How the Divine Armor of the Messiah Becomes Ours
Written by S.M. Baugh |
Saturday, March 25, 2023
One temptation we have in our examination of the armor of God is to get wrapped up in the armor itself and not in the one who gives it to us. As noted, this armor is the Lord’s own which he wore to defeat all his and our enemies in his great conquest of sin and death to ransom us (Rev 5:5, 9). This means that the “armor of light” given to us in Christ is expressed as our faith in him when we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) to become “children of the light” (1 Thess 5:5). And the “captain of the Lord’s army” (Josh 5:13–15) has already clothed us with himself in full battle array in our baptism.
Professional athletes were as popular in the ancient world as they are today, even if the sports back then were somewhat different. Wrestling competitions, for example, were held throughout mainland Greece and Asia Minor in various festivals. And winners of these wrestling matches received extraordinary public honors: their exploits were celebrated with statues, friezes, and wall paintings. Thus it would have been impossible for Paul, who lived in Ephesus for over two years (Acts 19:8, 10) to have missed seeing Greek culture’s enthusiasm for victorious wrestlers. This may explain aspects of his curious description of the “armor of God” in Ephesians 6:10–17.
Have you ever noticed that Paul calls our struggle a “wrestling match” (πάλη [pale]) in Ephesians 6:12, yet he describes this match as carried out in full battle armor (πανοπλία [panoplia]) in the previous verse? Paul knew, of course, that wrestlers in his day did not wear much of anything in their matches, much less loads of military gear. Furthermore, soldiers in armor win battles by advancing, not by standing, yet Paul states three times that Christian armor allows us to hold our ground and to “stand” fast in the evil day (vv. 11, 13). “Having done all,” we are to “stand” (Eph 6:13 KJV). What gives? Is Paul mixing his metaphors?
As I stated in my work on Ephesians in Lexham Press’s Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series, I think Paul is portraying the fight facing Christians against “the schemes of the devil” (v. 11) and “against the cosmic forces of this darkness” (v. 12) as a hand-to-hand brawl in which staying on one’s feet—as in a wrestling match—is the only sure way to victory. “Stand fast then!” Paul says (v. 14).
And if the enemy seems too scary to imagine, Paul details the protection which God gives to us, which is the very armor which our hero Jesus wore for his great conquest on the cross (Rev 5:5–10) when he “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Col 2:15). This is why Paul describes the armor of God which we are to put on in terms of the divine armor of Isaiah worn by the Messiah:
He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head. (Isa 59:16–17)
It is worth looking briefly at the different elements of the “panoply of God” (Eph 6:13) which Paul details for us in Ephesians 6:14–17. This armor of God is not only for ancient people but for Christians today.
The first part of the armor of God is the belt implied when Paul says, “Belt up your waist with truth” (Eph 6:14). An older translation for “belt up your waist” is to “gird one’s loins” (KJV; NKJV): the loose clothing worn in antiquity was pulled up and tied or belted in preparation for wrestling (Job 38:3, 40:7; cf. 1 Pet. 1:13). Here “truth” acts as the belt for believers, and Paul is reminding us that the truth is found in Jesus (Eph 4:21) and his gospel (Eph 1:13). We belt our waists with truth when we speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15, 25) as the fruit of saving faith (Eph 2:8–10) in the battle which Christ, the righteous warrior of God has won for us (Isa 11:5).