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What was Our god doing around the cross?. It constitutes a search for understanding of one of the crucial events of history, perhaps the crucial event. The whole New Testament focuses on the death, burial, and resurrection, events prior to and flowing from it, its theological significance and ethical implications. We'll focus on the deep significance of the atonement, as explained from three perspectives: the dynamic, subjective, and objective views.

Dynamic view The dynamic view sees Christ's death and resurrection since the climax of a cosmic conflict with Satan and also the demonic forces of evil. Christ came as the Second Adam (Romans 5:18-19), winning the contest that Adam failed. He also came as the new Israel, faithfully keeping submitting to God instead of to Satan as the first Israel tried (Matthew 2:15; 4:4; etc.). Soon after His baptism, the Spirit "drove" (Greek: ekballei) Him to the wilderness so that He might confront Satan (Mark 1:12). His victory there was clearly only one of what must have been many battles, for Luke records that Satan left Him until "an opportune time" (Luke 4:13).

During His ministry Jesus offered His ability to cast out demons being a demonstration that He was stronger than Satan. Although He described Satan being a "strong man," He claimed the opportunity to "bind" the strong man and despoil his possessions (i.e., those that were demon-possessed). His ability to cast out demons "by the finger of God" He presented as proof of the arrival of God's kingdom on the planet (Luke 12:20-22). Jesus got His disciples active in the warfare; their successful preaching, healing, and exorcism mission He afterward called the fall of Satan from heaven (Luke 10:18).

Satan was behind the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (John 13:2, 27), his abandonment by the other apostles (Luke 22:31-32), in addition to his trial and murder (John 8:40-41, 44). Jesus recognized Satan as His principal enemy, and also before His death, He am confident of victory that He spoke of it as a fait accompli (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11, 32). The minute before His death Christ Himself uttered the triumphant words, "It is finished" (John 19:30; compare Luke 12:50). The glorious resurrection is proof that His death was obviously a victory and not a defeat (Revelation 3:21).

As part of his confrontation with false teaching at Colossae, Paul presents the cross and resurrection as a overcome spiritual enemies. The Colossians were at risk of being deceived by a syncretistic blend of Judaistic legalism, Hellenistic philosophy, and Eastern mysticism. Apparently the heretical teachers are not advocating a rejection of Jesus, however they denied Him the primacy and only intermediary beings. "Go beyond Jesus Christ to greater realities," they could have taught. Paul replies that there are nothing beyond Jesus Christ, in whom God's fullness dwells. He it is Who "disarmed the powers and authorities, [making] a public spectacle of which, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15).

Not only did Christ conquer Satan, demons, principalities, and powers. Younger crowd conquered death (Acts 2:24; Revelation 5:5-6). Paul uses militaristic terms to discuss the resurrection, e.g., "destroyed" and "victory" (1 Corinthians 15:24-26, 54-56).

Because Christ has triumphed as our representative, we share with His triumph (hence the super-conquerors of Romans 8:37). In Ephesians 4:8 Paul applies Psalm 68:19 to Christ's triumph, picturing Christ being a conquering general returning to Rome for any victory parade: "When he ascended on high, he led captives as part of his train and gave gifts to men." The ensuing passage explains how the gifts He gave will be the offices for building up the church. The captives are bypassed, but Colossians 2:15 seems a fitting commentary.

In 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul states that "God... always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and thru us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him." In cases like this the apostles (see 1 Corinthians 4:9), and perhaps all Christians, are probably the type of following along behind--themselves conquered, but joyously sharing in the victory celebration. Our struggle against Satan and demonic forces continues (Ephesians 6:12). While he is victorious, we also can be victorious (Revelation 3:21; 1 John 2:14-15; 4:4; 5:4-5).

Subjective view It is true that we are the subjects of His daring rescue (Colossians 1:13-14), but we also participate. This is the subjective nature from the atonement: it transforms us. While we are united with Christ through faith-repentance-baptism, God's Spirit begins the entire process of transforming us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Spirit, Himself the guarantee that this beginning will reach its intended end (Ephesians 1:13-14), actually starts to produce His fruit within our hearts (Galatians 5:22-23) as we cooperate by "walking within the Spirit" and being "led by the Spirit" (Romans 8:4, 14; Galatians 5:16). The metamorphosis is not automatic; it takes constant mental concentration as we count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). In addition, it requires continual moral striving, as we refuse to let sin dominate us, yielding the people in our bodies to righteousness instead of to sin (Romans 6:12-13).

It's a battle we fight, yet Paul assures us, "[S]in may have no dominion over you" (Romans 6:14). The struggle results in holiness and the end is eternal life (Romans 6:22). When Christ returns, at the eschaton, the Spirit will have performed His work in us: "[W]e shall be like Him, for we shall see Him while he is" (1 John 3:2).

Though this really is work that changes us from the inside and in which we ourselves participate, the financing still belongs to God, because it is His work being done in us and thru us. He is the one that brings it to completion on that day (Philippians 1:6). Meanwhile, we image Christ in this world. He was our representative in the cosmic conflict; we are His representatives in the existential struggle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Objective view Yet Christ's death is a lot more than what he did for (hyper) us (see Mark 14:24; Luke 22:19-20) and what he does in (en) us (see Colossians 1:27). In addition, it involves what He did rather than (anti) us (see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)---the objective view of the atonement. In fact, many think that the substitutionary nature of the atonement is the most important aspect of all.

Several types of the substitutionary atonement result from Genesis. The word used in 1 John 3:12 to explain Cain's murder of his brother will be the word for "slaughter" (Greek: esphaxen), such as the offering of a sacrifice. It has led some to view the earth's first murder, recorded in Genesis 4:8, because the offering of a substitute sacrifice. In effect, Cain may have said, "So, You didn't like my vegetables as a possible offering? Let's see how You such as this! (slash)." The murder certainly involved the shedding of his brother's blood, because of it cried out from the ground against the perpetrator (Genesis 4:10).

When the angel stops Abraham from stabbing Isaac to death, Abraham finds a ram caught in the nearby thicket that he can offer in place of (Septuagint: anti) his son (Genesis 22:12-13). The passage assumes that some sacrifice must be offered, and the one is replaced through the other.

abductions - More than a hundred years later, when Joseph's testing of his brothers developed a crisis situation involving the enforced servitude of Benjamin, Judah stepped forward and freely offered himself instead for his brother (Genesis 44:18-34, especially not the Septuagint's utilization of anti in v. 33). In cases like this also, some substitute needed to be provided. There was no potential for mere escape from the demands with the master.

Yet all three of these are one-for-one substitutions, similar to the "eye-for-eye" provisions of the Law. Christ's sacrifice (one for a lot of) is more like the sin offering in behalf of all the people or the sacrifice with the goat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 4:13-21; 16:15-19). He is the "atoning sacrifice for our sins, and never only for ours, but also for the sins from the whole world" (1 John 2:2). He could be the "Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

One for the world? How can that be just? Its justice depends on the identity of the Sacrifice. Just one human deserves infinite punishment as a result of sins. Adding the punishment of one other human adds no more than was there already (for infinity plus infinity equals infinity). This is also true for "the sins of the [whole] world." The slaughter of the Infinite One for these sins beings one infinity into connection with the other--just payment.

Our sins brought us beneath the curse of the law, but Christ was a curse for us by hanging about the tree (Galatians 3:10-14). Because of Christ's death, God surely could effect what Luther called a "happy exchange": i was the subjects of God's just condemnation, the objects of His righteous wrath, nevertheless the sinless Christ became "sin" for us, to ensure that we might become God's righteousness by Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). God established Him as the propitiation, the appeasement, so that the all-consuming fire of His wrath could be diverted to Him as opposed to destroying the rest of us humans (Romans 3:25). As Isaiah said, "The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

Must we choose? resurrection - Dynamic, subjective, and objective--must we select from them? No! By its very nature the atonement is higher than any one metaphor or perspective can contain. We have to always be answering, "Yes, and much more besides." Like astronomers surveying the universe, the greater we study it, the more vast it becomes. Our wherewithal to fully comprehend its dimensions doesn't nullify what we can understand, nor will it rob us of the amazement we sense at what we know was accomplished.