In part three we saw several dramatic illustrations of how God can meet us through the cross at the point of our need. Whatever it is that is separating us from life, the God that is revealed on the cross has overcome that barrier through the cross. Christus Victor is not just about our individual stories however, but of a much larger story of God triumphing over everything that could separate us from him. A story of a cosmic victory over evil where Jesus Christ emerges as Lord of all of life. The illustrations in part three are examples of how our stories can become part of that larger story of God redeeming all of creation. In this section we will be looking at that larger story. God and man are not the sole players in this drama, there is also the power of sin, death, the devil which must be overcome on the cross.
Satan (whose name means literally "adversary" or "accuser") has taken humanity hostage. Jesus has come to pay a ransom in
order to liberate us from Satan's dominion (Mt 20:28). This is classic Christus Victor, that
is, the way in which the church Fathers understood the cross. Here the image is
not of appeasing the demands of justice, but of a tyrant demanding appeasement
who must be overcome.The one who demands an appeasement is not God
or even his justice, but the Accuser, the Satan. The false gods of
Condemnation, Guilt, Legalism, Self-Hatred, and Abuse are the unmerciful
taskmasters and judges who will not let go of their hold on us. The Accuser,
the Father of Lies, the Condemner, is the one who demands satisfaction. To the
extent that we have internalised the "god of this world", our own
"internal critic" is the one who will not forgive us, who constantly speaks
condemnation in our ear. The "Accuser" inside will not allow love in.
could God love someone as sinful as you!?" Through internalizing this inner judge, a
person in an abusive and dehumanizing situation actually comes to see
themselves as deserving of abuse and condemnation. "You are
worthless trash. This is all your fault" This is not only true for the victims of
oppression, but equally true for the criminal who through their own
destructive, cruel, and selfish behaviour has sown the seeds of their own
destruction and finds themselves consequently hated and condemned by others.
Once they can take responsibility and face what they have done, they too hear
the voice of condemnation and judgement – of the Accuser who whispers "You can never
change, you're rotten down to core. Why fight it?" Both the victim of abuse and the
criminal here are prisoners to Sin and Death. Both - either through their own
hurtfulness or through the hurtfulness of others – are now trapped in the
world's vicious circle of reaping and sowing, of hurting and being hurt. They
are captives in their minds.
The image of Satan here is not of an independently evil being as in Dualism, but of a fallen Angel. Evil in the biblical sense is always a good thing that has fallen from its original purpose and become twisted and warped. The more potential a thing has for good, the more harm it can cause if it turns bad. Families for instance are meant to be the safe and loving places where we learn to love ourselves and others, but when twisted by sin they can be a profoundly damaging and abusive environment leaving lifelong scars. So the very things that have enslaved were originally good things that have become warped and twisted. Precisely because it began as good thing, we trust its authority in our lives and are thus taken captive by it. Conscience can turn to condemnation, fidelity twists itself into repression, morality becomes legalism. Paul speaks about how the Law, a good thing which was intended to bring life, actually brought him death and condemnation when instead of pointing him to God it became an end in itself, a replacement for God. Similar to Jesus' analogy of ransom, Paul compares what Christ has done to that of purchasing the freedom of a slave from a relentless taskmaster. He speaks of how he had become "sold as a slave to sin" by the Law, but that grace "set him free" (cf Rom 7:14 & 8:2). Does this mean that the Law is itself bad? Paul asks. No, rather Paul had twisted the Law into something it was never meant to be, and through sin this good thing had become something oppressive and hurtful (cf Rom 7:7-14)
For this reason Scripture does not merely speak of "appeasing" this rebel tyrant through the ransom of the cross (as if God was blackmailed by Satan) but ultimately of the cross conquering and triumphing over Sin, Death, and the Devil. Jesus described his work in terms of a "ransom" being paid to Satan, but there is a trick to this ransom - like in Aikido where the attacker is thrown by the force of their own blow, through the cross, condemnation and judgement are "appeased" but in that very action they are defeated and made subject to Christ. Paul applies this principle to his own particular case of being enslaved by the Law saying that not only did he die to the Law that had enslaved him (Rom 7:4), but that the Law itself was nailed to the cross as well (Col 2:14). As we die with Christ we die to what has killed us and thus are freed of its power over us. We say to guilt or pride or self-hatred or fear "I do not belong to you any more". We are freed from death and come under Christ's rule, but also the Law (along with all power authority and rule in heaven and on earth) itself was conquered and brought under the rule of Christ. Just as we must come under Christ's rule, so also must judgement, condemnation, and the Law and all of life be subjected to Christ. The cross means Condemnation and Death were overcome. Christ is victor.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. (Rev 12:10)
God's response to fallen humanity is not to give up on us, but to redeem and restore us back into our proper place inside of his kingdom. In the same way the Law, conscience, and the host of other things that have - like us - become fallen and hurtful are not to be declared bad and thrown away, but are in need of being reformed and redeemed. They are to be taken out of their hurtful and enslaving idolatrous positions above God and brought under God's rule. Instead of dominating us they are now to serve us and point us to God. On our own we are trapped on the treadmill of hurting and being hurt, but grace breaks into that world and places us, and the very Laws that had condemned us, under the reign of Christ; redeeming and restoring us both to the place where we belong inside God's kingdom.
Christ's work is for the "reconciliation
of all things in heaven and on earth" (Col 1:20).While Satisfaction-Doctrine only focuses on
humanity appeasing judgement, Christus Victor is about putting all of
life under the Lordship of Christ. The Law was meant not to enslave us, but
to point us to a relationship with God, to serve us. In the paradigm of liberation the redemption is
not only for us but for all of life. We are redeemed but so are the Laws and
systems and rules. Judgement is not ultimately what needs to be appeased, (as if
God was subject to it), but what we are liberated from by Christ and what needs
itself to be subjected to Christ. Christ' kingdom is a higher rule than that of
the "god of this world". You are no longer under the Law of sin and
death, but under the higher Law of the Spirit of God characterized by grace (cf Rom 8:1-17).
We have been exploring the concept of "appeasing" from the perspective of the paradigm of liberation. It is important to stress though that the word "appeasement" in not found in scripture, rather Jesus speaks of a "ransom". These two images of appeasement vs. ransom are fundamentally different. In appeasement the image is of a legal fine that he court demands which we cannot afford. So a merciful third party (in this case God) pays it for us. In this scenario it is the court who has a rightful claim on the fine and we who are in the wrong. In contrast to this the image of ransom is of someone wrongfully taking a hostage and demanding payment. When the ransom is paid it is not because the tyrant has a legitimate claim on a reward. On the contrary, the reason the payment is made is because God cares for the welfare and freedom of the hostages. Another way to think of this we also find in Scripture is of a person sold into slavery. God comes and buys our freedom from what has taken us captive – legalism, lust, pride, hate, etc. Paul speaks of the law enslaving him. Again the slave master does not deserve the money. Human trafficking is extraordinarily evil. God buys our freedom because he cares about us and wants to liberate us from the system that has brought us death.
To the extent that we have internalised the "internal judge" in our lives we are the one who demands payment. We are the ones who will not allow ourselves to be forgiven without a price, without pain. So God pays that price not because we are right to demand it, but because God wants to break us out of that "mind of death" and loves us so much that he is willing to endure suffering to see us set free. That means that what needs to be reformed is both ourselves as well as our twisted understanding of justice. We need to redefine our identity, how we see ourselves, and what justice is about, not based on the old system that has enslaved us and brought us death but based on God's way of seeing that brings life. Both we and our values and concepts of justice must bow before Christ. It is not only we, but also the system of judgement and death that also must bow before Christ. Jesus not only paid a ransom to the devil, but also to us. In so doing he conquered us and the devil, sin, death, judgement, and law. All of life is restored to its rightful place under Christ's rule of love.
practical example of this is of the dynamic of a person's trust in an abusive
environment. A friend of mine was in an abusive church environment
where the leaders abused their authority to oppressively control the lives of
the people. It was very hurtful and the "inner judge" in my friend
set off warning bells that said "look out this is wrong, don't trust them".
This was a good thing in her that was there to protect her. Because of it she
left that church. But there is still a lot of damage in her because of it that
she is trying to work though. Her ability to trust and hope at all is very
hurt. So now even though she is in healthy caring relationships, she finds it
nearly impossible to open herself up, to believe in herself, to trust God and
let love in. Why? Because there is this voice in her head that still says
"don't trust. You'll just get hurt". And so she is paralyzed. She is a
captive. The "inner judge" who before had protected her has become a
tyrant that will not let love in.
Jesus understood his ministry of healing and forgiving and casting out demons all in the context of liberating people from the grip of Satan. Describing sickness as being "bound by Satan" and "tormented". He described his task not in the terms of paying a sacrifice but in terms of liberating those in captivity, healing the blind, releasing those in prison. The central metaphor he chose to describe his death was not one of paying a penalty to the legal courts, but of ransom – a term from the ancient slave market where a payment is paid to release humans held in captivity. What this implies is that sin is not merely a matter of our choice, but that the power of sin holds us in its grip. The work of Christ on the cross is not merely of forgiving us (which God did before the cross) but of breaking sin's very real power and dominion over our lives.
A second image from Scripture is redemption. This is a particularly powerful image because it implies not merely being bought, but taking something that is considered to be used up and worthless and making it valuable and whole again. Jesus continually demonstrated this in the lives of those who came to him, the lepers and prostitutes, those who had been declared worthless and rejected and unworthy were transformed, made clean and whole again in God's embrace. Again the picture is not merely of sin being paid for in a legal sense, but of a life that was crushed by the debilitating effects of sin being healed and made new and whole again.
Satisfaction Doctrine says that God cannot simply forgive and forget. The reasoning being a legal-social one: if God would simply ignore sin then we would think that it does not matter, so there needs to be a price paid so that we can see sin is bad. It is true that God cannot simply ignore sin, but this reasoning misses the point: the reason he cannot ignore sin is that sin really is bad. Simply paying a fine does not change that. If sin is a sickness God cannot in love simply ignore someone who is tormented by it. If sin is bondage God cannot simply walk past us in our captivity and look away. If sin is hurting others a loving and just God cannot simply act like this does not matter. The healing of our soul needs to take place, hearts need to be changed. God cannot simply ignore our sin, he must heal and redeem us. And this is precisely how we see Jesus respond to sin when he comes to earth. Jesus does not come telling us that we need to pay a price so that God can forgive us. Rather he comes declaring war on injustice, oppression, and evil and the weapons he uses to combat this "kingdom of Satan" are acts of mercy – embracing the rejected, forgiving the condemned, confronting oppression, healing the sick, and freeing those bound by Satan. What we have here is a major paradigm shift. The way that Jesus thinks of salvation is not in the terms of appeasement, but in terms of liberation. As we will see in the next section Jesus' understanding of salvation as liberation traces its roots back to the central defining narrative of the Hebrew people - the Exodus.
The Messianic Hope
Satisfaction-Doctrine explains the cross by beginning with the temple and the Law and reasoning that God required a legal sacrifice. As we have seen though in the previous sections, the New Testament declares quite strongly that neither the Law nor the temple in themselves were ever meant as the center point, rather both were meant to point us towards a relationship with God. The Law was intended to show us "the way of love through the Spirit" and the temple and sacrifices were there to bring us close to God, to take us "behind the veil".
Just as we have looked at Satisfaction-Doctrine in relation to the Old Testament in the previous section, this section will present the biblical roots in the Old Testament for Christus Victor. We will begin by exploring the messianic hope from a Jewish perspective. We will then compare that with Jesus' ministry, and finally we will look at Satisfaction-Doctrine and Christus Victor as they apply to these roots working through some of the issues involved.
The central defining meta-narrative of the Jewish people is the Exodus. The Exodus symbolized the Jewish hope of a return from exile into God's reign bringing with it justice and restoration. It was the story through which the Jews understood who they were, who God was, and made sense of their world: They were a people who belonged to a God who had miraculously led them into freedom. Their hope was that he would again bring them out of exile and into the reign of God. This is not just one theme among many in the Jewish story - it is the Jewish story. It is the central defining event of the Old Testament from which everything else draws. It is echoed throughout the Jewish scripture as the Psalmists and Prophets cry out to God for justice and liberation. Continually the people remembered the time of the Exodus where God had freed his people against impossible odds from under the hand of oppression and looked for the God of the Exodus to free them from their trouble as well. The self-identity of the Jews throughout the entire Old Testament was one of a people longing to break free from oppression, of a people crying out for justice – for things to be made right. They were not just hoping for a ticket to heaven, they were hoping for the world to be set right, for an end to suffering and injustice.
A parallel in our world is the issue of suffering and injustice. We live in a world filled with broken lives and abusive relationships, we see on the nightly news images of war and starvation, genocide and terror and we cry out like the Psalmist "How long Lord? How long? Come set our world right! Pull us out of this mess!" This cry for justice and liberation is the central theme of the Prophets and the ground from which the Messianic hope sprang. The Messiah would come and set things right, restoring justice to the oppressed and forgotten. He would lead the people back from exile and into God's reign of justice and mercy. That is what the messianic hope is about.
At the time of Jesus the political climate had reached a boiling point. The Jews, even though they had returned to Jerusalem, still felt they were in exile because they lived under the oppressive pagan rule of Rome. Revolt and revolution was in the air. A bloody confrontation was immanent. The hope of the Messiah was the hope that one would come and overturn the oppressive rule of the ungodly and restore justice and God's reign in the world. Into the middle of this time ripe for revolution, to a people longing to be free, comes Jesus, healing the sick, forgiving sins, casting out demons, and proclaiming "Repent! The Kingdom of God is near!" (Mt 3:2 ).
Scholars across the board agree that the Kingdom of God was the central theme of Jesus’ ministry. By this we should not merely be thinking of Jesus' teaching, The Kingdom of God was above all something that Jesus demonstrated and embodied – it is seen in doing and being not just in talking. Through miracles of compassion Jesus tangibly showed the people that God was among them, reaching out to save. His parables served as commentary to these miracles connecting them to the Kingdom of God so the people would look to the source of this love - God. Jesus inaugurated his ministry directly connecting his work with the promise of God liberating his people out of exile by quoting from the prophet Isaiah:
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he
found the place where it is written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Lk 4:17-21)
This is what the kingdom was about: Jesus was coming to restore justice, to liberate the captives, and to bring in God's reign to rule in our lives and world. The time the people had been longing for had come. God had come among them to set the world right, to bring liberation and restoration. By the miracles of healing and compassion Jesus pointed the people towards the same God who had delivered his people through the Exodus.
When Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, it fit perfectly with what the Jewish people of his time had expected the messiah to do – to liberate the oppressed out of exile and restore God's rule of compassion and justice. Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God was tied to the Jewish messianic hope of a return from exile. At the same time though Jesus' Kingdom agenda was unlike any of the agendas of the other Jewish groups of the time because of his objectives and his methods, that is, how he defined the enemy, and the weapon he used in his revolution. The enemy he took on was not the Romans, but the very roots of oppression and suffering itself. The weapons he used was the way of self-sacrificing love. We now turn to look at the message of the Kingdom in detail:
The Kingdom of God
Christianity has tended to focus so much on individual salvation that it becomes divorced from any sense of social justice. Conversely, the Jews of Jesus time had become so focused on seeing salvation from their perspective of a return from exile that they had come to think of themselves as the "victims" and the Romans as the "evil ones". It had become an "us vs. them" thing. Jesus' Kingdom message returned the focus to a biblical model of salvation which entailed the responsibility of the individual to deal with the sin in their lives, but also of a need to seek social justice and reform in society. Salvation is not just a personal affair, nor is it merely a "social gospel", but is a total salvation both of our interior and exterior world. When God rules in our hearts this overflows into every area of out lives.
long as the focus of our blame is on some outside group, we can safely avoid
looking into our own hearts. This is equally true for us today. As they blamed
Rome, so we manage to blame all the evils of the world on the "evil
liberals", or on the "evil Fundamentalists", or on the
"evil Capitalists", or on the "evil terrorists" depending
on which side of the fence we are on. But when we do this we are all part of
the same game. Jesus by placing the focus on the "Kingdom of God"
vs. the "Kingdom of Satan" was getting to the roots of the system of oppression, power, and violence
that is behind all this blaming. His allegiance was not with any particular
race or religion or nation, but with those who by their action and hearts
showed that they belonged to God's Kingdom – that their lives reflected God's
values. And he called for people to turn away from buying into the game of
power and violence and instead to follow the agenda and way of God's Kingdom.
It was about confronting the very roots of evil in our world and in our hearts,
breaking free from its oppressive rule, and re-identifying ourselves with God's
way of true compassion and justice. This was highly confrontational to the
religious and political authorities of his time because it directly exposed them
and threatened their power base by empowering those oppressed by the corrupt
system – the poor, the sick, the unclean. So the first significant aspect of
Jesus' Kingdom message is its objective: instead of a purely political
liberation, Jesus sought to liberate people from oppression and evil itself - a
total revolution from the inside out.
The second significant characteristic of his Kingdom message are the methods he used to accomplish this: Most Jews expected the Kingdom to come through power and violence – through military force. The Messiah would overcome oppression and evil Hollywood style - by beating the snot out of the Romans. Jesus had a radically different agenda which was confrontational to theirs. His message of the Kingdom taught that when you take the way of oppression and destruction you only become what you hate. His revolution was much deeper. It was not just a change in ruler but a change in the rules.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies …If you love those who love you, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-44 &46-48)
Real victory is not about crushing your enemy, but about winning him over from the grip of evil – of breaking the vicious circle you are both caught in by reacting in the opposite spirit. If someone is arrogant respond with grace, if someone is panicked respond with calm, if someone is hostile respond with peace. The way of the Kingdom was not to try to overcome violence with more violence. Here there is merely a shift in power but the game stays the same. Rather Jesus taught us to "overcome evil with good" (cf. Romans 12:14-21). This is not just a shift in power but a redefinition of what power was about. Real greatness is not about having power over the small but about serving and valuing the small and the voiceless.
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven…The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 18:1-4 & 23:11-12)
These two factors set the Kingdom agenda of Jesus apart from the other movements of his time. It was a revolution that revolutionized the revolutionary. It was the way of loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, of losing to win, of dying to live. This way is so shockingly different from our worldly concepts of power and greatness that even many Christians today cannot conceive of this "strength in weakness". The wisdom of God seems foolishness to them. The fear is that loving one's enemies means being a passive doormat. In the false dichotomy of our worldly thinking we suppose that one either deals with things "like a man" through violence, or they stick their head in the sand as a passive coward. Jesus' Kingdom was about a third way. It is not about submitting to oppression but about actively combating and overcoming it with good. It is about breaking the back of evil with the power of love. We may think that we cannot do good to an evil man lest they think we approve of their evil deeds, but in God's economy it is precisely through pouring out of compassion and kindness that the power of evil over us is overcome and we are led to repentance. That is what forgiveness does. God loves us first, in the middle of our sin, and that undeserved embrace breaks the chains off of our heart and sends us to our knees in gratitude. As Christians we have experienced first hand how this kind of unmerited love has conquered our sinful hearts. While we were still God's enemies he loved us. We are witnesses to the power love of enemies has to overcome evil, and Jesus calls us to be ambassadors of this way now.
Many Jews of Jesus time expected the Messiah to overthrow their enemies through violence and force. Jesus showed quite clearly that this is not the way of the Kingdom but the way of the world. It is thus profoundly ironic that despite having the message of Jesus and the entire New Testament, despite knowing God's grace and redemption first hand, so many Christians still manage to think that when Jesus returns again that the way he will bring justice and redemption is through force and violence, like some outer space invader crashing through the clouds. We cannot fully imagine what a world of complete justice is like. We strain at the boundaries of thought and language to do so. But God has given us in Jesus a self-revelation of the nature and the way of that Kingdom in Jesus. Its nature is the nature of Jesus and its way is the way of Jesus. We need to learn to see the world and the Kingdom through the eyes of Jesus.
As stated previously, the most significant way in which Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom is not in what he said, but in what he did. All of the actions of his ministry were actions of liberation: He healed those who were afflicted and debilitated with disease, he freed those who were tormented by demonic oppression, he forgave those who were crushed with guilt, and though his fellowship with "sinners" he empowered those who were powerless by loving and accepting those the world and the religious authorities had rejected. What he said in his teachings and parables served to put these actions into perspective within the Kingdom, drawing people to connect what Jesus was doing with what their "Father in Heaven" was doing. Thus when Jesus touched the untouchables this meant God was touching them. It meant that God had come among them to seek and heal and liberate. This is why the Temple priests were so offended that Jesus associated and fellowshipped with "sinners" – and especially that he freely forgave them – because they understood that by his association he was saying that God was not rejecting them but loving them. And he was doing this outside of the temple sacrificial system. Jesus did this on a personal individual human level, but it was at the same time an extremely political statement because it meant that the people did not need to go through the temple system to get to God. Because of this the priests in their role as the gatekeepers of the temple's monopoly on franchised forgiveness were directly challenged in their authority by Jesus. Not only did Jesus not require any temple sacrifice to forgive people, he also forgave people in God's authority before the cross, not after. Thus the entire argument of God requiring an appeasement of sacrifice before he can justly forgive is shot down simply by looking at what Jesus does.
Satisfaction-Doctrine bases its Messianic understanding on the temple system, but Jesus did not connect his ministry to the corrupted temple system (which he took a whip to) but to the Passover meal commemorating the Exodus ( ). On the night before his crucifixion he shared the Passover meal with his disciples connecting the meaning of the elements of the bread and wine with himself "this is my body…this is my blood…Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). That is to say, when we remember what Jesus did, we should think of it in the terms of the Exodus, in the terms of God liberating his people.
Jesus came to liberate, to set the captives free, to break people out of the lies and trap of evil and hate, to empower people to take hold of their lives and turn towards the Kingdom of compassion, to bring the values of Heaven into our world. This is the heart of the Messianic idea of God sending his anointed one to liberate and restore. It is important to keep in focus that Jesus bringing in the Kingdom of God was not just about a new set of personal moral values, or a new way to deal with political reform (though we certainly are called to follow him in both of these), Jesus was not just a teacher with some radical and inspiring ideas about inner and outer reform, he was declaring war on suffering and oppression itself. He was declaring the coming of God's Kingdom on a total scale and its rightful rule in our lives and world.
We have seen that the overarching story, the meta-narrative that defined the Jews self-understanding and how they understood their world and God, was the messianic hope of being brought out of exile and into God’s reign of love and justice. This "Liberation theme" is not just something found in a few isolated proof-texts but is the overarching theme of the entire Old Testament. We have also seen that this Jewish messianic hope for liberation from oppression and restoration into God’s reign is the basis for Jesus’ message of the Kingdom. Christus Victor, with its apocalyptic imagery of God triumphing over sin death and the devil, likewise fits into this classical Jewish understanding of the Messiah liberating the people from the dominion of evil and oppression. This is not surprising since Christus Victor originated out of a first century Jewish context, as opposed to Satisfaction-Doctrine, which originated out of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. The two worldviews from which these theories spring are completely different ones, the first being Jewish the second being Latin.
The paradigm of Satisfaction-Doctrine is the judicial concept of penance, whereas the paradigm of the Jewish messianic hope of Jesus' kingdom message and of Christus Victor is one of liberation. These two respective frameworks of penance or liberation form the lens through which everything else is understood. In the Latin paradigm of penance the reason the Messiah came was to pay a penalty. In the Jewish paradigm of liberation the reason the Messiah came was to liberate and restore. In the paradigm of penance the reason the Messiah needed to be sinless is to present a perfect offering. In paradigm of liberation the reason the Messiah needed to be sinless is to present a model of God’s heart (his nature) and values (his Kingdom). In the paradigm of penance the reason the Messiah had to suffer is to appease authority – to do penance. In the paradigm of liberation the reason the Messiah had to suffer is to free us from the grip of false authority – to liberate us from sin, death, and the devil. In other words: Jesus died standing up for love. The chart below diagrams these two paradigms and how we can perceive the same information differently depending on which lens we view it through.
Why did the messiah come?
Why was the Messiah was sinless?
Why did the Messiah have to suffer?
Where is the culmination of the messianic work?
Paradigm of Penance
To pay penalty so we can be justly forgiven
To present a perfect offering
To appease authority
Focus on cross where penalty was paid
Paradigm of Liberation
To liberate us from the hold of sin and restore us into the Kingdom
To model the values of the Kingdom
To liberate from false authority
Focus on resurrection where sin and death were overcome
If we want to understand what the Biblical writers meant by the concepts of salvation and atonement and sacrifice and messiah, we need to understand their worldview and way of thinking rather than projecting the worldview of the Middle Ages onto what they were saying. We need to think in the same paradigm they did – the paradigm of liberation.
What stands out in Satisfaction-Doctrine’s portrait of the Old Testament's need for a Messiah is that it is a perspective revolving around the Catholic idea of penance that was firmly rejected by Martin Luther and the reformers as being a salvation by works. It seems strange then that the reformers having rejected the concept of penance and salvation byworks would later retain a view of the cross that is rooted in this very concept. Luther was right to reject the idea of penance as unbiblical. Gustaf Aulen argues that Luther himself had a view of the cross closer to Christus Victor, but the reformers who followed Luther were not consequent in rejecting the view of Satisfaction-Doctrine that was rooted in this framework of penance.
Penance and appeasement are completely unbiblical concepts. God has never intended for people to come to him through a performance system. As we have seen in the previous section on the purpose of the Law, the Law and Judaism were never about performance and earning God’s approval. That is not and never has been what the Law was about. Following the Law of love – living God’s way – is a result of being in a relationship with God. Because we belong to the King we live like King's kids, not to earn love but because we are loved. Satisfaction-Doctrine revolves around the idea that justice must be satisfied. There must be a payment for, an earning of, forgiveness which man must provide. From a legal standpoint this seems logical, the court needs someone to pay the fine in order to balance its books. But this is not mercy, it is accounting. This legal paradigm is not scriptural, neither does it reflect the heart of the Law, nor does it reflect the nature of God that Jesus reveals. Forgiveness is not something that is deserved, grace is a gift. God's mercy is so incredible precisely because it was not earned or bought but given undeserved out of God's heart of compassion
We now turn to take a deeper look at what the sufferings of Christ mean in light of the understanding of suffering as self-sacrificing love. Jesus himself says, “How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ (Messiah) have to suffer all these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:25-27). Judging by all the times that the prophet Isaiah is quoted by the writers of the Gospels in relation to Jesus as the Messiah, it seems clear that they looked to Isaiah as a major source for these messianic prophesies. Of all the messianic prophesies quoted in the Gospels from Isaiah, half of them are from one chapter: Isaiah 53. The theme of the Suffering servant is found throughout all of Isaiah, the main emphasis of this particular chapter though is to describe the shocking way that the servant will bring salvation to God's people and the world. The prelude to this begins with chapter 52 verses 13-15:
See, my servant will prosper
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness (Isa 52:13-14)
Here Isaiah says, Look at the Servant now, lifted up to the highest place of honor! But it wasn't always that way. At first everyone was appalled by him. He was beaten down so low we could hardly tell he was still human.
so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.(Isa 52:15)
But the powerful will clap their hands over their mouths and fall silent in shock at what they will see: What was unheard of they will see. What they never imagined will be right there in front of them.
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (53:1)
Who can accept this way? Who would have ever thought that this is the form God's salvation would take? Who can comprehend it? here Isaiah has set the stage for what is to come. He is preparing us for a shock. The way of God's saving power is not at all what we have expected. As if to say "Forget what you think you know and listen to this…"
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (v2)
Insignificant, unnoticeable, a little weed in a dry field. The Servant didn't have the usual attributes that we think of as being pretty or impressive, and so we didn't notice the beauty there. Like a wildflower in the forest, that we either walked past or trampled over him. We didn't recognize that there was a treasure among us and we treated it like trash.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (v3)
He suffers, but we do not see, and do not care. He is the stranger in the night that we turn away. He is the least of these. "I was hungry and you gave me nothing, I was in need and you sent me away". Like Job's friends, we figured it was his own fault and "considered him stricken by God".
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted. (v4)
He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. We have here the image of one carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, bearing in himself the suffering of a whole planet. A man broken - for us. Truly, he was kind to us! He carried our sorrows and mended our wounds. But we did not recognize this kindness. We didn't see it. He led the life of a servant, and because of that we thought he was nothing.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed (v5)
Here we come to a point of realization: We thought it was the servant who was to blame, but now we see that it is because of us that he is suffering. He was pierced because of my sins.
Many of you have probably heard the interpretation of this verse that the Satisfaction-Doctrine offers, i.e. the piercing and punishing of Christ as something that God ordered in order to be appeased. But as we will see in the following verses the suffering described here is anything but just. It is deeply tragic and unfair. The paradigm of legal appeasement simply does not fit with the tragic image of a miscarriage of justice that Isaiah is painting. I would like to suggest that we think therefore of the Suffering of the Servant in a paradigm more fitting to the text – in the context of self-sacrificing love. To illustrate this consider the following scenario:
A Wiccan girl is surrounded by an angry mob. Ugly faces spit self-righteous accusations and threats. "we don’t want you in our town, witch!" The mood is violent and volatile. The crowd presses nearer. Someone shoves the girl and knocks her to the ground. Suddenly a man steps between her and the crowd and says "if you want to hurt her you'll have to go through me first". The man turns to her and says "Go now, run!" She begins to run and as she looks around she sees the man buried in a sea of fists and boots. He is motionless but they go on hitting him. Later as the girl goes to visit him in the hospital she finds his once gentle face beaten beyond recognition.
Some of us may find ourselves reflected in that girl – kicked down by hatred and abuse, made to feel worthless; treated like garbage until we start to believe we really are. He suffered the punishment meant for us. He suffered standing up for the voiceless. Others may see themselves present in the self-righteous mob – in the middle of a ruthless and ugly crowd, like Paul "we were there seeing it all and approving". He was pierced because of our hate. hatred is what made him suffer. Hatred may have overtaken us like the girl or it may have consumed us like the mob. In either case what is needed is for us to be liberated out of this world of hate. Salvation in this context is about being liberated out of that reign of hatred and into God's Kingdom of compassion. What it is not about is God in the role of the mob demanding punishment. Most of all because as we shall see below in the next verse, the punishment that the Servant endures is undeserved and unjust – a miscarriage of justice not its fulfilment. The Servant did not suffer because God demanded a punishment, but because hatred did.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away. (v7-8a)
"By oppression and judgement he was taken away". We get the sense here that we are witness to something tragic, something terribly unfair, and indeed we should. This was not a picture of justice, but of a travesty of justice. This was not about the "fulfilment of the righteous requirement of the Law" as Satisfaction-Doctrine would like to think, but about oppression and judgement crushing love. He was crushed by oppression and judgement, even though he was innocent, As the Servant stood up for the voiceless he incurred all the wrath of the System. Fear, hatred, and pride tore him apart. God let this wildflower be turned over to all the hatred and wrath of the world.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord 's will to crush him and cause him to suffer (v9-10a)
Even though it was not just and he had done nothing wrong, even so, it was God's plan? Why? Not because God wanted to see his beloved Son suffer, or to see anyone suffer but because suffering is the result of radically loving in the face of oppression. God and Jesus knew that as he stood up for the least against the powers of the world it would mean his death. And God asked him to do that, to care enough to be vulnerable. So Christ, scorning the cross, endured it for our sake. For the sake of love.
But how does this unjust suffering make things right? How does his suffering result in our healing? We have seen in the illustration of the girl and the mob how vicarious suffering for someone in need can save them - literally. But how does that suffering liberate the mob out of the hate they are consumed by? We can find some insight into this in the verse immediately following:
and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,
Here a comparison is drawn between the unjust suffering of the Servant and the rite of animal sacrifice for sins in the temple. When you see the slaughtered animal before you you are confronted with your own sin – that dead ram is you. It allows you to step back and take a look at yourself and what sin has done to you. In the same way, when "oppression and judgement" took Jesus away and stripped him naked as a common criminal "numbered among the transgressors" even though "he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth" the injustice of the System was exposed. By killing the one who was love, the mob had their own sin laid in front of them like the lamb on the alter. This is the principle of nonviolence. E Stanley Jones writes
"He would match his capacity to suffer against the others capacity to inflict suffering and there by expose injustice. His soul force against physical force… Passive resistance is actively resisting evil not by inflicting suffering but by taking suffering on oneself. The opponent strikes you on your cheek and you strike him on the heart by your amazing spiritual audacity in turning the other cheek. You wrest the offensive from him by refusing to take up his weapons"
The way of loving one's enemies, of caring for the forgotten, of self-sacrificing love characterizes Jesus' way. It is the picture not just of what he did on the cross, but of his entire life and witness, of who he was. It is a way that is diametrically opposed to the worldly understanding of power and force. It does not overcome the enemy by inflicting more suffering and oppression but by changing the game, by striking at the heart, taking on suffering and thus wining your opponent over to repentance. Christ's sacrifice was not only to rescue the afflicted, but to draw the afflicters to repentance as well. They too are under the dominion of hate and need to be set free from its grip. As the Church Father Irenæus writes
"The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil"
It is crucial in our attempt to understand the way of the Suffering Servant that we do not loose sight of the fact that Isaiah is presenting something to us here that is intended to be a shock. It is not meant to be reasonable and normal, but scandalous and jaw-dropping. The way of suffering is hard to grasp. It is something huge and wonderful. It cannot be understood in calculated legal theories. God pulls the rug out from under us with the cross and leaves us gasping for air turning our worldly concepts on their head and beginning a revolution in us. What seems at first to be weakness is the way of unremitting strength. What seems to be loss is the victory of God. If the cross does not knock the wind out of you, if it does not blow your mind, then you have not understood it.
We must never lose sight of how radical this Way is. This is not merely some system or principle, but who God is and how God works. Christ does not illustrate nonviolence, nonviolence illustrates Christ. We must go beyond grasping the principle and grasp the Person. It is not just a method but living and active power, rooted in creativity. It is a revelation of God's saving power – of grace in action on a cosmic scale. Christ embodies this Kingdom and through looking at the Suffering Servant in action we see God in action. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19). On the cross Christ reveals the suffering God.
After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied ;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities. (v10-11)
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong, (12)
Because of this servant-love God lifted Jesus up above all other names as Lord of the world. Not as some sort of prize to make up for the suffering, but because the way Jesus lived and embodied was the highest form of love. It is God's way. The Servant models who God is and how God acts. Thus God set up this way of the Servant as the model and the standard, as the height of humanity and the height of godliness.
The common Christian interpretation of the Suffering Servant is to see it as referring to Jesus. This is a view supported throughout the Gospels ( ) and by Jesus himself
It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors' ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment." (Luke 22:37. Jesus is referring here to Isaiah 53:12)
Yet throughout Isaiah we see the Servant identified as Israel
Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel.
I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. (Isaiah 44:21)
How do these two statements of Scripture work together? Throughout Isaiah we see that God has given his people a task to model God’s image and way to the world. They are to be “a light unto the world” reflecting God's image in their humanity, with God's Laws written on their hearts. God had given Israel a covenant to convey as a witness to the Nations reflecting to the whole world an understanding of who God truly is, and what it truly means to be human.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. (Isa 42:6-7)
This is not meant as a nationalistic statement of God favoring one nation of race above others, but rather that God has taken a people and showed them who he is and his ways, and they have been given the calling to model that to the world. They are to display to the world what it means to be truly human – made in the image of God and thus reflecting God’s nature. This is a parallel concept to the Body of Christ, the church, who is to model God’s nature and way to the world. Whether we are part the original branches or have been “grafted in” we have a calling as his People, a special task entrusted to us to be light and salt, to model Christ the image of God. Jesus picked up on the theme of Israel’s call to be a “light unto the Gentiles” in the Sermon on the Mount
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?… "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl… (Mt 5:13-15)
In other words Israel is truly Israel when it is modelling and reflecting God’s image as a light to the world. A Christian is truly a Christian when they are reflecting Christ. God has called us to reflect who he is, this is what makes us “his People” because by this we shown that we are representing him. At its core the image of the Suffering Servant is a model of God. It shows us a radical picture of who God is and how God saves. The reason that Jesus better embodies the Servant than either the righteous remnant of Israel or the body of Christ is because Jesus as the truly human person is the perfect reflection of who God is. What Isaiah sets before us in poetry, Jesus sets before us in a living breathing flesh and blood life. Through Isaiah, God paints a picture of His nature and way in a poem. Through Jesus, God paints a picture of His nature and way in a human life. The words of Isaiah have become Jesus “the Word made flesh” (Jn 1).
Ultimately the identity of the Servant is God. The Servant reveals who God is and how God saves. Therefore we should not end our focus on the person of Jesus, but rather let Jesus point us to who God is. God is the Servant. God is the one who comes to us in our need, in the middle of our grief. God is the one who enters into the place where the world is hurting and through taking on suffering himself, overcomes it. And God is the one who calls us to follow him in the way of servant-love. The way of the Servant is our way. We are called to imitate the nature and way of the Servant. God sent Jesus to model this way of self-sacrificing love, to model the Kingdom, and as citizens in God's Kingdom, if we are part of the vine (whether we are grafted in or the original branches), then we are to follow him in that same way. We are to take on the life of the Servant as well. We are to be Christ in a hurting world, salt and light.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Ro 12:1)
We should no longer see in the categories the world sees people in, and how we once saw the Servant, but learn to see ourselves and others through the eyes of Jesus. We are called again and again in scripture to “share in the sufferings if Christ”. Clearly the context in which this is said is not of us needing to appease God (as if Jesus' sacrifice was not enough), but to join Jesus in the way of self-sacrificing love. Throughout scripture we are called to join Christ in his sufferings
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 see also Ro 8:17; 2 Thes 1:5 ).
It is clear
in this context that the Apostles were not thinking of the suffering of Christ
as an appeasement, because if it were an appeasement, to "participate in
the sufferings of Christ" would in this paradigm conversely mean we should
continually perform acts of penance to appease God as well - we should
continually buy God's forgiveness. On the contrary, the "sufferings of
Christ" are to be understood not as an appeasement to God, but as a way of
life epitomized in Jesus which we are also to embody, aligning ourselves with
love and enduring suffering for the sake of love and justice. Jesus stood up
for love regardless of the cost. Taking on the "the sufferings and cross
of Christ" is to follow him in this way of self-sacrificing love.
The apostles "participated in the sufferings of Christ" to a degree that few of us westerners can imagine. They were thrown out of their homes and communities, put in jail, tortured and killed. They certainly have more right then we to speak of suffering for righteousness. And yet all of them considered Christ's suffering to be in a category apart from their own suffering. Why is it that they saw Christ's suffering as having more weight then their own? Why was the suffering of Christ unique? Because Jesus was God incarnate. Jesus is God's direct revelation of himself and his Kingdom. Through Christ God was himself talking on suffering, God was himself coming to serve and sacrifice for us with ramifications on a cosmic level. God was in Christ taking on the suffering of the world to bring liberation and redemption to the whole world, defeating death and sin and liberating humanity from its grip. This is the message of Christus Victor.
Christ died once and for all, opening up the way for us to follow him. He is the source, the root of our salvation, but also the one whose way and likeness we are to take on. We do this by denying ourselves and surrendering our lives to God’s reign, taking on the life of service and love that Jesus exemplified (Phil 2:4-8; 3:10) defending the oppressed and standing up for what is right (1 Pe 2:19; Ma 5:10) . In fact, Jesus assured his disciples that if they followed him in his way, it would surely lead to suffering (Jn 16:1-4) because the way of love is opposed to "the way of the world" (Jn 15:18-19) . In this world we will have trouble, but Jesus tells us that he has overcome the world. In the next section we will examine how the way of sacrifice that Jesus exemplified in his life and on the cross overcomes the world.
The Suffering God
Christ shows us God's heart for the poor and the oppressed and the abused. But if there are the oppressed and abused among us there must also be those among us who are the oppressors and abusers. Often the abuser is one who was themselves abused. It is relatively easy for us to identify with the victim. What is truly radical is that God loves his enemies. Christ did not only die for the oppressed, he died also for the oppressor. On the cross he not only took on the pain and suffering and wounds of the raped, but also took on the weight of sin and darkness of the rapist. God sees past the inhumanity of the one we must truly call "enemy" and out of his love gives up his life for them while they are still inhuman and an enemy of love so that they may become human again and be conquered by love.
girl I met at a retreat a few years back told me that she had had an abortion.
Even at the time she had doubts about it, but her mother had pressured her into
it. Now she carried a deep sense of grief inside her. When she had tried to
talk to her family about it they just pushed it aside telling her that she had
done nothing wrong. And she had been around Christians long enough and heard
them toss around words like "murderer" enough in casual conversation
about abortion to know that she could not open her heart to them either. So she
had nowhere to go with the grief. I asked her if she had anyone she could talk to
about it. She told me that this was the first time she had told anyone in the
five years since it had happened.
Her story is unfortunately typical of how our society tends to deal with guilt. We either deny it and push aside the feeling a person has, or we are so focused on the issues that we insensitively lash out on condemnation and judgement ignoring the person right in front of us. It is terrifying to face what is hateful and shameful in us. We want to run from our darkness and shut out our pain. But issues of guilt are even harder to face then our pain and doubt because we instinctively feel that to admit that what we did was bad is to admit that we are bad. The reality is that we all do things that are hurtful and things that are loving. That is who we are. Jesus desires to embrace us in the totality of who we are, but he can only do that if we will come to him with all of us, with our brokenness and our darkness. So God meets us at the cross, himself broken and condemned so that we need not fear.
On the cross God in Christ took on our suffering and took on our hatefulness. He was broken for us. He that was without sin became sin for us. Jesus experienced the terrible abandonment by the Father crying out "why have you forsaken me!?" And the Father too experienced the infinite grief of love suffering the loss of his Son and his fatherhood. For how can the Father be a father without a son? Yet right there at that point of loss and abandonment and the deep suffering of being godforsaken and accursed, at this point of utter despair as the skies above him turned black and the earth trembled, we see on that cross the truest picture of who God is. God was on that cross. As we look on the horror and ugliness of the crucifixion we see there the saving power and glory and beauty of God. As Jürgen Moltman writes:
"God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity".
What the cross reveals to us is not so much who we are but rather who God is. We knew before that we were broken and hurtful. But in the cross we see that God in his love suffers with us under the weight of our sin. And we see the scandalous way out of a rebel God: His strength is in weakness, his victory is in surrender. If we want to find our life we must lose it. In the cross God stoops down to meet and save broken humanity. When we have the courage to face and to own our darkness and brokenness we can meet God at the foot of that cross.
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NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
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