John Stott: Victory in the Cross of Christ

Jesus conquered the powers of evil at the cross

John Stott: Victory in the Cross of Christ

Jesus conquered the powers of evil at the cross

It is impossible to read the New Testament without being impressed by the atmosphere of joyful confidence which pervades it, and which stands out in relief against the rather jejune religion that often passes for Christianity today. There was no defeatism about the early Christians; they spoke rather of victory.

Victory, conquest, triumph, overcoming—this was the vocabulary of those first followers of the risen Lord. For if they spoke of victory, they knew they owed it to the victorious Jesus.

The conquest is depicted in Scripture as unfolding in six stages, although the decisive defeat of Satan took place at the cross.

Stage one is the conquest predicted. The first prediction was given by God Himself in the Garden of Eden as part of His judgment on the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). We identify the woman’s seed as the Messiah, through whom God’s rule of righteousness will be established and the rule of evil eradicated. 

The second stage was the conquest begun in the ministry of Jesus. Recognizing Him as his future conqueror, Satan made many different attempts to get rid of Him. … But Jesus was determined to fulfill what had been written of Him. He announced that through Him God’s Kingdom had come upon that very generation, and that His mighty works were visible evidence of it. We see His Kingdom advancing and Satan’s retreating, as demons are dismissed, sicknesses are healed and disordered nature itself acknowledges its Lord (Mark 1:21-26; Matthew 4:23; Mark 4:39).

The “overpowering” and “binding” of the strong man (Luke 10:18; 11:21-22) did not take place, however, until the third and decisive stage, the conquest achieved, at the cross. 

Perhaps the most important New Testament passage in which the victory of Christ is set forth is Colossians 2:13-15: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it all 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” (NIV, 1984).

Paul here brings together two different aspects of the saving work of Christ, namely the forgiveness of our sins, and the overthrow of principalities and powers. 

He overcame the devil by totally resisting his temptations. Tempted to avoid the cross, Jesus persevered in the path of obedience, and “became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians. 2:8). If He had disobeyed, by deviating an inch from the path of God’s will, the devil would have gained a toehold and frustrated the plan of salvation. But Jesus obeyed, and the devil was routed. 

He was “crucified in weakness,” though the weakness of God was stronger than human strength. Thus He refused either to disobey God, or to hate His enemies, or to imitate the world’s use of power. By His obedience, His love and His meekness, He won a great moral victory over the powers of evil. He remained free, uncontaminated, uncompromised (2 Corinthians 13:4; 1 Corinthians 1:25; John 14:30).

So the victory of Christ, predicted immediately after the Fall and begun during His public ministry, was decisively won at the cross. The remaining three parts of the conquest were the outworkings of this.

Fourthly, the resurrection was the conquest confirmed and announced. We are not to regard the cross as defeat and the resurrection as victory. Rather, the cross was the victory won, and the resurrection was the victory endorsed, proclaimed and demonstrated. “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him,” because death had already been defeated. The evil principalities and powers, which had been deprived of their weapons and their dignity at the cross, were now in consequence put under His feet and made subject to Him (Acts 2:24; Ephesians 1:18-23; 1 Peter 3:22).

The death and resurrection of Jesus belong together in the New Testament, and one is seldom mentioned without the other.

Nevertheless, we need to be clear about the nature of the relationship between the death and resurrection of Jesus, and careful not to ascribe saving efficacy to both equally. For it was by His death, and not by His resurrection, that our sins were dealt with. Nowhere in the New Testament is it written that “Christ rose for our sins.” It was by His resurrection that Christ conquered death, and by His death that He destroyed him who holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).

To sum up, the Gospel includes both the death and resurrection of Jesus, since nothing would have been accomplished by His death if He had not been raised from it. Yet the Gospel emphasizes the cross, since it was there that the victory was accomplished. The resurrection did not achieve our deliverance from sin and death, but has brought us an assurance of both. It is because of the resurrection that our “faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:3, 21).

Fifthly, the conquest is extended as the church goes out on its mission, in the power of the Spirit, to preach Christ crucified as Lord and to summon people to repent and believe in Him. In every true conversion there is a turning not only from sin to Christ, but “from darkness to light,” “from the power of Satan to God,” and “from idols to serve the living and true God.” There is also a rescue “from the dominion of darkness … into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Acts 26:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; Colossians 1:13). So every Christian conversion involves a power encounter in which the devil is obliged to relax his hold on somebody’s life and the superior power of Christ is demonstrated.

Sixthly, we are looking forward to the conquest consummated at the Parousia [Second Coming of Christ]. The interim between the two advents is to be filled with the church’s mission. The Lord’s Anointed is already reigning, but He is also waiting until His enemies become a footstool for His feet. On that day every knee will bow to Him and every tongue will confess Him Lord. The devil will be thrown into the lake of fire, where death and Hades will join him, for the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Then, when all evil dominion, authority and power have been destroyed, the Son will hand over the Kingdom to the Father, and He will be all in all (Psalm 110:1; Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 20:10, 14; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

For Christians, as for Christ, life spells conflict. For Christians, as for Christ, it should also spell victory. Christ has redeemed us from the law’s curse by becoming a curse for us. Freedom from our fallen nature and its selfishness comes through the cross. Jesus made the claim … “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Through Christ, we can be overcomers too. It is sin which causes death, and which after death will bring the judgment. But Christ has died for our sins and taken them away. Now that we are forgiven, death can harm us no longer.  ©2006 John R.W. Stott

Unless otherwise stated, Bible verses are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. The verse marked NIV, 1984 is taken from the NIV published in 1984. The verse marked ESV is from the English Standard Version. 

John R.W. Stott (1921-2011) was a pastor to pastors, a servant of the church in countries across the globe, and author of more than 50 books, including seminal classics such as Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ.

Taken from The Cross of Christ, by John Stott. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515, USA.

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