November 5th, 2018
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ exist at the absolute core of the Christian faith. According to Christianity, these two events are central to the biblical narrative and to the course of history. All Christians agree that the death and resurrection of Jesus saves humanity from their sins and reconciles them back to God. However, the question in which there exists disagreement among believers is the question of “How?”. What exactly did Jesus accomplish through His death and resurrection that brought salvation to the world? Several possible answers to this question have been given through the course of church history. One of these answers is found in the view known as Christus Victor.
Christus Victor quite simply means “Christ the Victor”. This view argues that the death and resurrection of Christ brought salvation to humanity by defeating Satan, thereby liberating humanity from their bondage to sin and death.
From a biblical standpoint, the Christus Victor view of the atonement connects well with what we find in the Old Testament. The first Messianic prophecy locates itself all the way back in Genesis 3 directly after the Fall where God tells the serpent that “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15, NIV). This foreshadows the future victory of Jesus over the serpent, Satan, through His death and resurrection. Many scholars also argue that we find a foreshadowing of God’s salvation plan in the story of the Exodus. In the beginning of Exodus, the Hebrews exist as slaves under Pharaoh in Egypt. For 400 years they encounter injustice and oppression. Eventually God, through His power, defeats the evil powers that have held Israel in bondage and He brings the people out of the land of Egypt. This event anticipates the way in which Jesus, through His death and resurrection, defeats the powers of sin and Satan and brings us out of their “land” and out of bondage. Later, when the Israelites are suffering in the desert due to being attacked by snakes, Moses erects a pole holding up a bronze snake which then serves to free people from this calamity. Since snakes are often symbols used to represent sin and Satan, this too foreshadows Christ’s future victory over them. Jesus directly sees His own death in light of this story when He tells Nicodemus that “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14, NIV).
The Christus Victor view also connects well with what we find in the New Testament. The New Testament portrays Christ’s victory over Satan as the central aspect of His death and resurrection. John clearly states that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8, NIV). The writer of Hebrews makes it apparent that the reason that Jesus “shared in our humanity” was so that through His death on the cross, “He might break the power of Him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14, NIV). In Colossians, Paul tells the church that Christ “made a public spectacle” of the spiritual powers, “triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15, NIV). Writing to the church in Galatia, Paul says that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4, NIV).
A strong supporting argument for the Christus Victor view is that it unifies the whole ministry of Jesus found in the Gospel accounts. Christ’s ministry involved fighting and defeating the power of Satan through exorcising demons, healing people from disabilities and illnesses, and by speaking truth. We see that Jesus Himself saw this unity in His ministry when He tells the Pharisees to inform Herod that He will “keep on driving out demons and healing people… and on the third day I will reach my goal” (Luke 13:32, NIV). According to Jesus, His “goal”, referring to the atonement, forges a clear connection with His exorcisms and healings, both of which relate to setting people free from Satan.
It is also significant to note that the Christus Victor view strongly aligns itself with church tradition. Until the Satisfaction view espoused by St. Anselm became popular in the 11th century, for the first millennium the Christus Victor view, often expressed as some form of ransom theory, was the dominant view of the church. Notable figures such as Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine all expressed the atonement in terms that align with Christus Victor. While this argument does not necessarily entail the validity of the view, church tradition can and should act as a powerful compass in guiding our understanding of Scripture.
Ultimately, I believe that the Christus Victor view of the atonement best aligns itself with the grander narrative found in the Old and New Testaments of Scripture. It also weaves together and unites the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a way that many other atonement theories do not. While the Christus Victor view of the atonement does not exclude many of the other atonement theories put forth by theologians, I believe that it is the primary view found in Scripture.
Boyd, G. A. & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the spectrum. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Boyd, G. A., Green, J. B., Reichenbach, B. R., & Schreiner, T. R. (2006). The nature of the
atonement: Four views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Helyer, L. R. (2004). Yesterday, today, and forever. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company.
Olson, R. E. (2002). The mosaic of Christian belief. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Image taken from http://humanityfaithhopecharity.com/2016/03/28/christ-victorious/