Christus Victor and the Old Testament
CHRISTUS VICTOR AND THE OLD TESTAMENT
Until A.D. 1200, Christians around the world all saw the cross as liberating believers from darkness. After A.D. 1200, Roman Catholics added the idea that God’s wrath and justice were satisfied by our Lord’s suffering and torture. That view of the cross dominates Protestant theology, and it does so with several misunderstandings. To summarize the previous article in this series:
- The term “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” is a misnomer, because it implies that other views of the cross deny the substitutionary, sacrificial nature of our Lord’s death.
- Christus Victor disagrees with the Western claim (birthed by Thomas Aquinas) that God was satisfied by the torture of Jesus.
- Christus Victor says that God was satisfied by our Lord’s obedience (Rom 5:19), rather than by His torment.
- In Christus Victor, believers escape God’s wrath by being joined to Jesus’ death in baptism (Rom 6:4) and by being born again of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-6).
Since the New Testament never states the satisfaction-by-torture view of the cross, its supporters tend to rely on Old Testament passages to defend it. This second article therefore, explores the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and the fourth “Servant Song” of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 in light of Christus Victor.
“for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.” Lev 17:11 (NLT)
While the Old Covenant demanded sacrificial death for reconciliation to God, it never required torture. To the contrary, the Mosaic law protected animals from suffering (Ex. 20:10, 23:5-11; Deut. 22:4-7; 25:4). When the Levites slaughtered sacrifices, no prolonged method of death was given for more serious crimes, nor for more numerous crimes. The sacrifice simply needed to die.
The Levitical method of sacrifice was a single cut, intended to produce the quickest and most humane death. This method became known as “Shechita.” From Genesis 2:19-20 through Job 38:41 and into the New Testament teachings like Matthew 6:26, God shows His merciful love for animals, and never demands their suffering. A death was required by the Law, but torment was not required. Neither was God’s wrath or justice actually stated in the Old Testament to be satisfied by the deaths of lambs or goats. If God’s wrath and justice needed to be satisfied by our Lord’s pain, the Mosaic Law fails both to state and to illustrate such a need.
PUNISHED BY GOD?
After the Psalms, Isaiah is the book quoted most often in the New Testament, Isaiah 53 in particular. Two specific phrases from Isaiah 53 can appear to support the torture-satisfaction theory:
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4 NIV)
“But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief …” (Isaiah 53:10 NASB)
Isaiah 53:4 does not actually state that God afflicted His Servant. It instead presents a human misunderstanding: He indeed bore our suffering, but we thought that God was punishing Him. Christus Victor agrees that King Jesus suffered for us, as 1st Peter 2:21 plainly states. Yet Philippians 1:29 in the New American Standard also states, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Here, Paul does not say that God punishes us, much less that He punishes us to satisfy His wrath. Christ’s suffering for our sake does not necessarily mean that God actively punished Him or took satisfaction from said punishment, any more than our suffering for His sake implies God’s active punishment or satisfaction.
PLEASED TO CRUSH HIM
In Isaiah 53:10, many translations use the passive voice for the verb “please.” If the prophet truly writes that God “was pleased” to crush our Lord, then perhaps we could attribute this to the satisfaction of divine wrath and justice. The Hebrew of Isaiah 53:10 however, uses the verb “please” in the active voice: “the Lord desires to crush Him.” These are very different ideas, with one implying the satisfaction of God, and the other stating His intent. The Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah 53:10, which was translated by Jewish rabbis fluent in Hebrew, actually states the opposite:
“And the Lord desires to cleanse him from his blow.”
Isaiah makes it clear that Jesus suffered for us because of our sins, and the Mosaic sacrifices also make it clear that sin requires death. Scripture nowhere however, states that God’s wrath and/or justice were satisfied by Jesus’ sufferings. In fact, Paul goes so far as to draw a distinction between Jesus’ death and our liberation from wrath in Romans 5:9-10 “And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.” (emphases added)
OLD COVENANT VS NEW
Under the Old Covenant, even Abraham himself could only be “counted” righteous, as famously referenced in Romans 4: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” In the gospel of God’s kingdom, citizens of the the Anointed King are not just counted righteous, but made righteous through one Man’s obedience—just as surely as all were made rebels through one man’s disobedience:
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
The first Adam did not credit us as rebellious, but made us rebels. Our King not only defeated the rulers of darkness, He also defeated Adamic flesh by taking it into the grave and rising again, so that the Last Adam’s Spirit might be received by those who had received the first Adam’s flesh:
“That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
We were born as rebels, slaves of sin and subjects of wrath. Believers are reborn as obeyers, slaves of righteous, no longer subject to wrath. Scripture nowhere says that we are born again by believing that Jesus took our punishment. Rather: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” This word “Christ” means “Anointed,” God’s Anointed in Psalm 2, the King who conquers the world. If we believe that Jesus is the conquering King, we are born of His Spirit, no longer children of the flesh who are “children of disobedience,” and bearers of wrath, but children of God and of the Light.
SUFFERED ON OUR BEHALF
In the West, Christians tend to view the problem of sin primarily in terms of a crime that demands punishment. Yet Western courts of law offer both a penal code and a correctional system. In many cases, crimes are only met with penalties. I have paid my share of speeding tickets, but those tickets demanded penalty, not personal transformation. Our “corrections” system aims at transforming the criminal into a contributing member of society. Likewise, the cross is both penal (“for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die“) and correctional: “by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Jesus obediently suffered our death penalty, but He also provided for the ultimate correctional system—the second birth. What good would it do to only have our penalty met and then to remain criminals? As Romans 5:9-10 shows, we are not saved from God’s wrath through the Last Adam’s death, but through His life. We all received the first Adam’s flesh. Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed King of the world, receive the Last Adam’s Spirit. Therefore the Paul states:
“And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.” (1Cor 15:45-48 NKJV)
This Christus Victor, this royal conquest, was prophesied in the Old Testament. The Old Testament promised His victory over the ruler of this world in the proto-evangelion, in Psalm 2, and in Daniel 2:44. The Old Testament also promised His victory over Adamic flesh in Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:26-27. We have overcome and conquered, because He has overcome and conquered.
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” 1 Peter 3:18 (NASB)