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What was God doing around the cross?. It is really a search for understanding of one of the crucial events of human history, perhaps the crucial event. The complete New Testament focuses on the death, burial, and resurrection, events leading up to and flowing from it, its theological significance and ethical implications. We are going to 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 because the climax of a cosmic conflict with Satan and also the demonic forces of evil. Christ came since the Second Adam (Romans 5:18-19), winning the competition that Adam failed. He also came since the new Israel, faithfully keeping submitting to God as opposed to to Satan as the first Israel had done (Matthew 2:15; 4:4; etc.). Soon after His baptism, the Spirit "drove" (Greek: ekballei) Him in to the wilderness so that He might confront Satan (Mark 1:12). His victory there is only one of what must have been many battles, for Luke records that Satan left Him until "an opportune time" (Luke 4:13).

Throughout his ministry Jesus offered His power to cast out demons like a demonstration that He was stronger than Satan. Although He described Satan like a "strong man," He claimed the ability 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 evidence of the arrival of God's kingdom on the planet (Luke 12:20-22). Jesus got His disciples involved in the warfare; their successful preaching, healing, and exorcism mission He afterward referred to as the fall of Satan from heaven (Luke 10:18).

Satan was behind the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (John 13:2, 27), his abandonment through the other apostles (Luke 22:31-32), as well as his trial and murder (John 8:40-41, 44). Jesus recognized Satan as His principal enemy, and even before His death, He was confident of victory he spoke of it as a fait accompli (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11, 32). As soon as 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 triumph over spiritual enemies. The Colossians were in danger of being deceived by a syncretistic mixture of Judaistic legalism, Hellenistic philosophy, and Eastern mysticism. Apparently the heretical teachers are not advocating a rejection of Jesus, but they denied Him the primacy in support of intermediary beings. "Go beyond Jesus to greater realities," they might have taught. Paul replies that there are nothing beyond Jesus Christ, in whom God's fullness dwells. He it really is Who "disarmed the powers and authorities, [making] a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15).

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

Because Christ has triumphed as our representative, we be part of 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 as a conquering general returning to Rome to get a victory parade: "When he ascended on high, he led captives as part of his train and gave gifts to men." The ensuing passage explains the gifts He gave would be the offices for building up the church. The captives are bypassed, but Colossians 2:15 seems an appropriate commentary.

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

Subjective view It is a fact that we are the subjects of His daring rescue (Colossians 1:13-14), but we also participate. This is the subjective nature with the atonement: it transforms us. If we are united with Christ through faith-repentance-baptism, God's Spirit begins the entire process of transforming us from one amount 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), starts to produce His fruit inside 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). Additionally, it requires continual moral striving, even as refuse to let sin dominate us, yielding the individuals our bodies to righteousness instead of to sin (Romans 6:12-13).

This is 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, in the eschaton, the Spirit will have performed His operate 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 inside and in which we ourselves participate, the loan still belongs to God, since 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 nowadays. He was our representative within the cosmic conflict; we are His representatives within the existential struggle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Objective view Yet Christ's death is more than what he did for (hyper) us (see Mark 14:24; Luke 22:19-20) and what he is doing in (en) us (see Colossians 1:27). Additionally, 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 an essential aspect of all.

Several types of the substitutionary atonement come 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 world's first murder, recorded in Genesis 4:8, as the offering of a substitute sacrifice. In essence, 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, for this cried out from the ground against the perpetrator (Genesis 4:10).

If the angel stops Abraham from stabbing Isaac to death, Abraham finds a ram caught in a nearby thicket that he can offer rather than (Septuagint: anti) his son (Genesis 22:12-13). The passage assumes that some sacrifice has to be offered, and the one is replaced from 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 as an alternative for his brother (Genesis 44:18-34, especially not the Septuagint's utilization of anti in v. 33). In this case also, some substitute must 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, just as 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 people or the sacrifice of the goat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 4:13-21; 16:15-19). He is the "atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). He is the "Lamb of God, Who removes the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

One for the world? How can that be just? Its justice is dependent upon the identity of the Sacrifice. Just one human deserves infinite punishment because of sins. Adding the punishment of another 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 contact with the other--just payment.

Our sins brought us under 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": we had been the subjects of God's just condemnation, the objects of His righteous wrath, however 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 because the propitiation, the appeasement, so that the all-consuming fire of His wrath may be diverted to Him rather than destroying the rest of us humans (Romans 3:25). As Isaiah said, "The LORD has laid on him the iniquity folks 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 must always be answering, "Yes, and much more besides." Like astronomers surveying the universe, the harder we study it, the more vast it becomes. Our wherewithal to fully comprehend its dimensions will not nullify what we can understand, nor will it rob us of the amazement we sense at what we should know was accomplished.

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