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Colossians 2:15 by Robert Dean
Are you spiritually toxic? An organized system of thought that applies various philosophies and solutions, along with a sprinkling of Biblical application, is indicative of a spiritually toxic believer. Making life work without complete and total dependence on Christ makes us become believers operating with Satan's thinking - human viewpoint. In this important lesson, we learn new insights into what defeat took place in vs. 15, and how it applies to spiritual warefare.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:48 mins 31 secs

Christ's Triumph Over Sin, Satan and Demons. Colossians 2:15


The basic theme throughout this epistle is to remind and reinforce in the thinking of the Colossians believers the reality that Jesus Christ is sufficient. He is all-sufficient; there is not a concept of Jesus plus anything. When we add anything to Christ and to the gospel, and anything to grace we destroy Christ, the gospel, and grace. There is this principle that really bothers most people and that is the exclusivity that God demands in Scripture, that there is only one way to God. Going back to the garden, there was only one way to stay in the garden and to continue that intimate relationship and fellowship with God, and that was to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Subsequent to Adam's sin there was only one way to recover that relationship with God and that was on the basis of a sacrifice, and it is on the basis of trust in the promise of God that He would provide a solution to sin and He would provide a savior. Throughout the Old Testament there are numerous illustrations that God has one, and only one, way to enter into His presence. There was only one way to survive the judgment of the Noahic flood and that was to enter into the ark. Here was only one way to enter into the ark and there was only one door. Later when we come to the descriptions that God gave to the Israelites as they were coming out of Egypt, in terms of how they would worship Him in the temporary facility of the tabernacle, there was only one entry way. People could not come to God on the basis of however they felt o9r whatever they thought was right, there were strict descriptions within the Torah, the Mosaic Law, of how worshippers were to come into the presence of God. Throughout Scripture this idea of exclusivity is to emphasize the fact that man can only make life work on the basis of one hundred per cent dependence upon God and upon His instruction within His Word.

The ultimate focus of all of history and the high point of all history really is the triumph of Christ on the cross, which is the focus of our next verse. It connects specifically to this whole theme of the sufficiency of Christ. What we mean by the sufficiency of Christ in the context of these verses from 11-15 is that Christ's triumph on the cross establishes for all time and all places and all cultures and people His absolute and total sufficiency for any and all and every problem that we face in life; not that there are some problems that have some other dimension to them and therefore the solution is Christ plus. It is never Christ plus. This is clear throughout Scripture numerous times.

The problem that the Colossians Christians faced is the same problem that you and I face. It is that we operate in a world system that has various philosophies and religious systems that are spiritually toxic. They are spiritually toxic because they emphasize at some level human ability. That somehow, some way we can do some measure of this on our own, that we can ultimately depend upon our own efforts, our own energy, our own strength to solve these problems without this radical, exclusive one hundred per cent dependence on Jesus Christ. In the Colossian context they faced this toxic blends of Greek philosophy, some eastern Persian religious ideas, as well as some ideas from Judaism that were sort of all put together in some proto-blender, mixed up and served to everyone as the solution to life—that it is not just enough to trust in Christ. From that time to the present there has been continually this temptation from the world system, this offer that has become increasingly sophisticated and attractive to people, that somehow Jesus really isn't enough, He isn't enough for salvation; we need to add our morality, our good works, our personal reformation to the cross; He isn't enough for the spiritual life, somehow we have to do something as well.             

In all of this we come to understand this term which the Bible describes as worldliness. That is, that those who inhabit the world put together various philosophies and ideas and concepts to make life work, to find some measure of stability, to become functional in life without having to depend exclusively on Jesus Christ and exclusively upon His Word. It is this world system that reflects the thinking of Satan. We refer to it many times as the kosmic system (using the Greek k for kosmos), that system of thought that manifests itself in many different ways and many different cultures but always has certain things in common. There is an ultimate hostility to God, a focus on the autonomy or independence of man, and in that autonomy and antagonism to God man seeks to make life work apart from God.

Human viewpoint is another term used to speak of the kosmic system. Ultimately it is Satan's viewpoint. It didn't originate with man, it originated with Satan in eternity past with the fall of Lucifer into sin, as described in Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:14ff. Human viewpoint, the kosmic system, always stresses some form of Jesus-plus, grace-plus, the Bible plus. You can't just face the problems of life whatever it is—emotional problems, problems with people, problems with systems, problems on the job, problems with your own emotions—just simply by trusting in God's Word. We live in a sophisticated thought system today where we have the influence of modern psychology as first set forth by Sigmund Freud, and the hope of the modernist system is that we can really find meaning and stability without just depending upon Christ alone. So human viewpoint, the kosmic system, satanic thought, are all synonyms that stress the importance of making life work without this kind of total and absolute dependence upon Christ and upon His Word.

The really difficult, radical thing that the Bible teaches is that any time we let a person think that they can solve the problems that they face in life apart from Christ then what we are doing is validating their human autonomy. We are reinforcing the idea that their systems of suppressing truth in unrighteousness are at some level valid, and that meaning and happiness and hope can be found somewhere other than Jesus Christ, the cross, and Scripture.  Any time you or I let people think that they can find the solution to their problems somewhere other than the cross and Scripture lone means that we are just enabling their sin nature and their carnality.

The human viewpoint response is: Don't they have a right to be stable? No they don't. They don't have a right to be functional, to have any measure of happiness that comes from anywhere other than the cross. Because if they do that just strengthens their own sense of rebellion. Sometimes people just have to experience radical failure in life to realize that their systems of truth suppression just don't work. It is hard for us to watch people go through that, but that is what God lets us do many times in life. It might be fine for unbelievers to find some kind of stability in life apart from Christ but it is not up to us as believers to let other people think that they can find the solution to life apart from Christ. And that is the message of this epistle to the Colossians and to us.

As we have seen in Colossians 2:11-14 there is an emphasis on what we are given in Christ at the instant of salvation. Verses 11 and 12 talk about ultimately being buried with Him in baptism, i.e., our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and that is the underlying foundation for our spiritual life, that we are new creatures in Christ. Then in vv. 13, 14 the apostle moves from that to the focus on the fact that sin is taken care of. Ultimately what happens in all human viewpoint systems is that some other solution is found to sin. This is done by denying the reality of sin: let's say sin doesn't exist, it is all relative, there is no absolute right or wrong. That denies that sin is really taken care of so that at the cross you can trust in Christ but you have to repent of your sin, and you have to be the one to have this internal reformation; you have to bring something to the table, you can't just take this free gift. Or, after salvation you can't just relax. Paul emphasizes that the certificate of debt as he states it in v. 14—which is the problem of sin, the problem of failure—is taken care of at the cross. It has already been taken care of (perfect tense) by nailing it to the cross.

Suddenly in verse 15 we have the introduction of a thought that somehow doesn't quite seem to fit with what has just been said. However, it does. Verse 11 is what starts this key paragraph for everything that is in this epistle, and the last verse of the previous paragraph which introduces this and sets up a frame that brackets verses 11-14 speaks also of this concept of principality and power. Verse 10 states "and in Him you have been made complete." There is that concept of sufficiency. There is not one difficulty in life that is not resolved by Christ and where that is not the ultimate and only real solution. "…and He is the head over all rule and authority." He is the authority over all principality and power. Then he goes through the discussion of spiritual baptism in v. 12 and forgiveness of sin in 13 and 14, and he comes back to this idea of Christ's authority over the principalities and powers (rulers and authorities), and this shows that this is an integrated, unified thought on the part of Paul. So what we have to do is apply our brain cells to think this through and see how this connects for us. This disarmament of the rulers and authorities is crucial for understanding the temptation to seek elsewhere for life's solutions. This was particularly true in the religious system that the Colossians were facing because there was this emphasis in the system on mysticism, on the worship of angels, they are emphasizing the whole problem of sin, the problem with angels and their influence, and so Jesus just isn't enough, we have to add something. In this case it was legalism, and legalism is always the approach of the sin nature in one way or another. Legalism is always contrary to Scripture and it is always the friend of human autonomy, that somehow we can do something to please God.

We have this idea of disarmament of the rulers and authorities and exactly what that means. We have to look at this verse first of all in terms of what it is saying and what it is not saying, and then we have to plug that into our general understanding of the angelic conflict.

Colossians 2:15 NASB "When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him." In this verse the key verb is "He made a public display of them." The word "public" isn't part of the main verb, it is a secondary word that is added to the statement. So we just want to understand what it means that He made a display of them at the cross. This is the key to understanding this whole clause. This main verb is an aorist active indicative and that is important because the verse begins with a participle, also in the aorist tense, and as we have studied in these verses specifically understanding the relationship of participles that modify verbs is really important for understanding what the apostle Paul is saying. This word means simply to make a show of something in the sense of disgracing someone. The fact that it is in the aorist tense is simply stating something that has happened in the past. It is not making any reference to when it began or ended, it is just a general summary statement of something that has taken place in the past.

The next key word we have to understand is the word related to "disarmed" which is the verb apekduomai [a)pekduomai]. It is an aorist middle participle. That basically means that the action of this aorist participle—the "disarmament"—takes place prior to the action of making a display. So it should be translated not "when" but "after." It has a temporal sense to it. There is an order of events here. First He disarms the rulers and the authorities; then He makes a public display of them. What has thrown people off for years is that this is in the middle voice, because the middle voice often emphasizes reflexive action. For example, in Colossians 3:9 we read NASB "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its {evil} practices."  The word translated "put off" there is the same word, apekduomai, and it has the idea of removing a garment, taking off clothes, stripping something off, and the way it has been historically translated in verse 15 is the idea of disarmament, i.e. removing the weapons of an enemy. That is the controversy. Is this a military term? Probably all of us have heard that as the framework for understanding verse 15.

There are three fundamental metaphors that the Scripture uses to communicate God's plan and purpose for mankind, three basic images that God uses to help us to understand His plan and purpose for us. The first and foremost that we see throughout all of Scripture and is related to this is the picture of war, and that we are involved in a spiritual war—or as Donald Grey Barnhouse put it, The Invisible War. Again and again and again the terminology that Scripture uses is within the framework of warfare. A second metaphor that is related but is also distinct is the metaphor of an athletic contest. We are running in a race, the apostle Paul says, and we run it to win. There is the concept of giving wreaths or crowns. The stephanos crown is the victor's crown for the one who succeeds in an athletic contest, and so in many cases we have a background of an athletic kind. Arguably the greatest metaphor, the most extensive metaphor—and by that is not meant that it is not real, it is an image that God uses and it has a reality to it—is that of a courtroom. From the very beginning of time there is this emphasis on God as the righteous judge whose decisions in relation to those who disobey Him impact all of history. That concept of God as the righteous judge is very close to being as large as that of warfare because they are tied together. There is the original rebellion of Satan that is what begins the angelic conflict, the rebellion of one third of the angels who followed him in that rebellion, and at the same time this violates the justice of God and God brings them to account. These metaphors are so close, but the judicial framework we've seen so often in our study of salvation, the core term, is justification which brings in the whole idea of how can a fallen creature become justified before the bar of God's justice? How are we going to be declared righteous and just in the site of God. 

There is this tendency when we look at angelic passages that refer to angels and demons to go to the warfare metaphor. The trouble is that this word apekduomai is never found either in Scripture or outside of Scripture in a clearly military context. However, it is found in a courtroom context numerous times. And it is in a courtroom context where it has the idea not of disarming someone in terms of removing their armament but in the idea of removing the trappings of their authority and their office. Someone who has been disgraced and has been brought before a judge and has the trappings of their authority, their robes, removed so that they no longer have that position, fits this context better than a military context. So it would be translated, "After He had removed the trappings of office from the principalities and powers." The reason for emphasizing this is not a rejection of the idea of a military metaphor, the idea that we are involved in a spiritual warfare, because it is clear; it is just helping us understand what this passage is saying in context.

Principalities and powers is a term that is used to refer to the hierarchy of the angels. The first word arche [a)rxh] has to do with principalities (sometimes translated "rulers"). The second word exousia [e)cousia] has to do with rulers or authorities literally, those who are in positions of power, and it indicates angelic hierarchy when these terms are used together. There are ten verses/passages in Scripture that use this phrase "principalities and powers." In three of them these terms clearly describe only human authorities and rulers—Luke 12:11; 20:20; Titus 3:1. But in the other passages it is very clear that these are talking about angelic levels of authority, ranks and privileges  within the angelic order. This applies to both the elect angels as well as to the fallen angels. In Ephesians 6:11-13 we have our most clear usage of this where we are told to NASB "put on the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand against the wiles [strategies] of the devil."

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…" That is not the ultimate problem. When we have a problem with another person or with some human system of authority, some bureaucracy, that is not the real problem. The ultimate problem is a spiritual problem, the ultimate solution therefore is always going to be a spiritual solution. If that is not right and in place then whatever else is done is not really going to help resolve the problem. "… but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual {forces} of wickedness in the heavenly {places.} Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm." We see that the ultimate enemy that we face is a spiritual enemy, and it is not just some abstract concept of evil but it is personified in the fallen angels; referred top here as principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness of this age. That is the ultimate enemy against whom we wrestle. The solution is to take up the whole armor of God, etc. If we look at how many times in the passage there is the word "stand" or "withstand" they all relate in some form to the Greek verb histemi [i(sthmi] which is a defensive term. What we do is stand in Christ; we stand in what Christ has provided for us. We don't go out and attack the devil or the demonic forces, we don't claim power over them in the name of Jesus, which is how modern spiritual warfare is often distorted; we take a stand on the basis of God's Word and do what God's Word says to do. We let God handle the problem because we just don't see or understand enough about what is going on in the invisible world than to do anything other than just the specifics of what God has said.

In 1 Corinthians 15:23-25 we have another reference to principalities and powers, here translated "authority and power" referring to what happens in the end times—the time of the resurrection or Rapture of the church initially here: NASB "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then {comes} the end," i.e. the end related to the end of prophecy in the Tribulation, and then Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father at the ultimate end of the Millennial kingdom. A lot is skipped over between vv. 23 and 24, and then comes the end "when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." This is talking ultimately about the Millennial kingdom and then the conclusion isn't until Christ delivers all of these principalities and powers under the authority of God, and that doesn't occur until the end of the Millennial kingdom.

So of the ultimate final victory in the satanic or angelic rebellion doesn't occur until the end of the Millennial kingdom it is suggested that this creates problems for us in Colossians 2:15 if this word is translated "disarmed." Because Satan is not disarmed and the demons are not disarmed at the cross. There is still demonic possession taking place in Acts, there are still the warnings of Scripture that Satan goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour—1 Peter 5:7, 8. So if Satan is still powerful and has not been locked away in the abyss until the future time then how can we say he is disarmed now? The disarmament idea only comes if we misidentify the metaphor here. The fact that this word, translated "disarm" is never used in Scripture or outside of Scripture in a military context, but is in a courtroom context, tells us that what has happened at the cross is something that transpires in terms of the final removal of any legitimacy of power and authority on the part of the fallen angels.

We want to connect that to Colossians 3:9 NASB "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its {evil} practices." This uses the same verb and says that we have removed the flesh. The flesh is a term for the sin nature. Does anybody have a problem with their sin nature? Its authority, its legitimacy has been removed. That doesn't mean that it doesn't have authority, but that tyranny that it had up until salvation has now been wiped out at the moment of our salvation. It doesn't mean that you can't give it authority but its previous authority has been de-legitimized because we are a new creature in Christ and have a new nature. So we see that they way that the word is used in both of these contexts is that the authority that is being talked about is de-legitimized. It doesn't mean it doesn't seek to assert its authority anymore but that its authority, position, whatever it had prior to that has been removed officially. We still have a sin nature but we don't have to obey the sin nature like we did before we were saved. Now we can, as Paul says in Romans, "reckon ourselves dead to sin" and obey Christ rather than our sin nature. So the metaphor is one of the removal of authority, not disarmament.

Ephesians 3:9, 10 is another passage that uses this terminology. It is also a reference to the hierarchy of both elect as well as fallen angels. NASB "and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so [to the intent] that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church…" That is, by every believer in the church. This is part of the purpose for our witness, not only to human beings but also to the angels. "… to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly {places.}" So our lives stand as a witness to the power and grace of God through our witness to the angelic beings.

This brings us back to Colossians 1:16; 2:10, 15, the three places in Colossians that speak of the principalities and powers in context. "For by Him all things were created, {both} in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." These four terms are used here for different orders of angelic authority. The picture is that all of the angels are given some measure of authority and responsibility. The picture of disarmament is really the picture of removing the trappings of that authority officially which occurs with the death of Christ on the cross. They have been in rebellion against God since eternity past but it is that act at the cross that officially removes from them any trappings of authority or power. Colossians 2:10 tells us again, "and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." So for the Colossians there is no reason to go worship the angels. Paul reminds them again in verse 15 that Christ has removed all authority from the principalities and powers, and this occurred at the cross. He made a public display, or disgraced them publicly, at that time triumphing over them.

What we see as Paul pulls this together in the sequence of his thought in vv. 11, 12, focusing on our new position in Christ, that we are raised with Him through faith, and that in vv. 13 and 14 that the problem of sin has been eradicated at the cross and we are truly forgiven. Now we are reminded of how this fits within the overall structure of the angelic conflict: that it is the fact that God has paid the debt in full. That means that we have no reason to fear anything or any accusation from Satan or the demons. The Scripture teaches that Satan and the demons continually bring accusations against believers but that it is Christ who stands as the one who is our propitiation—1 John 2:2. It is the victory of the cross that finalizes the defeat in the strategic sense of Satan and the demons. They have been stripped of any authority or power that they once had legitimately prior to the fall. This is manifested in Christ and in His ascension and session the Ephesians chapter three passages emphasizes that He is raised above all principalities and powers, and it is that that is the public display of His victory over Satan and the demons—which is not finalized until He returns and establishes His kingdom, at which time He defeats and sends the Antichrist and the false prophet to the lake of fire, Satan is condemned to the abyss, and then released one last time to lead a final revolt at the end of the Millennial kingdom.

But the point in all this is: if Christ did all of this to solve these massive kosmic problems caused by sin, if Christ's death is sufficient to solve all of that then whatever problem we are facing in life is just miniscule by comparison. And Christ is sufficient for that problem. Only in our exlusive and complete trust in Christ can we truly glorify God in solving whatever those problems are in our life.