In August of 480 BC, a few hundred Spartans led by King Leonidas battled against 150,000 Persian warriors led by King Xerxes. The heavily outnumbered Greeks held their ground, repelled the invaders, and controlled the battle for three days.
But there was one thing King Leonidas couldn’t control…and it would prove fatal.
Xerxes the Great was out for revenge. He wanted to severely punish the Greeks for defeating his father, King Darius, a few years earlier, so when he sailed for the coast of Greece, he did so with more than 150,000 soldiers. The vast Persian army was bent on destroying Greece and her culture, but standing between them and conquest was King Leonidas and his Spartan warriors.
These Greek “hoplites” were the greatest warriors of that era. Their fearsome training began in childhood, and culminated in graduation only after the soldier survived a week in the wilderness and killed a slave. Each of them took an oath to “stand and die” in battle, and at Thermopylae, that’s just what they did.
When Xerxes landed on the beaches of Greece, he noted the disparity between the size of the two armies. Before the battle began, Xerxes gave Leonidas a chance to surrender saying, “Hand over your arms!” Leonidas replied, “Molôn labe,” Greek for, “Come and get them!”
And so Xerxes tried. And failed.
He tried again. And failed again.
For two days, the tiny Greek army stalled the impressive invasion force from Persia. But victory for Leonidas and his Spartans would be short-lived.
According to the ancient historian Herodotus, Leonidas’ forces were betrayed by a fellow Greek named Ephialtes (whose name translates as “nightmare”). Ephialtes told King Xerxes about a mountain path that would bypass Thermopylae, allowing the Persian king to circle the brave Spartans. In the middle of the night, Xerxes used the pass to move troops to Leonidas’ rear. The following day, Xerxes’ troops put the Spartans in a deadly pincer move and won the battle.
King Leonidas had been betrayed, and as a result, he lost his life. But ultimately, history showed that it was Leonidas’ people who enjoyed victory, not Xerxes. “The Great King” and his armada had been delayed too long by the brave Greek warriors, and within months, he was forced to retreat back across the Mediterranean.
The Bible also tells of a King who was betrayed by a friend. Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, was betrayed by one of His disciples named Judas. Jesus was then handed over to merciless leaders who tried Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and killed Him in a matter of hours.
But like Leonidas, this King also seized ultimate victory. His death was only temporary. His resurrection three days later gave His followers the hope of eternal life.
In spite of His death, this King still reigns today!
Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World by Paul Cartledge. Overlook Press, 2006, Page 141 – 152.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)