Christ, the Heavenly Champion
In 1961 J.B. Phillips wrote a powerful little book: "Your God Is Too Small". He asked one question in his study: What is your view of God? Phillip’s believed most believers and skeptics alike made the same mistake. We put God in a box. We made Him fit our view. Our God ended up being much smaller than the God revealed in Scripture.
My aim in this article is to show that all too often we make the same mistake with the work of Christ. Our view of Christ’s work on Calvary is translated all too often into what becomes in practice our own personal Jesus. His death is about me and my family and friends and our personal relationship with Christ. It may branch out to the world and people in the world, but it is always about the world of human beings. Little, if anything, is ever said about the created order (the cosmos or creation), the realm of evil angelic powers, or the realm of impersonal forces of death and evil.
There is a view of the work of Christ that aims to address these issues. It is called Christus Victor. Here Christ is seen as both the Savior and as the victorious heavenly champion. Robert Webber summarized Christus Victor as follows, “In this view…Christ not only died to satisfy the requirements of justice but…he (also) gained a victory over the powers of evil that raged in his world. His work on the cross, which extends to all of life, is the downfall of the powers of evil. The havoc they have wrought in the created order cannot and will not prevail, for His victory over them is the promise of the ultimate restoration of His creation.”
Note how Paul’s statement in Romans 8:19-21 affirms the same truth, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The “revealing” Paul speaks of in v. 19 is “the redemption of our bodies”(v.23).
Anthony Hoekema stated the importance of these truths, “The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin. That purpose will not be accomplished until God has ushered in the new earth, until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained…God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall.” You can see how the new order of things will be different from the old or present order by reading Revelation 21:1-22:5.
Colossians 2:13-15 reveals the two aspects of the work of Christ, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities; made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Verse 14 addresses the legal aspect. He “took away” or expiated our sins. Verse 15 reveals the dramatic aspect. He is the conquering hero. Christ publicly disgraced the powers of evil. Like a triumphant general he drives the defeated foes before him in a parade of victory. It is significant that in Luke 11:14-28 Jesus describes his own ministry in terms of victory over the forces of evil.
Another significant passage is Ephesians 3:10-11, “His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I love how the IVP Dictionary of the New Testament makes the point of these verses clear, “The church is pivotal in the struggle against the powers of evil”(p. 382). Darrell Bock puts it into today’s language, “The church is to be an audio-visual display of God’s reconciling work.” God’s wisdom is made known even to the cosmic powers whose identity is made clear in Ephesians 6:12. Their ultimate judgment is continually before them. They can’t escape it. They can run but they can’t hide.
Let me conclude with Ephesians 1:9-10, “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Here we see that God’s intent is to restore the original harmony of the universe in Christ (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary). Christ summarizes everything because it’s only in relation to him that everything makes sense. He alone defeats the impersonal enemies of sin and death which came into the world as a result of human rebellion. He alone conquers “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”(Ephesians 6:12). Finally, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”(Ephesians 1:7).
2 Corinthians 1:20 summarizes everything, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
Elder Jim Gordon