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The God of Peace Goes to War

A Reflection for Good Friday and Easter

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”   Romans 16:20

That verse quoted above truly stands out in the book of Romans.  Of all Paul’s letters, this one comes closest to being an organized “systematic theology.”  Yet in it, he mentions the devil once—in a terse sentence just before his closing benediction. That’s all the time the devil gets.  Paul’s allusion to Genesis 3:15 can’t be missed:  the Lord curses the Accuser (who had taken the form of a snake), He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.  What a picture of the Savior to come!  The foot of this conquering Messiah descends upon the deadly snake to crush its head.  But just as his foot lands, the snake strikes his heel.  In one vivid image at the beginning of redemptive history, we behold the cross of Jesus Christ.  Eve’s descendant someday will break into creation to rescue God’s people from their great enemy and restore the paradise that their sin had forfeited.  Yet their deliverance comes at an unfathomably high price.  By Christ’s suffering, he saves us.

            Yet Paul’s recast of this towering “First Gospel”[1] takes a surprising new shape.  If he had written, “The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under Christ’s feet,” we would exclaim, “Amen!”  That’s an absolutely accurate claim.  The Apostle John says so:  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.[2]  Why, then, does Paul place the church in that messianic role—under your feet?  Here’s the mystery of the spiritual union of believers with Christ.  He represented them in his perfect life and atoning death, and now in vital union by the Holy Spirit they declare with the apostle, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

            As the church walks together in union with Christ, to what does he call us?  Warfare!  …Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  Together, we become a mighty army on the offensive, taking up the very armor of the heavenly Warrior, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.   The God of Peace sweeps us up with him into an epic end-time battle for human lives.  Do you catch the irony in Paul’s declaration?  The God of Peace goes to war.  The endpoint is his destruction of sin and all its deathly consequences—starting with those who call on his name.  What does that look like?  The Holy Spirit continually transforms his own people, individually and corporately.  He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between them, so we expect to see broken relationships restored far beyond human expectations.  Peacemaking is fundamental to Christ’s character, and therefore, reconciliation becomes an essential part of the church’s DNA.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Garden of Eden

Erastus Salisbury Field, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

May you enjoy the “shalom”[1] of Jesus’ presence with you in every way during this Easter season.  Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

[1] Theologians call it the “proto-evangelium.”  The “descendants” (lit. “seed”) is a collective noun that takes in all faithful worshipers.  Yet biblical history progressively narrows the “faithful” to the one perfect man who alone disarmed the powers and authorities…triumphing over them by the cross (Col. 2:15).  In their faith-union with Christ, believers share in that decisive victory (Col. 1:13-14).

[2] 1 John 3:8.  Other Scriptures cited, in order:  Galatians 2:20 (NIV), Ephesians 6:10-22; 2:14, Matthew 5:9.   

[3] The biblical concept, shalom, usually translated “peace,” is rooted in the Creation itself, with the sweet smell of the Garden of Eden and the life-giving vibrancy of the New Eden that comes down from heaven in Revelation 21.  The gospel brings peace of the highest order, true shalom—harmony, beauty, health, dynamic life, and loving relationships—with our Lord Jesus Christ at the center of it all.


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