In my last post , I described in a fair amount of detail what I call the “truth about Easter.” In popular, Western Christianity, there is an unconscious, mostly unthinking prejudice toward understanding the cross as a picture of God’s wrath and punishment against sin unleashed upon Godself in Christ. As I argued in my post, however, if we presume that God were not to respond in such a way to human sinfulness (that is, to punish human sin with death, destruction and hell), we can still adequately describe the nature and reality of “hell” exclusively from the basis of considerations of the “natural” consequences of human sinfulness and violence toward God and self.

The truth about Easter, then, is not that God needs the cross in order to forgive humanity by punishing Christ, but rather that the cross is an expression of sinful humanity’s “gratitude” for God’s love: God in Christ comes with grace and mercy, and we respond in our hatred by nailing Christ to a cross, exulting in his brutal and violent end. Therefore, the cross is really a revelation of our true predicament apart from God, and casts a bright light on what our fundamental need is: to be freed from slavery to sin and the fear of death.

In this conclusion, then, I wish to describe how I believe that Christ has accomplished this work in the cross. However, before we get to the conclusion, let me make just a few remarks.

Behind the Curtain

While we see that the truth about Easter is the depravity of the human species as evidenced in their response to God’s love and mercy by their brutal slaughter of Christ, we must recognize that it is not humanity alone that is acting in this great drama. That is, Christ’s death is not simply the result of prime historical forces falling into place, as if what transpired in the Incarnation would have had a different result in some other scenario. No, because of the nature of human sinfulness, and the depth of human hatred and animosity toward God, there is a manner of inevitability to Christ’s death, for the cross is a trans-historical picture of sinful humanity’s natural response to the kingdom of God.

But again, this inevitability is not based in historical coincidences or the fortuitous alignment of the fates; it is the result of the driving force of human sinfulness ultimately expressing itself over and against the will of God. You see, while humans are certainly sinful individually, there is a power behind the sinfulness that is more than the sum of the persons of humanity. Call it the devil, the forces of darkness, or even the phenomenon of transcendent, demonic power emerging from group violence, there is a power–the power of sin and death–underlying and compelling the events that transpire in the cross. As slaves to this power of sin and death, humans are the willing, yet perhaps unwitting participants in something that is beyond the combined force of their numbers. And so when Christ appears, they do what they are driven to do, even though, in Christ’s own words, they don’t entirely grasp the reality of what they are doing.

This is a critical point for what comes next, because the cross takes on a much greater place in universal history than would otherwise be. Far away from the apparently insignificant political/religious skirmish that it might be understood as apart from such considerations, the cross, properly understood, is the epic, cosmic culmination of the full and ancient history of human sinfulness in its final attempt to ascend above the most high. It is the final battleground where the purposes of God in creation will once and for all confront the rebellion of sinful humanity and the annihilating forces of sin and death.

So in effect, what we see in the cross is the consummation of the struggle that began in Genesis. In the cross, the untold years of the history of violence and rebellion are amassed to make their final grasp at ascendancy over God. Every act of violence, every programme of hatred, every demonic event is resurrected and combined in power to once and for all confront and crush the kingdom of God. It is sinful humanity’s last and greatest effort to deify the self, recreating itself in its own image, casting off the image of the creator which is has utterly rejected in rebellion.

The Tactics of the Struggle

Of course, given the infinite history and experience of human sinfulness, the tactics brought to this armageddon are clever and, I believe, are at least two-fold.

Option 1: Capitulation

Knowing that they cannot ultimately bring about the ontological dissolution of God, the powers of sin and death’s most desired end would be to get Christ to lash back out against the hatred and violence of humanity in the cross with a similar display of retaliatory violence. In fact, we see this temptation leveled several times against Christ. At one point, Christ remarks that it would be possible for him to call upon the powers of heaven, and legions of angels (warriors) would arrive to save him from death and bring about the swift end of his enemies. And on the cross, another temptation is veiled in a taunt: “if you are from God, save yourself.” And: “you saved others, but you can’t save yourself!” In each of these temptations, the desired reaction from Christ is that he will give in to the pressure of violence and respond in kind, that he will force the hand of God and bring about the greatest bloodbath the world has ever seen.

But why were these temptations raised? The powers of sin and death had Christ where they wanted him, did they not? Why would they wish to incite him to call upon the full might of heaven, simply so that they could be crushed by divine violence? The reason is simple, and demonically brilliant. If the powers of sin and death could have elicited such a reaction from Christ, then the tactics and fundamental nature of human sinfulness and violence would have been legitimated. After all, if Christ responds in kind (with hatred and violence), according to the patterns of sin and death, there remains no room for judgment against the impropriety of such tactics. In the singular act of retaliation, Christ would have validated the untold history of human sinfulness and rebellion against God. The designs of human self-will would have triumphed, the ascendancy above the Most High would have been complete.

Unfortunately for the plan of the powers of sin and death, Christ resisted the temptation. Although we see a clear internal struggle about this, Christ ultimately submits to the will of the Father, a will which obviously did not include this course of action.

Option 2: The Nuclear Option

Not being able to achieve such a capitulation to retaliatory violence, the powers of sinfulness settle for the next best thing: the nuclear option. By the cross, the powers of human sinfulness unleash the full history of human violence and hatred upon Christ. In this death, they enact a judgement upon Christ, judging him (and vicariously God) as deserving of death and destruction. The ancient curse of dissolution and destruction has been turned on Christ, its full consequences meted out in his person on the cross. As Christ breathes his last, the judgment of the powers of sin and death appears legitimate, for Christ has succumbed to the end which was originally promised for sinful humanity. The powers of sin and death exult in their apparent triumph, for in Christ’s lifeless body is portrayed the final, magnificent triumph of human self-will over that of the divine, and God’s claims as Creator and King dissolve as Christ’s body is committed to the dust.

The Curse is Broken

For several hours, now, Christ has lain dead in the ground. The tables of the ancient curse of destruction have been demonically turned on Christ, and in his continued state of death is pronounced the apparent triumph of sin and death over very God. And lest we misunderstand, the judgment of Christ by the powers of human sinfulness is no trivial affair. As mentioned before, this judgment was the culmination of the entire history of human sinfulness, violence, and enmity toward God. In the cross, the full and ultimate power of human sinfulness is  displayed; the chips are pushed all in; everything is laid bare on the table.

But then something unexpected happens. No, it’s more than unexpected. It’s actually impossible. The curse, after all, is binding and absolute. Death is the end, it is finality. The dead…are dead…are dead. They do not continue on and persevere; they do not taste life again. Death is the end. Blackness. Nothingness. Unbecoming.

And yet against the very principles of reality and the curse, Christ is resurrected by God. He shakes off the curse of death and in ushered into the newness of life granted to him by the Father in resurrection.

The Real, Real Truth About Easter

Time for the payoff :)

Remember the “judgment” which the powers of sin and death leveled against Christ on the cross? In their judgment, they assert the ultimate condemnation of God and pronounce the propriety of their ancient claim to human self-rule apart from the designs and purposes of the Creator. And because they seal this assertion with the very death of the God-man, the ancient curse which was the fitting end for sinful humanity has now been turned on the head of God in Christ. The judgment appears valid and standing, for Christ has died and stays dead.

Yet in the resurrection, we see something very interesting happen. The premise of the judgment from the powers of sin and death, after all, was based on the “staying-dead-ness” of Christ, e.g., their assertions of propriety in judgment were intrinsically linked to the efficacy of the curse turned upon Christ in the cross. However, as Christ is raised from death to the newness of divine life in resurrection, the power of the curse is shattered. Because the curse and power of death no longer hold their grip on Christ, the judgment that the powers of sin and death bring against Christ is shown to be fundamentally illegitimate.

In essence, resurrection becomes a judgment of its own. While the powers of sin and death determined that Christ (and vicariously God) was deserving of death, the resurrection of Christ by the Father reveals a divine counter-judgment. In death, Christ is judged as worthy of destruction and damnation, but in his resurrection from this very destruction, the Father vindicates the Son, revealing the ultimate depravity of the original judgment.

And so, because God’s judgment of Christ overcomes the judgment of the powers of human sinfulness and death in the cross, there now remains ABSOLUTELY no power for sin and death. In God’s counter-judgment, the ancient culmination of violence and sinful hatred which were unleashed against Christ have been pulverized, for the power which took his life was not able to hold Christ in destruction. As Christ is resurrected to the newness of life, all the claims and judgments of sin and death are shown to be entirely vacuous of power, the virulence of the same completely extinguished in their failed judgment. Their chains upon humanity are crushed, and a new way of life and reconciliation with God is made possible through the newness of life which Christ was granted in resurrection.

So we see that the fundamental problem of the cross–the sinfulness of humanity–is dramatically resolved. In his triumph over sin and death through resurrection, Christ breaks their power and judgment decisively. Humanity is no longer hopelessly enslaved to their power, for the power which forged the old chains has been broken definitively and irrevocably. With nothing to bind and no fear of death to enslave, humanity is now truly free and able to re-taste the life and grace of reconciliation with the Father.

Conclusion

For all these words, the truth about Easter is not difficult to understand. For all my reflections through these two posts, the reality of what Christ has accomplished cannot be better expressed than how it was so many thousands of years ago:

Since the children have flesh and blood, Christ too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. [Hebrews 2:14-15]

I hope that your Easter is full of relaxation, celebration, and most importantly, the freedom for which Christ gave his life.