Friday, May 14, 2010


In Chapter 5 of The Cross of Christ, Stott examines a number of traditional views of what 'satisfaction' is achieved on the Cross. Was Jesus satisfying the devil?

The idea that on the cross Jesus satisfied the devil was apparently widespread in the early church. Stott suggests that the early church fathers were sometimes 'extremely injudicious' in the way they presented the devil's power and how the cross deprived him of it.

It is true that the Bible tells us that since the fall, mankind has been in captivity not only to sin and death, but also to the devil. Some of the (post-apostolic) early church fathers therefore thought of him as the major tyrant from whom Jesus came to liberate us.

Stott suggests that, with hindsight, we may detect three errors made by the early church fathers:

First, they credited the devil with more power than he deserved. "Even though they portrayed him as a rebel, a robber and a usurper, they tended to speak as if he had acquired certain 'rights' over man which even God himself was under obligation to satisfy honorably. Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century was one of the few theologians who vigorously repudiated this idea. He called it an outrage."

Secondly, they therefore tended to think of the cross as 'a divine transaction with the devil'; 'the ransom price demanded by him for the release of his captives', and paid to him 'in settlement of his rights'.

Thirdly, some went further and represented the transaction in terms of a deception. 'Theologically, they pictured the devil as having over-reached himself. Although in the case of us sinners he 'holds the power of death' (Heb 2:14), he had no such authority over the sinless Jesus, and in hounding him to death he shed innocent blood. Therefore, having thus abused his power, he was deprived of it.'

Some fathers added that in doing this the devil did not realize what he was doing, either because he did not recognize who Jesus was, or because, catching 'Godhead in human form' he thought he had a unique opportunity to overpower him. But in this he was deceived. Stott then highlights how this played out in a number of the early church fathers:
Origen was the first to teach unequivocally that the death of Jesus was both ransom-price paid to the devil and the means of deception and overthrow. Gregory of Nyssa, a shy Cappadocian scholar of the fourth century, further developed these ideas in his Great Catechism or Catechetical Oration, using vivid imagery:
God, . . . in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him (sc. The devil) who required it . . . was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with a ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of the flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, . . . (the devil) might vanish. [From the Catechetical Oration 22 -26]
So we have the 'fish-hook' analogy. Stott then goes on to tell us of the 'mouse-trap' analogy used by Augustine. The same idea was used by Peter Lombard centuries later who said that 'the cross was a mousetrap baited with the blood of Christ'. While these analogies were being used as a concession to 'the popular mind', the theologians also saw a certain justice in the idea that the 'great deceiver' should himself be deceived into defeat. However the problem is that this attributes the 'fraudulent action' of deceit to God. Even if this is for a good purpose, such a claim is unworthy of God.

The positive side of these theories is that they take seriously the reality, power and 'malevolence' of the devil, and that they proclaim his decisive defeat on the cross. (cf. Luke 11:21-22) The problem with these theories is their implication that the devil has rights over humanity which God is obliged to satisfy. In the Bible the devil is an accuser, an adversary and 'the father of lies'. There is no necessity for God to make any transaction with him, let alone to deceive him (which would be playing the devil's game). What happened on the cross was the beginning of the end for the devil because it was the beginning and foundation of the victory of Christ over him. This victory is finally completed when Christ returns as judge of the world and the 'great serpent' is cast into the pit (cf. Revelation 19:10).

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