Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What was Jesus' purpose?

This is not a rhetorical question. It's one that I have been thinking about for a while now (seminary will do that to you) as I look at the different ways that the church views the finished work of Christ. Was His purpose:
1. To ransom us from the Devil's grasp (Christus Victor) as the hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel laments "...and ransom captive Israel"?

2. To satisfy God's need for justice by becoming our substitute (satisfaction or penal substitution) punishment?

3. To be an "exemplar" for us to call us, by virtue of his example, to obedience?

In some ways all of them are correct. None is complete, but two of the three have dominated Christian thought for a millennium each. The first, the Christus Victor, was dominant until the medieval era. The second, the satisfaction or penal substitution has held sway since then. But there is movement in the church back to the Christus Victor position, and it catches my eye. In my own life I have gone from Penal Substitution as my main view to that of Christus Victor as I have grown in the faith. I can't explain why, but it just seems to me that my early Christian days were so focused on sin and how awful it was, and how Jesus took that punishment for me.

But the Victor really rings true for me right now. Victor = Victory. Seems logical to me. Victory over what? Sin? Yes. Death? Yep. Bondage to the past, addictions etc? Sure thing. I see victory as what so many people need in this hurting world. Victory over fear. Victory over addictions. Victory over the past of abuse, hurts, losses. Victory that brings peace. Victory that stitches together the whole biblical narrative from beginning to end. Victory that liberates.

Jesus clearly spoke about the Kingdom of God during his time on earth. He also referred to Satan as the “prince” of the present age. His death and resurrection are God’s way of freeing humans from bondage to Satan. God has a history of rescuing his people from bondage or slavery. The Exodus and the numerous captivities in the prophetic era are examples. In Jesus, God came to once and for all end Satan’s dominion over the earth and over human beings. He did it through exorcisms, healings and raising the dead during his earthly ministry. The capstone was his own death and resurrection.

God is also a liberator throughout the Bible,. The Resurrection of Christ is his greatest act, because it allows for a new kingdom to take shape in territory formerly occupied by Satan. The kingdom of God is unfolding here on earth, led by the Risen Christ, and advancing against the very gates of Hell that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 16:18.

The Christus Victor view held sway in the early church for more than 1000 years until the satisfaction theory took hold. It is the unifying theme of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and cogently holds his teaching on the kingdom, as well as his healing, exorcism and other miracles together. It ties Jesus’ resurrection and death together. He could have died for us and paid the price. The Resurrection broke the back of Satan’s power throughout the Universe, not just here on earth.

This view does give Satan a great deal of airtime. But the centrality of the intervention of God into the affairs of man to free him from Satan’s bondage shows the compassion and love of God for us. Christ came to not manage sin by restraining Satan, but rather to mark the beginning of the end of Satan’s reign by conquering death, the one thing Satan’s deception ushered into the world. Adam’s fall brought death into the world, and Christ’s resurrection ended death’s dominion over us.

Given that Christ is Victor over sin and death, what do we need to let him have victory over in our lives? He has broken Satan's power over this world. We need to let him break Satan's grasp of things in our own lives. He has won. Use the victory Jesus won to bring victory in your own life.

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