The Victory of Christ

Here’s another rerun from the archives, first published at Neo-Reformation four years ago this summer:

Why do so many believers fear death? Christians were once known as the people who had no fear of death. Here’s how Athanasius of Alexandria described the situation in his time, the 4th century:

All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. On the Incarnation 5.27

The early Christians’ view of their own deaths was different than that of many modern Christians and they also had a different view of Jesus’ death. I’ve begun to wonder if their view of Jesus’ death might explain – in part – the difference in their view of death in general.

One of the most common explanations of Jesus’ atoning death in our modern Christian theology is that he died to satisfy the wrath of the Father. The Father was angry about our sin and needed to execute someone for it so he he executed Jesus instead of us.

The early Christians tended to more often explain Jesus’ death as a victory – sometimes called in Latin Christus Victor (the victory of Christ). They explained Jesus’ death as the Son of God entering into the very heart of human falleness to defeat the enemies that would try to steal us from the Father and hold us captive: sin, death, and the devil.

In a theology where Jesus’ death is an act to satisfy the Father’s wrath the resurrection and ascension are little more than Jesus getting up and going home after finishing his work. But in the theology of Christ’s victory, we died when Christ died (2 Cor. 5:14) and the resurrection of Christ is humanity’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:22) and his ascension is our ascension to the right of the Father (Eph. 2:6).

I can see in my life, and in the lives of others, that if you believe death will lead you into the presence of a Father who kills those who sin against him then death becomes a fearful thing. After all, how can I know for sure where I stand with him?

On the other hand, if you believe that – in Christ – you have already died, already risen, and already been accepted at the Father’s right hand then death becomes nothing but a doorway to go home and be with our Dad forever.

~ Jonathan Stepp

4 comments so far

  1. Steve Sell on

    Jonathan did Jesus experience this fear of death before his crucifixion? If he was truly man as well as God then, did he not experience the full extent of human existence? Are trying to say that we should not fear death? Or are you saying that we should not fear what is after death?

  2. Jonathan Stepp on

    That’s a good point, Steve, we do know that Jesus experienced fear while facing death, as described in the garden of Gethsemane. I am talking about our fear about what is after death and, specifically, I am talking about an approach to death in which we never say to the Father “thy will be done” but instead keep trying to fight, bargain, or cheat our way out of having to trust the Father’s love for us in all circumstances, including death.

  3. Leona Forste on

    When my sister was dying, I was so selfish. I had always prayed “thy will be done” I thought I meant it. I believed I meant it. but I didnt want her to die even though I knew she would be with God. It was a few years after she died that I understood why God had not intervened. At least, not in the way I wanted for my self. We were so close I never thought of living with out her. Your article here reminded me of that experience….and 3 months later my next sister died, and one more month my eldest son. I was in such shock. For me, it was maturity in Christ that made the difference. He had never not answered my requests and pleading. He even brought my son in law back to life…my worthless son in law. That was my thought at the time. That experience was life changing for me….for the better. I have never been the same.

  4. Jonathan Stepp on

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Leona. Only those who have experienced the loss and grief that you have experienced can truly now what it means for Jesus to share his faith with us in the face of death.

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