The New Testament echoes with cries of victory. Because Jesus is our conquering King we are victorious conquerors, triumphant winners, and glorious overcomers.
- How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! 1 Corinthians 15:57
It may seem that evil triumphed over goodness at the cross, but the Bible declares that it was the place where goodness conquered evil. It may seem that Christ was crushed by earthly powers on the cross, but it was the place where the Seed of the woman finally crushed the serpent’s head. We owe this victory completely to the victorious Jesus. Colossians 2:15 states that it is Christ who overcame and triumphed – and that he did so on the cross.
THE CONQUERING CHRIST
How can a crucified Christ be a conqueror? How can a victim be a victor? How can an executed criminal, who was rejected, betrayed, denied and deserted by his own disciples, be deemed triumphant? The answers lie in God’s plan of salvation to turn defeat into victory and death into life. That plan was accomplished in what we know as the Easter story.
Predictions of victory
Genesis 3:15 is the first glimpse of the gospel, the first foreshadowing of the cross, and it points specifically to the victory of our salvation:
- From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel
This first prediction of triumph identified the woman’s seed, or offspring, as the one who would be completely victorious. It was later revealed to the prophets that this ‘seed’ would be the Messiah, the Christos or ‘Anointed Man’, who would establish God’s righteous rule and eradicate evil.
When we take an overview of the Old Testament, and interpret each passage in the light of the cross, we see that God’s righteous rule over Israel and the promise of the future rule of Messiah are further predictions of the Seed’s ultimate triumph over the serpent.
Foretastes of victory
If Christ’s decisive victory over Satan was achieved in his death on the cross, the early rounds were won in his perfect submission to God throughout his earthly life and in the mighty works which demonstrated his unique anointing and authority.
As soon as Jesus was born, Satan recognised him as his future conqueror and started to attempt to defeat him. For example, he attacked Jesus through:
- Herod’s slaughter of the Bethlehem children – Matthew 2:1-18
- The wilderness temptations to avoid the cross -Matthew 4:1-11
- The Nazareth congregation’s attempts on his life – Luke 4:28-29
- The crowds desire to make him a political ruler – John 6:15
- Peter’s opposition to the way of the cross – Matthew 16:21-23
- Judas’ betrayal – Luke 22:1-6 & John 13:27.
But Jesus was determined to fulfil what had been foretold. He announced that God’s kingdom had come to that generation through him, and that his mighty works were the visible proof of its coming.
Through the Gospels, we see God’s kingdom advancing and Satan’s retreating as demons were cast out, diseases were healed and nature was calmed (for example, in Mark 1:24; Matthew 4:23 & Mark 4:39).
Luke 10:1-24 describes how Jesus sent seventy disciples to announce the kingdom’s arrival by preaching and healing as his representatives. When they returned, Jesus told them that he had seen Satan fall from heaven as a result of their activities.
Jesus said that the strong man must be bound. The devil may have been a very strong man, but a stronger man had come – and he would bind and overpower the strong man and plunder his house.
This binding and overpowering did not fully take place, however, until the cross. In John 12:31, Jesus anticipated the devil’s last offensive on the cross, and promised that he would be driven out and condemned. And Hebrews 2:14-15 states that it was by his death that Jesus destroyed the devil and liberated his captives.
The moment of victory
Colossians 2:13-15 is the clearest New Testament statement about the victory of Christ on the cross:
- You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.
In this important passage, the apostle Paul draws together two aspects of salvation.
First, he illustrates God’s gracious act of forgiveness on the cross by comparing it to the way that debts were cancelled. Paul shows that God has released us from our moral and spiritual bankruptcy by paying our debts on the cross. He shows us that God has also destroyed all the records of our indebtedness.
Paul then describes God’s powerful act of conquest on the cross, and shows that he had stripped his opponents of their weapons and exhibited them as impotent, defeated enemies. This describes an apekdusis of the enemy in ancient military life. The commander of the conquering army would publicly strip the defeated commanding officer of every weapon and remove his insignia of rank to demonstrate total victory over and unconditional surrender of the enemy.
We must recognise that Paul uses some vivid physical images to describe an invisible spiritual reality. Just as God did not literally nail a list of our debts on the cross, so Jesus did not literally exhibit defeated demons in Jerusalem. But these spiritual events were nevertheless real and actually took place in the invisible realm
The deep truth beneath Paul’s imagery is that forgiveness and victory both occurred simultaneously, and are always inescapably linked. In fact, we can say that Christ triumphed over evil by repaying our debts, that by delivering us from our sins he delivered us from sin.
Just as Jesus overcame the devil during his ministry by resisting all his temptations, and by his perfect submission and obedience to the Father, so he triumphed over the devil on the cross by his perfect obedience (see Romans 5:19 & Philippians 2:8).
The Son’s perfect submission was indispensable to salvation. If Jesus had disobeyed for a moment, had deviated one inch from God’s path, the devil would have gained a fingerhold and frustrated salvation. But, Jesus obeyed the Father completely – and so the devil was routed.
On the cross, the devil provoked Jesus through torture, injustice, lies and insults, but Jesus refused to retaliate. He could have summoned an angelic army to help him, he could have stepped down from the cross; but, instead of overcoming evil with power, he conquered it with good.
Despite everything that the devil did at the cross, he could gain no hold on Jesus; and, when Jesus died without sin, the devil had to concede defeat. The devil was truly trying to defeat Jesus through the cross, but he failed, and in turn, Jesus defeated him. This means that the long-predicted victory of the Seed, which began during Christ’s earthly life and ministry, was decisively accomplished by his death at the cross.
The confirmation of victory
Some believers seem to think that the cross was a temporary defeat and that the resurrection was the real moment of victory. But, the cross was the victory and the resurrection was merely the visible proof and public vindication of the victory on the cross. We see this, for example, in Acts 2:24; Ephesians 1:20-23 & 1 Peter 3:22.
Of course, the New Testament always links the cross and the empty tomb together – as in, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. This means that we should not proclaim the cross without the resurrection or the resurrection without the cross, for Jesus is both the living Lord and the atoning Saviour.
Despite this unbreakable link, we will understand salvation correctly only when we appreciate the true relation between Christ’s triumphant death and his confirming resurrection.
We have been saved by the blood of Jesus, by his death on the cross. It was the blood on the cross which achieved our salvation, revealed God’s nature and won the decisive victory over evil. It was the blood which accomplished our redemption, and reconciliation. It was the blood which satisfied the twin demands of God’s justice and love.
The New Testament always states that ‘Christ died for our sins’ and never that ‘he rose for our sins’: Hebrews 2:14 makes this plain. The resurrection did not earn our salvation; instead, it is the ultimate proof of our salvation. Just as the incarnation was the indispensable requirement for salvation, so the resurrection was the indispensable confirmation of salvation. The resurrection vindicated Jesus, declared that he was the Son of God, and revealed that his substitutionary death had won salvation. It was God’s way of publicly endorsing Jesus’ victory on the cross.
LIVING IN VICTORY
The Greek verb katargeo is often translated as ‘to destroy’ or ‘to abolish’, and is used in Hebrews 2:14 with reference to the devil, the flesh and death itself:
Jesus…became flesh and blood by being born in human form. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death.
Katargeo means ‘to make ineffective’ or ‘barren’, or ‘render inoperative’ and was the verb used in the first century Greek world to describe barren land and unproductive fruit trees. They still existed, they had not been destroyed, but they had been cut down and were quite barren.
When, therefore, the New Testament applies katargeo to the devil, the flesh and death, it is not suggesting that they were completely ‘destroyed’ at the cross. The devil is still active; the flesh continues to assert itself in our lives; death keeps on operating: they still exist, but they were cut down and broken on the cross.
This means that the decisive victory of Christ did not abolish the devil, the flesh and death, it simply rendered them ineffective – it stripped them of their power.
Living in victory, therefore, means living in the knowledge that Satan still exists, but that his power has been fundamentally broken; that the flesh still makes all manner of suggestions to us, but that these are essentially empty threats; that death still rears its ugly head, but that there is nothing to fear any more.
1 John 3:8 shows that the Son was sent by the Father to confront and defeat Satan, and to undo the damage which he had directly inflicted or indirectly caused:
When people keep on sinning, it shows they belong to the Devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy these works of the Devil.
The New Testament refers to many different aspects of Christ’s saving victory, but it particularly emphasises our triumphant freedom from the law, the flesh, the world and death itself.
Freedom from the law
In Romans 6:14; and Galatians 3:13, the apostle Paul teaches that we have been released from the bondage of the Law by Christ’s victory on the cross.
The Law condemned our disobedience, and so brought us under its ‘curse’ or judgement. But, Christ’s death released us from the Law’s curse because he became a curse for us. This means that Christ was the fulfilment or completion of the Law, and it no longer enslaves us by its condemnation.
Romans 8:1-4 explains that we are not condemned when we are in Christ, for God has condemned our sins in Christ. This passage shows that God did this so that the righteous requirements of the Law could be fully met in us; and it demonstrates that the cross released us from the Law’s condemnation so that we would be released into a life of walking in obedience to the Holy Spirit.
This means that Christ’s victory over the Law, and our resultant freedom from the Law, is demonstrated or evidenced by our walk in-and-with the Spirit. Quite simply, our life in the Spirit is our ongoing experience of Christ’s victory.
Freedom from the flesh
The ‘flesh’, sarx, represents people in their earthly origin, natural weakness and alienation from God, and that it is often the cause of sinful activity. The basic characteristic of human ‘flesh’ is selfcentredness, and Galatians 5:16-21 lists some of the consequences of the flesh’s natural appetites. Jesus spoke about the freedom he brings in Romans 6:6 show that our freedom from the fallen, selfish nature of the flesh comes from the cross:
- Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.
It is important to note that Galatians 5:16-25 describes freedom from the flesh in terms of walking in the Spirit. Once again, our ongoing experience of Christ’s victory is demonstrated by our walk in-andwith the Spirit. Our partnership with the Spirit is our experience of victory.
Freedom from the world
We can say that the ‘flesh’ is the devil’s basic hold inside us, and that the ‘world’ is his basic means of pressuring us from outside. In this context, ‘the world’ means the godless society which is hostile to the Church and which continually attempts to compromise its holy values.
In 1 John 2:15, the apostle John says that the love of the world and the love of the Father are incompatible, mutually exclusive:
- Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you.
The world is characterised by selfish desires, superficial judgements and sinful materialism, but Jesus overcame the world. Therefore, we can be overcomers too – through him.
When Jesus claimed that he had triumphed over the world, he meant that he had rejected its distorted values and maintained his godly perspective on people and material objects. When we believe in Jesus, we share his victory over the world by sharing his eternal values. Living in Christ’s victory over the world means not being conformed to its values and being progressively transformed by our renewed mind’s grasp of God’s will.
Nothing reveals God’s nature more clearly than the cross. It is through the cross that the world has been crucified to us, and we to the world, so that we are released from its bondage to live in the freedom of God’s will and values.
Freedom from death
Hebrews 2:14-15 teaches that Jesus has released us from the fear of death because, by his death, he has ‘destroyed’ (or, better, ‘made ineffective’) the one who holds the power of death.
Because sin is the ‘sting’ of death, the primary reason why death is painful and unpleasant, Jesus dealt with death by dealing with sin. It was sin which caused death in the first place, and which continues to cause humanity to face divine judgement after death – and this sinful root is the essential reason for the universal human fear of death.
Christ, however, has died for our sins and has taken them away. His victory over sin means that we are released from the fear of sin and judgement, and, therefore, from the fear of death.
In 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, the apostle Paul likens death both to a scorpion whose sting has been drawn and to a military conqueror whose power has been broken. Now that we have been forgiven through the death on the cross, death cannot harm us: through our Lord Jesus Christ, God has given us victory over the fear of death.
Of course, like the devil, death still remains: it has been neutralised, not eliminated. It still exists, but has lost its power to harm and terrify. John 11:25-26 records Jesus’ great promise to his disciples about death:
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish.”
This does not mean that we will escape physical death, but that it will simply be a transition from life on earth to fullness of life.
Being an overcomer
The central message of Revelation is clear: Jesus has defeated Satan on the cross, and will one day eliminate him altogether. It is only against the backdrop of these two absolute certainties that Revelation can encourage believers to confront Satan’s continuing activities of persecution, deception and seduction.
The Holy Spirit, through the Revelation of John, urges us to be overcomers, to enter into Christ’s victory on the cross and triumph over the devil’s power. And the New Testament suggests that there are two simple ways of becoming a victor and living in victory.
First, James 4:7 urge us to resist the devil, to stand firm against him in faith. We have nothing to fear because he has been defeated at the cross. When we are equipped with the Ephesians 6:10-17 armour of God, we can stand against him and prevail.
We are not to flee from the devils’ monsters of persecution, deception and seduction; we are to resist them in the name of Jesus the Victor so that the devil flees from us as he flees from Jesus.
In fact, we are not just conquerors, for Romans 8:37 describes us as hupernikao – ‘hyper-conquerors’ or ‘super-heroes’. Even in times of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, war, poverty and peril, Paul proclaims that we should be ‘more than conquerors’ – through him who loved us.
Then, second, Revelation 12:11 shows that we overcome the devil through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. We are called to proclaim, to demonstrate and to incarnate the good news about Jesus Christ. We witness and minister to Jesus that people turn from Satan to God, that Satan’s kingdom retreats and God’s advances.
We must remember that it is only by the cross of Christ that we can triumph over Satan – both in our personal lives and in the Church’s mission. We know that we are called to repentant holiness and radical evangelism, to selfless self-sacrifice and patient endurance; but these only have meaning and purpose because the ultimate completion of the Seed’s crushing victory over the serpent – which he won when he died.