What is a Hero?
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
Mighty warrior. What sorts of ideas come to mind whenever we hear this term?
What comes to our mind will be a strong indicator of, or will at least provide some important clues as to what our real opinions are about what kind of God is in charge, or at least who we want to be in charge.
A warrior is normally considered a person who not only has gone through extensive training and discipline to learn all sorts of military and maybe martial arts skills, but is usually a person who also is heavily equipped with weapons designed to inflict intense harm on opponents. A warrior is one who is intended to meet and overcome powerful defensive forces and enemy positions with overwhelming force. A typical warrior – and even war itself – involves two opposing forces or opponents relying primarily on weapons of destruction along with intense discipline and training in how to kill and destroy as well as cunning strategy in how to outsmart the enemy.
As two opposing forces face off against each other, most of the attention is on how intimidating they can become to the other, how much fear can they instill to break down the courage of their opponents so as to exploit their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and render them helpless, if not dead, in the end.
That is the main situation that a warrior expects to face. They expect and plan to meet resistance against their assaults so all of their focus is on having the greatest advantage when it comes to weaponry, logistics and brute power. But it is not the only situation they may encounter when engaged in a battle.
There are times when a warrior may find their opponents weak and vulnerable offering little or no resistance. Their opponents may be so inferior in equipment or training that they are no match for the superior forces arrayed against them and the ensuing carnage and destruction is quick, decisive and extensive. Or the attacking forces may come upon completely defenseless opponents who are unarmed altogether and have nothing with which to fight back and are completely vulnerable to the violence being used against them.
What I want to pay attention most to here is the public perceptions about the warriors themselves. I want to consider the psychological and social aftereffects that various types of engagements by a warrior will have on their reputation and status. The fairness or rightness of what is happening during the engagement in the eyes of outside observers plays very much into this and will affect the outcome of how they are viewed or treated after the battle.
As I am trying to unpack these potential scenarios, keep in mind that this has enormous ramifications at an unimaginably large scale when it comes to the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan. Both of their reputations are on the line as to how they choose their weapons and strategies with great care and execute their plans with high precision in their attempts to gain the upper hand. What will capture the greatest confidence and allegiance of the majority of observers? The very existence of their entire system of government depends on the reputation they acquire and maintain, for without the allegiance of their followers they cannot continue their rule for eternity. Only one kingdom will in the end be left standing. But how will that kingdom be successful in winning this contest?
Satan's system relies on fear, deception and the use of enticements and/or threats to maintain control over his subjects. On the other side, God has always maintained that pure love and freedom without intimidation, threats or force is the only safe way to run a successful universe. We humans are caught directly in the middle of the war zone, each born with the deceptions of Satan's lies and fears about God already preloaded into our psyche, so we begin our lives at a severe disadvantage as far as God's side is concerned. Yet even with this disadvantage God insists that He can overcome all odds to entice us back into His system that from our initial perspective often looks like a losing proposition.
I have wrestled for years with what actually happened at the cross of Christ and have sought to grasp the nature of the strategy that God actually used to attract rebellious sinners back into a position of trust and love for Him through that epic encounter with Satan. I keep learning new things that keep adding to the puzzle that is at last starting to make more sense than ever before. That is what I am struggling to assemble a little more fully here.
The above text speaks of Jesus Christ disarming rulers and authorities and making a public spectacle of them at the cross. Given that I have previously discarded the mainstream misinterpretation of the cross as an appeasement gesture by Jesus to satisfy some dark desire on God's part to get revenge against sinners, I have been piecing together clues for many years trying to discover just what did actually transpire during that event. Just how did Jesus disarm rulers and authorities and what does that really mean? To make faulty assumptions in this arena has enormous ramifications for the conclusions we draw from the cross, which is why there are so many sick and confusing claims circulating about what it all means. I want to keep probing and searching and staying open to receive what the Spirit and the Word has to explain about what this all really means.
As I laid out above, a mighty warrior's reputation after a battle will hinge greatly on the nature of the opponents that he goes up against.
If a soldier in battle displays immense courage, skill, bravery and cunning in the face of overwhelming resistance and military force on the part of his opponents, he is almost certain to expect high honors, praise and adulation after the battle, whether or not he survives the fight. This very concept lies at the heart of our perceptions and definitions of what constitutes a hero. But whatever that might mean, people are just naturally drawn to give respect, honor and praise to the ones they view as heroes of battles. In addition they often are eager to give preference to such people over others when it comes to choosing leaders for everyone to follow and obey.
In our country, just being called a veteran gives one an advantage over others when it comes to employment or receiving perks and special privileges not accorded to others. In addition, during an election if a person can have stories circulating about brave acts of heroism in combat they may have done, that is considered a great asset in earning the votes of more people who will give them preference over their opponents. In short, those who display character and skills of a courageous combatant are assumed to be the best selection to influence and guide everyone else, for we assume that everyone needs to become more like that person and thus will elect them as our mentors and guides.
But here is where I want to get to the real core of this illustration. I want to examine the various optional scenarios based on the types of opponents that a warrior could possibly face. And for this illustration I will reduce them to three main classes.
1. A mighty warrior or soldier normally expects to find himself pitted against intense resistance, force, defenses and hostility coming from his opponent.
2. A warrior may find himself coming upon much more vulnerable and weak opponents who may offer much less resistance because of poor training, equipment or even disposition. Opposition soldiers may have been drafted unwillingly into service and have little reason for a fight, or maybe their opponents are simply helpless victims not offering up any resistance, simply caught in the cross-fire. I realize that many may object to putting all of these into one category and I understand that. But let me get to the point. I allow that it may be useful to separate these into more categories, but for the purpose of my main point here I believe three may be sufficient.
3. The third category is one that is so rare and unusual that it is likely seldom taken into account during military training, for a militant mindset can hardly grasp that such a possibility could even exist. Yet in this third option is the secret 'weapon' that God relies on to win all of His battles. Yet in the fray of facing off against techniques and weapons that rely on force, fear and intimidation it usually appears initially that the powers of force always comes out the victors. This third potential opponent is one who chooses not to offer up active resistance to fight back in any way. But neither does it surrender in passive submission to become a victim of abuse, rather this is an opponent who actively and intentionally initiates and unflinchingly relies on love, forgiveness, non-violence and gestures of peace in the face of overwhelming evil and violence.
Now I want to talk about the effects of these three options. Imagine the homecoming of a warrior who's actions in battle were recorded and watched by all his countrymen and family during the heat of war and consider how that homecoming might be affected differently given these three scenarios.
1. A soldier goes up against intense odds militarily against fierce resistance and danger. But because he is brave and powerful and strong he overcomes all odds, maybe with battle wounds incurred in the process, and comes home for a heroes welcome. Most likely he would receive just that from people who glory in this view of what constitutes a hero according to the world's standard of thinking.
2. A solder comes home after coming upon a greatly inferior force attempting to defend themselves but who are easily overwhelmed by the superior forces brought against them. There is great slaughter as the attacking forces destroy their opponents with little resistance or danger to themselves. This scenario is actually not at all hard to imagine, for it is repeated many times by U.S. forces rather frequently. Bring to mind the enormous attack launched on Kuwait a few years ago and the massive kill-off conducted on the fleeing troops trying to return to Iraq. The destruction finally became so embarrassing that the offensive had to be called off because it was starting to make the attacking forces look so bad.
Now what kind of reception will such soldiers expect when they return home? Will they receive the same level of respect, honor and praise as say, others who returned from far different battles during World War II? There is obviously a dramatic difference in the level of respect and honor between warriors who fight through overwhelming odds and intense resistance in contrast to those who are simply killing off their opponents like shooting ducks in a cage.
3. But then consider the last scenario. A soldier warrior is suited up ready for intense combat, ready to kill, maim and destroy their enemies. They are mentally conditioned and hardened, expecting fully to face off with enemies who hate them, who are just as eager to kill them and take over their country as the soldier feels toward them. But then when the target comes into view, their enemy is seen as completely defenseless, harmless and offering no sign whatsoever of resistance or antagonism. In fact, their enemy greets them with smiles, flowers and hands outstretched in an invitation to embrace and enter into intimate friendship.
In such a scenario, especially if it is being videoed and broadcast live for all the world to watch as it unfolds, how would such a soldier be received at his homecoming if he viciously attacked such a person using all his weapons of force to inflict the highest amount of suffering possible on his opponent until he heartlessly rips his opponents body apart as a final act of victory. Tell me, how will this soldier be received when he gets back home?
Will he be given the heroes welcome like the one who overcame overwhelming odds and fought through intense resistance at the risk of his life? Will he even be given the more tepid reception of those who slaughtered fleeing combatants trying to change their minds after seeing that their cause was unwinnable? Would such a combatant be offered high political offices or nominated for president?
You know that the answer should be just the opposite. If any justice is left on earth at all, such a warrior would be stripped of all their authority and privileges and likely would either spend the rest of his life in prison or maybe even be executed for murder.
So, we have three basic scenarios here (with possible other various options within these) that help us perceive how the reputation of a warrior might fare in the outcome of their battles based primarily on the nature of their opponents. If the warrior uses his weapons to attack, inflict pain and then kill the same way in each instance, the reputation of that soldier will yet come out radically different in the end, not because the warrior was a different person but because their opponent was so strikingly different.
At this point it should start to become more obvious how God chooses to overcome Satan's kingdom of force and fear with the defense He relied on at the cross of Calvary. Far from engaging in similar tactics as used by His enemy, God chose to rely solely on what He has always insisted is the core of His own nature – unrelenting love and love alone. A love that cannot be suppressed by any amount of evil.
But here is where we must grasp the real power of what happened there. For just as the soldier in the last scenario should come home only to be arrested, arraigned and convicted of a heinous war-crime, so too Satan and all his demonic forces, both supernatural and human, will come to be seen as the true villains as their true nature is exposed at the cross where they inflicted the most abuse, shame and violence on a totally innocent victim in the face of complete non-resisting love, grace, compassion and kindness. This is the real power of the cross.
The power inherent in this demonstration of self-sacrificing love in the face of diabolical hatred, abuse and evil exposed Satan's true character so explicitly that he could no longer hide behind the matrix of deceptions and accusations against God that had protected him up to that point. For the watching universe, if not for humanity, all sympathy for any of his cunning insinuations about God as possibly harboring secret attitudes of selfishness, self-protectiveness or desires to punish and get revenge were all blatantly refuted. If any of Satan's assertions that the character of God had fault-lines were true, those characteristics or weaknesses would have been flushed into the open under the extreme physical and mental torture that Jesus endured during those long hours of agony. But instead, all that was brought into the open was pure, unconditional love and forgiveness toward everyone participating in this heinous crime.
The early believers actually caught sight of the stupendous implications of this event and it lit them on fire emotionally. As they caught sight of the enormous power of the love of God demonstrated in the face of supreme evil and unfairness, that love empowered them as God transformed their own hearts until they too became willing to be treated in the same way as Jesus had been treated while responding with the same sort of forgiving love that had so rocked the universe when Jesus died. And because Jesus had been resurrected after suffering this apparent defeat at the cross, everyone who caught on to what had really happened there lost all respect and fear for Satan, they were ready to renounce all allegiance to the kingdoms of fear in this world and to give their loyalty and affection wholly to the One who could also resurrect them if they were killed for following in His path of non-violent resistance against evil.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God's word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 NRSV)
Paul was one of those who was won over from a life based on violent aggression as a mighty warrior using Satan's methods to promote religion, to an irrepressible promoter of non-violent resistance using love to win his opponents. When the true picture of God flooded his mind and softened his heart, his whole life was transformed from an aggressor to a champion for God's methods. Yet from his perspective he viewed himself as actually a captured enemy soldier being paraded before the universe as part of the slaves of the real champion, the One who had not only defeated the arch-villain in a fight that He appeared at first to loose, but in the process disarmed and neutralized all the weapons of the most powerful enemy of all time. Jesus not only defeated and disarmed Satan but took away his greatest weapon of death through which Satan had kept all of his victims in bondage to himself through fear.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
The idea of being led in triumphal procession is actually something rather unfamiliar to most people today. But in Paul's day it was a well-known event that had important elements that we need to understand. In those days, unlike today, whenever a general or king won a war against enemy forces, they often would capture the opposing kings, mighty men and even many of the other conquered people including women and children and would force them to return in chains. Often these would then be marched through the capital city behind the conquerors riding proudly on horses, dragged along as trophies of war. It was not unusual that the defeated people thus paraded in chains would be completely naked while the people of the city would gawk, abuse and spit on them or even strike them. All of this was designed to enforce the idea that the victors were the greatest and most important in contrast to the defeated people who were heaped with shame, scorn and derision. Included in this parade might even be executions of some of the enemy combatants or leaders to make it clear as to who was now in authority and what would happen to anyone who might think to defy the winner's power.
But is this scenario from Paul's day what God intends to do to those that He captures when He wins His wars? What do we see in His demonstration of His true character at the cross? Is God going to parade His enemies before the universe with contempt, pride and gloating over the fact that He proved He is stronger than all His opponents? After listening to many preachers and teachers claiming to explain how God will win over sinners, it might actually sound like a plausible event. Yet this way of winning over one's enemies is actually opposite to the methods God relies on to overcome sin. No, God's parade will be filled with those who have been captured by His love, not by His violence, intimidation, threats or coercion as so many suppose. God parades His captives by presenting them as enemies who have been converted to friends; those who have been won over to the side of love; enemies who have been transformed into fiercely loyal allies. These are the kinds of trophies that make up God's tour of victory.
Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations-- their kings led in triumphal procession. (Isaiah 60:11 NIV)
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6 NKJV)
And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:9-10 NKJV)
Satan was defeated at the cross by exposing himself as the grand fraud who relies on force and violence to overcome his opponents in contrast to the Champion of heaven who overcomes His opponents by loving them unflinchingly in the face of their unrelenting hatred, shame and abuse. Not only in this way is the champion of darkness unmasked and his weapons of fear and violence rendered powerless, the true character God and the extent of His kind of love is also exposed for the first time in the history of the universe. Thus, in facing off against the full forces of violence and evil relying on the power of non-violent love and forgiveness, Jesus not only defeated His nemesis but He shattered to pieces the entire system of lies upon which Satan has founded his whole empire. Since that day it is become a matter of mopping up operations rather than trying to overcome Satan's main defenses.
But if this is true, then why are we seeming to be deeper in darkness today than the world was after Jesus won the war? Why isn't Satan's defeat resulting in a quick dispensing of his kingdom and the full implementation of God's kingdom? What is holding everything up?
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. (2 Peter 3:9-15 NRSV)
While the rest of the universe was settled in their minds about the real truth of both God and Satan at the cross, God will not relent until He has won every human being possible over to the side of trusting and believing that His ways of love are the best. As long as there is any chance of one person switching sides and changing their minds about letting God save them out of the hand of the enemy, He will not bring about the final events. But there is a time coming very quickly when circumstances will be such that every person will see clearly the real truth about what Jesus revealed about the true character of love when He reflecting God's heart at the cross. Then all will be compelled to choose whether to embrace that love or cling to the lies of Satan that have permeated this world since sin entered here.
As all have full opportunity to see the difference between the competing systems of love and force and are choosing which system to embrace, God will rapidly bring everything to a final climatic end as both sides will again be publicly exposed when they face off once again, not unlike what happened at the cross of Calvary. Only this time it will not just happen in a single location and a single man, but it will transpire over the entire planet simultaneously. Malignant evil and horrendous abuse will again be pitted against loving forgiveness and compassion, and then it will become unequivocally clear to all the difference between righteousness and evil with no middle ground of confusion to exist any longer.
"You have said terrible things about me," says the LORD. But you ask, 'What have we said about you?' (GNB)
You have said, 'It's pointless to serve God. What do we gain if we meet his standards or if we walk around feeling sorry for what we've done? (GW)
As we see it, proud people are the ones who are happy. Evil people not only prosper, but they test God's patience with their evil deeds and get away with it.' (GNB)
All those who truly respected the LORD and honored his name started discussing these things, and when God saw what was happening, he had their names written as a reminder in his book. (CEV)
They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. (ESV)
Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (ESV) (Malachi 3:13-18)