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This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. Here’s how the series has shaped up so far:

Today, Phillip Bethancourt contributes an article on how the cross achieves the cosmic victory of God over the enemies of Satan, sin, and death.

Phillip Bethancourt is Executive Vice President for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. His dissertation, Christ the Warrior King, examines the integration of the biblical theme of kingdom warfare with Christology.

The Cross as Cosmic Victory

Understanding the cross as cosmic victory means that, in the atonement, Jesus defeats the enemies of God by satisfying the wrath of God. Because the kingdom of God is a central theme in Scripture, our view of the atonement must account for how Jesus conquers his kingdom enemies: Satan, sin, and death.

Jesus defeats his enemies in the atonement and resurrection through vicarious victory. The atonement is vicarious victory because it is substitutionary and penal. It is vicarious victory because it is a conquest of all God’s enemies. Put simply, understanding the cross as cosmic victory means that the crucifixion brings conquest.

Two Key Conquests

The atonement’s vicarious victory achieves two key conquests over Satan, both of which shape our spiritual warfare today:

First, the atonement as vicarious victory defeats the power of Satan’s deception.

From the garden of Eden to the garden of Gethsemane, Satan’s primary weapon against the people of God is deception. Yet, through his sinless life and victorious death, Jesus conquers Satan’s power of deception and overcomes the fear of death (Heb 2:14-17).

This cosmic victory over deception transforms our fight for holiness. Why? Christ’s substitutionary death enables his righteousness to apply to those who have fallen under the devil’s temptations. Jesus can deliver us from the dominion of the devil’s deception since he “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18). We can find victory over sin because the cross has conquered Satan’s power of deception.

Second, the atonement as vicarious victory defeats the power of Satan’s accusation.

Jesus is the Passover lamb who brings about a new Exodus that rescues captives from slavery to sin. This slavery to sin derives from Satan’s power of accusation (Rev 12:10). In the atonement, Jesus cancels the record of debt that results from Satan’s accusations of sin and, as a result, triumphs over his kingdom enemies (Col 2:13-15).

This cosmic victory over accusation also transforms our fight for holiness. Why? As Jesus clothes us in the armor of his righteousness, he shatters Satan’s power of accusation so that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Jesus delivers us from the private shame of accusation because he went through the public shame of atonement.

Christ the Warrior King

The atonement as cosmic victory fulfills the holy war pattern in Scripture.

  • In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and better Adam who delivers a head crushing blow to the serpent.
  • He is the new and better Joshua who drives out all his enemies from the Promised Land.
  • He is the new and better David who establishes the eternal kingdom of God.

The cross as cosmic victory recognizes that Christ’s covenantal vindication leads to victorious conquest. Through his vicarious victory, Jesus defeats the dominion of the devil’s deception and the stronghold of Satan’s shame.

In the atonement, Christ the warrior king is both dragon slayer and divine satisfier.