5.6 Lord Of The Cross
It is clear enough that the parables are indeed the self-revelation of
the Lord Jesus. It is noticeable that there is a relative absence of direct
comment upon His future sacrifice. It's as if it would have been altogether
too simplistic for the Lord of Heaven and earth to repeatedly tell us
details of His supreme work. He was more interested in revealing His attitude
to us than in giving us insight into the agonies of His final sacrifice-
agonies which He surely knew we would never fully grasp, this side of
Belief In Victory
One reason for this was that the Lord was absolutely sure that He would
be victorious on the cross; His parables speak of our responsibilities
and blessings on account of what He knew He would achieve for us. Thus
the Master in the parable is able to remonstrate with the unforgiving
servant: "I forgave thee all that debt" (Mt. 18:32). The Lord's
assumption was that He would attain our forgiveness on account of successfully
enduring the cross. Yet He triumphed through His faith; although He was
all too aware of the human possibility of failure, He believed He wouldn't
fail, He made use of the constant encouragement of the word to this end.
He described Himself as the Lord of the servants, and also as the King
(e.g. Mt. 18:23 cp. 31- there are other similar parables)- even before
His cross. He had such confidence that He would be crowned as a result
of His future cross. The tenses in Greek can be used very exactly (unlike
Hebrew); it was quite within the ability of the Lord to build into His
parables the concept of future Kingship. He could have implied 'When I'm
King, I'll judge like this'. But instead He saw Himself as already having
overcome. "Be of good cheer, I have (already)overcome the world...now
I go my way to him that sent me (bypassing the cross in His words)...I
have glorified thee...I have finished the work thou gavest me to do"
(Jn. 16:33,5; 17:4); these are only a few samples of the Lord's remarkable
confidence that He would overcome. This confidence is reflected in the
parables. He was practising His own preaching concerning believing that
we have already received what we ask for. No doubt His words recorded
in Jn. 15-17 and the parables which reflected this confidence came back
to Him as He struggled to quell His crisis of doubt in Gethsemane.
The Samaritan Saviour
Yet there are a few insights into how the Lord saw His cross. The parable
of the good Samaritan explains how Christ took compassion on the stricken
spiritual state of us His people, picked us up, made Himself vulnerable
to attack by placing the man on His donkey, and caused us to be fully
healed. The Samaritan was less vulnerable than the robbed man, on account
of having a donkey. But he made himself even more vulnerable than the
robbed man had been, in order to take him to the inn. The picture of the
wounded man straddled over the donkey and the Samaritan walking patiently
alongside shows what easy prey they would have been. The whole process
of the man's redemption by this Samaritan is an account of the cross of
Christ (not least the pouring in of wine and oil). The implication is
that through seeking to save us, Christ made Himself more vulnerable than
He would have been if He sought only His own salvation. And the Samaritan's
speed of progress was more than halved; he had to walk rather than ride,
keeping the wounded man balanced on the donkey. This parable seems to
reveal that Christ realized at least in some abstract sense that His concern
for us in some ways made it more difficult for Him; although the reality
was that the motivation for His victory was largely due to His sense of
responsibility for us.
The idea of him taking care for the man is expressed in the language
of Ex. 21:19, which says that if a man wounds another, "he shall
pay...and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed". This somewhat
odd allusion (at first sight) surely indicates that the Lord took upon
Himself the full blame for our stricken condition, presumably in the sense
that as the second Adam He took upon Himself the guilt of Adam. This is
why there are so many connections between His death and the effects of
Adam's sin (e.g. the crown of thorns, the Garden etc.). The way Christ
compared Himself to a Samaritan, half Jew and half Gentile, shows that
especially on the cross, this is how He felt. He was mindful of both Jewish
and Gentile aspects of His future body as He died. The Jews (and His own
brothers, Ps. 69:8) treated Him as half Gentile (from a Roman soldier,
the Midrash claims).
The Saviour Shepherd
Jn. 10:12 implies that Christ, the good shepherd, saw the wolf coming.
He didn't flee, but fought with this ferocious beast until the death.
He says that if He had not done this, the sheep would be scattered. The
struggle between Christ and the devil / flesh was therefore at its most
intense on the cross, in His time of dying. The cross was not only a continuation
of His struggle with the (Biblical) devil. It was an especially intensified
struggle; and the Lord foresaw this fight coming. There is an element
of unreality in this story that serves to make two powerful points. Firstly,
no normal shepherd would give his life in protecting his sheep. The near
fanaticism of this shepherd is also found in Am. 8:4, which describes
the Lord as taking out of the mouth of the lion the legs or piece of ear
which remains of the slain sheep; such is the shepherd's desperate love
for the animal that now is not. The love of Christ for us on the cross,
the intensity and passion of it, is quite outside any human experience.
Hence the command to copy His love is a new commandment. And secondly,
wolves don't normally act in the way the story says. They will only fight
like this when they are cornered, and they aren't so vicious. But the
point the Lord is making is crucial to us: the devil, the power of sin
in our natures, is far more powerful than we think, and the struggle against
it on the cross was far far harder than we would think.
And there's a more tragic point. In the short term, the sheep were scattered
by the wolf, even though Christ died so this wouldn't happen. And Christ
knew in advance that this would happen (Is. 53:6; Mk. 14:27; Jn. 16:32).
The Lord faced His final agony with the knowledge that in the short term,
what He was dying in order to stop (i.e. the scattering of the sheep)
wouldn't work. The sheep would still be scattered, and He knew that throughout
the history of His church they would still keep wandering off and getting
lost (according to Lk. 15:3-6). Yet He died for us from the motive of
ultimately saving us from the effect of doing this. He had clearly thought
through the sheep / shepherd symbolism. Unity and holding on to the faith
were therefore what He died to achieve (cp. Jn. 17:21-23); our disunity
and apostasy, each turning to his own, is a denial of the Lord's sufferings.
And this is why it causes Him such pain.
The Binding Of Satan
Of especial interest is the parable of the strong man being bound, because
through this parable the Lord outlines what He felt His victory on the
cross would mean for us. And surely we ought to be all ears in response
The idea of Christ binding satan (the "strong man"), stealing
his goods and sharing them with His followers is a picture of His
victory on the cross (1). It is full of allusion
to Is. 53:12, which says that on account of the fact that Christ
would pour out His soul unto death and bear our sins, "he shall
divide the spoil with the strong (Heb: 'those that are bound')".
With the same thought in mind, Paul spoke of how through the cross,
Christ "spoiled principalities and powers" (Col. 2:15).
It may be that this is one of many examples of the New Testament
writers thinking in a Hebrew way, despite writing in Greek. "Principalities
and powers" is perhaps an intensive plural, referring to the
great principality and power, i.e. Satan. The way He 'triumphed
over them in himself' (Gk. + AVmg.) would certainly make more sense
if they referred to the Biblical devil / satan which was overcome
within Christ (cp. the language of Heb. 2:14-18; 1 Pet. 2:24). Eph.
2:15,16 appears to be parallel to Col. 2:15. It speaks of how Christ
"abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments...for
to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that
He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having
slain the enmity thereby". Col. 2:15 speaks of the Lord on
the cross as the victorious champion, killing "principalities
and powers" and then triumphing over them by sharing their
spoils with his soldiers. Eph. 2:15 speaks of Christ on the cross
"slaying the enmity" (the Biblical Devil) and achieving
peace and reconciliation for all those within His body.
Yet in the immediate context, the Lord is offering an explanation of
why His miracles proved He was the Messiah. He hadn't yet died on the
cross; but He was doing the works which were possible as a result of the
binding of Satan which He would then achieve. This is yet another example
of the Lord's confidence that He would overcome, and God going along with
Him in this. The Lord's miracles were a physical foretaste of the great
spiritual blessings which would be made available as a result of the binding
of Satan by Christ's death and resurrection.
The Spoils Of Satan
The "spoils" of Satan are those things which he has taken away;
surely the spoils taken from Satan by Christ refer to the righteousness
which our nature takes away from us. Lk. 11:22 adds another detail to
the story. The "armour" of Satan which he depends upon is taken
away by Christ on the cross, and then Satan is bound, and his spoils shared
out. The armour of Satan is the antithesis of the armour of righteousness
(Eph. 6:11,13). As the Kingdom of God has a God who dwells in darkness,
a Prince, an armour, a Christ, a dominion, a will and spirit, fruits,
rewards etc., so does the kingdom of (the personified) Satan. The armour
of righteousness is the fruit of the Spirit, the righteous characteristics
of the Spirit. The armour of Satan is the fruits of the flesh nature.
These have been taken away by Christ, He has bound Satan, and therefore
what Satan has robbed us of, the fruits of righteousness, his spoils,
can be taken at will by the Lord Jesus. We have shown that Christ was
alluding to Is. 53:12, which says that through the cross, Christ divides
the spoil with the bound ones, i.e. us. In this lies a paradox. Binding
is associated with sin (Ps. 68:6; Is. 61:1; Lam. 1:14; Lk. 13:16). We
are bound, in many ways, intrinsically limited by our own natures. Only
at the second coming will Satan be bound, i.e. the Lord's personal achievement
will be physically shared with the world (Rev. 20:2). Yet we, the bound
ones, are given the goods which the Lord personally took away from the
bound Satan. Those goods are the righteous attributes which our natures
stop us possessing as we should.
The dividing of the spoils to us by the victorious Lord (Lk. 11:22; Is.
53:12) recalls how the Lord divided all His goods between His servants
(Mt. 25:14), the dividing of all the Father's goods between the
sons (representing the good and bad believers, Lk. 15:12). We have
elsewhere shown that these goods refer to the various aspects of
the supreme righteousness of Christ which are divided between the
body of Christ (2). The spoils divided to us by
the Lord are the various aspects of righteousness which He took
for Himself from Satan. The picture of a bound strong man having
his house ransacked before his eyes carries with it the idea of
suspense, of daring, of doing something absolutely impossible. And
so the idea of Christ really taking the righteousness which the
Satan of our very natures denies us, and giving these things to
us, is almost too much to believe.
It is normally the fellow-soldiers who share the spoils (cp. Heb. 7:4).
But we didn't even fight; the spoils are divided amongst the bound ones
(Is. 53:12 Heb.). Satan in general is still unbound (cp. Rev. 20:2). Christ
bound the Satan within Himself personally, and took the spoils of victory
for Himself. Col. 2:15 says that Christ "spoiled" as a result
of His victory on the cross; and the Greek specifically means 'to completely
divest for oneself'. He is being painted as the lone hero who took it
all for Himself; of the people there was none with Him in His great battle
on the cross (Is. 63:3). And indeed, He was the lone hero. But the point
is that He has shared with us the spoils of righteousness which He took
for Himself as a result, even though we are not worthy to receive them.
Seeing the teaching of the Lord is just outline principle, it is evident
that through His death He gained possession of absolute righteousness,
and then shared this with us.
In the first century, the outward demonstration of this was in the miraculous
gifts of the Spirit. "He led captivity captive (more language of
the heroic victor), and gave gifts unto men", the miraculous gifts,
in the first century context (Eph. 4:8,11). But what was taken away from
Satan was not only power over illness. If this was the main meaning of
Satan being bound and his spoils shared with us, then it would follow
that the effect of Christ's binding of Satan was only in the first century;
for those miraculous gifts of the Spirit are no longer available; illness
still triumphs over God's people. The spoils of Satan refer to the righteousness
which Satan limits and denies. It is this which has been taken from him,
and divided to us all as a result of the cross. The miracles of the first
century were a physical reflection of this, just as the rending of the
temple veil and resurrection of some dead saints was a physical foretaste
of the spiritual possibilities opened up by the Lord's death.
The Lord's Gifts
There are many references to the spiritual blessings which are even now
mediated to us (as the whole body of Christ) on account of the Lord's
death; we (as a community) are given peace and "eternal life"
(Jn. 14:27; 17:2; 1 Jn. 5:11), knowledge (2 Cor. 4:6), wisdom (Eph. 1:17;
James 1:15), peace (2 Thess. 3:16), understanding (1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Tim.
2:7), love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), grace (Eph. 4:7), comfort (2 Thess.
2:16), righteousness (Rom. 5:16,17), confidence (2 Tim. 1:7), sexual self
restraint (1 Cor. 7:7). All the different aspects of the 100% righteousness
of our Lord, all His goods, the spoils He personally took from Satan,
are divided up amongst ourselves, some having spiritual possibilities
in one area, others in another. As a community we are counted as if we
have overcome the world, overcome Satan, as Christ did, although on a
human level we are still bound (Jn. 16:33 cp. 1 Jn. 2:13,14; 5:4). Only
at the day of judgment will we have overcome all (Rev. 21:7 cp. Lk. 11:22
s.w.), but we are treated as if we have already done so.
Grasping this extensive theme helps explain the deep sense of paradox
which is central to all serious self-examination. We are counted righteous,
we are given spiritual gifts of righteousness now, and our self-examination
reveals this to us; but we are expected to develop them (according to
the parable of the pounds). Yet we also see that we are pathetically bound
by our Satan, somehow held back from that life of righteousness which
we would fain achieve. All these things were deeply foreseen and appreciated
by the Lord when He constructed this parable of binding Satan. Christ
in His own life has overcome Satan, and has graciously shared the various
aspects of righteousness with the whole of His body. This is the very
idea of the body of Christ; between us, over time, we will approximate
to the perfect reflection of our Lord. We have each been given different
aspects to develop, different parts of His personality. This explains
the difference in emphasis which can be observed within the different
parts of the present body, and also in the history of the body over time.
When we as a community finally grow up into Him, "unto a perfect
man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph.
4:13), the whole process of Christ-manifestation (and thereby God manifestation)
will be complete. This means that the speed of spiritual development in
the latter day body of Christ will determine the exact date of the Lord's
return. We are (hopefully and prayerfully) just adding the final touches
to the full reflection of the Lord's body. The aspects of Christ which
we as a community need to develop in these last days are presumably aspects
which earlier generations were unable or not called to achieve. For example,
it was simply impossible for earlier generations to do much to achieve
the unity of the body. Now, with the possibility of the whole world-wide
family being in close contact with each other, with the breakdown of distance
and language barriers, it is a real possibility that the body should be
one in a manner which was simply impossible to previous generations.
It seems to me, from what knowledge I have of myself and of our community,
that many of these things which Christ died to achieve are tragically
rejected, at best viewed suspiciously, by 21st century believers. The
idea of gifts of righteousness, of being given something spiritual for
nothing, of each only reflecting aspects of Christ rather than complete
personal perfection, of striving for unity in the body...all this is almost
anathema to some. Yet it's anathema to our very natures, it's against
the grain of each of us. Yet I submit, I trust with at least some genuine
humility, that the things discussed in the above paragraphs are all utterly
fundamental to the cross of Christ; He died in order to achieve these
(1) The idea of binding the strong man
must surely look back to Samson. The language can't just be accidentally
similar (cp. Jud. 16:21). This means that the Lord saw Samson as the very
epitome of Satan, even though ultimately he was a man of faith (Heb. 11:32).
Thus the Spirit doesn't forget a man's weakness, even though ultimately
he may be counted righteous.
(2) See The
Personal Lord in From Milk To Meat.