A Parable of a Great King

Once upon a time there was a Great King of a realm, and a Usurper arose to make war against him. The initial sneak attack was a resounding success, driving the Great King out of his capital city, out of his land, and turning his own people against him.  The Usurper took up residence in the King’s palace, and placed his followers in the halls of power.  

Now, the Great King is a very powerful King. Still at his disposal are legions of missiles filled with nuclear warheads, against which the Usurper is utterly powerless.  Victory could be instantly his by simply destroying everything, ridding himself forever of this menace.  Effective for that purpose, yes, but not if he had other plans in mind. A nuclear holocaust would render his capital city and entire realm useless. He himself might take up residence at some point, but there would be no people, no community, no society to rule. This is his city, his realm, and his people. He fashioned it. He loves it. He still has purposes for it. Any claim the Usurper has to his city and his realm is a false claim.  

No. He must drive out the Usurper in a way that preserves his city and realm. When the long war is over he desires to restore it to its original glory and the even greater destiny he had always planned for it. Utter destruction is not an option. Instead he allows life to go on in the realm, and begins implementing a long, slow plan of infiltration.

Sages sought to interpret the Great King’s restraint. Why does he allow life to continue under the dominion of the Usurper? Whole schools of philosophy gradually arose with differing interpretations of the Great King’s aims. Some said he restrains himself simply because he has loved ones in the city and wants to rescue them out of it. He is planning a rescue operation for those few, they said, and only after succeeding will he let the nuclear warheads fall. 

Others granted that this would be one way of going about things, but still objected, uneasily, that this still grants the Usurper a great and terrible victory. The Great King can only defeat him by destroying his very own kingdom?

Still others thought that the Great King might be restraining himself because not only does he have loved ones trapped there, but because he is filled with some nostalgia for the place.  He knows and remembers the beautiful architecture, the city planning, the way everything is organically laid out, its unity and diversity. It all reflects his own personal style. He remembers the gardens, the woodlands, and the beauty of the seasons. He is reluctant to engage the nuclear warheads. He is giving the city a bit more time to enjoy the wonderful things the realm offers, but he knows that this is merely delaying the inevitable. It will, eventually, have to be destroyed.

A final group was persuaded that the Great King’s restraint indicated that he doesn’t plan to destroy the realm at all. Perhaps he loves his kingdom, his realm, and his city. Maybe he had grand plans for it that got aborted when he got attacked. Why shouldn’t his aim be liberation instead of destruction? These wise men thought that the Great King had an old-fashioned assault in mind rather than instantaneous destruction. He is gathering strength, allies, intelligence, preparing for an ultimate D-Day in the fullness of time, a beachhead, a foothold. 

So life goes on in the realm. The Great King begins implementing a long term plan. He first establishes a forward outpost, recruiting a single family still living in the realm, winning them back to his side.  He clears out a patch of ground where they can live in loyalty to him.  This family and this spot of ground are special; unlike the commoners surrounding them, they owe special loyalty to him. There is a great distinction between the special and the common, between them and the rest of the realm.  Nevertheless, he lets them in on a secret: this is not the end-game, but a means to an end. This spot of ground where the King’s flag is unfurled is a down-payment, a picture of what all will someday be; this patch of ground is, in fact, the entire realm held in trust. The real end-game is for all of the King’s people to inherit the whole realm, not just this patch of ground. The Great King’s favor to this family, the establishment of this outpost, is part of a far grander plan: stemming from this one family every other family of the realm would ultimately be blessed. It is through this outpost, this beachhead, that their redemption will come. 

This family greatly expands.  It becomes a mini-nation living in the midst of the realm. The Usurper tries time and again to get these meddlesome agitators back to his side.  He plies them with false promises in exchange for allegiance, and, like he did with their distant father, that original traitor, has quite a bit of success. The Great King sends emissaries to the people, reminding them of their grand purpose in the world. Those of the outpost were prone to forget that they are an outpost; they were forgetting that the King has designs not just for them, but for the whole realm; they were forgetting that the patch of ground was the beginning, not the end. From time to time the Great King disciplines and prunes his small outpost. He wants only the faithful involved in this crucial underground movement. He even allows them to be arrested and locked up for a period of time: a wake-up call for the faithful. He wishes to fashion a true resistance movement, those in tune with the strategic plans, for that is the only way D-Day will succeed.  The Great King’s outpost thus narrows over time.  Like the armies of Gideon, the nation is whittled down to a faithful few because that is just how the Great King likes it.  He likes his victories to come in the form of weakness, not strength.

The time draws near.  Its fullness has almost arrived.  The Great King sends a Royal herald to the outpost, declaring that the kingdom is at hand, and commanding all to turn their loyalties back to the Great King. Like General Maximus and the Roman army of old waiting on the Germanic borderlands, they wait in breathless anticipation. They hear hoofbeats. A horse lopes into view, ridden by a headless man. The herald rides decapitated. Maximus of old said, “Their answer is no. On my word, unleash hell.” The Great King’s reply is similar, only he finishes with, “On my word, unleash heaven.” 

A man arrives in the outpost.  Crossing over the river at the borderlands, he speaks his first public words: “The time has come.” Weightier words were never heard. “The kingdom is near,” he added, “Repent and believe the good news!” D-Day has arrived. This one is the Champion of the Great King, who comes calling all to change their loyalties and put their trust in him. Immediately he unleashes heaven, cleansing the realm. He casts out the Usurper’s minions; he heals sickness; he raises the dead.  He tells them that if he does these things, then they should know “that the kingdom has come upon them.”  With the coming of the Champion, the Great King himself has made his entry into the realm, and the demons shudder.  

Ultimately, in a bold act of self-sacrifice the Champion lays down his life at the hands of the Usurper, only to take it up again in glorious power.  He breaks the stranglehold the Usurper has over the whole realm, the power of death.  The Great King wins the decisive victory.

The trumpets blast, the message proclaimed. He rallies all people, not just those living in his original, crucial, little outpost, but people over the whole realm to turn to him in allegiance and to bow their knee to his Majesty.  For the outpost resistance movement had achieved its purpose as a beachhead, a landing place for the Champion; now the special relationship overflows its banks and floods the realm, available to all.  The Great King makes people in every reach of the realm new and transformed by the power of the Champion’s indestructible life. The great liberation has begun.

The kingdom has arrived. The news is heralded everywhere. The good news of liberation and freedom is for everybody, men, women, and children. What once was curse is now reversed. Darkness is flooded with light, hatred replaced by love, enmity with communion. Oh, there remains resistance.  The ultimate power of the Usurper has been destroyed, but he remains a deceiver yet.  The Great King now waits for his foe’s final destruction. But between this principal victory and ultimate end, he empowers the good news of victory to reverberate throughout the realm. His provision of returning amnesty for repentance converts even the most hardened of old enemies to new friends.

All over the realm wherever citizens believe the news of victory, things begin to look, feel, sound and smell very different. There is new ownership; the old, traitorous flag of the Usurper is torn down, as are his monuments and statues, replaced by the standard of a new Sovereign Majesty, one with authority over the totality of heaven and earth. 

Life in the realm can never be the same. Colors take on a different hue, for the blind now see. Sounds are heard as never before, for the deaf now hear. Goods once enjoyed in slavery are now graces enjoyed in freedom. Where once was darkness, there is light. What once was dirty is now clean. What once was sinful, twisted, and disfigured is now just, righted, and restored.  

The realm is not even like it was before the Great War.  That was a time of pure innocence.  This is the time of having-been-liberated: scars and rubble remain for now.  Many walk with a limp. This is a far deeper, more mature reality than mere innocence.  No, for those liberated by the Great King, there is no sense in which life just goes on as it always has.  In nothing is life the same as it has always been. There is no such thing as a “common” life for such as these. The lowly washerwoman no longer hangs the clothes out of mere duty, but with joy and gratitude. The lawyer, liberated from the Father of Lies, advocates and advises with integrity. The painter sees the realm with new eyes and paints it as it really is: the Great King’s Dominion. Every common vocation, every nook and cranny of the realm has been changed by the victory of the Great King. And his followers, their hearts changed in allegiance, work to spread the light of the kingdom everywhere there is remaining darkness.  What is common is made special because they do all things, eating, drinking, and whatever they do, for the glory, honor, and tribute of their Savior King. They shine like stars in the remaining darkness.

One day the Great King and his Champion will return to finish off the Usurper once and for all, to heal all wounds and scars, wipe away all tears, to take up his final residence and usher his people into a final great rest. The realm itself will be transformed into a glory it had never known since its founding. It will be cleansed and renovated to the original destiny the Great King had always planned for it. The greatness and totality of his victory is displayed in this: in destroying the Usurper, he did not destroy his own realm.  

Far from being annihilated, on that day the whole realm will be sacred and special; everything from the bells on the horses to the pots in the kitchen will be inscribed with the words: “Holy To The Great King.”

And they will live happily ever after.

Brian Mattson