The Authority of the Cross

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Far too many Christians take a phrase from Luther without the faith of Luther. They do believe that this world is “with devils filled,” but have no knowledge of the “one little word” which fells the evil one. That one little word is cross. Christ is the Savior of the world, not only because He died for the world, and for lost humanity, but because in His death He overthrew the reigning principalities and powers who had previously been in power. Tragically, many Christians believe that spiritual warfare is conducted as though Christ never died, or as though His death is historically irrelevant. But this is not what the Bible teaches.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (John 12:31-32).

What was the old world like? Throughout the Old Testament we see a celestial and angelic government over the nations of men. The gods of the various nations are closely identified with those nations. For example, angelic beings stand behind the nations of Persia (Dan. 10:13) or Tyre (Ez. 28:11-16). General statements are made in which God is contrasted with these beings, and He is regarded as being in another category entirely. “Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; nor are there any works like Your works” (Ps. 86:8). God was sovereign over such celestials then, but He exercised His sovereignty over and through them. They were, in some significant sense, mediatorial princes. But in the Christian aeon, God has established just one Prince . . . and He is one of us, a man.

This is why the Christian aeon is the age in which man comes to maturity. The period of the New Testament is the time of transition between the reign of the celestial princes, and the dominion of man in Christ. “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: ‘What is man that You are mindful of him. . .’ For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:5-9). The author of Hebrews did not yet see the promise made to mankind fulfilled. Nevertheless, he does see the fulfillment of this as centered in Christ.

Now an important distinction is necessary. God, by definition, has always exercised sovereign control over all the world. The hair on every head has always been numbered. But in the accomplished mission of Christ, the cross and resurrection, God established a new mediatorial rule in the world. Christ as the eternal Word of God has always been sovereign. But in the events of the Incarnation through the Ascension, God has established His Son as a new mediatorial Prince, and those who trust in Him are seated and enthroned in the heavenly places in Christ.

So we must remember the power of the conquering cross. This is how the New Testament describes it over and over again. If we miss this, we are missing a central part of the impact of the gospel. Note especially the italics. “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’” (1 Cor. 2:6-7). What did these rulers not know? They did not know the cross would topple them, and glorify the saints. Jesus said this of their ruler, “. . . of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:11). Paul exults in this conquest: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15). A triumph included a public humiliation of the defeated after the battle was over.

So what was the point of the cross? “. . . that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil . . .” (Heb. 2:14). What Satan offered Christ in the temptation, Christ refused. But Christ refused it because He was planning to knock him down, and take the kingdoms of men from him. “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house” (Mark 3:27).

This is why we declare that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth now. Jesus is the God of this world, the God of this age. “. . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth . . .” (Rev. 1:5-6; 11:15; Heb. 6:5). We cannot faithfully declare His cross without declaring what it actually accomplished.

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