This post continues a running series in which I’m attempting to explicate The Apostles’ Creed and The Nicene Creed, this time I want to again make reference to what the creeds have to say about Jesus’ suffering and death.
First, The Apostles’ Creed:
“[Jesus Christ] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.”
And from The Nicene Creed:
“[Jesus Christ,] for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.”
Part 6 of this series covered these same words, but I didn’t get to the implications for our salvation. That is the matter I want to turn to now.
Christians consider the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ to be salvific, but they differ on how exactly this should be understood. I want to take time to consider two major understandings, though neither needs be considered exclusive. The first understanding (very broadly speaking) is that human beings were/are guilty and that in his death and resurrection Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and set us right with God. Another way of looking at this understanding is to see Jesus as the sacrifice that atoned for our sins.
The second understanding I want to cover (again, very broadly speaking) is that in his suffering and death Jesus defeated the evil forces that arrayed themselves against God. On the cross, he overcame evil with good. He defeated death by dying, he fought the good fight without taking up arms, he won the victory not by force, but self-giving love. He fought evil in the only manner that could lead to true victory: remaining obedient to God even unto death. I find it impossible to explain the exact mechanism by which this works, but I do know that I been blessed by revelatory glimpses of understanding now and again.
This second understanding quickly leads to another important point and it does so by means of how we know that Jesus was triumphant in his battle with evil. We know that Jesus was triumphant because of his resurrection. This quickly brings us to the profound truth that the resurrection was and is part of God’s salvific work through Jesus Christ. Sometimes Christians have a tendency to think and speak as if we are saved only by the suffering and death of Jesus such that the parts of his life that came before and the resurrection that came on the third day were not part of his saving work. But this is not so. The life, suffering, death, and resurrection are all key parts of God’s provision for our salvation. We are saved by the totality of what Christ Jesus did and who he was and is.