As we continue our series on the cross and the atoning work of Jesus, we turn our attention to the picture of Jesus as the worthy champion. This is called the Christus Victor view of atonement, the idea that in His death and resurrection, Jesus has triumphed over the evil powers of the world. In the early centuries of Christianity, this spiritual warfare understanding of the cross stood head and shoulders above all others.
Jesus came to earth to pick a fight, to win a war.
We have reason to believe that our world is on the brink of war. Tension is rising as Russia continues to send troops to the Ukrainian border. We are reminded of what Jesus said: you shall hear of wars and rumors of war. So we pray for peace. But these headlines also remind us of another war, one that has been waged for a long time. It is a spiritual struggle between good and evil, between the will of God and the will of Satan.
And the decisive figure in this battle is Jesus.
As we’ve said for a few weeks now, the cross is God’s answer to two problems: the problem of sin and the problem of evil. We stand in need of forgiveness, therefore Jesus dies in our place to atone for our sins. (We discussed this in depth last week.) But there is also this: the enemy has taken us captive and we need to be set free. That’s one of the reasons Jesus casts out demons in the Gospel accounts. He invades hostile territory to do battle. In His birth, God the Son goes behind enemy lines to overthrow Satan and his evil forces that are holding us captive. On three different occasions in John’s Gospel, Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world.” But at the cross, God makes a move to get His world back.
Let’s think about this as we read what John writes in Revelation 5.
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”Revelation 5:1-5
John is given a vision of the throne-room of heaven and he sees God holding a scroll. It has writing on both sides, which would have been unique in the ancient world. And it is sealed with seven seals. In Roman law, a testament sealed with seven seals was legally binding. Additionally, the number seven represents the number of completion, perfection. So this scroll represents the perfect, complete will of God.
And John sees this angel who cries out, Who is worthy to open the scroll? But there is no champion, no one who is worthy to execute the perfect will of God. At this, John begins to weep loudly because it seems as if all hope is lost.
But then one of the elders says to John, Don’t cry! Behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David! He has conquered! He can open the seals! We have a champion after all! Jesus steps forward as the new David. We remember the story of the young David courageously facing off against Goliath. Only this time, instead of a physical giant, the enemy is a spiritual one. The enemy is the evil one, Satan, the great adversary.
Satan often attacks us by enticing us to sin. We see him doing this throughout the Bible but we also deal with his temptations in our individual lives. Sin stains us; it makes us guilty before God. And through Sin, Satan has actually weaponized the Law, which was holy and good but now it is used to condemn us. And the more sins we commit, the more deeply we become entrenched in the domain of Sin.
In Romans 6:14, Paul talks about how sin has dominion over us. Literally, he says sin “lords over” us. But the work of Jesus is to set us free from the lordship of sin. We confess that He is the true Lord! He is the mighty Lion of Judah, the one who is worthy to open the scroll. He is our conquering hero!