We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded by your direct support for ReKnew and our vision. Please consider supporting this project.

temptation

The Cross and Cosmic Warfare

Since the time of Anselm in the 11th century, Western theology has focused almost all of its attention on the anthropological dimension of the atonement. In the most popular understanding, the chief thing that God was accomplishing on the cross was satisfying God’s perfect justice and thereby atoning for our sins. The work of the cross was centered on us.

While this is significant, I maintain that this anthropological aspect of Christ’s death and resurrection is rooted in something more fundamental and broad that God was aiming at: to defeat once and for all his cosmic archenemy, Satan, along with the other evil powers under his dominion.

In other words, while most tend to see the atonement primarily in terms of what was accomplished for humanity and view what it accomplished against Satan and evil powers as a byproduct, I espouse that the New Testament actually construes the relation between these two aspects of the cross in converse order. Christ’s victory on the cross is first a cosmic event—it defeats Satan.

The foundational reason Christ appeared was “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8), to disarm “the rulers and authorities” (Col 2:15), and to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil” (Heb 2;14). The consequence of this victory is that he is seated on his rightful throne, the whole cosmos is liberated from a tyrannical and destructive ruler, and humanity is delivered “from the power of darkness and transferred … into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13).

While Christ’s substitutionary death for sinful humans is central for understanding what Christ did for us, this dimension of Christ’s work is possible only because of the broader cosmic victory Christ won on the cross.

I believe that giving this cosmic perspective priority is crucial. I say this because it gives us a biblical understanding of evil. One of the features of Western thought that has most handicapped our efforts to reconcile the existence of evil with a belief in an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God is that we have tended to understand evil—and its solution of the cross—anthropologically and individualistically. Many theologians have traditionally explained cosmic evil be appealing to human wills alone, and have attempted to understand the significance of the cross by appealing to human salvation alone.

From a NT perspective, the existence of evil far outruns what many who appeal to human willing is capable of explaining. And in the same vein, the significance of Christ’s work on the cross far outruns what it accomplishes for human beings.

Within a warfare worldview, neither evil nor its cure is first and foremost about human beings at all. Rather, it is, primarily about free willing agents (something I label as “the powers” in my writings) whose cosmic power and influence dwarf the free agency of human beings.

The central means by which God defeated these powers was by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. The cross was a cosmic event that defeated the enemies of God, enthroned the Son of God, and thereby in principle liberated the whole cosmos from its bondage to an illegitimate evil ruler.

Contrary to the dominant understanding of the atonement, Jesus’ death and resurrection was not simply, or even primarily, about God reconciling humanity to himself, though this was part of it. Rather the cross accomplishes individual salvation and all else that pertains to it because it is first about God’s cosmic victory.

—Adapted from God at War, pages 240-249

Photo credit: Digital Sextant via Visual hunt / CC BY

Related Reading

Arbitrary Election

Micah J. Murray wrote a blog entitled Five Reasons I Reject Unconditional Election, which was a response to John Piper’s recent arguments for embracing unconditional election. If you’re looking for Scripture-based argumentation, you would do well to look elsewhere (as Micah freely suggests) but if you’re looking for the deep down, intuitive and honest gut stuff,…

How Can Salvation by Grace Involve Free Will?

How does salvation by grace work if people have free will? If salvation hinges on whether individuals choose to be saved or not, is salvation based on grace or works? If we have to choose for or against God, then doesn’t the credit for our salvation ultimately go to us? Along the same lines, doesn’t…

Angels and Spirits in a Secular World

This week, we’ve been thinking about why we should believe in a spiritual realm in a world shaped by secular thought. One argument that supports the belief that spirits are real is the oldest, most venerable, and most popular argument for this belief in the western intellectual tradition. In essence the argument runs as follows:…

What Does Spiritual Warfare Have To Do with the Cross?

Last week, we covered a few posts on the nature of the Atonement and the Christus Victor view. The following continues this theme, specifically looking the motif of spiritual warfare and how it relates to Christ’s work on the cross. This is an adaptation from Greg’s article in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views. …

Does God Still Heal?

In the ancient world Jesus was known first and foremost as an exorcist and a healer. These two activities are mentioned in every summary of Jesus’s ministry found in the Gospels. It’s common for Western Christians today to accept that infirmities (sickness, disease, injuries, disabilities and deformities) are part of God’s mysterious plan for their…

What Changed on the Cross? (podcast)

Greg talks the sin economy and if sin actually threatens God. Episode 473 The Interview: http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_CH_0473.mp3