Defence is a big deal. Globally, we think it’s worth $1.8 trillion dollars each year.
When Christians talk about putting on a breastplate and helmet, taking up a sword and shield, it sounds pretty lame against piloted drones and guided missiles. Do you think technology is wiping out Christianity?
Truth is, the Christians’ armour would have sounded lame in the first century too. Rome was the superpower of their world, and the Romans soldiers were legendary at supporting Caesar’s reign. For any community to support another king was suicidal.
Yet, Christians were openly proclaiming that God had set someone else on the throne, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked” including Caesar’s (Ephesians 1:21). The gospel — the good news that Jesus is Lord and reigns over all nations — placed Christians at loggerheads with the existing authorities. Caesar also described himself as good news for the world, its lord, and saviour of its people.
Whose “gospel” would win out? Did Rome have the force to keep its power over the world in the face of the Christians’ claims? Who would win if the hoplites (heavily armed soldiers) fought the Christians over who runs the world?
- Hoplites hold their armour together with a belt that supports their sword.
Christians have nothing but truth to support their cause.
- Hoplites have breastplates to protect them from deadly blows.
Christian defence relies only on what’s right.
- Hoplites in heavy armour could not move quickly.
Christians are quick on their feet, quick to carry the good news that Jesus reigns everywhere they tread.
- Hoplites lock their shields together to form a protective wall (as riot squads do today).
Christians live openly, trusting God to extinguish the flaming arrows.
- Hoplites have helmets to save their heads.
Christians think God will save the world.
- Hoplites advance by cutting people down with their swords.
Christians advance by stepping into what God has decreed.
What a mismatch! Yet, with all its wars to force the world under its power, the Roman Empire came and went as human powers always do. And the reign of Christ extended from Jerusalem to Europe, to Africa, to Asia, to the ends of the earth.
Today, one third of the world’s people give their allegiance to King Jesus, not at the point of a sword, but willingly recognizing him as the Lord who can save the world.
That’s the reason our king never gave us weapons to fight Caesar. We’re in a war over who runs the world, but Caesar is not our enemy. The rulers who conduct wars and kill people to get power in this world are mere humans, themselves slaves of evil:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)
Those of us who long for justice can grow impatient with the rulers of this world and the murderous drones and missiles they use to enforce their power. I’ll confess to reacting angrily last week when the president of one of the world’s largest economies threatened to cut funding to the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic. As Bill Gates said, that’s as dangerous as it sounds. But I chose not to post my angry reaction on social media. That would dilute and pollute the message I want the world to hear: the good news that Jesus is our true ruler.
Despite all their hubris, people like Trump and Putin are not the enemies of Christ’s kingship. They’re just slaves of the forces of evil that don’t want to yield to the one whom God has anointed as our ruler. Fighting them is wasted effort. You’ll feel aggrieved at their injustice but don’t expect them to save the world. They come and go, but the hope of the world is the one to whom God has given the kingship, Christ Jesus our Lord. He alone is the one we trust to liberate the world.
God gave us no armour for fighting drones and laser weapons, but he has given us the armour we need to fight for Jesus’ kingship. We learn how to use it by looking to our Commander in Chief. It’s called God’s armour (the armour of God) because it’s what God himself wore when he stepped in to overthrow the ruler of this world. (More on that next time.)
Read Ephesians 6:10-17.
For further thought
The inscription below is from a monument erected at Priene (south of Ephesus in Asia Minor) about 9 BC. Augustus Caesar claims his reign is good news for the world. Yes, the word is euangelion, the word for “gospel.” That’s what “gospel” meant in Ephesus.
Caesar was said to be:
… a saviour, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance excelled even our anticipations, surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world …
Be careful not to get side-tracked into fighting the rulers of this world. No matter how unjust their actions or how blasphemous their power claims, God has not equipped us to fight them. Fighting them is counter-productive: only the good news of Jesus can displace evil.