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The Deity of Christ and the Kingdom

N. T. Wright, in his latest work How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, on the deity of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the cross:

It is possible to state the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity in such a way as to let it float loose from both kingdom and cross, but this is what the New Testament never does. The “God” who has become human in Jesus is the God who, as he had always promised, was returning to claim his sovereignty over the whole world (note the other sheep in John 10:16) and would do so by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people, “laying down his life for the sheep.” It is all too possible to “believe in the divinity of Jesus” and to couple this with an escapist view of salvation (“Jesus is God and came to snatch us away from this world”) in a way that may preserve an outward form of “Christian orthodoxy,” but that has left out the heart of the matter. God is the creator and redeemer of the world, and Jesus’s the launch of the kingdom – God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven – is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again.

How can we even begin to understand this? Perhaps we should say that, with the hindsight the evangelists offer us, God called Israel to be the means of rescuing the world, so that he might himself alone rescue the world by becoming Israel in the person of its representative Messiah.

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Victory Through Wrath-Bearing

It has often been thought the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement is incompatible with the traditional Protestant model of penal substitutionary atonement. The former teaches that in the atonement Christ defeats death and Satan, leaving Jesus the Messiah as the triumphant champion of his people. The latter teaches that on the cross Jesus took the penalty (‘penal’) of God’s wrath on behalf of his people (‘substitution’). There’s been a long history of theologians playing these two approaches off against one another, especially over the last century. In my view, this is unfortunate because both are clearly presented in Scripture and work together in tandem. Here Russell Moore shows why:

The historic Protestant understanding of the cross as essentially propitiatory and substitutionary ironically serves as the only way to make sense of the cosmic implications of both redemption and the fall since, in both, the destiny of the created order is tied to the mandate given to the human vicegerents responsible for creation. Indeed, it is the only way to make sense of the “Christus Victor” model itself. Thus, the defeat of the powers of darkness in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus means that the ancient serpent is indeed defeated, but this defeat comes through reversing human slavery to sin and death (John 8:31-47; 12:31-33; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 2:14-15) by hearing the punishment due to a humanity justly accused by the satanic powers (Col. 2:14-15; Rev. 12:10-12), and thereby restoring humanity as king of the cosmos in the person of the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-28; Heb. 2:5-18).

-Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective

Sinclair Ferguson ties this all together quite well:

A comprehensively biblical exposition of the work of Christ recognizes that the atonement, which terminates on God (in propitiation) and on man (in forgiveness), also terminates on Satan (in the destruction of his sway over believers). And it does this last precisely because it does the first two.

-Sinclair Ferguson, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, 185.

For more on the atonement, see,