In Colossians 2:15—how did he [Christ] make a public spectacle of rulers and authorities?
The full verse is
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
This question may seem to only require a simple answer. But, it comes in a very significant passage in an epistle that has particular relevance to the present Christian testimony. So, I will use this question to emphasize the importance of the general truth given to us in this passage.
The general message of Colossians is the divine glory of Christ given in the context of conflict. After elaborating on the great glory of Christ in the first chapter, the apostle begins the second chapter with “I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you” (vs 1) The struggle is evidently in sympathy with them in their struggle against enemies, within and without. In this epistle, the apostle portrays the opposition of the world to the glory of Christ.
The epistle could be thought of as instructions for the believers’ wilderness journey, much like the book of Numbers was a record of the children of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. The degree to which we lose appreciation for the truth in this epistle is just the degree to which we will lose firmness in our walk in the present world.
The question asked above is from the climax of a list of amazing blessings for us that begins with verse 9: “ For in him the whole fullness of deity [or, “the Godhead”, DBY, YLT, KJV] dwells bodily.” The glory of the entire Godhead is shown in the Lord Jesus Christ who is in human form! We need to meditate on this mind-bending truth. The Spirit was given to Him “without measure”(Jn. 3:34). He could say to His disciples, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9) and “I can do nothing on my own”(Jn. 5:30). The New Testament is full of verses declaring the unfathomable glory of Christ as “the only-begotten from the Father”(Jn. 1:14, NASB). It will take all eternity to just begin to appreciate the significance of this truth.
Rulers put to shame
The verses from nine through fourteen declare the marvelous blessings that come to us through the work of this glorious Person. When we get to verse fifteen, we ask who are these “rulers and authorities”? They are our enemies and the enemies of the glory of God in Christ. Ephesians 6:12 explains who these are. We are told “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6 gives us practical responsibilities. Colossians 2 shows us the blessings we have in Christ. The work is done. We now are viewing these “rulers and authorities” as a thoroughly defeated foe.
We need to appreciate the force of Colossians 2:15. The language reminds us of Ephesians 4:8 which is an allusion to Deborah’s song of Barak leading out the captives in Judges 5:12. The Lord Jesus Himself has taken captive those who had taken us captive and put Satan and all the spiritual forces opposing us to “open shame” by the cross (Heb. 2:14) and resurrection (Rev. 1:18). These spiritual forces have influence over human leadership. Witness the extent to which the Pharisees went to deny this event (Matt. 28:11-15). In spite of this opposition the news of the resurrection was even more spread abroad (Acts 2:24, etc.). But there is more. Because we are in Him we also by our witness to the risen Christ continually put these enemies to “open shame.”
A practical challenge
And, if we have been given the privilege of putting to “open shame” the spiritual rulers of this world, how sadly inconsistent it is for us to meddle in the affairs of this world over which they rule. Thus, the epistle to the Colossians goes on to deal with this issue. But, I must emphasize here that the present propensity of Christians to meddle in worldly politics is just the practical denial of the privilege given here.