Concerning the cross, Paul wrote that God’s intent was “that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places … in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:10-11).
One dimension of this “rich variety” is rarely discussed in Christian circles today, but it played a vital role in the theology of the early church. In a nutshell, I’m referring to the fact that God actually outsmarted Satan and his legions with the result that they ultimately brought about their own demise. Paul wrote in another letter, “None of the rulers of this age understood [God’s secret wisdom], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8).
Perhaps blinded by their inability to understand love, even those demons who seemed to know who Jesus was could not understand why he had come to earth (Lk 8:21), an ignorance apparently shared by higher demonic powers (“rulers of this age”) as well. Since his early attempt in the desert to tempt Jesus into collaboration with his evil kingdom had failed miserably (See Matt 4), Satan, along with his rulers, apparently set about to seize what they thought was a moment of vulnerability and had Jesus crucified.
The greatest irony in all of history, however, is that Satan and his minions were all the while playing right into God’s hands, precisely when they thought they were striking a decisive blow against him. In a genius stroke of military planning, God seems to have tricked Satan into signing his own death warrant. The cross was God’s plan, but it was carried out by “the rulers,” and thanks to those foiled rulers, it brought about Christ’s, not Satan’s—victory.
It seems that God used Satan’s insatiable lust for more to take away what Satan had already acquired (his captives). The “foolishness” (1 Cor 1:18) of the cross thus made fools of God’s opponents and demonstrated God’s wisdom in liberating his children from their captivity.
This reading was the most popular view of the cross in the postapostolic church. Sometimes they called it the “fishhook theory,” because it portrayed Christ as “bait” that God used to “hook” Satan. God used Satan’s evil to bring about Satan’s own demise. This constitutes a central dimension of “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden.”
Because of this, God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13-14).
Satan has been defeated, and the sin that gave him authority over us has been canceled. Hence we have been “rescued” from one kingdom and transported into another. We have, in a word, been literally “saved” (Eph 2:5, 8).
And for this, we give thanks.
—Adapted from God at War, pages 255-261
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr.