriptures we might have hope.
    one new priest one new king ,reconciled nation, THE new creation that, was, is, and will be realize in the father’s good time ,so that we the people do eagerly wait as Paul did to be with the lord.
    how does mark 12:36 compare to eph.1:20-21
    Jesus speaks of David and this prophecy as not being yet fulfilled?yes?
    Paul speaks as though the prophecy having been fulfilled.
    in your opinion do I need to rethink Ephesians is that a bad translation that I’m looking at??
    .i have a little question john mark.
    and wonder if it has ever been put this way.
    if the law makes sin utterly sinful how does the cross show that Jesus was with out sin even thou he went to Hades. the cross proves Jesus was on a par with the father…
    Paul seems to say it is impossible in ROM 7 .
    and i believe that it was a conspiracy to get pilot to put him there
    Heb 10:7 “Then I said, Lo, I come, in the heading of the Book it was written concerning Me, to do Your will, O God.” LXX-Psa. 39:7 -9; MT-Psa. 40:6 -8
    Heb 10:8 Above, saying, “You did not desire nor were pleased with sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and sacrifices concerning sins,” (which are offered according to the Law),
    Heb 10:9 then He said, “Lo, I come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first in order that He may set up the second;
    Heb 10:10 by which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Rom 11:8 even as it has been written, “God gave to them a spirit of slumber, eyes not seeing and ears not hearing” until this day. Isa. 29:10; Deut. 29:4

    Rom 11:9 And David said, “Let their table become for a snare and a trap, and for a stumbling block,” and a repayment to them;
    Rom 11:10 “let their eyes be darkened, not to see, and their back always bowing.” LXX-68:23, 24; MT-Psa. 69:22, 23

    Jas 2:10 For whoever shall keep all the Law, but stumbles in one, he has become guilty of all.

    Gal 3:11 And that no one is justified by Law before God is clear because, “The just shall live by faith.” Hab. 2:4
    Gal 3:12 But the Law is not of faith, but, “The man doing these things shall live in them.” Lev. 18:5
    Gal 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us; for it has been written,

    “Cursed is everyone having been hung on a tree;”

    Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, having come into being out of a woman, having come under Law,
    Gal 4:5 that
    He might redeem the ones under Law,
    that we might receive the adoption of sons

    1Ti 1:8 And we know that the Law is good, if anyone uses it lawfully,
    1Ti 1:9 knowing this, that Law is not laid down for a righteous one,
    but for lawless and undisciplined ones, for ungodly and sinful ones, for unholy and profane ones, for slayers of fathers and slayers of mothers, for murderers,
    1Ti 1:10 for fornicators, for homosexuals, for slave-traders, for liars, for perjurers, and if any other thing opposes sound doctrine,

    Rom 5:8 but God commends His love to us in this, that we being yet sinners, Christ died for us.

    Rom 5:18 So then, as through one deviation it was toward all men to condemnation, so also
    through
    one righteous act
    toward all men to justification of life.

    3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 3:21
    ” i just love this BUT NOW”

    But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,

    3:27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! By what principle? Of works? No, but by the principle of faith! 3:28 For we consider that a person43 is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law. 3:29 Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too! 3:30 Since God is one, he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 3:31 Do we then nullify the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead we uphold the law.

    WHAT THE LAW COULD NOT DO WAS MAKE A RIGHTEOUS MAN DOING A RIGHTEOUS ACT FOR GOD,rom5:18
    because he was hung On Hung ON A CROSS ANYTHING BUT CURSED BY GOD, ALTHOUGH GOD VINDICATED HIM AND RAISED HIM FROM THE ABODE OF THE DEAD BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUS FAITHFULNESS

    AND GOD BEING NO RESPECTER OF A MANS PERSON…

    SALVATION IS FOR ALL WHO BELIEVE FAITHFULLY

    sorry bout the caps. :-)

    ps
    and so we see why Paul speaks thus…
    3:16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham a Gentile and to his descendant.Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,”35 referring to many, but “and to your descendant,”36 referring to one, who is Christ.

    3:21 Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not!
    For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.
    3:22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin
    so that the promise could be given – because of the
    faithfulness of Jesus Christ – to those who believe.

    salvation by grace through faith.

    next we might like to speak of true tabernacle pitched by the lord in the heavens and not the shadow.

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