Christus Victor on the Road to Damascus

When Paul is standing before King Agrippa near the end of Acts, he recounts his conversion on the road to Damascus. This time though, he quotes Jesus’s words to him at greater length than we are told of back in chapter 9. The addition is somewhat surprising:

And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feed for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and other the things which will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.

-Acts 26:15-18 (Emphasis mine)

Wait a minute. Where is all the penal substitutionary atonement language? Only a couple years earlier in A.D. 56, Paul had finished writing the definitive handbook of soteriology – the epistle to the Romans. So why no talk of sacrifice or guilt or even redemption? Apparently those aren’t the word’s Christ used (in a short space of time) to describe the gospel. Instead, the Lord tells Paul he will be a witness, giving them a message that will turn them from:

  • Darkness –> Light
  • Power of Satan –> God
  • Sin –> Forgiveness and Inheritance

Heck, the devil even makes a showing here, but not a lot of other things you might expect. Now I think the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is all well and good and in harmony with the whole of scripture, but is it really what we need to spend all our time going on and on about at every opportunity? By Jesus’s own summary here, the gospel sounds a lot more like Christus Victor. When my guilt is before me, I need a savior who erases it all. But at other times, I need a savior who kicks the prince of darkness in the teeth. Rejoice, for He is both!