We are all familiar with the image of Christ as the lamb of God led passively to the slaughter. Having just left behind the Christmas season, we’re also intimately familiar with Jesus come in the flesh. We recognize Jesus the preacher, wandering through Judea and speaking to people about the coming of the Kingdom. Yet there is one image that is less familiar to us, which is Christ the warrior.
This lack in our visual vocabulary is most unfortunate, because it balances out the other pictures. Jesus the conqueror riding forth to do battle with His enemies in Revelation is the description of what Christ is like after the Ascension, seated on the right hand of Heaven, bearing a sword and riding out on the clouds to throw down his enemies. (I’ve often thought a great title for a commentary on the book of Revelation would be The Return of the King.)
This picture of Jesus as warrior-King is particularly relevant for the speculative fiction genres and their Christian readers because it gives us a window into understanding these genres in a Christian way. To this effect, I want to look at one specific passage in the New Testament that speaks of Christ in fantasy-esque terms.
Hebrews 2:10 (ESV) reads: ”For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” The passage is speaking about Christ and the ESV refers to Him as the “founder” of salvation. The Greek word for is archegos, of which “founder” is a poor translation. The word actually means “captain” or “prince” of salvation. In its fullest sense, the word means champion, and actually refers to the ancient war tradition in the ancient near east. When two armies met on the battlefield, before they would charge they would send out their greatest warriors to fight one another. The side whose champion lost would be forced by their code of honor to surrender (though this often didn’t happen either).
Thus Christ pictured as the lamb led to slaughter is not the only image we’re given by the Bible about His work on the cross. Christ was sent out as our champion, to do battle with the champion of the forces of sin and darkness, namely, the Devil. And, as Hebrews 2:15-16 goes on to say, Christ defeats the Devil in hand-to-hand combat: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
William Lane, in his Word Biblical Commentary on Hebrews, writes,
The language of Heb 2:10, 18 displays a close affinity with the descriptions and manegyrics of some of the most popular cult [religious – ATR] figures of the hellenistic world, the “divine hero” who descends from heaven to earth in order to rescue humankind. Although Jesus is of divine origin, he accepts a human nature, in which he can serve humanity, experience testing, and ultimately suffer death. Through his death and resurrection he attains to his perfection, wins his exaltation to heaven, and recieves a new name or title to mark his achievement in the sphere of redemption. This description, Knox observed, represented Jesus in much the same light as the divine hero figures of the pagan world, of whom Hercules was the most prominent. (p. 56)
By using the term “champion,” the author of Hebrews argues that Christ is the fulfillment, not merely of Jewish archetypes and shadows, but also of pagan ones as well. The earthly tabernacle and sacrifices in the Old Testament were “types and shadows” of Christ – and not them alone, because even pagan stories serve as “types and shadows” of Christ’s work as well. Christ fulfills not merely the Messianic figure in the Jewish worldview, but the Herculean figure of the Gentile worldview as well. Lane goes on, writing that “Hearers familiar with the common stock of ideas in the hellenistic world knew that the legendary Hercules was designated ‘champion’ and ‘savior,’ (p. 56-57).
Readers of Hebrews would
almost certainly interpret the term archegos in v 10 in the light of the allusion to Jesus as the protegonist who came to the aid of the oppressed people of God in vv 14-16. Locked in mortal combat with the one who held the power of death, he overthrew him in order to release all those who had been enslaved by this evil tyrant. This representation of the achievement of Jesus was calculated to recall one of the more famous labors of Hercules, his wrestling with Death, ‘the dark-robed lord of the dead’,” (p. 57).
Jesus as Hercules, descending from a Kingdom long-lost to mankind to do battle with a “dark-robed lord of the dead” in order to set the captives free and restore justice to the realm by being crowned and taking the throne? If you’re anything like me, you just got chills. If that reminds you of your favorite fantasy series, it is because fantasy is the descendant of the ancient myth, as interpreted through the lens of Medieval romance. In short, fantasy presents the gospel in “types and shadows” in the same way that the myth of Hercules did.
This startling fact is helpful when we start thinking about “Christian elements” in fiction and what we should do with “secular” stories. Christian readers often wonder if an author “intended” for this or that to reflect the Christian story. Well, do we imagine the original pagans who told the Hercules myth intended for it to be read as a type or shadow of Jesus Christ? Obviously not. Does this matter to the author of Hebrews? No. Jesus as Messiah is the intentional fulfillment of an unintentional type and shadow written down and told by pagans. The creation and everything in it (including pagan stories) was made by Christ, “for whom and by whom all things exist.” The universe was made for Christ, by Christ, which means that all meaning in the universe (in order for it to be true meaning) was made by Christ, for Christ. Now, obviously we need to be clear that some reflections are better than others, some shadows are more difficult to see than others, some reflections more distorted than others, but they all make Christ plain.
The implication here is that instead of running from some kinds of stories or viewing them with suspicion, we must read and interpret them Christianly (since, according to Hebrews, the Christian interpretation is the correct interpretation). So when we’re reading a story (any story), the ultimate meaning of that story must point to Christ, even if the author’s heart is in total rebellion. All stories reflect Christ because all meaning has its beginning and its end point in the person of Jesus. This means that Aragorn is a type of Christ, as is Beowulf and Harry Potter and (sigh) Eragon. All stories are types and shadows of the world’s great champion, Jesus Christ, their meanings are all drawn up together into His being.
A. T. Ross is an aspiring speculative novelist with four unpublished novels under his belt, a committed Christian, amateur theologian, and avid reader. He is a Reviews editor for Fermentations magazine and writes occasionally for Fantasy Book Review. When he’s not working on one of his writing projects, he can be found reading at the public library or getting into mischief on his blog. He lives and churches in Ohio.