Can You See Jesus in Nike?
As you read this you may be wearing a pair of Nike shoes. Or perhaps you have on gear from your favorite sports team and that gear was made by Nike. The word nike is a Greek word that means “victory” and Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, named the company after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Of course, Knight, displaying his marketing genius, wanted to plant the seed in your mind that when you wear Nike athletic shoes and apparel you will be victorious over all your competition. So be sure to buy the Nike brand.
The apostle John also knew something about victory. He traveled with Jesus for three years listening to His preaching and teaching, witnessing His miracles of healing diseases and exorcising demons. He stood at the cross on Friday and watched the Messiah die, but he was also in the upper room on Sunday when the risen Christ appeared to the disciples. John observed firsthand the victory of the Son of God over death and the tomb. John later served as the bishop of Ephesus and the New Testament includes five books (Gospel of John, Epistles of 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation) that were written by him; it is in John’s writings that we see how he emphasized being victorious.
The only occurrence of the word nike in the New Testament is in 1 John 5:4 (see below). The Greek word for being victorious is nikao and this verb is derived from the noun nike. Overwhelmingly nikao is used in the New Testament by John; it occurs in Scripture 28 times and 24 of those times are in John’s writings. In the ESV it is translated as either “overcome” or “conquer”. So what is it that John wanted to say to us about overcoming and conquering? Why was it such a major theme in his writings?
First, I think John wanted to convey the all-encompassing victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over the forces of evil. In John 16:33, during His last instructions to His disciples, Jesus said,
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome [nikao] the world.”
Jesus seems to equate the world with tribulation; if you are in the world then you are going to experience tribulation. But you can have peace while in the world. Believe in Jesus and have the peace that comes from the One who overcame the world. In Revelation 5 John has been transported to the throne room of God in Heaven where God has a scroll that has been sealed closed and no one has been found to open it. Verse 5 reads,
“And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered [nikao], so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David, has conquered everything and stands alone as worthy, no one else qualifies. Note that these verbs are in the past tense indicating that the victory has already been won, which occurred with His death and resurrection.
Also, I think John wanted to tell his readers in the first century and us today that we also can overcome the world through Jesus’ victory. In 1 John 5:4 he wrote,
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes [nikao] the world. And this is the victory [nike] that has overcome [nikao] the world—our faith.”
Those of us who call on Jesus in faith have been born of God, we have new birth, we are a new creation. Our faith in Christ is a victory and by it we overcome our world. Revelation 2-3 is a series of seven short letters to churches in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. In each letter John wrote, quoting Jesus, “The one who conquers [nikao],” and then Jesus describes a benefit that will accrue to the person who conquers, who overcomes this world. For example, in 3:21 we read,
“The one who conquers [nikao], I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered [nikao] and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Do you see how powerful this image is? The One who conquered the world – sin, hatred, disease, persecution, Satan, death – the only one worthy to open God’s scroll now lives in Heaven and is seated on a throne with God the Father. And here He promises to grant that same privilege to us, if only we would conquer our worldly circumstances. Now note that the verbs relating to people are in the present tense. Overcoming not only is possible, it is possible today, right now.
Perhaps you are being tested today by some trial or tribulation – difficulties in a relationship, cancer, loneliness, financial issues, Covid-19, spiritual lostness. Take heart, God has not abandoned you. Let me say that again. God. Has. Not. Abandoned. You. Call on Him to give you the strength and the encouragement and the perseverance you need to endure the test and to conquer your circumstances. Jesus would love to give you a seat on His throne.
So the next time you lace up your Nikes don’t think about victory in that 5k run (or jog or walk) but think about the nike you have in the kingdom of God and your place in Heaven. Look for Jesus in nike.