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Christus Victor: Is Christ Our Champion?

Isaiah 25 is one of the earliest Biblical references about the defeat of death. It's a powerful song of praise and smack dab in the middle is this stunning section:


On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine--the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

This is an early passage reflecting an important theological concept that has been lost in some Christian circles today: Christus Victor (Latin for "Christ is Victorious").


Before we dive into this view that was emphasized by the early church fathers, those who grew up in a Charismatic church in the 1980s and 1990s perhaps encountered a snapshot of this in Carman's (who passed away this past year) sung-spoken song, The Champion: https://youtu.be/WfHfTKdYwvY


We see idea of Christ as champion or victor throughout the New Testament.


For example, I Corinthians 15 (20-21; 26-28) says,


But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man....The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Similarly, "Archegos" is a Greek title for Christ that is used four times in the New Testament. This Greek word was used for the chief god Zeus. New Testament writers applied this term to Christ, emphasizing that He is an "author," a "captain," and a "trailblazer." The four instances are:

  1. Peter speaking to the crowd in the book of Acts after healing a beggar, calls Jesus the "Author of Life."

  2. In Acts 5, when the apostles begin being persecuted, Peter leads the apostles in saying that they must obey God rather than man, saying that "God exalted [Christ] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior."

  3. Hebrews 2:10 calls Christ the "Author of Salvation."

  4. Hebrews 12: 2 calls Jesus the "Author and Perfecter of our faith."



As the late R.C. Sproul wrote in the article, "The Last Enemy" (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/the-last-enemy/), death is personified as an enemy in the Bible, while Christ is the champion of life. Sproul said that the champion motif is interwoven throughout scripture, both Old and New Testament.


For additional reference and reading, see Robert Kolb's Gospel Coalition article on Christus Victor (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/christus-victor/) and Greg Boyd's ReKnew summary (https://reknew.org/2018/11/the-christus-victor-view-of-the-atonement/).


Both sources write about the significant spiritual warfare themes that occur throughout the Old and New Testaments. We see God delivering Israel from its enemies time and time again. Numerous psalms speak of God triumphing over sinister forces, hostile waters, and strange sea monsters--using poetic Middle Eastern imagery for triumphing over dark forces. The New Testament includes Christians in the spiritual warfare as they fight evil to overcome the world. And, the apostle Paul repeatedly emphasizes Christ's resurrection as the primary means of victory.


At the cross, Christ gave evil a mortal blow and in the future will triumphantly win the final victory.


Death is the final enemy to be defeated. And, since the devil has some sort of power over death (Hebrews 2: 14-15:"He Himself likewise shared in the same that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage"), defeating the last enemy involves a defeat of both Satan and death.



These are important concepts regarding redemption. We have the early church fathers, Scriptural passages, and theological giants up through the Protestant Reformers discussing this motif. Martin Luther and John Calvin, who both famously taught substitutionary atonement (Christ came in our place to pay the price of our sin on the cross) also taught Christ as victor and champion. Both write of Christ vanquishing sin and death and Luther framed it as a "magnificent duel" (a concept that the singer Carman apparently liked and modernized to refer to boxing rather than knightly fencing!).


In the 20th century, we have simplified evangelism so much so that folks are fortunate if they even grasp the concept of Christ's sacrifice in our place. However, I have come to believe that Christus Victor is an old Christian concept (that never went away in certain Christian circles) that could resonate strongly in our time and can help to revive modern evangelistic methods.


Wouldn't it be powerful to share the good news that salvation is not just for saving an individual from their own individual sins and hell, but that the whole cosmos is in bondage and will ultimately be redeemed by the victorious King? As Greg Boyd puts it, "He came to overcome evil with love."


Without this emphasis, one gets the impression that the 30 years that Christ lived on this earth were a waste of time. Since he was born to die, what was the purpose in him growing up as a child, an adolescent, and then waiting until he was 30 to begin his ministry? The whole point was for him to die on the cross, so those ministry years seem kind of like biding time. However, in the Christus Victor motif, his ministry was also important. He healed people and in doing so, fought against the dominion of Satan. He delivered people during his life and then He delivered all people through His death.


Christus Victor also corrects against the heavily individualistic "personal salvation" message that currently infuses modern Evangelical Christianity. In his article referenced above, Greg Boyd quotes James Kallas as saying,

"…. since the cosmos itself is in bondage, depressed under evil forces, the essential content of the word “salvation” is that the world itself will be rescued, or renewed, or set free. Salvation is a cosmic event affecting the whole of creation…Salvation is not simply the overcoming of my rebellion and the forgiveness of my guilt, but salvation is the liberation of the whole world process of which I am only a small part."

This gives us a right understanding of ourselves. Our own individual salvation is important, and Christ taking our place on the cross is key. However, the entire universe is also being redeemed and restored. Psalm 8 models an appropriate view of humanity:


"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him. You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor."


In this full view of salvation, we are saved from so very many things. Greg Boyd writes,


"We are saved from the power of God’s archenemy, saved from the destruction that would have been the inevitable consequences of our sin, saved from our fallen inability to live in right relatedness with God, saved from the idolatrous, futile striving to find “life” from the things of the world, saved from our meaninglessness and saved to forever participate in the fullness of life, joy, power and peace that is the reign of the triune God."

I'm a huge fan of both Martin Luther and John Calvin. And, as noted above, they wrote of a wider view of redemption than is commonly discussed in Evangelical circles today. But the heavy emphasis on legal models of salvation (God as judge, humanity on trial, punishment for sin), while present in Scripture, arguably became over-emphasized via reformation writers who were lawyers in addition to theologians. While they were able to maintain a balance by including various themes and motifs throughout Scripture, modern Christians perhaps have not done this so well.


For me, as I live in the "already and not yet" phase of history between Christ's death on the cross and His final victory, reflecting on how my salvation fits in with a larger redemptive plan breathes life into my faith. It's not just about me. And there's a role for every Christian to play in this larger plan of redemption. What has God called you to do as you follow the model of your Champion?

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