I believe that an accurate interpretation of Colossians 2:15 need not go much beyond what might best be described as parallel passages in both Testaments.
In 2 Sa 6, we read:
"[David] and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name . . .. David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals. . . . So David . . . brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing."
This joyous event, which occurred when the LORD had given Israel rest from all their enemies (Ju 7:1), is recounted in Psalm 68, in which we find such pivotal words and phrases as
- enemies, foes, war
- him who rides on the clouds, him who rides the ancient skies above
- armies, camps, plunder
- chariots of God
- captives in your train
- received gifts from men, kings will bring you gifts
- [God's] procession, the procession of my God and King
All these words and phrases bring to mind the physical procession of David to Jerusalem with the ark of God and the spiritual procession of Jesus through the heavens after His resurrection. Both processions have a number of commonalities:
- they followed on the heels of war: David's flesh-and-blood wars with earthly enemies and Jesus' spiritual war with rulers and authorities
- they processions involve victory and subsequent peace: David, over his enemies in the land of promise, and Jesus, over the enemies of sin and death and His enemies in the spiritual realm after His defeat of them in His cosmic and epic battle with them on the cross, where he died willingly for the sins of the world
- they involve the spoils of war that are dispersed to the beneficiaries of victory: David to his soldiers and the people of Jerusalem, and Jesus, to His universal church, His body on earth and one day in heaven
- they involve a victorious celebration in a train or parade of victors, captives, amidst great joy and boisterous and apprciative cheering and praise
- they involve a leader--a four-star general, as it were--who leads the procession in the lead chariot: David on earth and our Lord Jesus Christ in the heavenlies
Picture the joyous procession of King David and 30,000 of his chosen men from Baalah to Jerusalem, with David leading the way in wild abandon, unselfconsciously dancing before the LORD. God has given Israel a time of peace after having led them in battle after battle, giving them victory after victory, and it was past time to rescue the ark from its current abode, where it had stayed perhaps for 40 or more years (see http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/abinadab.html).
Compare this procession to the procession Paul describes in 2 Co 2:14-16:
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. . . . among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one . . . the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."
In Paul's day, a triumphant Roman army would parade the captive commanders of the army it had defeated in a joyous parade down Main Street, as it were, with the citizens cheering, orators orating, and generals bestowing on their weary soldiers gifts taken from the plunder of battle, just as in similar fashion David did in the procession that ended in Jerusalem, at which time he bestowed gifts on "the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women" (2 Sa 6:19).
Processions such as these are joyous for the victors--both soldiers and the rank and file citizens, but they are a dismal affair for the captives held in chains who are on display in the triumphal parade.
In like manner, Paul and Peter describe the victorious procession of Jesus Christ after His cross-death and subsequent resurrection and ascension, whose enemies (rulers and authorities) follow in His train in disgrace and defeat. This victorious event Paul recounts in Co 1:16; 2:15; Ep 3:10,11; and 4:8-10; and Peter in 1 Pe 3:22.
"For by [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."
"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross."
"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
"This is why [God] says: 'When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.' (What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions [depths of the earth]. He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe."
"who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him."
During His epic battle with Satan, sin, and death, Christ had surely "descended into hell," as the Apostles Creed says, but His descent was followed by His glorious ascent. It is this ascent that constitutes the triumphal procession of Jesus over His foes.
"Up from the grave He arose, With a mighty triumph o'er His foes, He arose a victor o'er the dark domain, And He lives forever with His saints to reign," as the hymn reminds us.
As a reward for His victory, the Father gave to Jesus gifts, the spoils of war, as it were, which Jesus then dispersed to the community of faith as spiritual gifts. These gifts (e.g., prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers) are from the Holy Spirit (see Jn 14:15ff.) who unifies us in Christ through a variety of gifts, all given as a means of grace in our lives, individually and corporately.
In other words, Christ's soldiers all participate in the triumphal procession as He leads us in triumph in our daily struggles against sin and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the spiritual realm. Christ won the war, but there are many battles yet to be fought.
Through the cross-death of our Lord Jesus, God
"forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing to the cross" (Co 2:14).
Remember, however, sin is not the only thing that separates us from God; even our seemingly "righteous acts are like filthy rags" before a holy God (Is 64:6). This is the battle the Colossian Christians were fighting. The Colossians were in danger of being seduced by doctrines promulgated by "the powers and authorities" of Satan's kingdom.
False prophets and teachers in Paul's day--in effect, servants of "the powers and authorities--were teaching that the believers at Colosse could earn God's favor through what appeared to be "righteous acts," such as scrupulous observance of certain dietary restrictions, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days.
Like the New-Agers of our day, these men were taking Christians captive with what could best be described as spiritual sidetracks. In Paul's day, these sidetracks involved the worship of angels, visions, idle notions, self-imposed worship, harsh treatment of the body, all of which were useless in the war between the flesh and the spirit--the "sensual indulgence" to which Paul alludes (Co 2:23).
Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension were meant to render powerless overt sin and covert sin, which in Paul's day was the "appearance of wisdom" as found in human tradition, hollow and deceptive philosophy, the basic principles of the world, and rules saying "Do not handle! Do not tastes! Do not touch!" (Co 2:21). This counterfeit wisdom was tripping up the believers in Colosse, and it was one of the topics Paul addressed in his letter to the Colossians.
Believers have been liberated by the conquering King Jesus. While He won the war for us, there are still many battles to be fought against "the rulers . . . powers . . . world forces of this darkness [and] the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ep 6:12). We therefore need to put on the full armor of God if we are to experience victory, just as our Savior did.
The question arises: If Jesus has disarmed the powers and authorities, why do they still seem to have a tremendous influence in the world today?
To answer this question, we need to appreciate the elements of the "big picture":
- The cosmic war between good and evil. The history of God's dealings with His created beings--supernal, infernal, and terrestrial--is wrapped up in a plan He devised before time, before the foundation of the world, and before Genesis 1:1.
Theodicy, the explanation of how God allowed sin to enter the universe He created without sacrificing any of His infinite attributes, is linked inextricably to God's plan for the ages. Did God have the power to prevent sin from entering the universe? Yes. Was His decision to allow sin to appear on the scene somehow a mistake? No, a thousand times no! He is, after all, the Master Potter whom no one can question or second guess(see Ro 9:20 ff.)
"What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory . . .?"
God's "reputation" is not at stake in this epic battle between good and evil; rather, evil's reputation is at stake. Evil was and will be exposed for what it truly is, while God's mercy will be on display as He brings many sons to glory in a way that validates His impeccable character.
- The role of the cross of Christ in the cosmic war. Dictionary.reference.com puts it well in their exemplar sentence that uses the French phrase "fait accompli":
"The enemy's defeat was a *fait accompli* long before the formal surrender."
In like manner, God's war against evil was won through Jesus' death on the cross. There the powers' and authorities' fate was sealed as Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Pe 2:24). When our sin was imputed to Christ on the cross, making possible the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, God accomplished His work of atonement, justification, reconciliation, and redemption. As people believe that "Christ died for [their] sins," God declares them righteous in His sight. God's wrath was diverted from us and onto Christ.
As for the powers and authorities opposed to God and His plan for the ages, however, John in his Revelation of Jesus Christ outlines for us their future and ultimate surrender and punishment. Their resistance, though prodigious, will be futile. The One who alone is worthy to open the sealed deed to the universe will one day release the final wrath and punishment of God on the powers and authorities who dare to resist Him.
- The importance of the Church of the Living God in the interim between the cross, on the one hand, and the new heavens and new earth on the other. During the church age God is gathering to Himself from "every kindred, every tribe on this terrestrial ball" a people who will populate His new heavens and earth. Each person of this great throng has been "predestined to be conformed to the likeness [or image] of His Son, that He [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Ro 8:29).
From God's perspective, these brothers (and sisters) have been called, justified, and glorified. "How can they be glorified?" you might ask. "Isn't that a future occurrence?" Yes and no.
Yes, in that not all the events of John's vision in Revelation have come to pass yet, including the beatification of the Body of Christ, His bride, the Church Universal. All believers are awaiting the blessed return of our Lord Jesus Christ, the time of which only the Father knows (Mt 24:36). We do know, however, that the Lord Jesus will be "revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels" (2 Th 1:7b).
No, in that the glorification of God's children occurred when Jesus cried "Accomplished!" on the cross. Again, from God's perspective, the glorification of His church is a fait accompli. The predetermined counsels of God are unalterable. What His Son accomplished at the cross forever sealed the fate of all powers and authorities that have had the temerity to challenge the absolute power and authority of God.
In conclusion, God's plan for the ages is eternal, but the unfolding of His plan occurs in time and space. In other words, in the grand scheme of things God's plan is unalterable, but it proceeds one step at a time until the last "living stone" is added to the superstructure of His church, of which He is the cornerstone (Ep 2:20; 1 Pe 2:6). Then Christ will return to finish in time and space what was decreed from eternity and what became a fait accompli at the cross.