February/March 2016 - Vol. 84
The redemption of the Children of Israel from Egypt came through a victory that God won. He himself came “down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land” (Exodus 3:8). He brought them out “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders” (Deuteronomy 26:8). In the Exodus, “the Lord…has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1), as the Israelites sang in “The Song of Moses”. The redemption of Israel from Egypt was a victory that God himself won in a struggle with Pharaoh, the Egyptian army, and the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12).
“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God “came down” once again to deliver his people, only this time he became human and redeemed human beings in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ too won a victory “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terrors, with signs and wonders”. But as we have seen, that victory was begun in an unusual way. He first laid down his life on the cross, in order that human beings could have the blood of the true Passover lamb sprinkled upon them and so be saved from the destroyer. He then could lead them into the good land of true freedom.
If we say that Christ defeated the forces which make for human destruction, we could be referring to three somewhat distinct events: what happened on the cross, what happened in the resurrection, or what happens when human beings become Christians and so are personally redeemed. We could, of course, be referring to the result of all three events at the same time; and, in fact, most commonly that is just what we do. We should perhaps add to these what happens as the result of the Second Coming and the consummation of all things, but since they have not yet occurred, they are a victory we still look forward to.
The victory of Christ, then, occurs in stages. The first stage occurred on the cross. His death on the cross was a real victory – a moral one. He endured death in full faithfulness to God and thereby offered the sacrifice of his life. It was a paradoxical victory, because at the moment of breathing his last, his enemies – death and Satan – were in possession of the field and seemed to be the victors. Yet, in fact, he had defeated them because his death robbed them of their power.
The second stage occurred through the resurrection. On the third day after he died, he was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. In rising again, he achieved a victory in his own person. As a result, his own humanity existed free of death and of any subjection to this world and to Satan.
The third stage occurs as individuals become Christians and receive from Christ new life and freedom. Christ’s victory is achieved in them because they are liberated from the power of death and Satan to become the possession of Christ. By the power of God in Christ, they become “the spoils” (Isaiah 53:12) of battle.
The fourth stage is yet to come. Jesus will come again, and he will come leading the armies of heaven. He will then banish sin, death and Satan from this world. That will allow him to confer on the human beings who belong to him the prize of life in the transfigured, glorified world, what we most commonly call the life of heaven.
In the second part of this book, we looked at three statements of why Jesus’ death was important. He did for us something we could not do for ourselves. He offered the sacrifice that was acceptable to God for our deliverance. That sacrifice paid the price for freeing us from the slavery of sin. That sacrifice involved making satisfaction for the penalty due to human sin and was accounted for us.
In the third part of the book, we saw that Christ’s death could be an acceptable sacrifice, because of who he was. He was the new Adam, high priest and messianic king, who was the Son of God. He had a standing with and relationship with God that allowed him to act on our behalf and to be accepted by God. His death was also able to make a difference for our sins because in dying obediently he gave his life fully in love of God and love of us. It was given in response to what his Father wanted in order to make amends for the sins of the human race. In that way, his death was an offering that was acceptable to God.
Up to this point, we have looked primarily at the death of Christ in itself. While we will still consider his death, we also will now begin to look at the broader picture. It is not enough to say Christ’s death redeems us. His death does not make full sense apart from his resurrection and ascension. His dying on the cross is only one part of what Christ did on earth to save us. The crucifixion may be the most puzzling part to us and so require more thought, but it is not a separable part. It must be seen as a component of the victory that Christ came to win. As we consider his victory, we will see his death in a new light, a light we will gain through surveying the whole process.
In this part we therefore begin to take a different perspective. We will consider the way Christ acted to accomplish the redemption. His death was part of a process of going from this fallen world to the right hand of the Father, where he shared his Father’s throne and so was able to be the redeemer of the human race. It was a kind of exodus (Luke 9:31) or passover (Luke 22:15-16) and is sometimes referred to as “the paschal mystery”. In this passage to a better place, he himself was changed so that he became a new kind of human being, a human being with a glorified life, a life that could now be shared with us.
Consideration of this triumphal passage shows us three more reasons why the death of Christ was able to redeem us:
1. He humbled himself;In the first chapter of this fourth part, we will consider the way his death was in fact a victory, achieved through self-humbling. In the next two chapters we will look at his resurrection and ascension. In so doing, we will look at the difference his death made for himself and his personal triumph. In the last part of the book we will go on to look at his giving of the Spirit and his second coming. In so doing, we will look at the difference his death made for us and will make for us. That will allow us to see his full victory.
As Adam confronted Satan, so did Christ. At the very beginning of his public ministry, right after being anointed with the Spirit as the messianic King and proclaimed as God’s Son, Christ encountered Satan himself. We read about that encounter in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him,
If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.
But he answered,
It is written,
‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him,
If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will give his angels charge of you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’
Jesus said to him,
Again it is written,
‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him,
All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
Then Jesus said to him,
Begone, Satan! for it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
- Matthew 4:1-11
To be tempted is to be tested by an inducement to do evil, to sin (see p. . For righteous, godly people, then, a temptation is also an attack on what they value most, living in a way pleasing to God and so attaining the purpose for which they have been made. Christ began his public ministry by undergoing such an attack. The first Adam had to face Satan in combat and in so doing brought the human race down in a great defeat. The new Adam also had to face Satan. Upon the outcome of that encounter hung the promise of a new future for human beings.
Testing” or “The Trial” or, as we more commonly term
it, “The Temptation (in the Wilderness)” is recounted
at the beginning of the Gospel for a reason. It was a
prelude to the rest of Christ’s earthly ministry,
which in turn was the prelude to his heavenly ministry
of redeeming human beings. He did not come for a
peaceful ministry of teaching winning truths, speaking
gracious words, blessing children, and being commended
by all – however much these things formed part of what
he did. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to
destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Christ
came for a war, and the initial campaign was to fight
on earth to reach an assured position of heavenly
power and authority from which to complete the task.
That war was first manifested in the event we call the
encounter in Matthew 4 was a fight, but one that did
not involve physical force. The temptation was an
ethical or moral fight where the battlefield is the
will or heart, the inner place where human beings make
decisions. In this case, the battlefield was the human
heart of Christ.
issue Christ faced was his role as the human Son of
God. How would he conduct himself in the position he
held? His identity had been manifested to the world by
the heavenly voice at his baptism: “This is my beloved
Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Like
the first Adam, the new Adam had to maintain the
position that was his by the grace and choice of God.
issue of his position as the Son of God was clearly
stated by the tempter in saying “if you are the Son of
God…” Christ was tempted to prove himself as the
especially favored one of God. He was first tempted to
prove himself by an act of power as great as Moses
performed when he provided bread in the wilderness. He
was then tempted to prove himself by an act of “faith”
in God that would prove God’s special protection. At
the end, he was presented all the kingdoms of the
world and the glory of them and tempted to receive
them, not from God but from “the ruler of this world”
(John 12:31): “All these I will give you if you will
fall down and worship me.”
The temptations were subtle. Like the temptation faced by Adam and Eve, Satan tempted Christ with something God in fact wanted him to have. By God’s intention Christ would do great acts of power, including making bread in the wilderness. He would receive striking protection from God. He would become the ruler of the whole world.
the nub of the temptation for Christ was the same as
for Adam and Eve. Would he take the path of obedience?
Would he follow the instructions of God, trusting God
to bring him where he wanted him to be? Or would he
reach out and exalt himself, making use of the power
and position God gave him but not in God’s way?
won his initial combat with Satan. But it was only the
first round. As the Gospel of Luke tells us, “When the
devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him
until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). The account we
describe as The Temptation of Christ only reveals in a
more vivid way the struggle Christ was undergoing all
during his public ministry. Further temptations from
Satan are described at those points where Christ
turned away from establishing a messianic kingdom of
earthly glory and took instead the path that led to
the cross (Matthew 16:23; Luke 22:53; John 12:31-32;
path Christ took could be summed up in his own words.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he
who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). To
translate the saying into more literal English:
“Everyone who raises himself will be lowered, and he
who lowers himself will be raised.”
principle was applied to Christ’s death and
resurrection in the Philippians 2 passage that we
considered at the beginning of the last chapter. The
new Adam, the Son of God, humbled himself in obedience
to the point of death. This self-humbling, this
self-lowering, resulted in an exaltation, a rising. Because
“he humbled himself and became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross, therefore God has
highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which
is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every
knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the
earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is
Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians
Hebrew idiom the word “lowering” or “going down” can
refer to defeat, just as “exaltation” or “going up”
can refer to victory. Christ’s death on the cross was
a going down to go up. It was a defeat that resulted
in victory, a falling in battle that resulted in
rising in triumph. Christ’s path followed his own
paradoxical instruction: the way to go up is to go
down. It had to in order to overcome the fallenness of
this chapter we are going to look at Christ’s victory
over the enemies of the human race, a victory that was
accomplished through lowering himself or humbling
himself. In one way we have already done that in the
last chapter. The chief enemy of the human race is
sin. Christ defeated sin definitively in his own
person by keeping the commandments to the end, at the
cost of his own life. He did so through the humility
of obedience and service. He defeated sin, in other
words, by never sinning.
as most if not all of us experience, there is more to
sin than simply some action we do or do not do. There
seems to be a power behind sin, a power that makes it
difficult not to act disobediently and transgress
God’s commandments. Externally, as Scripture tells us,
that power comes from Satan and from “this world”,
this place of exile, this house of bondage we live in
that makes it hard for us to serve God. Internally,
that power is the “weakness of the flesh” that makes
us prey to death. Together “the world, the flesh and
the devil” (Ephesians 2:1-3) determine much of what
happens to the fallen human race and produce the
pattern of sin we have already observed.
defeated sin itself, but he also defeated those
spiritual forces that hold human beings enslaved to
sin. He defeated Satan and death in his own person and
so put himself in the position to defeat Satan and
death by freeing other human beings from sin and
death. He won this victory by following the
paradoxical principle of going down to go up. Christ
humbled himself, let himself be put down in defeat to
win the victory over the main enemies of the human
race. He let himself lose to Satan in order to win
over him. He let himself be overcome by the world in
order to overcome the world (John 16:33). He let
himself be put to death in order to defeat death.
is a chapter about the victory of Christ – on the
cross itself. It is probably most natural for us to
speak about a victory when someone obtains the results
of the struggle – when an army is driven away or a
city conquered. Similarly, it is natural to speak of a
redemption when a slave is actually freed from an
oppressive master and comes into the possession of a
good master. We therefore most naturally connect
Christ’s victory with the resurrection and redemption
with the point at which human beings are freed from
we sometimes speak of victory when “the tide has
turned” and the war is “now in our hands”, and so we
speak of the victory on the cross and redemption
through the cross. When we do, we express the truth
that the sufferings and death on the cross made the
victory of the resurrection and our redemption
possible. Christ’s resurrection to glory and our
redemption from bondage would not have occurred if
Christ had not died the way he did. Even more, once he
had died, the resurrection and our redemption were
assured. The obstacle had been taken away. Now God’s
plan could unfold in and through Christ the Lord.
therefore concerns the way Christ’s humility led to
spiritual victory because it led to God’s action on
his behalf. To gain insight into the paradox of
Christ’s statement about going down to go up, we must
insert “by God” into it. He was probably using the
Jewish form of reverential speech that talks about
God’s actions by using the passive form and not
mentioning God directly. For us, the statement would
convey its meaning more clearly if it were phrased:
“Everyone who raises himself will be lowered by God,
and everyone who lowers himself will be raised by
God.” Jesus’ statement is not a mere generalization
from ordinary human experience. To state more fully
what he said, the key to spiritual victory over the
fallenness of this world is the action of God and the
way to bring about that action is submission to God
and his plan.
conflict Christ faced was a moral and therefore
internal one, but Christ had an external opponent. He
did not only have to deal with desires or tendencies
inside himself that might lead him to wrong choices.
He was dealing with a being outside himself leading
him to sin. He was encountering Satan.
modern people think of Satan’s activity in human life,
what often comes to mind is possession. From time to
time we hear about dramatic exorcisms, attempted
liberations from the mysterious control a demonic
force has over an individual. Or some, most commonly
Christians, think more of Satan’s activity as special
influences of evil spirits or “holds” that such
spirits can have upon people, holds that need to be
broken by a process of “deliverance”. Others associate
Satan with curses, hexes, spells, and malign and
hidden influences that come from witchcraft, voodoo,
these, however, are only special works of the devil,
not what he is mainly about. When John says, “The
reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the
works of the devil,” the context makes clear that “the
works of the devil” are committing sin. In regard to
the human race, Satan is mainly interested in getting
people to sin.
Satan is behind what we have been calling the sin problem. Since what God commands is unqualifiedly good, sin is moral evil. Satan is behind the moral evil of the universe because he himself has become morally corrupt and passes on his own way of life. But he is also behind the moral evil of the universe in a further way. He attempts to get human beings to choose moral evil so that they sin, that is, enter into disobedience to God.
the leader of a rebellion against God, entices human
beings to disobey God as a method of joining them to
his own kingdom. His strategy is similar to the way
modern governments sometimes win over spies or
traitors. They first get them to commit a crime so
that the traitors have a personal interest in being
free of the authority that would punish them if
existence of the organized rebellion that is the
kingdom of Satan is not always clearly recognized.
Keeping it hidden works to his advantage. As a result,
sins that he is trying to bring human beings to commit
often do not look like sins. As Paul puts it, “Satan
disguises himself as an angel of light,” and “his
servants also disguise themselves as servants of
righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Sin can
appear to be humanitarian or philanthropic. Agents of
evil can be disciplined and self-controlled, even
courteous and affable. If the result of their actions,
however, is to take human beings away from honoring
and obeying God, they are advancing the kingdom of
Satan and ultimately furthering evil.
New Testament writings present Satan and demonic
forces as waging a fight for control of the human
race. New Testament passages about warfare and
fighting in the Christian life do not refer, for the
most part at least, to physical combat. They refer to
a moral or ethical combat. Behind sin, in the common
New Testament view, lies not just human weakness and
ignorance, nor simply human perversity, but something
more than human.
are not contending against flesh and blood” (Ephesians
6:12), said Paul about opposition to the Christian
message. We are not just contending with the human
forces we can see. We are confronting evil spiritual
forces as well. We are, in fact, confronting “the
wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). We are up
against a struggle designed to lead us either to give
up serving God or, at least, to turn to disobedience
struggle is primarily conducted by deceit, temptation,
and unacknowledged influences working upon us. Satan
is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). In this age, his
main tactics are persuasion to sin, what we might call
propaganda. As we know, such propaganda is often most
effective when it is least overt.
is, however, another important truth about Satan’s
power: he seems not only to have influence in this
world but also authority. The New Testament writings
speak of the work of redemption as freeing people from
Satan’s power or authority (Acts 26:18) or delivering
them from the kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13).
Christ even spoke of Satan as the ruler of this world
(John 12:31). Paul especially spoke of the greater
evil spirits in words that indicate they have ruling
power. They are principalities and powers, thrones and
dominions, world rulers of this present darkness
(Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16).
rule seems to be real, but there is no indication in
the New Testament that it is just or lawful. He is a
usurper. God, however, seems to respect his rule and
allow it to continue. He clearly does not allow it
because he wants what Satan wants. He allows it
because he lets those who rebel from him conduct their
own affairs in the way they choose. As Paul indicates,
that is in itself penal because a life of sin leads
people into destructive habits and inevitably leads to
death (Romans 1:12-22). That death is not just
physical but spiritual as well, separation from God
and loss of true life. Those who die in such a state
go down to the place of the dead and there find
themselves under the rule of Satan. He is most justly
not the ruler of earth but the ruler of the nether
regions, of hell, of those who live in separation from
Satan is the ruler of hell, in this age he is also the
ruler of this world, of the current state of human
affairs. Through the fall, he has obtained dominion
over human beings, even before their final death,
because they are spiritually already dead. Human
beings who choose sin rather than God de facto choose
to have Satan as their ruler. By that choice, they
leave the blessing and protection that come from being
in God’s kingdom and find themselves in a world of
Satan’s making. The consequences of sin, therefore,
include subjection to the rule of Satan and other
From God’s point of view, allowing Satan sway over fallen human beings is just. After all, they chose him and believed his message. Moreover, it was only fitting that sin should have such consequences. The obedience God teaches is obedience to what makes heaven possible – love of him and love of one another. A life of ingratitude and rebellion toward one’s Creator, a life of loving oneself first, in itself creates hellish conditions.
is it strange that those who choose to turn away from
God find themselves under a ruler who turns out to be
a tyrant. A ruler of such a place, such a kingdom, is
like what he rules. Satan is a being of malice and
that malice shapes the way he rules.
God’s point of view, Satan’s authority is something
like that of a jailer. A jailer would not have
authority over anyone if there were no crimes. His
authority comes into existence because of the crime of
those he rules. In a similar way, where slavery
functions legally as a way of dealing with insolvent
debtors, slave masters would have no authority over
anyone if they did not fall into debt they could not
repay. Satan is a kind of penal slave master who
acquires dominion over his subjects because of their
debts, their debts due to sin. Since he himself
induced them to contract those debts, they also can be
seen as his captives, but they became captives by
their own decision.
the company stores in mining towns during early
capitalist exploitation, the control Satan gained was
accomplished with a certain legality. He managed to
persuade Adam, after all, to choose to contract the
debt of sin. Human beings are held by a certain legal
justice, no matter how great the malice with which
their captor acted. God, then, has been faced with the
captivity of his creatures to a ruler who would not
give them up freely and so had to be defeated.
Nonetheless, their captor also had a certain claim in
justice that had to be dealt with properly. Simple
force would not do.
The Personal Struggle.
for this war of liberation that Christ came. His
sufferings and death issuing in resurrection were a
battle, the turning point of the war for the soul of
the human race. As Colossians 2:15 tells us, the cross
was the place where Christ “disarmed the
principalities and powers”. There he triumphed over
not often view the crucifixion as a victory. One
current of popular devotion, in fact, makes the cross
seem like a great misfortune that was simply reversed
by the resurrection. Nonetheless, the New Testament
contains many passages where the crucifixion is seen
as a combat with Satan from which Christ emerges
fact, when the sufferings and death of Christ are seen
in that light, we can more easily see them precisely
as redemption. On the cross, Christ was delivering
human beings from an oppressive enslaving force, one
from which they could not free themselves, and to
deliver them, he needed to win a moral victory.
the last day of his life, we find Christ in the garden
of Gethsemane, in a situation very similar to the
temptation. The Gospel of Matthew describes it this
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples,
Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them,
My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed,
My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter,
So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed,
My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.
And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.
Then he came to the disciples and said to them,
Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand. - Matthew 26:36-46
fact that Christ is in a garden is probably
typologically significant. He is the new Adam
encountering Satan in a garden like paradise. But
Gethsemane is a garden of grief in the middle of the
fallen world rather than a garden of delight in the
world as it was created.
is going through what is often described as “the agony
in the garden”. When we hear the word “agony” we
primarily think of pain or suffering. That is an
aspect of what Christ went through, but the word in
origin means a struggle or a contest like a wrestling
match. The “agony” in the garden refers to Christ’s
combat, his “death struggle”.
though Satan is not explicitly mentioned, Jesus is
there in combat with him. The three times Christ
returns to prayer are probably connected to the three
times he had to undergo temptation by Satan in the
desert. If that is so, “the agony” is something of a
repeat of the temptation. The scene in the garden may
be itself an encounter with Satan. Or it may be a
preparation for the real struggle with Satan on the
cross when Jesus was given over to the power of
darkness (Luke 22:53) – just as the temptation in the
wilderness was a preparation for the struggle with
Satan that was his public ministry. Perhaps it was
both at the same time.
the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan has the initiative. He
wants to turn back the initial incursion of the Son of
God. He intends to do so primarily by working through
the Jewish and Roman leaders.
the wilderness Satan tempted Christ to use the power
he had for his own worldly success. He tempted Christ
to set up a kingdom over this world, an empire that
would embrace “all the kingdoms of the world”. Satan
no doubt made such an endeavor seem good. If Christ
actually controlled the entire world, could he not see
to it that the human race would live in a better way?
The encounter with Satan, however, was a test as to
whether Christ would turn aside from the path on which
his Father had set him.
the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ faced a different
type of temptation to turn aside. If events continued
on their present course, he would go to his death the
next day. He knew he would face crucifixion, the death
reserved for insurrectionists, those claiming to be
messiahs and seeking to establish a Jewish kingdom
independent of the Romans.
knew what crucifixion was like. The Romans crucified
people on the roads entering cities so that the sight
would deter others from committing similar crimes.
Crucifixion was a cruel, degrading death, deliberately
made to be a torture. Moreover, such a death would
involve the humiliation of being an apparently failed
messiah. It would be a seeming defeat at the hands of
the very ones he had challenged – the worldly
authorities and behind them the ruler of this world,
Satan himself. It was no doubt such a death that was
before Christ’s eyes in the Garden of Gethsemane.
he was still free. Instead of staying at the garden
where Judas and the temple police would find him,
Christ could take the road that passed Gethsemane away
from, rather than toward, Jerusalem. He could then
escape across the Jordan to safety. The temptation he
faced in the garden was the temptation not to die, not
to lay down his life, and therefore not to obey his
Father in the face of great suffering.
Christ prayed to his Father, he was troubled by fear
and sorrowful at what lay ahead. Yet he also knew why
he would have to undergo such a death. He had come to
serve, to give his life as a ransom for the many.
Christ had come, as he had just told his disciples, to
pour out his blood for many so that they could be part
of the new covenant and receive forgiveness for their
sins. He “must” suffer and die. His Father had given
him a command to do so in order that those who believe
in him should not perish but have eternal life.
was free not to die – only too free. That freedom was
probably itself the source of the testing. When we
have no choice, there is not as much of a struggle to
endure suffering. We usually swallow what we have to
take with some measure of resignation. When we could
get out of a difficult situation but believe we should
undergo it, then we face a much more difficult test.
Jesus faced such a test in Gethsemane.
victory of Christ was expressed in the prayer, “Not my
will, but yours be done.” In praying such a prayer,
Christ rejected the course of action any human would
have wanted to take, and instead accepted the full
purpose of God. That prayer was probably a plea for
help to go through what faced him. It was, however, a
willing acceptance of God’s will and a desire to see
other human beings served as a result of what he would
do. In the Gospel of John, in a scene that corresponds
to the agony in the garden, Christ expressed the same
willingness to do the will of God, “Now is my soul
troubled. And what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from
this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this
hour. Father, glorify thy name” (John 12:27-28).
Losing to Win.
Christ then began what is sometimes called “his
passion”. “Passion” can mean “suffering” and here
refers to the suffering Christ knew he must undergo
for the salvation of human beings from their sins. His
passion was an ordeal involving a true humiliation,
but one that he went through with a great deal of
self-mastery and personal dignity. Christ knew what he
was about because he had made a decision in
Gethsemane. He died well, in a way fitting for an
Gospel of John records the last words of Christ on the
cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). By these words
he did not simply mean that his sufferings were over
and now he would die. He also meant that he had
completed the task for which he came. His words
registered victory rather than defeat. Christ had
succeeded in putting aside “my will”, his own human
desire that recoiled from such an ordeal, and had
instead embraced “your will”, his Father’s plan for
the redemption of the human race. He had been obedient
to death. The Son of God had therefore succeeded in
dying in such a way that his sufferings and death
could be a payment for the redemption of human beings.
the death of Christ, Satan was defeated. As the Letter
to the Hebrews states the point,
We see Jesus, who for a little while was
made lower than the angels…so that by the grace of God
he might taste death for every one… He…partook of the
same nature [as those he was to save], that through
death he might destroy him who has the power of death,
that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through
fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.
only was Satan defeated but so were all those who
share in his rule. Colossians says,
made [you] alive… having forgiven us all our trespasses,
having canceled the bond which stood against us with its
legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the
cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and
made a public example of them, triumphing over them in
it [RSV: him].
passages speak about Christ’s death as a defeat of
Satan. The first says he “destroyed” Satan, although
that translation is misleading because it seems to
imply that Satan went out of existence after Christ’s
death. The word in this context rather indicates that
Satan lost his ability to inflict death, spiritual,
eternal death, on the “many sons” who belonged to
Christ (Heb 2:10-13). Once Christ died, Satan did not
lose all power over the human race, nor all power to
inflict death. He did, however, lose his ability to
hold in bondage those who belonged to Christ. That
power was destroyed by what Christ did. Christ “tasted
death”, that is, underwent death for a short period of
time, so that other human beings would not have to
swallow the poison of death, that is, die eternally.
Colossians passage provides an explanation for why
that was. On the cross the debt due to sin was
canceled and we were forgiven our trespasses. As a
result, Satan’s power due to our indebtedness to the
punishment of sin was taken away. His power can no
longer affect those who are “in Christ” (Colossians
2:10-12). The death of Christ on the cross was the
greatest defeat Satan suffered, the reversal of the
great victory he won when he induced Adam to fall.
Christ fought and defeated Satan, clearly he did not
defeat him by physical force. He was “crucified in
weakness” (2 Corinthians 13:4), in what looked like a
defeat from a human perspective. He was humiliated in
the eyes of all, treated like a great criminal,
apparently ending his life as a failed messiah. And
yet, in fact, he was winning a great victory.
way of fighting was paradoxical. To fight, he refused
to fight. He refused to defend himself, not so that he
could be a pacifist but so that he could be a
sacrificial Lamb set apart to be slain. He
deliberately chose to “endure the shame” of defeat
(Hebrews 12:2) in the confidence that his very defeat
would be victory, that his very lowering would be a
the eyes of a fallen world, such a way of fighting
makes no sense. It only makes sense from a heavenly
perspective, which allows for the Messiah to make his
life an offering to overcome sin. As Augustine put it
in his Confessions
(10, 43), addressing God the Father: “For our sake he
became in your sight both victor and victim — victor,
indeed, because he was victim.”
the same time, Satan, who looked like he was achieving
his greatest victory, was undergoing defeat. In the
words of many Christian writers, he “overreached
himself”. He was like a commander who seems to be
winning a battle and charges deep into the ranks of
his enemy –
only to find that he has fallen into a trap and is
surrounded with no hope of escape.
the very moment Satan seemed to be achieving his
greatest triumph, he was being most completely
defeated. Because the human race was under the
sentence of death as a consequence of the fall, he
could have put anyone else to death with justice.
Instead, Satan put to death the sinless Son of God,
the one who was truly innocent, and who therefore did
not deserve to undergo the penal consequences of sin.
Christ’s death consequently could be an expiation for
the sins of others. Satan went too far and so produced
the one event which would deprive him of his hold over
the whole human race.
Satan know what he was doing? How could he have
allowed this to happen? The answer seems to be that he
did not know what he was doing. As Paul put it, “None
of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they
had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”
(1 Corinthians 2:8). Ignatius of Antioch, a man who
lived in the time of the apostles, described Satan’s
ignorance this way: “Now, Mary’s virginity and her
giving birth escaped the notice of the prince of this
world, as did the Lord’s death” (Ephesians, 19,1). Leo
the Great (died A.D. 460) stated it this way, “And in
order that he might set the human race free from the
bonds of deadly transgression, He hid the power of His
majesty from the raging devil, and opposed him with
our frail and humble nature” (Sermon LXII,
seemed to understand enough to know that Jesus was the
Messiah and the Son of God in the sense in which kings
of Israel were sons of God. But he had defeated
would-be messiahs and kings of Israel before. He did
not seem to reckon with the fact that this King was
God’s Son in a more than human way. Satan did not seem
to understand the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1
Corinthians 2:7), that is, God’s plan to restore the
human race to a glorified life that only became
obvious with the resurrection.
was tricked – not tricked in a mean way, but outwitted
by a plan conceived in divine wisdom. Perhaps even
more accurately, he was outwitted by his own pride.
Satan was so set on his own exaltation and dominion
that he could not imagine the willingness of his
divine adversary to lower himself to the complete
humiliation of giving his life for the sake of his
creatures. He had no way of reckoning on the humility
A Trial of Justice. The
crucifixion was a contest of justice between God and
Satan. Traditionally the Book of Job has been used to
provide a perspective on the sufferings of Christ. It
is now often overlooked in teaching on the
crucifixion, but nonetheless it is still illuminating.
Christian teachers throughout the centuries have seen
Job himself as a type of Christ. The Book of Job
narrates a contest between God and Satan. God is
holding court as the King and Judge of human affairs.
Satan comes before God in the role of “adversary”,
something like a prosecuting attorney. He enters into
debate with God, because if he can establish his case
as just or righteous, he can get his way. God is
willing to argue, because he is only willing to reign
in justice or righteousness and because he wants it to
be seen clearly that justice is being done.
points out Job, a blameless man who fears God and
refuses to do evil. In God’s view, Job is the example
of a man who proves that sin is not all-powerful and
that righteousness can prevail. Satan’s reply to God
is, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” He is making the
claim, in other words, that Job does not serve God
because he truly is a servant of God. Rather, Job
serves God because he gets what he wants from doing
so. He is merely a hireling. He was, so to speak,
bribed by God to behave. Implied in Satan’s position
is the claim that no human being serves God for the
sake of serving God.
know, God allowed Satan to afflict Job, depriving him
of every human good, and although Job complained, he
remained steadfastly righteous. Job’s endurance was a
reply to Satan, an imperfect one but a reply
nonetheless. God’s full reply to Satan, however, did
not come in the Book of Job. It came in Christ, the
truly righteous servant of God. It came in the way
Christ underwent “the afflictions of Job” in his
sufferings and death. In his crucifixion, Christ was
God’s response to Satan. His death showed God’s
justice in a way the world and Satan could see (cf.
crucifixion is God’s counter-statement to Satan’s most
fundamental accusations against the human race. It is
first of all a statement that the human race is
capable of being what God asks it to be. Christ
underwent the sufferings of Job, not for personal
reward but for the sake of the glory of his Father. He
had nothing to gain personally. After all, he began
with heavenly glory in the presence of God (John 17:5;
rich, Christ impoverished himself for the sake of
others and therefore for the sake of God who sent him
to serve them (2 Corinthians 8:9). He went through
sufferings great enough to make human life seem
valueless, and he did so willingly to the end in order
to accomplish his mission. He showed that human nature
could keep the commandments of God. In so doing he
victoriously refuted Satan’s accusation.
more, the very path of the crucifixion and of the
redemption is a counter-statement to Satan. In the way
Christ died, he lowered or humbled himself. He
voluntarily underwent the humiliation of defeat and
degradation as a criminal. As a result he offered his
Father an act of humility for the redemption of
others. This was not only a fitting sacrifice in
atonement but also a stunning counter-statement to the
pride with which Satan fell, and which he taught to
Adam and Eve to induce them to fall.
the Gospel of John, Christ describes his “lifting up”
as the judgment of Satan, “the ruler of this world”
(John 16:11; 12:31). “Judgment” here means
“condemnation”. His statement probably does not mean
that Satan was personally condemned at that point for
his rebellion against God. Rather Christ is referring
to the way in which Satan is deprived of his power. He
is condemned the way a corrupt governor might be
removed from office or the way a defeated king who had
usurped his power might be deprived of his authority.
the crucifixion of Christ, Satan lost his rule or
power over those members of the human race who would
choose to belong to Christ. But when he was deprived
of that position, Satan was deprived in full justice.
God pointed to his Son and said, “See my servant. He
was obedient and faithful to death. You are without
excuse, as are all who have chosen your path. You
could have obeyed. Had you obeyed, you would not have
lived in constant humiliation but rather in glory, as
he will. You deserve to have no power over human
beings, and so you will have none over those who come
to my Son to be set free from you.”
The Humility of the Redeemer
states this truth in various ways. “Christ suffered
for you, leaving you an example, that you should
follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). “Have the same
orientation [RSV: this mind] among yourselves which is
yours in Christ Jesus who…humbled himself and became
obedient unto death, even death on a cross”
(Philippians 2:5, 8). “Walk in love, as Christ loved
us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and
sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). “For I have given
you an example, that you also should do as I have done
to you” (John 13:15). “Take up [your] cross and follow
me” (Matthew 16:24).
are to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Yet if we
do not understand what this means, imitating Christ
could get us into a great deal of trouble. It does not
mean imitating him in his power or authority, claiming
to be king and messiah, relating to others as their
lord. Denouncing people the way Christ denounced the
Pharisees, for instance, may be appropriate under
certain circumstances when we have an authorization
from God similar to the one Christ had. It is not,
however, supposed to be something we do whenever we
come across someone not behaving well simply because
we want to follow Christ’s example.
look at all the passages in which we are urged to
imitate Christ, we find that they concern his
sufferings and death. We
are called to imitate him in his lowliness or
humility, not in his messiah-ship, or his divinity, or
his exaltation. We are to imitate him in the way he
chose to go down in order to go up.
again we could make a mistake, less dangerous than the
previous one but distorting nonetheless. We could
decide that imitating Christ in his sufferings was the
key to handling all circumstances in life. We could
“open not our mouths”, never reproving wrong or
explaining ourselves when falsely accused. We could
become pacifists simply because Christ told his
disciples in Gethsemane not to use the sword to defend
responses, based on words that were given in a
particular situation, may be good responses in similar
situations (such as those of persecution by lawful
authority) on the basis of the imitation of Christ. We
can see such an application in Peter’s exhortation to
slaves with masters who mistreat them (1 Peter
2:18-25). But Christ’s approach to his passion is not
a universal rule for handling every situation. This
was demonstrated by his own previous conduct, when he
himself “went after” the scribes and Pharisees and
other ruling authorities (e.g., Matthew 23), rather
than “opening not his mouth”.
are most especially called to imitate Christ’s
humility in the readiness to undergo sufferings for
the kingdom of God. We are called to willingly undergo
loss of reputation, loss of possessions, physical
harm, and even death because of our faithfulness to
God. The summons to take up our cross and follow
Christ is the summons to follow a master who provokes
opposition from the kingdom of darkness and a fallen
world – but who steadfastly refuses to give up obeying
his Father because of that opposition.
are, however, also called to imitate Christ more
broadly – in the way he loved God and neighbor. We are
to have the servant-love Christ manifested in the way
of the cross. He humbled himself to become a servant.
As a servant, he was obedient to God and he gave his
life to serve those his Father sent him to. He loved
points us away from making our own good and our own
glory our aim. To be sure, when we are humble, we do
not lose our desire for happiness or excellence. In
fact, God intends them for the human race. Christ came
to bring us to glory (Hebrews 2:10). But the way to go
up is to go down. God does not put our glorification
into our own hands. Our fallenness means that we
cannot seek our own glory and fully seek the good of
others at the same time. We need to correct for the
self-centered tendencies of our fallen nature. God’s
plan, therefore, is that we please him by loving
others as Christ loved us, and leave our glorification
to him. The way up is the way of reliance on God.
our human fallenness has been completely overcome in
the glorified life, loving others as ourselves may be
easy, even effortless. In this life, however, there
will always be resistance to overcome, both internal
and external. In this life, there will always be
personal cost. We will have to choose to suffer losses
to live consistently for the welfare of others. In no
other way can the fallen world be overcome in our own
lives in this age. That is why the new covenant
reformulation (the reformulation for disciples of
Christ) of the second great commandment is “love one
another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). That
reformulation does not change what we are asked to do.
Rather, it describes the only path that will allow us
to do what we are asked to do: going down to go up,
suffering defeat to achieve victory, dying to live.
would have been important for human beings even if
they had not fallen. Adam and Eve would have had to
show humility towards God by obedient submission and
by gratefully receiving his gifts and blessings as his
creatures. They would have had to show humility
towards one another by daily servant-love. That
humility would have made it possible for human life to
reflect the glory of God.
for the new Adam, humility inevitably involved
humiliation – personal suffering, defeat, and death.
These are not in themselves God’s desire or purpose
for the human race. Rather, they are the necessary way
for anyone who fulfills God’s purpose and keeps his
commandments to succeed at living a godly life in a
fallen world, a world dominated by sin, Satan, and
path of the cross understood as the path of love is a
model of the purpose of human life, a model of the
kind of love God wants human beings to live for all
eternity. The path of the cross understood as the path
of suffering is a model of the means to that end, a
model of the way to love in this fallen world. Tragic
as it may seem, in a fallen world the only way to
truly love is to go through suffering.
path of the cross is also a path of faith and hope in
God. It is not exactly a human, earthly strategy.
Humble, humiliated service and death is not the normal
way great earthly victories come about. Only when we
recognize that God and his action is the key to
overcoming the fallen state of the human race can we
follow Christ’s path of humility, and only when God
acts is that path of humility redemptive and
victorious. Therefore, that path can only be followed
by having faith and hope in God because of what God
did in Christ. As First Peter explains: “Through him
you have confidence in God, who raised him from the
dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope
are in God” (1 Peter 1:21).
of his divinity we tend not to think of Christ as
someone who needed faith and hope. But his path of
humiliation to exaltation could only be taken in faith
and hope. I once had the experience of watching a
neophyte learn hang gliding. We were on the top of a
cliff and I overheard him being instructed. I heard
the veteran say that the way to soar aloft was to jump
off the cliff. For me that meant plunging to the rocks
below. When I looked at the neophyte with his eyes
gazing downward over the cliff, and his face turning
whiter and whiter, I was sure that was what he thought
the instructions amounted to as well.
turned out, whatever his instructor had told him
worked. The young hang glider jumped off the cliff and
began to soar. But I was convinced that no matter how
sure I was that jumping off the cliff was the way to
fly, I would have “sweated blood” if I were to try it.
worse would have been knowing that the way to soar was
not only to jump off, but in fact to crash on the
rocks and die in pain a few hours later with the
assurance that I would then wake up, find myself free
to soar wherever I wished whenever I wished, and
experience an indescribable joy and gladness that I
had done what I did. Even if I was sure of what I had
to do, my human nature could not have accepted it
Divine though he was, Christ’s human nature was “like ours in all things except sin”. He was able to take the way down, to suffer and die in great humiliation. But it was very costly. And it was a step he could not have taken without reliance upon his Father.
. For passages which speak about Christ’s death as a combat with or victory over Satan and his kingdom, see Appendix One.
. For a list of passages which speak about Christ’s death as a moral example to be imitated as well as passages which speak about our sharing in Christ’s sufferings as a way of following him, see Appendix One.
This article is excerpted from chapter 8 of Steve Clark’s Book, Redeemer: Understanding the Meaning of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, copyright © 1992, 2014. Used with permission.
Steve Clark is a founder and former president of the Sword of the Spirit, a noted author of numerous books and articles, and a frequent speaker.
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