I was going over N.T. Wright’s writings on the atonement, and he points out that the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement is only one of the many theories that endeavor to explain what happened at Golgotha. We are by no means setting that aside as part of the story of what happened there, but he makes a big point of the fact that when Jesus died on the cross, He was encountering Satan and all the forces of darkness and He defeated them by exhausting them. He hung on the cross and let Satan and all the evil spirits of the universe exhaust themselves in their efforts to destroy Him, only to discover that three days later He came back from the grave and, hence, negated all that they thought they had accomplished on Good Friday. I preached this particular concept over the years, and I often refer to it as God’s Rope-A-Dope.
You may recall that when Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in that famous bout in Africa, that for several rounds during the fight Muhammad Ali simply guarded his face and let George Foreman punch away at him. What happened was that as they came to the 11th round, George Foreman had punched himself out. There was nothing left of him, and it was then that Ali struck back and that George Foreman, weakened by having flailed at Ali for 10 rounds, had nothing left to stand up against Ali. He had exhausted himself and, in his exhaustion, fell down to the canvas. It was as though a line from Martin Luther’s famous hymn was realized, “One simple blow will fell him.”
On the cross, Jesus absorbed all that the evil forces of the universe could deal out to Him. He exhausted those powers and defeated them, not by striking back at them, but instead by, in a sense, turning the other cheek and allowing the violence of evil to do its utmost. When Jesus was on the cross, Satan and his demons “punched themselves out,” and after they had done all that they could, Jesus emerged triumphant. “Up from the grave He arose, with a might triumph o’er His foes.”