Let’s remember that Christ not only came to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin. This he did, but he also died a warrior death, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This is our Priest who became the sacrifice for us, and this is our Warrior King who conquered sin, death, and the evil one.
The nature of the atonement is central to Christian life and theology. Questions concerning the person and work of Christ, the relationship between God and man, the resolution to the problem of sin and the overarching story of redemptive history are all bound up in this discussion. At the heart of this conversation, the nature of the atonement concerns what Christ came to accomplish, what he actually accomplished, and why the atonement is necessary. If we get the atonement wrong, we cannot get the gospel right because the cross is at the center of this good news. Misunderstanding the cross leads to a false doctrine of God, man, sin, salvation, and the overarching message of the Bible.
It is only by the means of a sacrifice that sin can be dealt with fully and finally. Because of Adam’s sin, all are separated from God and remain under the curse of sin, i.e., all are “in Adam.” God the Son incarnate comes as the new Adam, perfectly obedient to the Father in all things, providing and securing, by his obedience, a perfect sacrifice for the propitiation of our sins as our substitute. In this way, Christ has purchased redemption by his own blood, bringing reconciliation between God and man as the new Adam, satisfying the divine justice of God, achieving victory in the divine conquest over sin, death, Satan, and the powers of darkness and providing for us an example of image-bearing as one who is the exact imprint of the divine nature. This is what we celebrate, not only on Good Friday, but especially on Good Friday.
Perhaps the word “conquest” stuck out to you in that last paragraph. Gustaf Aulén, a Swedish professor of Systematic Theology, focuses on this theme and sees the victory of Christ on the cross as the central most important aspect of the atonement. For Aulén, “God is pictured as in Christ carrying through a victorious conflict against powers of evil which are hostile to his will.”[i] His is a view in which the cross is an instrument of war taken up by Christ the Victor, our warrior-king, in order to defeat sin, Satan, and death.
In the very first utterance of good news in Genesis 3:15, we are told of one who would come to defeat the serpent but not without suffering harm. This protoevangelium sets the tone for redemptive history. From this point on, the people who called upon the name of the Lord also looked for the promised seed who would crush the serpent’s head and deal fully and finally with that great enemy. What was hidden from their eyes is how this victory would come through sacrifice.