“The church understood his [Jesus’] act as a sacrifice to end all sacrifices that exposed the scapegoating mechanism for all the world to see.” (Walter Wink, Engaging The Powers, Kindle loc.1849)
This is part six of my Easter series, “Jesus Christ: Savior of the World.” We’ve been looking at the question, “What does it mean that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World?”
The Cross exposes the Beast
In this part, I want to quote heavily from theologian, Walter Wink, from his work, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. In the section of the book I will quote from, he also quotes French anthropologist and philosopher, René Girard, from his classic work, The Scapegoat.
Before we get to the quotes, notice carefully how Paul describes what Jesus did on the cross. I’ve highlighted the part I want you to notice in particular:
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Col.2:13-15 *)
The “principalities and powers” are collectively “the mind behind the system” (Watchmen Nee); its societal construct is the “world” (kosmos) we’ve been looking at this whole series. Walter Wink goes into great depth in his book to show this, referring to this world as “The Domination System.”
To use Girard’s model with Wink’s, it’s a mimetic desire/rivalry system based on power by dominating others, where the victor always carries the narrative and writes the history (creates the myth). To create its false peace, victims are identified, then marginalized, demonized, blamed, and finally sacrificed and covered up in religious mythology.
The ethical truth is, the victim was murdered; the religious truth is, the victim was sacrificed for the common good. This is what Wink calls the “myth of redemptive violence.” By the way, it’s the same religious cognitive dissonance that allows one to say that God actually slaughtered whole races of people, yet He is good (see my series, “God said What?!“).
Here’s what Wink says about Jesus’ confrontation with this religious construct:
“When the Domination System [this world] catches the merest whiff of God’s new order, by an automatic reflex it mobilizes all its might to suppress that order….” (Kindle loc. 2029)
Girard does the anthropological heavy lifting by documenting how, from Adam forward, this societal framework keeps order through blame-shifting or scapegoating (more on that found here). Wink masterfully describes Jesus’ refutation of this scapegoat system, exposing it for what it is on the cross:
“Something went awry with Jesus, however. They scourged him with whips, but with each stroke of the lash their own illegitimacy was laid open. They mocked him with a robe and a crown of thorns, spit on him, struck him on the head with a reed, and ridiculed him with the ironic ovation, “Hail, King of the Jews!”-not knowing that their acclamation would echo down the centuries. They stripped him naked and crucified him in humiliation, all unaware that this very act had stripped them of the last covering that disguised the towering wrongness of the whole way of living that their violence defended.”
At the cross, Jesus judged the “prince of this world” (including every historic iteration) once and for all. And He could legitimately do this, while the religious community could not, because this ruler had nothing in Him (John 14:30; 16:11). Unlike them, Jesus was “not of this world” (John 8:23). Wink continues on this theme:
“They nailed him to the cross, not realizing that with each hammer’s blow they were nailing up, for the whole world to see, the MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN by which the Domination System would be numbered, weighed in the balances, found wanting, and finally terminated. (Dan. 5:25-28)….”
“What killed Jesus was not irreligion, but religion itself; not lawlessness, but precisely the law; not anarchy, but the upholders of order. It was not the bestial but those considered best who crucified the one in whom the divine Wisdom was visibly incarnate. And because he was not only innocent, but the very embodiment of true religion, true law, and true order, this victim exposed their violence for what it was: not the defense of society, but an attack against God.” (Kindle loc. 2029-3038 *)
Basically, as I’ve said in other posts, we scapegoated God! But the problem is, this time the victim didn’t stay buried! Jesus’ crucifixion forever exposes the myth of retributive justice and redemptive violence; His resurrection vindicated His Lordship and mission…that He has come to destroy Satan’s false construct and establish the true societal structure—the Kingdom of God—in which Jesus Christ is Lord over all (Rev.11:15)! In other words, in the most profound sense, this world system has been “numbered, weighed in the balances, found wanting, and finally terminated.”
And now we’re ready to start looking at the last question in this series: “Why should this matter to us?”
But was the Beast exposed to us?
Ironically, in this regard, the cross did the very opposite of what many Christians believe it did! We still see it through the lens of the fallen system. It was not about the pagan idea of sacrificing to appease God. As the New Testament writers later declared, Jesus exposed the myth that sacrificing animals, virgins, or anything else, could ever fix anything (see Heb.10:1-10).
Of course, the writer of Hebrews was merely echoing what David and the prophets had already begun to see, even though no one was apparently listening (see Psalm 51:16-17; Isa.1:11-18; Jer.7:22-23; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24). For this world system was still very much intact through thousands of years of this very same appeasement mythology.
The Cross was not to appease an angry God, it was to expose angry sinners!
This is why we can say that Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, but to end religion itself. At least, end the religion practiced in the fallen Adamic system. The Cross revealed what Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt.5-7) looks like: to turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you, love your enemies…and that unconditional love and forgiveness found in reconciliation and restoration is vastly superior to retaliation and retribution.
We’ll finish up this study next time.