Christus Victor

Having despoiled the principalities and the powers, [Christ] made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:15).

Why did Jesus have to die such a horrendous death?

This question goes beyond a simple matter of, “for the forgiveness of sin” (Matthew 26:28); one can imagine many scenarios in which Jesus still dies for the remission of sin but not in such a terribly grotesque and gruesome way. Why humiliation before the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman governor? Why scourging? Why crucifixion?

The primary way that early Christians made sense of the grotesque and horrendous nature of Jesus’ death was through the concept of Christus Victor, Christ the Victor. This view focuses on the idea that Jesus gains the victory over sin, death, and any and all other principalities through His death and resurrection. This is first seen in Acts 4:24-31 in which the Apostles understand the persecution they receive from the Sanhedrin in terms of Psalm 2:1-2, the opposition of the kings of the nations to God and His Anointed, and making direct application of this as prophecy of Jesus before Herod and Pilate. Paul will go on to explain how Jesus conquered sin and death through His death and resurrection (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). John frequently associates “victory,” “overcoming,” and “conquering” with suffering from evils steadfastly and without sin (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4, Revelation 5:5, 12:11). Yet perhaps the clearest statement of Christ the Victor is found in Colossians 2:15 in which Paul declares that Jesus triumphed over the principalities and powers, having despoiled or conquered them.

Who are these principalities and powers? To some extent one can see the existing power structures on earth in them, as Jesus stands before the Jewish religious authorities, then Pilate and Herod, during His trial and period of suffering (Luke 22:47-23:25). Yet Paul will declare that our wrestling is not with flesh and blood in Ephesians 6:12, and in Revelation John “pulls the curtain back,” so to speak, and shows us the real power source for world empires and false religion: Satan the dragon (Revelation 13:1-4, 11-14). While the Jewish religious authorities, Herod, and Pilate act as free moral agents as they indict and execute Jesus of Nazareth, they are influenced and partly motivated by these evil, dark, satanic and demonic powers behind the scenes.

Throughout His ministry Jesus made clear that His opponent was not really Rome nor was His goal the liberation of Israel from Roman oppression: He always understood the Adversary, Satan, as His true opponent, and He did as He did in order to liberate people from the power of darkness and lead them into the Kingdom and rule of God (Matthew 4:1-10, 17, 23, 26:28, Acts 10:38, Colossians 1:13). Early Christians understood that Jesus obtained this victory not with a large army or with great force but by suffering humiliation, degradation, and violence, dying on the cross, and being raised by God in the resurrection with power (Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:20-57, Revelation 5:1-10). To us this is a strange way of gaining a victory, but the challenge of evil and the forces behind evil are not your average challenge. Evil and the forces of darkness thrive through the forms of violence, devastation, and death that are normally wrought in order to defeat a foe. In this contest, in order to win the victory, Jesus had to endure all that the evil forces could throw at Him. He did: He stood firm and remained steadfast despite unimaginable pain, misery, and suffering of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual natures. The Evil One and his horde did all they could to Jesus: their human agents conspired against Him, humiliated Him, had Him mistreated and ultimately killed. But He did not give into evil; He did not turn to the forces of darkness; He endured the suffering (Hebrews 5:7-8). That is how He overcame sin, and God granted Him victory over death by raising Him on the third day, never to die again (Romans 6:8-11).

The way Jesus died remains shocking, horrifying, and gruesome to this day. Yet it had to happen as it did, not because Jesus deserved it, but because through His death Jesus was overcoming and triumphing over the powers and principalities of darkness. They did all they could to Him, but He endured. When God raised Him from the dead, Jesus thus entirely despoiled the forces of evil. They could harm Him no more, and He now had full reign over them, and to this day they shudder at the name of Jesus (James 2:19).

Through His victory we can gain victory over sin and death and all the forces of evil arrayed against us (Ephesians 6:10-18, Revelation 12:11). We can endure suffering and thus obtain the crown of victory (Romans 8:17-18, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Revelation 7:9-17). The forces of evil are strong but not as strong as Jesus (1 John 4:4)! Through His gruesome death and powerful resurrection Jesus has gained the victory and now rules as Lord. Let us serve Him always and glorify and honor God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A God Who Hides Himself

Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour (Isaiah 45:15).

We have all gone through times in our lives when we have felt that God has hidden His face from us. Perhaps it was in the midst of a trial or challenge and we felt that there was no divine aid. Maybe it was during an entire period in our lives when we admittedly turned our backs upon God. Far too many people, at times, feel as if God has abandoned them and all of us. Some want to know where God has been for the better part of the past two thousand years!

The Israelites living in Babylon toward the end of their exile would have likely felt in similar ways. Many were not quite sure what to make of their experience. Was YHWH really there? Why did He not save us from the Babylonians? Is Marduk really stronger than YHWH? If YHWH is out there, and He is the God of Israel, why are we still in Babylon? It would be easy for them to feel as if they were abandoned by God!

The statement made in Isaiah 45:15 has caused discomfort throughout time. The Greek translator of the text seemingly could not reconcile its substance with the proper understanding of YHWH, and so he translated it, “for thou art God, yet we knew it not, the God of Israel, the Saviour.” Even if we take the text at its face value, we must wonder whether the author is being deadly serious or whether he is lodging an implicit critique or complaint. Are there times when God really does hide Himself, or does Isaiah just feel as if that’s the way it seems sometimes? Or perhaps he means a little bit of both?

Yet we can make some sense of what is being revealed here. The message is consistent with what Paul will say to the Colossians regarding the gospel of Christ: it is the mystery hidden for ages and generations that was manifest in Jesus and revealed to all who will believe from the first century onward (Colossians 1:25-27). While it is true that God comforted Israel with predictions regarding the Christ and His Kingdom (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12), how it would all work out was hidden until the time when God the Son was manifest in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1, 14).

So it was for Israel in the exile. God had already comforted His people with the understanding that the exile was temporary. The fortunes of Israel would change quickly– the mighty Babylonian empire fell quickly to Cyrus the Persian, and the Israelites found themselves able to go home (2 Chronicles 36:20-23, Daniel 5:1-31). All of this, Isaiah assures that audience, is from the hand of YHWH (Isaiah 44:24-45:7).

Is God a God who hides Himself? There are times when it may seem like it– but notice the end of the verse. The God of Israel remains the “Savior” (Isaiah 45:15). Sometimes, in His acts of salvation, He does not reveal everything all at once. At times the message is held back so that events can play out. God has infinitely greater understanding and insight than we do (Isaiah 55:8-9), and if He decides to hide Himself in some way, we must trust that it is part of His greater plan for salvation. We may not understand it now, but if we love God and seek to serve His Son, we may rest ourselves in Romans 8:28, knowing that it will all work out for good in the end.

Even though God hid His message of deliverance and salvation to some, it was ultimately accomplished so that all could benefit if they so chose. God has acted definitively against sin and evil to redeem mankind through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:6-11), and we have the opportunity to be saved through Him and to obtain the resurrection of life (1 Corinthians 15:1-58, Philippians 3:12-14). If it seems that God is hiding Himself, it might be our mistaken impression, or perhaps God is working to deliver us in ways we do not understand. Let us rest assured of God’s overwhelming love for us and that He is the Savior indeed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ, All in All

Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This is the one of the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, but the idea did not originate there. The idea that all men (and women) stand as equals before their Creator comes from Paul and the New Testament.

Paul emphasizes to the Colossians (and to the Galatians in Galatians 3:28) all divisions that keep people apart in the world have no place in the Kingdom of Christ. Rich or poor, slave or free, Greek, Jew, or barbarian, man or woman: all can be in Jesus Christ, and all are one in Christ.

This message was radical in the first century and it remains radical in the twenty-first. Even though it has been the ideal to believe that all men are created equal, there still remains plenty of prejudice in society. Racial disharmony still exists, even though few speak about it openly and plainly. There remains plenty of judgmentalism against those in different economic classes, regions of the country, cultures, and so on and so forth. We can always find plenty of reasons to consider people of other classes, cultures, races, languages, etc., as inferior or worth less than ourselves.

Yet none of this is true in reality. The truth, uncomfortable for many, is that we are all sinners, we are all guilty, and there is no reason for any of us to feel morally superior or inferior to anyone else (Romans 3:23, Philippians 2:1-4). Believers in Christ should actually be thankful for this: after all, if God were going to be prejudicial, He would have favored Israel according to the flesh, and we who are Gentiles would remain excluded from the covenant and condemned (cf. Ephesians 2:1-18)! Jesus of Nazareth was a first-century Palestinian Jew, not a white Anglo-Saxon American, or African-American, or Hispanic, or anything else. Through His death He reconciled us all to Him so that we would not be hindered by these divisions any longer (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18)!

Let us not imagine that it was “different” or “easier” then than it is now. For generations Jews were raised to feel morally superior to Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2:15); in Christ, they were now one. Greeks were bred to feel superior to all the heathen barbarians and their barbarian tongues (the word “barbarian” comes from the “bar,” “bar” sounds that Greeks heard as the language of foreigners); now, in Christ, they were one with those barbarians. In fact, even the Scythians, who defined barbarianism and were the ultimate in unsophisticated, could be one in Christ with Greeks and Romans and Jews!

The situation was similar for masters and slaves and men and women. After all, according to the society of the day, there was a reason that masters were masters and slaves were slaves. Yet now master and slave were both slaves of Christ (cf. Romans 6:18-23), and were now one in Christ. Ancient societies, in general, believed women to be morally and intellectually inferior to men. Yet, in Christ, both have equal standing. Notice that this equality does not change the fact that men and women and masters and slaves have different roles in which they function, and those roles are maintained (cf. Ephesians 5:23-6:9). Yet they all remain equally valuable before God.

Until the Lord returns, people will continue to use the differences that exist among themselves to judge one another, condemn one another, exclude one another, and to dislike one another. After all, it is more comfortable to believe that one is better because of one’s race, nationality, ethnicity, cultural heritage, class, and the like. Nevertheless, Jesus broke down all such barriers when He suffered and died on the cross. The hostility has been killed. God’s manifold wisdom can now shine forth in the church: the assembly of the saints, Jew and Gentile, white, black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and east or south Asian, rich and poor, male and female, employer and employee. A group of people who believe that whom you serve is far more important than what you look like or who your ancestors are or how much money you have in the bank. A place where different people with different abilities and perspectives come together to make up for the deficiencies of each other to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

That is a beautiful vision, and if we believe in Christ, we must work to put that vision into place. We can only do that by killing our own hostility toward other people through reflecting Christ: self-sacrifice, humility, and love (cf. Romans 8:29, 12:1). The barriers we may be tempted to build up against other people based on race, class, or culture must be torn down if we are going to show the love of Christ to all men and women (cf. 1 John 4:7-21)! Our faith and confidence rests on the fact that God no longer shows partiality (Romans 2:11); if we continue to show partiality and prejudice, how can we live godly lives? Let us put to death any hostility and prejudice that may remain in our hearts toward our fellow man, just as we put the man of sin to death (cf. Romans 6:6, 1 Peter 2:24), and glorify God that we can all be one in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Give Us a King!

But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said, “Nay: but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Everyone would admit that the period of the Judges was difficult.  For three hundred years or so Israel participated in a vicious cycle of idolatry, oppression, deliverance, and a fall back into idolatry.

But things were not getting better.  The Philistines were stronger oppressors than previous adversaries.  While Eli and Samuel were competent judges, their sons did not follow in their footsteps.

What Israel sought seemed logical.  The judge system was not getting them anywhere fast.  Perhaps if they had a centralized authority and administration, they could finally defeat their enemies and have peace.

Yet Israel was distinctive because of all the nations in the world, they had the LORD of Hosts as their King.  By repudiating the system of government which He set up, Israel was really repudiating Him.

Israel would not be persuaded otherwise.  They were not thinking in the long-term, how that centralized authority would virtually enslave them with taxes and levies, and how that centralized authority would end up leading all Israel into some type of captivity.  They wanted a king– and they wanted him now.  Just like all the nations.

As Christians, we are to be a “different” type of people.  We are not to conform to the world, but to be conformed into the image of Jesus the Son (Romans 12:1; 8:29).  We stand as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), serving Christ the Lord and King.

There is always the temptation, however, to want to be like the nations around us and lose our distinctive nature in order to do what seems to us to be better.  In such a condition, as opposed to obtaining our “inspiration” from God, we get our “inspiration” from those around us in the world.  It may seem logical, and we can come up with all the reasons we want to justify it, but it is the same in the end.

When we seek a “king” so that we can be like “all the nations,” we repudiate the rule of Christ the Lord.  Let us always look to Him for our direction!

If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Philosophy of Christ

As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).

The first century world of the Colossians was steeped in philosophical positions. Platonists, Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans, and all kinds of permutations of these and other philosophies taught their various doctrines.

The seductions of philosophy have enticed believers in Jesus Christ since the beginning of the religion. Yet, as Paul warns, our faith cannot be rooted in the presuppositions of worldly philosophies that may include some truth, yet also be founded on some errant views.

Instead, we must maintain the “philosophy of Christ”: believe in Him, be rooted in Him as the Lord, as a servant in His Kingdom, walking in His paths. As Christians, we may jointly affirm some truths with various philosophical systems, but we must always remember that our foundation is Jesus Christ, not Plato or Aristotle or Descartes or Derrida.

Let us make sure that our Christianity informs our view of worldly beliefs and philosophies, and not allow our faith in Christ to be compromised by greater faith in philosophical principles than God’s revealed truths!

Ethan R. Longhenry