This sermon presents a Christus Victor model for the atonement through the Resurrection. While the work is not included here, I’ve done extensive word studies on the “ransom” and “redeem/redemption” word groups and translated excerpts from the relevant passages ― all of which is background to the approach that frames this sermon. In short, I’m convinced that (notwithstanding the valid penal substitution angle) Christ’s death was a ransom to Satan which Jesus then took back after three days.

The analogies of the fishhook and the mousetrap are not mine, but were suggested by great theologians over 1,400 years ago. The Christus Victor model was the dominant view in the Church until the 12th century. Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor (ca. 1930) is a paradigm-shifting little book that I suspect many modern theologians cite more than they actually read. If you have questions about this model for the atonement, I suggest Gregory of Nyssa’s discussion in his catechism (ch. 22-26, see the footnotes) along with Aulen’s book. Above all, for pastors who read this, I encourage you to read beyond the narrow and “safe” lanes of your particular ecclesiastical orbit.

Seeing the Resurrection Through New Eyes

God paints reality in shades of black and white. Spiritual life or death.[1] Salvation or damnation. Rescue or prison. Liberation or slavery. Adoption or eternal exile. Cosmic victory or defeat.

This last one is how I invite you to view the Resurrection. It’s one way Jesus viewed it. Not just payment to God for sins. Not just satisfying God’s justice and a cosmic sense of “rightness.” But a divine victory for you over the forces of real darkness.

There is darkness in this world and in our souls, you know. Why do we do bad things? Why did a madman kill a Capitol police officer two days ago? Why did a guy murder six women in Atlanta, last month? Why did Hitler exist? Stalin? Mao?  Why did the U.S. government engineer and carry out forced deportation of Indians to the West in the early 19th century―something even Hitler is on record as drawing inspiration from?[2] Why did some churches in the antebellum South own slaves?[3] Why has there been a military coup in Myanmar? Why is this world so dark? Why is Starbucks espresso so bitter?  

These are existential questions that cry out for answers. Why is there “evil” in this world, and inside me, too?

Well, because we’re sick. This world is sick. This whole creation is sick. We need to be rescued from ourselves, liberated, delivered, bought back and led to safety. Shown the way by the God who made us. Who’s working to reverse what’s gone wrong.

We’re in trouble. We’re lost. We’re without hope. We’re criminals in God’s universe. We have a prison sentence hanging over our heads … But God has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! And, He does it here, on Easter Sunday, through the resurrection.

Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only Son, came here to rescue us. In return, He asks us to change our allegiance. To repent. To turn. To acknowledge our insurgency against God. To apologize and mean it, and to believe He really can rescue us.

That’s what the resurrection is about. Rescue. Liberation. Being ransomed and set free from a kidnapper.   

You’ve put together furniture. You know about those assembly kits. They come with pre-packed screws, Allen wrenches, washers, all that stuff. The bible’s portrait of Christ’s ministry is like that. We’re used to using only the #3 screw and the Allen wrench (penal substitution). We’ve forgotten there a #5 screw, and a different Allen wrench, and a washer or two that we can also pick up. Now, you can use the same screws for everything, and the thing will still “work.” But, it’ll work better if you use all the tools.

And so, we’ll understand Christ better if we look at all the facets of this diamond. We’re stuck on the Cross. We hardly mention the resurrection when we think of the Gospel. It’s time to redeem the empty tomb as Christ’s victory over Satan for us.

The Parable of the Strong Man―Christ as Victor

Jesus paints His interaction with Satan as a battle that He wins. In Luke 11:20-23, in the context of rejecting the accusation that He’s an agent of Satan, Jesus offers this little analogy:

But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

The blanks aren’t hard to fill in. Satan is the strong man guarding his home. Picture him patrolling his front yard with a shotgun and a scowl. Jesus is the stronger man who attacks Satan, overcomes him, tosses his weapons and armor aside, then takes everything that belongs to him. Mark, in his version of the same parable, records Jesus saying:

But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house (Mark 3:27).

In order to go into the house, Jesus first has to destroy, tie up, overcome, hog-tie, defeat the strong man in single combat. Then, he can plunder, steal, take by force, rob the guy’s goods from his home.

This is a battle, a combat. Jesus will crush Satan, beat him down in his own driveway, then go inside and rob everything he’s got. He’ll back a pickup up to the front door and loot everything Satan has. As Satan lies in the flowerbed moaning, Jesus will kick him in the face once more for good measure.  Then, He’ll hop back in the truck and drive away with Satan’s goods in the back.  

But, how does it happen? What does it look like? Jesus paints an exciting picture, but it’s a metaphor―He doesn’t mean it literally―so we wonder. Will it be a frontal assault (a la Pickett’s charge or Normandy)? Or, will it be more crafty, more sneaky, more delicious and hilarious in its victory?

Winning the Victory―The Great Payoff

I want you to think of two words: “ransom” and “redeem/redemption.” Both these terms appear in your bibles, but we’re so used to seeing them that they’ve lost their force. They’ve become Christianese, not English.

“Ransom” means what you think it means.[4] It’s the payment that rescues someone.[5] In the New Testament era, it usually meant the price paid to free a captive from a captor.

Let me share an example.

On 03 March 1932, someone kidnapped Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s 20-month old baby from their home in New Jersey. The mother was taking a bath and the baby was alone in the crib. When they discovered the child missing, Lindbergh grabbed a gun and searched the house and the grounds. He found a ransom note on the window sill:

Dear Sir! Have 50.000$ redy 25 000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills After 2–4 days we will inform you were to deliver the mony. We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police the child is in gut care.

The kidnappers eventually raised the ransom to $70,000. Intermediaries met with the kidnappers to negotiate, and they provided articles of the poor baby’s clothing to prove they were for real. Lindbergh paid $50,000 of the ransom. But, the parents never got the child back. People found the baby dead in the woods near the Lindbergh home on 12 May 1932.

“Redeem” or “redemption” means the act of buying back the slave; setting the captive free. These words are two sides of the same coin. Ransom is the price Lindbergh paid, and “redemption” is the rescue Lindbergh hoped to achieve with that ransom. They’re near synonyms―different words with almost the same meanings.

Now, once we get that set in our minds, I want you to think about what these passages mean:

Mark 10:45: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Ransom means paying money to a kidnapper―who’s the kidnapper?

1 Timothy 2:5-6: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

Ransom means the price to buy a hostage back from a captor―who’s the captor?

Titus 2:14: … who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Redeem means the act of buying our freedom from a hostile agent―who’s the hostile agent?

1 Peter 1:18: you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Christ’s death was the price to buy off someone to let you go―who’d the payment go to?

Romans 3:24: … and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

How does God make you righteous? By the redemption, the purchase from slavery, that’s because of Christ Jesus―but purchase from whom?

1 Corinthians 1:30: And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Jesus is the Wisdom, the Righteousness, the Sanctifier … the Redeemer,  the Liberator who bought us back from the slavemaster―who’s the slavemaster?

Ephesians 1:7: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Redemption is the great purchase and rescue from bondage―rescue from whom?

Hosea 13:14: I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?

God buys us back from death, who’s kidnapped us. Death is a force that needs to be paid off so it’ll let us go―how does Jesus pay death off for us?

Jeremiah 31:11: For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him

God buys us back from our captor; buys him off and rescues us from hands too strong for us to break―how does this ransom drop happen?

Who’s the Payoff To?

As strange as it might seem at first glance, God paints Christ’s death and resurrection as Jesus ransoming us from Satan.[6] My own translation of 1 Timothy 2:5-6, keeping in mind the real meaning of “ransom,” is this:

For there is one God, and one mediator between God[7] and men―the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a payoff[8] for the benefit[9] of all people …”

Why do I say this? Well, a ransom goes to the kidnapper and God isn’t the kidnapper! Satan is the kidnapper. He’s kidnapped unbelievers, he controls them, they naturally “belong” to him―are you still his captive? God made us for Himself in the beginning, but now that’s all reversed. The Apostle Paul says we’re all born as “sons of disobedience” and are “children of wrath,” (Eph 2:1-3). The Apostle John writes “we are from God, [but][10] the whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” (1 John 5:19). This is why the scripture says when we become believers, we’re rescued (that word is not an accident!)[11] from the “domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Colossians 1:13-14). There’s a transfer of ownership.

So, this “payoff,” this ransom, must go to Satan. It’s what “ransom” means. It’s what “redemption” means. So, it’s what had to have happened. “The Son of Man came … to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45). This doesn’t displace “paying for my sins, as my substitute,” but augments it―Christ’s ministry is a diamond with different facets.

But, we wonder, didn’t Satan try to stop Jesus from going to the Cross?[12] There’s the temptation in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-11). There’s Peter trying to stop Jesus from going to the Cross. “Get behind me, Satan!” and all that (Mark 8:33). It seems like Satan did try to stop Jesus at first, but he apparently changed his mind.

After the Lazarus miracle, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin decided Jesus had to die, but quietly, discreetly (Jn 11:45-53). Then, on Palm Sunday, we see the uneasiness among Sanhedrin (Jn 12:9-11, 19). Satan sees this and senses opportunity. We know this, because on Wednesday during Holy Week (cf. Mark 14:1), Satan decides to go all in for force:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them (Lk 22:3-4).

Satan changed his tactics―why?

Why Did Satan Switch Tactics?

The scriptures tell us:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, 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 (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Jesus’ death destroys Satan. Then, Jesus delivers, releases, sets us free. We’re the “goods” and “spoil” that Jesus plunders from Satan’s house, from that analogy from Luke. The resurrection is when He triumphs over Satan. God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [Christ],” (Colossians 2:15).

The resurrection is when Jesus points His finger and laughs at Satan, mocking him. If this were a bad movie (that is, one of those movies that are so bad they’re actually good), we might imagine a scene like this:

  • SATAN: “No! It can’t be! It can’t … !”
  • JESUS: “Yep, it’s me! Surprise, sucker!”

But, again, why did Satan accept this “payoff?” Why did he orchestrate it? Isn’t he crafty enough to avoid this mistake? Satan isn’t stupid, so Jesus must have deceived him, and He must have done it by attacking Satan’s great weakness.

How’d he do that? Well, Satan has great pride. He wants to replace God and rule over all. He’s been trying to kill Messiah from the beginning. Revelation 12 gives us a dramatic picture of all that. Then we think about Herod the Great’s slaughter of the children in Bethlehem. The temptation in the wilderness. He attempts to kill Jesus in His hometown synagogue (Luke 4:29-30). Then the machinations with Judas.

Satan originally tried to tempt Jesus away from the Cross. To divert Him, offer a shortcut. Satan’s afraid of the Cross. But, Satan changes his mind sometime between Lazarus and Palm Sunday. He thinks he can handle the Cross.

So, like a gambler, Satan spins the roulette wheel and puts all his chips on the Cross, figuring He can handle it. Because he has great pride

Why would Satan change his tactics and push events towards an outcome he’s tried to avoid for nearly three years? Jesus must have bluffed Satan―tricked him.

How’d He do it? How did he trick Satan?

The Devil’s Mousetrap―”It’s a Trap!!”

During the last week of Jesus’ life, He declared: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out,” (Jn 12:30-31). It’s as if Jesus said, “By my death this Friday, and my resurrection on Sunday, I’ll defeat Satan and leave him lying broken and beaten on his own front porch!”

The Cross is a deliberate trap―a trojan horse, a subterfuge, a divine false flag operation meant to fool Satan into making a bad bet.[13] Satan thought he’d win―why else would he try it? You think he thought he’d lose, and was just going through the motions? Of course not. Jesus knew He’d win―why do you think He went through with it?

The Cross is actually the greatest double-cross in history. At the end of the last supper, just as they got up from the table to head to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus declared:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me (John 14:30-31).

Jesus knows Satan’s got nothing on Him, but goes ahead―and that’s the point! Jesus fooled Satan by cloaking Himself in humanity.[14] “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,”[15] (1 Corinthians 2:8).

His new and real humanity made Satan “forget” who He is, to underestimate Him, to think He’s weak (cf. Isa 52:13-53:12). Why else would Satan even try the temptations? He knows who Jesus is, but always thinks he can get him, trick him, tempt him, outwit Him.

And so, Jesus made Satan believe he could actually pull this off―and does it from within this broken system. He uses Satan’s own weaknesses against him and defeats him by craft―not by brute force,[16] but by “fair play,”[17] by playing the game from within the sinful system and winning.

Satan has no claim on Jesus. None. Jesus has no sin, so He’s not under any penalty. He’s out of bounds. It’s against the rules for Satan to take Him. Yet, Satan takes Jesus anyway―he kills him. He thinks he can get away with it. He thinks he can handle it.

But, by taking an innocent man against the rules,[18] Satan loses everything he has. His power is broken. He’s ejected the magazine from his own weapon just as Jesus comes walks up the driveway. He’s defenseless!

If you imagine a scene from that same “so bad its good” TV movie, it might look something like this:

  • Satan (defiant, smirking): “These criminals are mine, and I’m in charge here!”
  • Jesus: “Yeah, well … you just killed me, and I never sinned, so you actually have no power over me at all. You have no claim on me. You had no right to take my life.”
  • Satan (licking lips nervously): “What do you mean?”
  • Jesus: “It means you just fell for it, buddy. I let myself be captured by you. I let myself be killed to pay for everything bad anyone’s ever done. I tricked you into letting me inside your gates, and I’ve broken your power. And now, I’m gonna prove it to everyone by heading back in three days. How do you like them apples?”

And so, to continue the scene, the resurrection is when Jesus punches Satan in the face, beats him down in his own front yard, steps over his body and goes into the house to grab all the folks out of the basement and bring them to safety―do you want to come along? Or, do you want to stay in the bad man’s house?

It isn’t surprising that Jesus paints His victory in violent terms, because “[t]he reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” (1 John 3:8).

Exhortation―Victory in Jesus!

Jesus’ death and resurrection is like a fishhook[19] with Christ as the bait. He dangles there, tantalizing, irresistible. Satan gobbles Him down and is poisoned. He vomits up everything he has. Then he perishes; dead because of his own pride.

Or, you could think of it like a mousetrap.[20] Satan goes for the tasty Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese. The trap snaps, breaking his neck. His power over his slaves is gone. He knows about the trap, knows it’s dangerous, but thought he could beat it. And so he dies like a fool.

Jesus pays the ransom with His life, then takes it right back once He locks away the kidnapper. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again,” (John 10:17-18).

He picks up the ransom bag from beside the mousetrap where Satan dropped it. “Thanks for watching this for me, I’ll take it back now!” Satan’s legs are still spasming as Jesus walks away, bag in hand.

This is the truth. The hook, barb, or poison dart that death uses to sting every one of us is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56)―which is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). We commit divine crimes by breaking God’s law, and sin’s power is that it brings death. It accuses us, “Look what you’ve done! This means death is coming for you pal, ‘cuz it means you belong to me,” (1 Corinthians 15:56) But, as the Apostle Paul says, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

The resurrection is Jesus’ battle cry of victory, and it’s supposed to be ours, too. A victory over evil. A victory over the Accuser. A victory over everything that’s so wrong in this world. Satan ain’t dead yet, but he’s that mouse, choking with a broken neck in that trap. Kicking his legs and fading out. He’s the fish caught on the hook, gasping in the bottom of the boat. Growing weak, dying.

And so, in light of this, Jesus says to you and I, “Come with me if you want to live!”[21] Have you done this? Pledged allegiance to Him? His victory is why we have hope! Come to Jesus and take the victory He’s won for you.


[1] See also the Didache 1.1: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways,” (The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., trans. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, revised by Michael Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), p. 149).

[2] Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory (New York: Norton, 2020), p. xvi.

[3] Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson, Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2021), pp. 117-118 (esp. fn. 57).

[4] The word group is λύτρον, ἀντίλυτρον, ἀπολύτρωσις, λυτρόω, λύτρωσις, λυτρωτής.

[5] Alistair McGrath summed up three implications that go with “ransom” idea from the New Testament scriptures; (1) liberation or rescue, (2) a payment, and (3) someone to whom the ransom is paid (Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Malden: Blackwell, 2001), p. 415).

[6] “For being free from debt, He gave Himself up to that most cruel creditor, and suffered the hands of the Jews to be the devil’s agents in torturing his spotless flesh. Which flesh he willed to be subject to death, even up to His speedy resurrection, to this end, that believers in Him might find neither persecution intolerable, nor death terrible, by the remembrance that there was no more doubt about their sharing His glory than there was about His sharing their nature,” (Leo the Great, “Sermon 72,” in NPNF 2.7, pp. 184-185). Emphasis mine.

[7] The genitive in μεσίτης θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπων is a genitive of space.

[8] Lest anyone think I’m being blasphemous, you’ll see “payoff” as a suggested synonym for the noun “ransom” in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford, 2012), p. 723, and the Oxford definition for the noun “ransom” is in line with the Greek lexicons I’ve cited, above (see New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford, 2011), s.v. “ransom,” n., p. 1445).

[9] I take the preposition ὑπὲρ to be expressing benefaction.

[10] I believe the conjunction καὶ expresses contrast (cf. NEB, REB), but the point is made even with a translation of “and.”

[11] The relevant word here (ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους) means “to rescue from danger,” (Louw-Nida, 21.23; cf. BDAG (907)). I’d render it as “… who rescued us from the power of darkness.”

[12] This objection is common. Representative examples are James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p. 328, and Friedrich Büchsel and Otto Procksch: “It is by no means commensurate with Jesus’ powerful concept of God that the many should have to be rescued from bondage to Satan. This concept demands that they be liberated from indebtedness to God,” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), s.v. “Λύτρον,” B.4, p. 344).

R.C.H. Lenski objects that the offering cannot be to Satan, because Jesus said He committed His spirit into the Father’s hands; Lk 23:46 (Interpretation of Mark’s Gospel (Columbus: Wartburg, 1946), p. 465). However, this citation from Ps 31:5 is simply an expression of absolute trust. As the representative man, Jesus trusts the Father completely. And, Jesus surely knows the whole plan (cf. Jn 10:18). Lenski’s objection does not stand.

[13] On the fairness and justice of this subterfuge, see Gregory of Nyssa, “The Great Catechism,” ch. 26, in NPNF 2.5 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), pp. 495-496.

[14] Gregory of Nyssa (“Catechism,” ch. 24, in NPNF 2.5, p. 494) and John of Damascus, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” §3.1, in NPNF 2.9 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1899), p. 45).

[15] This is likely a deliberately vague reference to both human and demonic “rulers.” David Garland blithely dismisses this understanding at 1 Cor 2:6 based on the phrase’s usage in the NT, and remarks it only refers to Satan when it’s in the singular (1 Corinthians, in BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), pp. 93-94). This is an unpersuasive analysis―the context can suggest either. C.K. Barrett is correct to see spiritual forces (The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 72).

[16] “He overcomes evil, not by an almighty fiat, but by putting in something of His own, through a Divine self-oblation,” (Gustaf Aulén, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, trans. A.G. Herbert (London: SPCK, 1931; reprint, Crossreach, 2016, Kindle ed.), p. 43.

[17] “The background of the Latin theory may truly be called legal; but in the Fathers the essential idea which the legal language is intended to express is that God’s dealings even with the powers of evil have the character of ‘fair play,’” (Aulen, Christus Victor, p. 43).

[18] The Christus Victor model stumbles badly here because it can’t articulate how, exactly, Jesus’ death and resurrection wins victory for His people. It can’t describe the mechanics of this victory. It has no concept of substitution, of satisfaction, of justice. Chrysostom’s attempts to explain fall flat (John Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of St. John,” Jn 12:31, in NPNF 1.14 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), p. 249). This is where the penal substitution model excels. It’s necessary to cross-pollinate the two models. I realize my brief sketch here has some logical holes, but I think it’s faithful to the best aspects of both models.

[19] This is from Gregory of Nyssa (“Catechism,” ch. 24, NPNF 2.5, p. 494) and John of Damascus (“Orthodox Faith,” §3.27, NPNF 2.9, p. 72).   

[20] Augustine, “Sermon 261.” Excerpt from Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, §5.10, 3rd ed. (Malden: Blackwell, 2007), pp. 352-353.

[21] I know I’m channeling Reece from “The Terminator,” but if it works, it works …

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