Puppet Master or Chess Master?

Puppet Master or Chess Master?

How Does King Jesus Reveal His Reign in Your Life?


Like Christians everywhere, I’m sure you find great comfort in your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ when you read these words of promise about Jesus in Romans 14 (emphasis added):

To their own master, servants stand or fall.
And they will stand,
for the master is able to make them stand.

Clearly, for all of us who have been brought out of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13), Jesus is our “master”—in fact, he’s the one and only true “Master of the Universe.” Now and forever.

What’s more, Christians agree a day is coming when every knee in all of creation will bow before Jesus, as every tongue in heaven and earth declares him to be Lord of all (Philippians 2:9-11).

Redeemed by the Lamb of God, the Church confesses that both this day and on that glorious day, we have

but one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things came
and through whom we live.
(1 Corinthians 8, emphasis added)

However, there is one facet concerning the lordship of Christ about which there remains considerable debate—and even serious division—among believers. It concerns this question:

HOW FULLY does Jesus exercise his supremacy
in all of life?

Even more specifically, we might ask this:

HOW FULLY does he display his reign
and involve himself in my daily life with him?

Stated more broadly: How much of the history of the world has been determined by the decisions and actions of the human race and how much has been determined by God’s decisive, dominant discharging of his sovereign plan for the ages through the person, work, and reign of his Son, Christ Jesus?

Stated more narrowly: How much of my life is determined by my own choices and responses? On the other hand, how much is shaped by the way God takes charge of my life to advance through Christ his prior purposes for my life that were set in place ages ago?

Essentially, such questions suggest two options to choose from—two perspectives over which the Church has debated for centuries and, unfortunately, sometimes split apart. Sometimes violently.

However, as we go forward into more of Christ, we each must decide. Every person must render a verdict that brings significant implications for how one loves Jesus, trusts him, follows him, serves him, and proclaims him.

My goal in this blog post is to simplify these two options for you by exploring them as two metaphors: PUPPET MASTER vs. CHESS MASTER.

As I do, ask yourself: Which one comes closest to how I currently view and value the supremacy of Christ in my own walk with him?


The reigning Son of God acts as your


Throughout Church history, one camp of sincere Christians has held to the conclusion that Jesus displays his supremacy most fully in the lives of his followers—and in the course of the entire world—by an approach that most resembles a puppeteer.

This metaphor pictures the reign of King Jesus as comprehensively engaged with, in command of, and dominate over every detail of every facet of every bit of human existence and experience. He is thoroughly in charge. Nothing lies outside what he wills.

One passage, among many, that leans toward this image is Ephesians 1:20-23, which says:

God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (emphasis added).

That is to say, God has chosen to display the absolute nature of his power by appointing his Son to be sovereign Lord, given all authority in heaven and earth. The Son embodies and invokes God’s final say, demonstrating divine omnipotence as his reign overrules and overrides everything and everyone.

In other words, unbounded in grace and mercy, with superior wisdom and insight, claiming unmitigated omnipotence and unyielding righteous resolve—in keeping with God’s redemptive purposes sealed from all eternity—Jesus continually “pulls the strings” (as it were) in terms of how we and all earth’s peoples live and move and have our beings—past, present, and future.

Therefore, whatever unfolds in my life and yours—including every decision, every action, every word out of our mouths, and every direction and outcome of our daily journeys—comes to pass under his sweeping jurisdiction, his undistracted supervision, and his unabated control.

Despite how “free” we may think we are, Jesus rules from his throne every minute, ordaining and orchestrating in innumerable ways, most of which we are unaware.

Option #1 suggests that the best image to capture this phenomenon is to envision a puppet on a stage. The little guy seems to be acting on its own. But what the audience doesn’t see are the strings that an invisible puppeteer behind the curtain is tugging to make the figurine look alive.

In somewhat the same style, our Lord Jesus Christ fulfills his kingly role as a master decider, composer, and conductor of whatever is going on anywhere at any time with anyone—including what is transpiring around me as well as inside me.

Just as he does throughout the whole earth, the Son of God exercises his supremacy in my sphere of existence so fully that nothing happens to me or with me except by his desire, his design, his decree, and with his direct, “hands-on” involvement.

Moment by moment, all peoples and nations, all the animations in creation, all events large and small in human enterprises, the flow of history as well as its culmination—ALL THINGS, whether personal or cosmic in nature—take their cue from a divinely predetermined, predesigned, and preordained script written with our Redeemer as the main theme and the central character.

Many would point to these verses in Colossians 1 to back up that conclusion:

We look at this Son and see . . . God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment . . . He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. (Colossians 1:15-18, The Message, emphasis added).

In other words, the entire storyline was laid out by the triune God before anything was ever made. Now, in time and space, God’s program is being implemented perfectly and unrelentingly under the sovereign sway of the Son of God—page by page, word for word, according to the sacred, ages-old playbook.

Reflective of the way a puppet master can make a marionette dance a particular jig by how he raises and lowers the strings attached to its limbs, even so, Jesus, as the Lord of your life, is the real explanation for how you end up “dancing before the Lord.”

The Puppet Master in Scripture

Let’s look at some additional biblical support. Paul confessed to the Corinthians:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Corinthians 15:10, emphasis added).

In Ephesians 2, Paul writes this about all of us:

God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved . . . and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (vs. 4-9, emphasis added).

Or again, in Romans 8:28-32 (Phillips, emphasis added), it says:

Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son, that he might be the eldest of a family of many brothers. He chose them long ago; when the time came he called them, he made them righteous in his sight, and then lifted them to the splendour of life as his own sons. In face of all this, what is there left to say? If God is for us, who can be against us?

The show of all-inclusive sovereignty expressed in these passages seems to be the kind Jesus frequently highlights in the book of Revelation—such as his sweeping claim to operate currently and actively as the ruler of all the kings of the earth (1:5) or when he wraps up the drama of the consummation of history by saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13). He’s there at the start, he’s there at the finish line, and he’s there to ensure the outcome by managing every moment in between.

As Jesus informed his disciples in the upper room, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, emphasis added). That appears to be an indisputable word on the subject, doesn’t it?

Scores of other such passages in the Old and New Testaments suggest a similar interpretation of how God displays his sovereignty through the lordship of Jesus—verses that cause some to liken Jesus’ reign to something akin to a puppet master.

But for now, how about you? What do you think?

  1. Does the “puppet master” metaphor come anywhere close to what you’ve concluded from Scripture about how Jesus exercises his supremacy today for you and for all?
  2. If you believe it is the more accurate biblical metaphor, how much does that reality actually matter to you at this point in your life?
  3. If it does matter, what are some ways you have seen it manifested recently in your daily walk with him that encourage you?
  4. Finally, how might you expect this perspective on the supremacy of Christ to keep transforming you and your life for him in the coming days?

On the other hand, you might want to consider this:


The reigning Son of God acts as your

Chess Master

Other Christians choose to live out their walk with Jesus in the security of trusting him to be for them a chess master rather than a puppet master.

In other words, for many Jesus followers, the reality of his supremacy is revealed for them most often by how he is able to combine a measure of their own freedom of choice and action with his ultimate claim to hold unswerving sway in all things, assuring that his intended outcome for all peoples will prevail in the end.

When our lives or our world starts to get off track, they are sure Jesus knows how to “recalculate” an alternative, like your car’s GPS does for you all the time, in order to get life back on the road so that all things end up at their ordained destination—set at his feet for final disposal.

They believe that as Lord of all, Jesus is perfectly able to anticipate and then strategically engage for his own glory every action we take. In fact, in his supremacy, he has the inexhaustible capacity to do so in the face of the countless motives and moves made by people worldwide minute by minute.

Those who hold to Option #2 envision Jesus taking charge across the earth the way a world champion chess master takes charge of a chess game—and gradually takes mastery over his opponent in the process and defeats him.

It is a known fact that a world-class chess player reaches his or her superior level of expertise over many years as they become more and more proficient in the ability to foresee and then outfox their opponent’s game plan—incredibly within the opening gambits of the match.

Furthermore, most champions can predict their opponent’s intended moves as far as ten moves or more past where the game rests at any given moment. This is due to the champ’s incisive intelligence plus decades of study, preparation, and experience.

A chess master comes to the game confident that before long he will be able to compel the other player to move his chessman precisely where the champ intended them to wind up from the beginning—even though his opponent was free to place his pieces where he thought best all along the way.

If such an extraordinary talent can be achieved by frail, finite human minds, consider this:

  • How much more should this be true for the Son of God who is exalted to the throne of heaven, given all authority in heaven and on earth, in whom everything finds its ultimate place in his forcefully advancing kingdom?
  • How much more is our Lord Jesus supremely capable of foreknowing and preplanning and outmaneuvering everything and everyone at every moment, in order to achieve a perfect outcome of every good plan and purpose God established in his Son from eternity past—never threatened in the least by the liberty he gives us to make choices and take actions for a time?
  • How much more will the King of kings gain the victory, in matters large or small, simply by foreseeing and outwitting every real and potential action and reaction in the universe—including all desires of every heart, all decisions of every will, and all actions of every being?
  • How much more, in his infinite, omnipotent wisdom, should the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” established on his cosmic throne, be able to stay ahead of and on top of the combined sum of every desire, decision, and deed in every part of the earth—doing so while simultaneously outthinking, outflanking, and outsmarting every “play” from the other side thus causing creation and history—and me!—to keep flowing toward the fulfillment of his everlasting blueprint?

Don’t miss this core assumption about the “chess master” view of Jesus’ lordship: Those who hold to Option #2 believe all of his non-negotiable engagements with us are going on while at the same time God allows those made in his image—believers and unbelievers alike, sinners that we all are—to retain a measure of freedom to think, choose, and act according to the dictates of our hearts and consciences.

Of course, I state this with the caveat that “everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34)—which means our fallen human race has only a measure of “freedom”—no more than the limited prerogatives any slave has who must ultimately give an account to their owner at the end of the day.

The Chess Master in Scripture

Again, there are scores of passages to buttress this position. Let’s look at two Old Testament passages that the New Testament quotes as fulfilled in the reign of Christ today. They seem to point to the “chess master” metaphor.

In Psalm 2, we read about rulers and nations “freely” choosing to rebel against God’s sovereignty. But God laughs at their efforts because he knows he has other “moves” up his sleeves (so to speak) that will outmaneuver these sinners and finalize things just as he wants them to be under the reign of his Son—the Chess Master. Here’s a portion (emphasis added):

The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs . . .
saying, “I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain” . . .
I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron . . .
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction . . .
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Notice the combination: There’s a measure of free choice—to rebel or to return—on one side of the “chessboard” combined with the confidence in heaven that finally everything will come out exactly as God has intended through and for his Son.

Or, look at Psalm 110, the most frequently quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament. It says in part (emphasis added):

The LORD says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
The LORD will extend your mighty
scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.

Here we see the balance between Jesus’ sovereignty (as the one God has set at his right hand to reign, which began with Jesus’ ascension) and the ability of others to make choices on their own—whether to resist the king or to “willingly” join his army.

Notice, at the same time, how competently and confidently the King prevails. There’s a process in motion that ultimately will make his enemies fully submit (footstool). Until that process has worked its way through, our Lord Jesus sustains its forward movement every day, not by dominating or manipulating the multitude of moves by the opposition but rather by carrying out his kingdom’s purpose “in the midst” of an active revolt that he allows to freely continue for a season.

Finally, observe that those who see the winning side of the battle, rally to the king, freely choosing to sign up and get involved with him—the Chess Master.

As with Option #1, there are many other passages that would seem to suggest that Option #2, the metaphor of a chess master, provides a credible biblical view of the supremacy of Christ worth carefully weighing. Here’s one more, found in Philippians 3:12-15 (emphasis added):

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me . . . I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus . . . And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

But for now, how about you? What do you think?

  1. Does the “chess master” metaphor come anywhere close to what you’ve concluded from Scripture about how Jesus exercises his supremacy today for you and for all?
  2. If you believe it is the more accurate biblical metaphor, how much does that reality actually matter to you at this point in your life?
  3. If it does matter, what are some ways you have seen it manifested recently in your daily walk with him that encourage you?
  4. Finally, how might you expect this perspective on the supremacy of Christ to keep transforming you and your life for him in the coming days?

Would you like to know
which option I chose and why?

For sure, these two perspectives create genuine tension for Jesus followers. Eventually, here’s how I resolved that tension for myself.

As best as I can determine—after carefully weighing the wealth of Bible passages for both options—for me, it comes down to one major issue:

Which view of the supremacy of Christ
appears from my perspective to bring

Is it that Jesus can and does control everything in unchallenged totality—with nothing transpiring over which he does not retain the final say every day, over which he is not in absolute, unimpeded, all-encompassing control—in order to activate and complete God’s eternal purposes, down to every last detail?

Or does Jesus gain even greater glory because

  • In exercising the full extent of his supremacy, our Lord Jesus can and does outthink, outwit, outmaneuver, and outplay the actions and even the secret intentions of every resident in heaven and on earth?
  • He does this while at the same time honoring the dignity of those created in God’s image by allowing them to fully and freely express themselves to whatever limits fallen sinners can as well as to whatever limits redeemed believers are permitted?
  • Ultimately, he prevails simply by creatively pursuing and achieving every single desire and design and decree of God’s heart, securing every triumph of his kingdom-focused purposes, prophecies, and promises—while also honoring those created in God’s image to exercise a level of freedom (dead in sin as we are) that expresses some of the wonders of that image that remain?
  • He does all of this not only for the whole of creation but also, in fullest measure, for every facet of a believer’s life and destiny in him?

Many years ago, given that alternate outlook, I concluded that Option #2—Jesus as our chess master—brings the GREATEST GLORY to him.

The very thought of that image fills me with wholehearted praise to the living God! I’m called to adore and serve an awesomely majestic, yet unconditionally compassionate Savior, who takes me (and all humankind) so seriously that he refuses to regard our relationship as something “robotic”!

Instead, he chooses a relationship to us where he works for us and with us—and at times around us and ahead of us, and even, as needed, against us.

Freely he engages with us each day with an eye to where the “chess match” will come out for the whole creation (Revelation 21-22). Just as it will be in the Consummation, he wants his interactions with us even now to exhibit a significant measure of respect, reciprocity, cordiality, cooperation, collaboration, and community.

Yet, through it all, we must never forget: At no time, then or now, will the Lord Jesus Christ forfeit one inch of his permanent position as supreme redeemer, heir, and ruler of all things, who never ceases to execute universal authority over a dominion of which there will be no end (Isaiah 9).

So now, it’s over to YOU!

Have you made a choice yet?  #1 or #2? Puppet master or chess master?

To be candid, I have dear Christian friends who would choose Option #1 and do so because they believe that conclusion is the one that will bring the greatest glory to Jesus. Maybe you are one of them. If so, please know that I honor and value that conclusion as well.

Yet, for all of us, let me restate the truth I expressed earlier:

In the end, in order to go forward into more of Christ, each of us must render a verdict. The fact is that how you define the way Christ exercises his supremacy in all things carries significant, lifelong ramifications for how you respond to him day by day—for how you go about loving him, trusting him, following him, serving him, and sharing him with others.

Happily, both “camps” do agree about one major response we can share in together: We always can unite to exult in and praise our glorious Savior King while we work hand in hand to exalt his name and spread his fame throughout a world that desperately needs to submit to his redeeming reign—today more than ever.

As you weigh the options for yourself, take a look at this 11-minute video clip from The Christ Institutes here, where I share my thoughts on “What does the supremacy of Christ really involve?”

In this short video clip, I define a high view of Jesus in fresh ways that I’m certain every Jesus follower—whichever option they choose—will want to celebrate. Together let’s shout “Hallelujah!” to our reigning King, the Lord Jesus Christ, and surrender our lives daily to him!

NOTE: This blog post was originally posted on August 04, 2020. But its focus and content are more relevant now than when it was first published.

About the Author

Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.

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  1. Terry A Glaser 4 years ago

    Wow! What a complete justification for both positions!
    A new perspective for me on the dichotomy of these two theological viewpoints. Thanks for your scholarship and careful explanation!

    • Author
      David Bryant 4 years ago

      Terry: Glad it was helpful. Be sure to read the other two installments (the next 2 blog posts) in the 3-part series we called “2020 Summer Series on Supremacy”. They are all online right now at “Blog” at CN.com. Blessings, David

  2. David Stevens 4 years ago

    Hello David, It’s been sometime since we’ve had contact. I was just looking again at the little book that we published in France back in the 90s on Concerts of Prayer and also reflecting back on your visit to Central Bible Church in Portland while I was pastor there. I say a hearty “Amen” to this article “Puppet Master” or “Chess Master.” I definitely come down on “Chess Master!” I’ve wrestled a lot with this in recent years since the loss of our firstborn in an accident in South Korea in 2004. Moving through this experience has led me and my wife into a whole new perspective on the splendid beauty of God’s wisdom and sovereignty. As A. W. Tozer once said, ““Mans will is free, because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” God bless you, dear brother, and I pray that we can reconnect before long.

    • Author
      David Bryant 4 years ago

      David, what a great way to begin my Monday–hearing from a great friend from the past AND hearing how your have grown in the deepening of your walk with Christ. I’m so sorry about the loss of your firstborn–there’s a level of sorrow and emptiness that never goes away. I saw this with my deeply Christian mother over the loss of my sister before I was born.

      But the beauty of a “Chess Master” view of the supremacy of Christ is that this means there are no limits to how the Holy Spirit can take such an experience and creatively weave it into his “end game” which is to draw you and your family deeper into Christ and more fully into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28 is about vs. 29).

      Be sure to take a look at all the free resources to help someone do just that at ChristNow.com. When you do scroll down toward the bottom of the home page and you’ll find my (sort of) opus maximus CHRIST IS NOW which is 600 pages laying out what I’ve discovered about Christ over a 50 year journey.

      YES…it WOULD be wonderful to reconnect someday. Where are you now? Thanks again for reaching out. I remember you warnly and now I get to bless you in Jesus’ name. DAVID

  3. David Stevens 4 years ago

    Thanks for your reply, David. You asked where we are now. After 14 years pastoring in Portland, we moved back to Europe where I pastored an International French/English church. Just last year we moved back to France where our children grew up. My ministry focus is on pastoral training in French speaking West Africa as well as ministry to church leaders here in France. I’m also devoting time to writing on our own journey of faith since the loss of our son. God bless you, dear brother. So good to look over your resources and once again pick up your book Christ is All!
    PS As a small way of thanking you for your personal impact on my life, I’ll send to your mailing address my book God’s New Humanity: A Biblical Theology of Multiethnicity for the Church that you might appreciate, especially chapter 5.

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