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- Atonement Theories: Christus Victor

Why did Jesus die on the cross? What was the purpose of his incarnation to earth, obedient life, death and resurrection? There are 7 main atonement theories. These 7 theories will be briefly explained, and categorized into 2 camps to simplify the issue. There are elements of truth in each theory. But this is an important issue as we will see there are implications based on what we conclude. But first let's look at two theories, one of which is sound toward both models, the other is to be rejected.

The Moral Influence Theory - This theory is less about the atonement, and more about the life of Jesus and the positive example that he set for all mankind. This theory is rather uncontroversial and really can be included with any atonement theory. Indeed, Jesus's life had a positive moral impact on mankind and an excellent example to follow. This was most definitely one aspect of the purpose of his incarnation.

The Scapegoat Theory - This theory is a rather modern and philosophical theory not based in scripture. It is an alternative to the other theories of atonement and stands alone. It is to be rejected outright as pagan and worldly logic. It essentially says that all societies want what others have and this causes all kinds of violence and tension in the world. An innocent victim, called the scapegoat is killed to to release this tension. Jesus is seen as the ultimate scapegoat for society, and not as a sacrifice.

The Satisfaction Model

The Satisfaction Theory - This theory was developed in the 12th century by Anselm. It states that sin is a debt to God. So mankind is indebted to God because of God's justice and requirement to penalize sin. Jesus's death is seen as a sacrifice to satisfy the Father so that his wrath does not come upon us.

The Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory - This theory is very similar to The Satisfaction Theory. It was a slight revision from the time of the Reformation. The key difference is that the penal substitutionary atonement(PSA) theory says that Jesus died as a substitute for us to satisfy God's wrath. So the difference is really semantics. Instead of God simply needing satisfaction of any kind, God allowed Jesus to take the wrath due to us specifically in our place as a substitute. This is the most common and popular view in the church today.

The Governmental Theory - This theory is another slight revision from the PSA theory. The key difference is the extent to which Christ suffered. Instead of suffering our specific due punishment, he simply suffered a punishment to appease God's wrath.

As you can see these 3 theories are all essentially the same and will from this point on be referred to as The Satisfaction Model to represent all 3 together. Their differences aren't terribly important for the distinctions that will be made on down this page. But they all affirm that God is a God of justice and sin must be satisfied by his wrath. Jesus died for our sins as a substitute sacrifice. We will soon dissect this model and see that there is truth mixed with error. But as always we must be careful not to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” We will also see the implications of the false aspects of this view and how it supports false doctrines. But first, let's look at the alternative model.

Christus Victor Model

The Christus Victor Theory - This theory says that Christ defeated death, sin, Satan, and all the evil principalities by his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. It comes from a world view that says the earth is a battle ground for a cosmic war that has been going on since the beginning. Jesus declared victory by reconciling the whole world to himself.

The Ransom Theory - This theory is an important aspect of the Christus Victor model. It states that Jesus died to pay a ransom payment in order to redeem mankind. This payment could be seen as either being paid to Satan, or to simply death, but not to the Father. 

What Is The Correct View?

There are multiple aspects of the atonement which is why it is difficult for one single view to encapsulate all aspects of what the atonement accomplished. As stated above, the scapegoat theory should be rejected. The moral influence theory is a small aspect of the overall atonement truth. The satisfaction model contributes aspects of truth in the atonement. But an angry God unable to forgive leaves us lacking in the truth of the atonement. Both models affirm that Jesus paid a ransom. But a ransom paid to whom? Both affirm that the Father was satisfied. But satisfied in what sense? What is also very much different, is the world view from which the 2 models come from. It is a huge paradigm shift from one understanding to the other regarding the character of the Father and how one sees the world in which we live. It is also important to understand that the Christus Victor model is the early christian understanding of the atonement and the primary and orthodox view. The Satisfaction model came much later and went through various adjustments to account for it’s apparent short comings. Instead of continuing to try to fit the square satisfaction model into the round hole of the truth, we should instead look to the Christus Victor model and see how well it accounts for its various objections.

To Whom Was The Ransom Paid? 
- The ransom is not a literal transaction, but a spiritual reality. Mankind is held in slavery to certain death, to which Satan held the power of death. In other words, mankind is indebted by their sins and face certain death as a result. The indebtedness is also not literal but a spiritual reality of the natural consequence of sin, which is death. Satan holds the power of death because he keeps us in sin as the ruler of this world, which of course leads to death. Jesus purchased/redeemed us with his blood. This blood was paid, figuratively, to Satan and death itself. Satan seeks to destroy God’s creation by using God’s righteous nature and law against him. But God outsmarts him at every turn. 

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:16-23

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sinJohn 8:34

Was Christ’s Sacrifice Substitutionary? 
- No it was not. Christ died for us in the sense that he died for our benefit, not in our substitution. The penalty for sin is death. Christ died and resurrected so that we too can be resurrected and be saved from death. 

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21 (For us or in substitution of us?)

...who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Tim. 2:6 (For all people or in substitution of all people?)

...who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:14 (For us or is substitution of us?)

Did God’s Anger Need To Be Satisfied? 
- No, God is capable of forgiveness.

Is God’s Character At Stake?
The satisfaction model sees God as a wrathful and angry God. They say his justice and hatred of sin, or holiness are his primary attributes. In this model the Father is actually unable to forgive sin. Sin must be satisfied by his wrath, therefore forgiveness is not something he is able to do. The Father is seen as someone who is so displeased and disgusted with mankind, that all mankind is deserving of eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell. Jesus satisfies the wrath of this angry God and saves us from his wrath. On the flip side, the Christus Victor model shows the Father as a loving God that seeks to save mankind from the oppressive rule of dark forces on earth. 

What Does Slavery Teach Us About The Atonement?
- When you are a slave, it is because you owe a debt of some kind to your slave master. The wages of sin is death. So if you sin, you owe a figurative debt of death which is actually just the natural consequence of sin. It’s not a literal payment or exchange, but a natural consequence. Who is the slave master of sinners who we owe the figurative debt payment of death? Satan is the slave master who must be paid, because he is the father of all who sin. Jesus, as our federal head and second Adam, made himself human to pay the debt for us and defeated death so that we too could defeat death through him and his federal headship. Jesus saves us from the natural consequence of sin, which is death.

Who Are We Enslaved To?
-

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realmsEph. 6:12 (This verse really reveals to us that there is more going on in this world than what we can see. It is the unseen forces of evil that we battle against and that Jesus defeated.)

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. Gal. 4:1-8 (We see more evidence of unseen evil spiritual forces, who by nature are not gods, in which we were held in slavery to. Jesus redeemed us and saved us from death.)

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Heb. 2:14-18

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Col. 2:13-15 (What was the legal debt? It was certain death. That’s what was canceled, and disarmed the powers.)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. Rom. 6:1-14

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, 2 Cor. 4:4 (Satan is called the “god of this age.” That sounds like a position of great power. Only Jesus and the Father have a higher position of authority.)

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 
1 John 5:19 (Let’s not pretend Satan has no power. This verse says the whole world is under his control and power.)

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (The whole world is under attack by Satan. Let’s not downplay his power.)

How Did Jesus Redeem Us?
-

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. Eph. 1:7 (What was it about Christ’s blood that redeemed us and saved us?)

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Rom. 3:25-26

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (Also Matt. 20:28) (What was the price of the ransom? It was the life, or shed blood, of Jesus.)




But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Heb. 9:11-26



PSA focuses on the guilt of mankind and the anger of God. CV focuses on the victimhood of mankind and the love of God.


Weren’t Animal Sacrifices Substitutionary?
-No, they were sacrificed as a reminder of the people’s sin and future resulting death that it causes. They were also sacrificed to foreshadow the death of Christ. Death is a natural consequence of sin, not a created punishment. 

But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Heb. 10:3-4




Redemption is a present and future reality. 

Serpent seed - original sin
Kinsman Redeemer
Year of Jubilee - everything belongs and is returned to God 

Federal Headship Of Christ And The 2nd Adam
If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. Rom. 11:16 (We have 2 examples of federal headship in 1 verse. The firstfruits of dough being holy makes the whole lump holy. The tree analogy says that if the root is holy then so are the branches, or the rest of the tree.)

Federal headship is essential to understand in order to understand the atonement and how we are saved from death. In order to understand federal headship we also need to understand how original sin from Adam is imputed and/or inherited. The serpent seed doctrine helps us explain how the sin nature is inherited. Imputation is also true in regards to our status and standing before God. We can both inherit sin in our nature and be imputed sin or righteousness in our standing before God. Without the serpent seed doctrine, you are left with a mystery and without explanation of how sin is inherited, which is fine, but I prefer to be able to explain my beliefs without appealing to mystery if at all possible.

With federal headship, we must understand that we have the natural and the spiritual. Adam represented the natural man. The 2nd Adam, Jesus, represents the spiritual man.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 1 Cor. 15:42-49

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Col. 1:27




Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Rom. 7:25; read whole chapter 

Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Rom. 8:2; read through vs17 (Obedience to God naturally leads to life. It is a natural consequence. The same goes for sin. It is a natural consequence that it leads to death.)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. Eph. 2:1-2

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. 1 John 3:8-12

Ransom Theory Objections
-God can not be limited, subjected, or obligated by anyone or anything.
I disagree as God is bound by his own law that was constructed according to his unchanging nature. Satan tried to use this against God. Satan could accuse God of breaking his own law if God we’re to just overpower him and not heed it’s limitations. This way God defeats Satan without compromising his holiness.

-It makes Satan a benefactor in the atonement.
If Satan was to release the slaves of their debt, it follows that he would need to be compensated. However this compensation was short lived as death was not able to hold Jesus in the grave.

-It credits Satan too high a role and too much power.
It’s important not to overstate or understate the power of Satan. He is over course inferior in power to Jesus or the Father. However it can be demonstrated for him to hold the next highest position of power. And this is why it takes the power of God to destroy the kingdom of Satan. 

-The Bible doesn’t specifically state anything was paid to Satan.
The Bible also neither specifies that the ransom was paid to the Father. So we are left to conclude based on the information we are given. It doesn’t necessitate a literal transaction. But Satan is the slave master of sinners, so it follows that the metaphorical payment would be made to him to set free his slaves.

-Any debt owed, is owed to God.
This is not true, even Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s. A slave owes a debt to his master and we know that God is not the master of sinners. 

-It makes God out to be a deceiver by deceiving Satan.
You’d have to show the law that God has violated. God is only bound by his law and the unchanging nature by which said law was established. And deception is an assumption. Perhaps Satan denied the power God had to raise Jesus from the dead. That would be more self deception on Satan’s part. We are only left to speculate certain fine details of the atonement.

-It states that Satan had a legal right over mankind that God was bound by.
Response: Satan indeed enslaved the world in sin which leads to death without hope. God had given man dominion over the earth, but man lost its position by being enslaved to Satan by debt of sin. So Satan takes possession of the earth and mankind. The cross redeemed mankind. The resurrection of Christ and his ascension to the right hand of God gives him all authority in heaven and on earth. This however did not annihilate Satan’s kingdom, but it did deliver it a crushing blow. In the future all enemies will be placed in submission to Jesus and Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed completely.


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