“I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” (John 18:8)
The king is the most important piece in chess. Powerful as the queen may be, able to move any number of spaces vertically, horizontally or diagonally, a player often loses the queen and still wins the game. But once the king is captured, the game is over.
So, the object of every calculated move is to protect the king at all costs. Pawns must be discarded. Bishops, knights, and castles forfeited. Even the queen herself is to be sacrificed to protect his majesty, the king. The crown must stay back behind his row of subjects, protected in his castle. All must perish before he does.
But as Christians, we have another, very differently kind of king. One not so delicately treated. One who doesn’t move others in the way to shield him from death. Thorin Oakenshield, lord of the dwarfs in The Hobbit, echoes such a king.
In one of the best scenes, appearing only in the extended edition of the motion picture *Battle of Five Armies*, the evil orcs have worn down the dwarf and elvish armies. Thorin knows their only chance is to “cut the head off the snake” by killing their leader, Azog the Defiler. He shares his nearly suicidal plan with his cousin, who exclaims, “Thorin, you cannot do this!You are our King!”
To which he — in the lineage of every king whose blood pumps with true nobility — responds, “That is why I must do it.”
Our King Who Stepped in Front
The King of glory did not hide behind the ranks on the chess board of history. He did not use his people as pawns, or send out his Bride, the Church, to die for him. He did not sacrifice his subjects in an attempt to protect his own crown. Should someone have said, “Lord, you cannot do this, you are our King,” — or, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22) — he was the King who would have replied, “Get behind me, Satan! That is why I must do it!”
Consider how appealing the demonic logic sounded. He was no mere man to die for men, after all. He was God in the flesh. All other humans were mere pawns — and less than pawns — compared with him. Should he, the King of heaven, suffer and die a shameful death for his own creatures? Should he choose the path of death to bring the rebellious worms life? What kind of king is he?
We find out precisely what kind in the Gospels.
As the lions encircled, as the betrayer led the chief priests, Pharisees, and soldiers to him with lanterns and swords, “Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward” (John 18:4). He stepped in front of his disciples — the ones he knew were about to flee from him — and sacrificed himself to their wrath. “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go” (John 18:8).
Jesus, knowing the cross, the lash, the mocking, the wrath, the abandonment, the blood, the shame, stepped in front of his people. The King moved in front of his subjects.
Glory to Our King
Our King of glory did not stay tucked safely off the battlefield. He was no little dog who barked from behind his army. Our King of glory did not send others forward to die in his place. And he did not abandon us to fight for ourselves. He is our King of glory because he made our hopeless plight his own. He came from heaven as a mighty warrior. And he returned from battle triumphant:
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24:9–10)
Our King did return triumphant — with scars on his hands and feet and side. The King of glory ascended to take the scroll that none in heaven or on earth could open (Revelation 5:1–5). The scroll, like Excalibur stuck in the stone, could not be opened by any in the land. Gabriel and Michael could not unravel it. The wisest and greatest of men on earth and creatures in heaven could not unveil its message. John began to weep. Until the true King — the one once crowned with thorns for his people — stepped forth to take the scroll. He came to ransom his people. He gave himself to the cross. And he cut off the head of the serpent, and rose again in triumph.
To him belongs all the glory.