If you read the books or watch the movies of The Lord of the Rings (and its prequel, The Hobbit), you might notice that the best armor and most valuable weapons were not made for their owners but passed down to them. For example, in The Hobbit, Bilbo and Gandalf find old swords in an abandoned cave. Gandalf the wizard notices how strong and sharp they still are, and he reads the inscription on the blades to find out they were made in ancient times by elves. Bilbo’s dagger is called “Sting” and Gandalf’s sword “Glamdring,” whose nickname became “Foe-Hammer” after a great victory long ago. Later in the story, Gandalf comes to rescue Bilbo and the dwarves from the goblin king. The goblin king doesn’t say, “Oh no, a wizard!” but instead, “Oh no . . . that sword . . . He wields the ‘Foe-Hammer!’”
Holding a sword may make you feel powerful, but there’s something about holding the sword of a legend from long ago that makes you feel unstoppable.
Paul calls our equipment “the armor of God” because it’s God’s own armor—the armor he made for the Messiah in order to rescue his people. The imagery Paul uses is not original to him; it was borrowed from a prophet of the Old Testament who foretold about the Messiah who would come as a warrior to rescue his people.
The Lord looked down on man and saw sin running rampant. There was no justice and righteousness, and there was no one who could bring salvation for his people, “[S]o his own arm brought salvation, and his own righteousness supported him. He put on righteousness as body armor, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and he wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak” (Isa. 59:16–17). Isaiah also says, “Righteousness will be a belt around his hips; faithfulness will be a belt around his waist” (Isa. 11:5).
Jesus the Messiah equipped himself with the armor of God: truth, righteousness, salvation, and faithfulness to deliver his people. We read of his conquest in the Gospels, and it began when he declared at the start of his ministry, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Demons immediately scatter from his presence, knowing that the Messiah-Warrior has come and their time is running out.
Though the disciples follow Jesus, they think his kingdom is one of this world. But they soon find out that his rule is spiritual—his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus conquered not by overthrowing the Roman government, but by sacrificing himself on a cross as a substitute before God in the place of sinners so that our spiritual bondage to sin and death would be broken. Christ’s descent into hell was his victory lap, and he rose in a glorious resurrection to demonstrate his power over death. This becomes the message of the rest of the New Testament.
Ephesians contains all these glorious truths: Christ brought victory for his people through his righteous life, sacrificial death, and his victorious resurrection. In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7). We have been predestined to inherit the spoils of his victory (Eph. 1:14). God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Eph. 1:20) which are the very rulers and authorities and powers that wage war against us, listed again in Ephesians 6:12.
With His Mighty Power
Ephesians 6:10 tells us, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
Our first instinct is often to run in our own strength, to make our own weapons for spiritual warfare, to come up with our own strategies. But they are no use for us. We have been made fit for particular armor. In fact, any other armor will only leave us vulnerable, despite how impressive it might look. You must be strengthened with someone else’s strength. You must put on someone else’s armor—the armor of Christ—and fight with the strength that he supplies by the Holy Spirit, together with his people.
It’s easy to attempt fighting in our own strength, putting on our own faithfulness as armor. When we do this, we think we’re doing better than we really are, and we aren’t so much in need of God’s grace and help. In that moment, we need to repent, put off faith in our faithfulness (which is really self-righteousness), and put on faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ who gave us his own righteousness to wear.