The armour of God: something God provides for us, or something God himself wears?
Isaiah 59:17 describes the Lord putting it on:
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head.
When did God put armour on? Understanding how God used it might help us to use it too.
Isaiah was speaking to Israel, the nation through whom God was rescuing all nations. But the nations invaded, cut off the Davidic kings who represented God’s reign, and took their inheritance (the land). As they served empire after empire, they began to see that these enemies were being driven by an Enemy (satan in Hebrew). This Satan used the armies of the nations to keep God’s people oppressed, to frustrate God’s plans to save the world through them.
Those who understood this stopped fighting their enemies in the way David and the kings had done. Prophets and apocalyptists declared that God would defeat their Enemy, release his people, and complete his global restoration project.
The truth is that God always reigned over the whole earth. But that truth was nowhere to be found in Isaiah’s day. Even those who rejected evil had become a prey of the powers that seemed to run the world, so there was no justice. Realizing his people were unable to fulfil their mission, God declared that he would step in and fight to restore justice on earth:
Isaiah 59:15–17 (NIV)
15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head.
What an astounding promise! When did God do this? When did we see God putting on his armour to fight for his people, to save them from oppression and restore justice to the earth by bringing it back under his reign?
I suggest God did this in his Son. Jesus knew the enemy of God’s people was not Herod or Pilate or the armies of Caesar. He insisted his followers treat the Roman soldiers not as enemies but as friends — friends for whom you’d be glad to carry their packs an extra mile.
Jesus confronted the temple leaders for misrepresenting God, but never treated the Roman Empire as their enemy. Their real Enemy had oppressed God’s people for many generations, through many empires. Attacking Caesar would be pointless. Jesus’ task was to dislodge the power behind the powers: Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out (John 12:31).
Unlike Ned Kelly, Jesus never forged ploughshares into armour. Against this Enemy, Jesus needed the armour Isaiah had described. The helmet Jesus trusted was salvation — God saving the earth from oppression under evil, back into God’s governance … even if Jesus himself was not saved from death. The breastplate Jesus relied on was divine justice — his trust that the ruler of the earth would do right … even if Jesus himself died in the battle.
When God donned his armour to overthrow evil and save his world, he looked incredibly vulnerable. Stripped in humiliation, flogged and bleeding from his wounds, he seemed to be the picture of powerlessness. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked incredulously.
Jesus explained that he wasn’t a terrorist trying to overthrow Rome. His kingship came not by defeating Rome, but by divine appointment. Jesus was born to be king, not by raising an army and forcing people to submit, but by leading people to recognize the truth God had decreed about his reign: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:36-37).
The truth Jesus referred to is the divine decree that he is earth’s king. This truth is the foundation of God’s restoration project for the world. That’s what the truth is in Ephesians: the good news that Jesus is king:
- The message of truth is the good news of your rescue (Ephesians 1:13).
- The message about the Anointed is the truth that’s in Jesus (4:21).
- The belt of truth is the foundational garment of God’s armour (6:14).
In Christ, we saw God donning his armour to free the world from oppression by evil. The foundational truth is the kingship God gave to his anointed ruler, his Christ. The breastplate he wore was his conviction that God’s justice, what was right for the world, would come not by crushing everyone into servitude, but by doing right — the king giving his life for the realm. The helmet he trusted was God’s promise to save the world from oppression under evil, rescuing it into God’s reign through him.
That’s how God used his armour. Does that help us understand how to use it too? That’s our next post.