Christus Victor, the greatest story ever told!
Alexander the Great used to sleep with a copy of Homer’s Iliad under his pillow. This was because he so revered the tales of courage and heroism it contained. He wanted to absorb the spirit of courage by osmosis during his sleep.
We should all figuratively put a copy of the Christus Victor story under our pillow. It tells the epic tale of what Jesus did for us during the three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Sleep on it, wake on it, dream on it, dwell on it. You might be surprised at what you absorb by osmosis— divine courage, a gladiator’s resolve, and an epic revelation of the hero-God we serve.
Christus Victor, aka The Ransom Theory of the Atonement, was the prevailing view of the early Church for the first several hundred years, and it needs to become so again.
At the outset, I realize that some see the Ransom Theory as separate and distinct from Christus Victor, but I see them as synergistic theories with a slightly different emphasis. The Ransom Theory focuses on Jesus offering Himself as a Ransom paid at the gates of Hell unto Satan, in return for which Satan released his hold on all humanity from the covenant of sin and death which we have all corporately entered into with the devil.
Christus Victor acknowledges the Ransom paid by Jesus as a type of “Trojan Horse offering,” but which in reality just allowed Jesus direct access to defang and disarm all the demonic powers. Simply put, Satan couldn’t handle the Ransom.
As the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for. The Ransom was more than Satan bargained for.
The huge Trojan Horse appeared to be a sign of abject surrender and obeisance by the Greeks to the power of their Trojan enemy, but in reality the Horse contained resourceful troops hidden within its belly who would soon escape and cause the gates of Troy to be forever breached FROM WITHIN.
So too, Jesus was a “cosmic Trojan Horse,” appearing to be a sign of abject surrender to the devil, but all the while containing within Him the power of an indestructible life to ultimately gut and conquer Satan’s Troy. Jesus was able to breach Hell’s gates from the inside!
Below is a great Christus Victor summation by Saint Augustine and answers the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?”
“If Christ had not been put to death, death would not have died. The devil was conquered by his own trophy of victory. The devil jumped for joy, when he seduced the first man, and cast him down to death.
By seducing the first man, he killed him; by killing the last man, he lost the first from his snare. The victory of our Lord Jesus Christ came when He rose again from the dead, and ascended into Heaven.
It was at this point that the text from the Book of Revelation was fulfilled: ‘The lion of the tribe of Judah has won the day’ (Revelation 5:5). The one who was slain as a lamb is now called a lion– a lion on account of His courage, a lamb on account of His innocence; a lion because He was unconquered; a lamb, because of His gentleness. By His death, the slain lamb has conquered the lion who goes around seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
The devil, on the other hand, is here called a lion for his savagery, rather than his bravery…. The devil jumped for joy when Christ died; and by the very death of Christ the devil was overcome: he took, as it were, the bait in the mousetrap. He rejoiced at Christ’s death, believing himself to be the commander of death. But that which caused his joy dangled the bait before him. The Lord’s cross was the devil’s mousetrap: the bait which caught him was the death of the Lord.”
~~Saint Augustine (Quoted by Alister E. McGrath in THEOLOGY: THE BASICS, 2nd edition, page 100, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 2008).
Christus Victor lays out an EPIC STORY, a heroic meta-narrative of Jesus’ Ransom and subsequent “Harrowing of Hell” from within.
Christus Victor focuses more on the story of Christ as a meta-narrative rather than a theological theory. Instead of supposedly sacrificing Himself to be killed BY the Father’s wrath toward us, as the prevalent Penal Atonement Theory claims, Christus Victor instead believes that Jesus presented Himself as a ransom paid TO the devil in order to break OUR “covenant of death” which had so stitched us into Satan’s clutches.
Isaiah 28:15-18 clearly explains that we have “made a covenant with death and with Hell,” but that the Lord declares that the death covenant shall be “disannulled, and our agreement with Hell not stand.”
But how? The Lord promises we will be saved because he will “lay in Zion a foundation of stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation,” which 1 Peter 2:6 identifies as our faith in Jesus. In other words, our faith in Jesus disannuls our covenant with Satan. And although Satan is not explicitly named in this Isaiah passage, Hebrews 2:14 informs us Satan “had the power of death,” not God.
Thus, the covenant of death is, by necessity, a covenant with Satan. Satan literally owned a part of our freewill which we had voluntarily delegated and defaulted to him when we partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan operates the death-causing spirit which rules in the knowledge of good and evil.
This is why the serpent was wrapped around that particular tree to begin with. “Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, Jesus also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-15.
Do you see? We were kidnapped by Satan, yet willingly so. He didn’t snatch us away. He lured us away. We willingly and devotedly followed our kidnapper, and followed, and followed. James 1:13-17 describes this dynamic of our being lured away by our own lust into then conceiving WITH Satan’s spirit to then give birth to sin. This is why John 8:44 and 1 John 3:8 both tell us that when we sin we are “OF our father the devil” and that it is “his lusts we are committing.”
The Stockholm Syndrome describes the sick psychological dynamic where the victim actually falls into toxic and codependent love with their kidnapper. These victims end up not wanting to leave their kidnapper. More than that, they refuse to leave their kidnapper because they are not WILLING.
So THIS is the Lord’s challenge. How does a non-coercive God save an unwilling victim who refuses to be saved? How can God save men that “they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will.” 2 Timothy 2:26. There was only one way– by offering SOMETHING to the captor in return for him releasing the prisoners’ from his control.
In this case, there was only one thing Satan would trade for his ownership of men— the life of Jesus! Satan wanted unhindered access to corrupt, crush, conquer and control God— well, either control Him or destroy Him.
We can clearly see these Satanic intentions in the wilderness temptations. Satan first sought to corrupt Jesus to misuse His power, then Satan sought to lure Jesus to come under his worldly control, and then Satan finally tried to trick Jesus into destroying Himself by jumping off the Temple. The bottom line is that Satan wanted full access to destroy Jesus’ body on the cross, to destroy Jesus’ soul in Hell, and to ultimately rule His Spirit in Heaven.
The Penal Atonement Theory sees it differently. This theory has the Heavenly Father angrily smiting Jesus both on the cross and in His subsequent three days of suffering in Hell. This theory says Jesus absorbed the Father’s killing wrath against us for our sin so that we could then be brought back into right relationship with Him. Satan has no significant place in this theory.
Christus Victor, by contrast, has Satanic forces smiting Jesus on the cross and in His subsequent three-day descent into Hell. Every fallen principality, fallen power, fallen throne, fallen ruler, fallen angel, as well as Satan himself ALL rushed to crush, torture and destroy Jesus when they saw Him nailed to the cross.
At the cross, for the first time, Satan’s kingdom had full access to attack and afflict Jesus unhindered by His righteous hedge of protection. Jesus willingly laid His soul on the chopping block for Satan to seize, incarcerate and torment in Hell.
In return, Satan had to release mankind from the covenant of death we willingly entered into with him. But things did not go as planned. The principalities and powers could NOT take Jesus down and out. They thought they could corrupt, crush and destroy Jesus totally— “operation annihilation” in other words.
But they failed. They took their best shot, and couldn’t do it. They shot their wad, and lost. They expended every bit of energy their murderous power could muster, but it was not enough.
For Jesus to descend into this enemy lair not only unarmed with His Spirit hedge, but also chained with all our soul-sins, is almost too horrible to contemplate. Jesus’ suffering in Hell for these three days is unimaginable, yet it is captured in the Messianic images of Psalms 18, 22, 31 and 69 (and several others).
These Psalms portray Jesus’ suffering for our sins in Hell, particularly when these passages all describe various aspects of the crucifixion. The Gospels in fact quote many of these verses as fulfilled prophecy. Psalm 22:1 and Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:13,16, 18 and Luke 23:34 and John 19:23-24; Psalm 31:5 and Luke 23:46; Psalm 69:21 and Matthew 27:34 are four such references, but there are many more. Psalm 18, in particular, describes on its face Jesus’ battle as the “sorrows of death and hell” and “the floods of ungodly men” compassed Him (verses 3 and 4).
C. H. Spurgeon commented on Psalm 18 as follows: “In poetical language, the psalmist describes experiencing Jehovah’s delivering power. Poetry has in her treasures no gem more lustrous than this sonnet. The sorrow, the cries, the descent of the Divine One, and the rescue of the afflicted are set to music worthy of the golden harps. The Messiah our Savior is, over and beyond David or any other believer, the main and chief subject of this Psalm. We have grown more certain that every line has its deepest and most profound fulfillment in Him.” Treasury of David, p. 110 (Nelson).
After having been literally flooded and attacked by all our sins for all time; after being tortured by demonic powers known allegorically as the “strong bulls of Bashan” (Ps. 22:12; Col. 2:15); after paying Satan’s ransom for every sin committed past, present and future; after all this, the price had been paid without Jesus sinning or being destroyed Himself. Jesus had the power of an indestructible life. His virtue was stronger than our cumulative sins.
We must see this crucial point. When Jesus was sinless upon the earth during His thirty-three years of natural life, no harvest of demonic destruction or sinful oppression was able to enter into His body-gate to afflict Him. “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” Jn. 14:30.
Yet, when He descended into Hell, His gates were voluntarily opened wide allowing all sinful destruction and demonic oppression to come into His soul like a flood. Yet, like a champion boxer, He would not go down! With His hands tied behind His back by our cords of sin, punch after demonic punch, claw after demonic claw buffeted His defenseless soul.
Millions, billions, trillions of blows struck, gored and mauled Him. Yet, He would not go down! He took the full brunt of ransom past, ransom present and ransom future. Yet, He would not go down!
He kept His focus during this hellish torment on two things – His covenant love for His Father and His covenant love for us.
When the ransom had been paid for all sins for all time, the cords started to loosen. “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” Acts 2:24.
Strength started to return – – covenant strength. The ransom had been paid! Now it was time for resurrection! And not just resurrection, but a swashbuckling military maneuver of derring-do where Jesus disarmed and defanged all demonic principalities and powers once and for all!
Below are the New Testament passages which tell the story of the ransom paid, the victory made and the triumphant parade.
“The Son of Man did not come to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28.
“The Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45.
“Christ Jesus…gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6.
“Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who did give himself for us, that he might ransom us from all lawlessness, and might purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:13-14. Young’s Literal Translation
“And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man…whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David saith concerning him…THOU WILT NOT LEAVE MY SOUL IN HADES, NETHER WILT THOU GIVE THY HOLY ONE TO SEE CORRUPTION…
Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David… he foreseeing ‘this’ spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that NEITHER WAS HE LEFT UNTO HADES , NOR DID HIS FLESH SEE CORRUPTION. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses.” Acts 2:21-36.
“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, And gave gifts unto men. Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that HE MIGHT FILL ALL THINGS.” Ephesians 4:8-10.
“And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, 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 him.” Colossians 2:13-15.
So, lets review. The “covenant of death” referred to in the Isaiah 28:15-18 passage discussed earlier was first made between Adam and Satan in the garden, a covenant confirmed by Adam when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had previously warned Adam that if he ate from that tree, he would then die in that very day.
And Adam did die— spiritually. He died to being wholehearted to God. He died to being able to walk and abide in the garden of full intercourse with God’s Spirit of love.
In the same way an adulterer dies to his wife when he becomes one flesh with another, Adamic mankind committed adultery with Satan’s spirit and has been in a continuous codependent love affair with him ever since.
Adam may have started the affair, but every generation of man since has fully ratified the affair by continuing in spiritual intercourse with Satan through abiding in fear and unbelief. Though some men are only engaged in this intercourse at the subconscious level, many others become consciously aware of this death covenant through the Law’s exposure of all men’s ungodliness. Still others are brought to awareness of this death covenant through Holy Spirit conviction. But once aware of the death covenant, the question becomes HOW to break it.
Here is the dilemma: whenever we commit spiritual or physical adultery, how do we thereafter recover that portion of our freewill devotion we have given to the other.
Until we do recover it, we are unable to be wholehearted in our devotion with our first love. We may try to make it up to our first love by acts of contrition, tears of regret and slavish obligation, but that totally masks the problem.
The real problem is that we freely gave a portion of our freewill devotion to another.
Part of our heart then went missing because another covenant relationship had been formed which had stolen something precious and needed from our first love. That precious pearl was wholeheartedness. Another interloping entity now actually owned a part of our freewill, and therefore we were rendered unable.
Obligation then replaces true love, condemnation replaces confidence, and shame replaces joy.
I think an overlooked part of the Christus Victor/ Ransom theory is that it incorporates the free will of men and angels. Satan had a claim on us, not because his power rivaled God because it clearly does NOT, but rather because we all have FREELY submitted ourselves to him through the misuse of our freewill.
The ransom was needed because of our right to freely select the spirit with which we have intercourse. Jesus was the price Satan demanded to break the spiritual contract/covenant of death Adam made, and which we all have ratified. The Father paid it to break our contract with the devil.
God originally gave man freedom with warnings attached. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was, in essence, a “warning buoy” that man should not “swim past” by misusing their freewill. To misuse their freewill by swimming past the warning buoy would ultimately result in their losing a portion of that freewill to another. Man violated those warnings and misused his freedom to enter into a contract/covenant of death with Satan. We willingly gave ourselves over to Satan’s dominion.
We spiritually divorced God and then married Satan’s spirit on a deep subconscious level which we are now only remotely aware of on a conscious level.
Jesus came to deliver us from our abusive husband/kidnapper. But, the problem was that we had all already given a portion of our freewill over to Satan when we had intercourse with his spirit. Satan possessed it as a freewill offering from us. God couldn’t just yank back that freedom from Satan without becoming coercive himself, something He will never do.
Without our entire freewill restored to us, we could never enter into a full relationship with God where we could wholeheartedly love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might. So Satan, as a Stockholm Syndrome type of kidnapper, had a portion of our freewill which we had freely given and that he now possessed and could use to block us from ever being wholehearted and whole-minded toward God. That was his bargaining chip with God.
God had to get Satan to FREELY release us of our covenant and give us back our capacity for wholehearted freewill.
Satan’s ransom price demanded was the life of Jesus. What then happened to Jesus at the Cross was Satan’s exercising his right to afflict, torment, oppress and destroy Jesus to the same extent WE had given him access to destroy US through our freewill offering to him.
Satan got his ransom price, but he wasn’t strong enough to handle and destroy Jesus. He tried, but Jesus’ goodness and virtue exceeded all Satanic power and access our sin had cumulatively given him. Satan’s ransom plan backfired.
Again, the famous Trojan Horse is a great analogy here which bears repeating. History tells us the Trojan Horse was a huge wooden horse, a symbolic tribute the enemy Greeks left in front of the Trojan gates to signify the Greek surrender. But, in reality, the Trojan Horse was full of hidden Greek soldiers waiting to plunder the enemy city once the gloating and unsuspecting Trojans pulled the Horse within the gates. As the Trojans slept after a raucous night of celebration, the Greek soldiers would slip out of the Horse. They would first open the gates to the city so that the rest of their army forces could enter the city. Then the Trojan enemy would be quickly subdued and thoroughly defeated.
Jesus is the Trojan Horse of apparent defeat presented by the Father to Satan as a ransom payment in exchange for Satan releasing our enslaved wills which we had freely yielded to him.
But, there was more to Jesus than met the eye, even Satan’s eye. Even in Jesus ‘ weakened state, Satan simply couldn’t destroy Him, couldn’t subvert Him, couldn’t convert Him, and couldn’t pervert Him.
Once again, as always, Satan underestimated the goodness of God, His valiant virtue, His invincible ideals and relentless resolve.
Satan simply got more than he could handle. It’s like the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.” Jesus’ heroic goodness was simply too much for Satan to deal with up close, even with the unfettered access our sins gave Satan to torture and terrorize Him. He took his best Satanic shot, and failed.
Jesus then was able to blow the doors off Hell from the inside and lead captivity captive in the biggest prison break of all time. He truly possessed and obliterated the gates of His cosmic enemy. Satan was deprived of the power of death and Hell once and for all.
One last point to remember. Jesus paid the blood “ransom” for us. Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6. “Ransoms” are paid to hostile kidnappers, not to loving Fathers. The Ransom Theory of the Atonement, which the early church favored, says Jesus paid the ransom to Satan to free us from the devil’s evil clutches.
Do you see? The Ransom was paid BY the Father, not TO the Father. We are worth everything to Him. He was willing to pay anything to win us back, even the precious blood of His flawless son. John 3:16.
Sometimes the first idea is the best idea. Christus Victor is the first and best idea which captures the scope and majesty of Jesus’ epic exploits at the cross.
Christus Victor! Keep it under your pillow! Keep it over your heart! Keep it on your tongue!