The Doctrine of the Atonement
As Taught By Christ Himself
“Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”
It is noteworthy that our Lord in the two clauses of this verse twice uses the emphatic word “now.” He refers to the nearness and efficacy of the atonement, within the circle of which He was now come. The language implies that Satan’s dominion rested upon the fact of sin. And as he occupied a secure and impregnable position so long as the vicarious sacrifice was not offered, so the vantage ground from which he had long ruled the world was lost the moment divine justice was satisfied.
In the first clause of this verse, as was already noticed, the Lord refers to a formal process then pending, which was finally to decide to whom the world should be adjudged,—whether to Christ or to Satan, its former prince. When we put the two members of the verse together, the language intimates that the judicial process as to the right of property, or the legitimate title, was then to be decided. And when sin was expiated, and the curse borne, Satan’s right to the sinner was annihilated, and his sovereignty over the world overthrown. The Lord could say, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” because the ground of this victory was first to be laid in law and justice, or meritoriously secured by that atoning death which was soon to be undergone, and which was to destroy the sin which gave Satan his dominion in the world. He virtually says: “My death shall be the destruction of Satan’s dominion.” There are a few separate sayings of Jesus to this effect, demanding more particular elucidation; and to these we shall advert.
1. The first word by which our Lord sets forth the approaching termination of Satan’s authority, is, “the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:11). It is plain that our Lord does not intend to speak of a judgment upon Satan for his own fall from God, nor refer to a judicial sentence to be passed on the deceiver, for tempting men at first to become allies with him in his revolt from God. He speaks of a judgment which should strike him as the head of a hostile confederacy in banded opposition to God and His anointed. The meaning is that the right which Satan had acquired to rule over men, and to treat them as his lawful captives, in consequence of sin, was now to be taken from him, and that his power was now to be broken; for he is said to be judged, when his legal, though usurped, right to dominion is terminated.
And how did Christ’s sacrificial death subvert his empire? In a twofold way. As sin was put away by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26), and as the curse was fully borne, the supreme Judge discharged the guilty. Nor could the accuser, on any plea of justice, either accuse them, or demand their condemnation, that is, a doom similar to his own (Rom. 8:1). Besides, the legitimate authority which the tempter had previously possessed, to keep men in death and spiritual estrangement from God, was for ever at an end. The Mediator’s death, the winding-up of His active and passive obedience, destroyed him that had the power of death (Heb. 2:14), and destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). The captivity to which men had hitherto been subjected by divine justice, could be reversed only by the death of one who was more than man. By this means Satan was overthrown in point of law [de jure], and the way was paved for the annihilation of his sway [de facto].
2. The next saying which we adduce respecting the victory over Satan, mentions the binding of the strong man, and the spoiling of his goods (Matt. 12:29). This result follows upon the judgment pronounced upon him. Men are called “his goods,” the property which belongs to him, and which he is said to hold in peace (Luke 11:21), till they are effectually called by a high and holy calling. They are then translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13). This second step, in the execution of which Christ interposes, as stronger than the strong one, to bring His sheep into the fold, and rescue souls from the grasp of the destroyer, is simply an act of power by which He quickens men when dead, enlightens them when blind, and gives near access to those who previously were far off.
3. It is further said, “the prince of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31). This follows as the legitimate result of that judicial process which has adjudged the world to Christ. Satan is to be cast out of the world, and in due time bound in chains, to the judgment of the great day [Rev. 20:2-3]. He is not, even at present, lord de jure of one foot of earth; but his usurpation lingers, and is permitted to continue on many accounts (into which it is not our present business to inquire). He is to be ejected, in point of fact as well as right, to exercise no more power or authority either over single men or communities of men, by means of any of those systems on which he has expended, for centuries, the utmost refinement of his subtlety. These shall melt away like the mists of the morning. But even now the church has, on the ground of Christ’s atonement, to go in and take possession of the world from which its prince has been legally cast out, and from which he will ere long, in point of fact, be fully ejected (Luke 10:18).
The synonymous phrases which occur in Scripture are numerous. Thus it is said of Christ, that He led captivity captive (Ps. 68:18); that He takes a prey from the mighty (Isa. 49:24); that He was appointed to bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). This last expression, familiar to the Old Testament Church from the beginning, was the figure under which God was pleased to convey to man the earliest notion of a Deliverer, and was, in fact, the first proclamation of the Gospel. The serpent had already overcome our race, and held humanity—not only as it existed in the first pair, but as far as it should be multiplied—under his galling yoke. No one could measure himself against the prince of the world, who was in fact armed with the sharp sting of the divine law, of which he was the executioner. The first promise or primeval gospel intimated the advent of a person of greater power than the conqueror, yet one with true humanity, whose heel could be bruised. That was done upon the cross, and there practically the victory was won which is carried out in the history of the Church. Satan is now simply dispossessed by power; a word can conquer him; and God shall bruise him under the Church’s feet shortly (Rom. 16:20). Our Lord does not mean that the kingdom of Satan was to be all at once overthrown; for the tense, “shall be cast out,” intimates a future ejection.