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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger


At this past Christmas Eve’s church service our pastor used the painting above-entitled Checkmate in one of his sermon illustrations. Until I heard his message, I was unfamiliar with the painting and the story that accompanies it. Doing some research on my own I came across the following summary from the Haven Today website. I hope you find it as thought provoking as I do.

A Closer Look at “Checkmate”


Charles Morris

February 22, 2021

If you know anything about the game of chess, you know it all comes down to when the King on either side can move no more. Once the king is trapped, the winning side declares “checkmate” and the game is over.

There is a painting that once hung in the Louvre in Paris, painted by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch. Today, the painting is popularly known as “Checkmate.” It is now in private hands, having been sold in a Christie’s auction in 1999.

The painting depicts two chess players. One is Satan, who appears arrogantly confident. The other player is a man who looks forlorn. If Satan wins, he wins the man’s soul.

According to legend, and probably fact, the story goes like this. A chess grandmaster came upon this intriguing painting in the Louvre alongside other famous art such as the Mona Lisa.

The grandmaster stared a long time at the chess board in the painting and finally noticed something surprising. The typical interpretation of the painting (that the devil had the man in “checkmate”) was incorrect.

Though the devil seemed to be the obvious victor, he was in fact not winning. The man, who thought he was losing, was actually winning.

According to the arrangement of the pieces left on the chess board, his king had one more move. This fateful move would make him the winner of the game.

The grand master called the curator and determined that the title “Checkmate” did not fit the scene because the forlorn-looking player actually had the ability to defeat his opponent, though he didn’t realize it yet. His king had one more move.

Now think about the spiritual implications of this painting with me and about what the grandmaster discovered.

Repeatedly in Scripture, God assures his people that there is always a way of escaping situations that seem hopeless at the time.

  • When the people of Judah were deported to Babylon because of their sinfulness, God revealed that a future day of release would come.

  • Just as God provided water for the Israelites in the desert, he would also provide for them on their long trek homeward.

  • A little boy in John 6 only had two fish and a few loaves of bread to feed thousands of people. It looked like a checkmate, but our King had another move left! They collected 12 baskets of leftover food after the meal was served.

  • In the Old Testament, Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions. It looked like a checkmate, but our King had another move left and Daniel remained safe.

  • In John 8, it looked like checkmate for a woman about to be killed by angry men with stones. But Jesus told the woman to go and not sin anymore.

  • On Good Friday, the criminal next to Jesus on the cross thought it was the end, yet he still repented.

So often in life, we consider the world to be a mess. With war, violence, a deadly pandemic, unemployment, struggling marriages, depression, isolation, and more … we can easily become disillusioned. People begin to feel lost. We look for direction but often end up on the wrong path. It looks like checkmate, but we need not fear—the game is not over.

Our Creator God still has one move left! Our lives and future are in His hands. The Lord is the only King who can never be defeated.

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Jan 19, 2023

Great and timely story ...and super research. Thanks Leigh

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