Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | June 20, 2008

Christus Victor

Why do so many believers fear death? Christians were once known as the people who had no fear of death. Here’s how Athanasius of Alexandria described the situation in his time, the 4th century:

All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. On the Incarnation 5.27

The early Christians’ view of their own deaths was different than that of many modern Christians and they also had a different view of Jesus’ death. I’ve begun to wonder if their view of Jesus’ death might explain – in part – the difference in their view of death in general.

One of the most common explanations of Jesus’ atoning death in our modern Christian theology is that he died to satisfy the wrath of the Father. The Father was angry about our sin and needed to execute someone for it so he he executed Jesus instead of us.

The early Christians tended to more often explain Jesus’ death as a victory – sometimes called in Latin Christus Victor (the victory of Christ). They explained Jesus’ death as the Son of God entering into the very heart of human falleness to defeat the enemies that would try to steal us from the Father and hold us captive: sin, death, and the devil.

In a theology where Jesus’ death is an act to satisfy the Father’s wrath the resurrection and ascension are little more than Jesus getting up and going home after finishing his work. But in the theology of Christ’s victory, we died when Christ died (2 Cor. 5:14) and the resurrection of Christ is humanity’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:22) and his ascension is our ascension to the right of the Father (Eph. 2:6).

I can see in my life, and in the lives of others, that if you believe death will lead you into the presence of a Father who kills those who sin against him then death becomes a fearful thing. After all, how can I know for sure where I stand with him?

On the other hand, if you believe that – in Christ – you have already died, already risen, and already been accepted at the Father’s right hand then death becomes nothing but a doorway to go home and be with our Dad forever.



  1. Good stuff, Pastor Jonathan. Christus Victor MAGNIFIES our Father in heaven! It makes HIm HUGE and LOVING! And it is truly GOOD NEWS! The other idea, of a God who is angry with us because of our behavior, whose face is papered over with an excuse called “holiness,” makes God so small and scary. And the formulation of the gospel that holds that Jesus only died as the Father’s punching bag in our place is comparable to the “good news” that a child stepped in between his abusive human father and his mother, sparing her from a beating, taking the punches meant for her. Sorry, that is sick, and NOT good news.

  2. Thanks for the great comments, Jerome – I totally agree with your analogy of the dysfunctional family, that is not good news!
    Sorry to be so slow in responding to your comment, I just found it in my spam folder. For some reason wordpress will occasionally flag a comment as spam even when it’s from a friend like you!

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