Taken from a tutorial sheet I wrote last week, to give you a little taste of what I get up to around here:
Three general understandings of the atoning work of Jesus Christ in his death on the cross are: Christ the victor (a metaphor of battle); the theory of satisfaction (a debt is paid); and the theory of moral influence (Christ’s work compels humanity to respond). John Calvin’s descriped Christ as prophet, priest and king, and Barth depicted Jesus as servant, Lord and true witness. These images (and others presented in scripture) enable us to better understand the significance of the cross in Christianity.
I do not think that any one image can be considered more relevant than the others, as it is only when they are taken together that we receive a holistic representation of the purpose of Jesus’ death and suffering on the cross. Jesus came as a prophet to teach the people and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to serve and live as an example for his followers. Jesus came to the pay the debt which humanity’s sin has placed it in, to make the sacrifice as the Jewish priests would have done. Jesus came to conquer sin and release humanity from its shackles. Jesus came as king and Lord over all the earth – God incarnate. All these things can be seen in the cross.
It is on the cross that we see an example of God’s self-giving love and willingness to serve humanity’s needs. It is also there that he dies in the place of humanity, taking the punishment that is rightfully ours. It is there that he conquers and there that he is King. Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-15, communicating a number of these metaphors at once, “And you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him”. We can see that these metaphors are scripturally based and, therefore, all are deserving of our attention. The cross conveys so much in one act – of God, and of humanity’s relationship to him – that without it there would be no Christianity.
Central to the theology of the cross is its violence. Daniel Migliore says, “the boundless love of God must collide with a world where the desire to dominate incites the desire to retaliate and the use of violence is met by acts of counter-violence” and that God “refuses to oppose evil with evil”. Instead of fighting back and trying to quash the violence of the Romans and Jewish leaders, Jesus submits to it. He submits but he does not surrender because the victory is still his: “God’s way of life is greater than our way of death”.
This is why I believe, that as important as the cross is, the resurrection is equally, if not more, important. Again, in 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says: “If Christ has not been raised from death you have nothing to believe”. The resurrection is the point. Without a resurrection, Jesus is just another preacher and not the Son of God, he does not conquer and there is no hope for the future. The resurrection “confirms the Father’s boundless love for the Son and for the world for which the Son gave his life”. God does not leave the world in its depraved state or let violence and hatred have the last word. He does not respond in (righteous) anger with further destruction – as he did with Noah and the flood; instead he answers in love and promises that peace and reconciliation are possible.