Reviewed by Fred G. Zaspel
In his new The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Dr. Jeremy Treat (Pastor at Reality LA in Hollywood and adjunct professor at Biola University) explores perhaps more fully than anyone before the relation and interplay of the biblical themes of the cross of Christ and the kingdom of God. Both of these themes loom large in Scripture, but Treat is not content to examine them as distinct themes: he wants to show how they are inseparably related and mutually informing.
As the subtitle promises, Treat explores his subject in its relation to the Bible storyline and in the more traditional theological categories. In his Introduction he takes 50 pages to state the issue and frame the discussion, charting out clearly the path he will take in the remainder of his work. He finds in Genesis 3:15 a crisp summary of his thesis – that the promised champion will win his reign through cost to himself – a theme that Treat then highlights throughout Scripture.
To highlight his argument here, Treat gives special attention to Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark where these two themes of kingdom and cross are brought into clearest focus. In both Isaiah and Mark these themes are not isolated but complementary – the kingdom of God is defined and established by the cross, and it is in his cross that Christ’s rule is achieved. In Isaiah’s suffering servant we are shown “the means of the Messiah’s mission to establish the kingdom” (p.75), for it is in his humiliation that he is exalted, and it is in his suffering that he is victorious (p.86). Although no “Son of Man” prophecy hints of suffering, Jesus insists that “the son of man must suffer” (Mk.8:31;9:12, 22) thereby linking the regal Son of Man to the Suffering Servant, combining again themes of kingship and cross.
Treat tracks this two-fold theme through various biblical connections, such as Creation – New Creation, David, King and Temple, Exodus – New Exodus, the Righteous Sufferer in the Psalms, as well as the associations of kingdom with forgiveness, freedom, and so on. He also finds his thesis confirmed in the brief summary statements of Colossians 1:15-20 and Revelation 5:5-10, Hebrews 2:5-10 and 1Corinthians 1:18-2:5. All this to demonstrate that the themes of kingdom and cross are inseparable and mutually defining – “Victory Through Sacrifice by the Servant-King; God’s Kingdom Established by Christ’s Cross.” These themes are distinct, but they are also inseparable.
Turning to Systematic Theology, Treat surveys the traditional understandings of the states of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, his three-fold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, a discussion of the various biblical “models” of atonement, and the relationship of Christus Victor to penal substitution. If in his Biblical-Theological treatment Treat establishes that kingdom and cross are mutually defining, here he unpacks that conclusion with categorical precision, tweaking traditional statements accordingly.
As I said at the outset, it would seem that Treat has given more thorough attention to this theme than any before him, and in that sense at least his book is a landmark event. His handling of his theme in relation to Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Theology is well-informed, his observations are insightful, and his conclusions are precise and carefully nuanced. He makes his case well, and his thesis holds in the complementing dimensions of Biblical and Systematic Theology.
In his section on Biblical Theology Treat grounds his thesis successfully in the Bible storyline. The kingdom of God has been a concentrated topic of discussion here and there over the past century, and in demonstrating so clearly the connections of kingdom and cross throughout the whole of Scripture Treat has advanced that discussion considerably. Indeed, we might hope that from here forward all Kingdom discussion will be more distinctly cross-shaped. Whether or not “kingdom” is the central developing theme of Scripture, as many have argued, it is certainly a major theme of controlling significance, and Treat has with this theme confirmed for us again that the Bible really is a gospel-shaped book about Jesus.
But it is in his section on Systematic Theology, of course, that Treat is able to provide close definitions that tweak traditional understandings of some “stock” items in our theological vocabulary. In terms of the states of the incarnate Christ Treat is on solid exegetical ground when he insists that we speak more carefully not just of Christ’s sufferings and then his glory (1Pet.1:11) but also his glory in and through suffering. So also in terms of the offices of Christ his case is solid that we miss the point when we speak of Christ’s death only in terms of his priestly office – we must see him as king also and his cross as his scepter. And perhaps most importantly, while recognizing the various NT “models” of the atonement, and while restoring Christus Victor to its rightful NT place, he demonstrates convincingly that not all models are created equal and, specifically, that because bondage to Satan is due first to human sin there is Christus Victor only because first there is penal substitution. Satan’s rule is vanquished only because through satisfaction sin has been expiated.
In short, via Biblical Theology Treat has provided a whole-Bible ground and context for his thesis, and the implications of his thesis are worked out via an exegetically well-grounded Systematic Theology. On both fronts, in my judgment, he is successful.
Anything of “What I wish he had said” at this point is just tedious. Fuller attention to the Johannine language of Jesus’ missional success and “glory” as he is “lifted up,” and this in connection with its verbal background in Isaiah would have added weight to his argument. But Treat had to choose his parameters, and he does, in fact, touch these matters briefly while, in the main, making his case otherwise. And of course supporting exegetical detail could be examined endlessly – such as the “therefore” of passages like Isaiah 53:12 and Philippians 2:9, Jesus’ “has been given me” of Matthew 28:18, the “because you were slain” of heaven’s hymn in Revelation 5:9, etc.
A further exploration of various pastoral implications, as he highlights briefly in his conclusion with regard to the Christian and cross-bearing, would make for an excellent second complementary volume, as would the implications with regard to the Pauline theme of strength in weakness in Second Corinthians (but see Tim Savage’s Power Through Weakness: Paul’s Understanding of the Christian Ministry in 2 Corinthians). And Treat’s treatment of Christus Victor would provide a helpful groundwork for a fresh study of “spiritual warfare” also. Again, he mentions these matters but only briefly, as they are not the focus of his thesis. The work that he has done could very helpfully inform further studies in these related areas.
On one level one might object that Treat’s thesis of Christ reigning through and by means of his cross is nothing new, and in fact Treat himself highlights the theme of Christ “reigning from the cross” in the early church fathers. But to my knowledge, at least, no one has worked out the thesis with Treat’s detail, certainly not in terms of Biblical-Theological development, and his study brings a needed and helpful refinement and precision to the various Systematic categories. The Crucified King makes a genuine contribution, and it is refreshing reading throughout. It is a model of mature and broadly-informed theological reflection that will give precision to your understanding of the cross of Christ and his kingdom and increased appreciation for our glorious crucified King.
Fred G. Zaspel is a pastor at Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, PA, and professor of theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary. He is also the executive editor here at Books At a Glance.