There were obvious signs as Jesus died that his death was an event of massive proportion. Darkness fell like a curtain over the land. The curtain of the temple split from top to bottom, and the earth began to shake itself apart. These signs make it easier for us to see that the events of Holy week and Easter intend more than merely making us feel better. This goes beyond inner peace for the emotional troubles of humankind.
Jesus is Supreme
In the letter to the Colossians, Paul works to prevent the church from reaching for more than Jesus. He demonstrates the fullness and glory of Jesus through his relationship to spiritual powers. Paul shows that Christ is the creator of all things. That might make us think first of natural wonders, but it is not what Paul has in mind here. He identifies Jesus as the creator of things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Colossians 1:16, ESV).
There is a determined focus on Christ’s position above spiritual entities. Paul writes that Jesus reconciled all things “whether on earth or in heaven” (1:20). He pleads with the Colossians to resist philosophy and empty deceit which are “according to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:8).
As Paul looks on the accomplishments of Christ he shows how wide they reach. The consequences of his work extend far outside what happens in our own hearts. We were under the “domain of darkness” and that God has “transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (1:13). Paul gives this picture of what Christ accomplished:
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (2:13-15)
Powers Against Us
Rulers and authorities are arrayed against us. We must not ignore this. There exist evil forces, immaterial beings, and systems of wickedness that work against humanity. Whether we encounter them as demonic beings or structures (economic, social, political, intellectual…) they are real. Regardless of the form they take, rulers and authorities oppose us. Yet it is also clear that the cross of Christ disarms them.
Paul insists that at the cross, as the record of debt against us is cancelled, these powers are defeated. Somehow as Jesus is stripped, held down, and shamed he is doing these same things to the rulers and authorities. It is difficult to see and to describe how this works but it may be helpful to consider an episode of the life of Moses.
Return From Midian
Moses has a secret. Stepping in to protect a Hebrew slave he has killed an Egyptian and buried the body in the sand. The next day he steps between two Hebrews fighting and one of them asks: “Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14). Moses is afraid. There is the deed itself that he had done but also a third party that knows and is dangling it in his face. Somebody has something on him and so Moses flees to Midian.
We too have a secret. We were in Adam at the beginning and we have lived on fruit from forbidden trees in spite of the throne of God. Because of our rebellion, these powers have something on us. We have done wrong, but a third party knows and dangles it in our faces. They are not neutral observers. They loom, menacing us with malicious intent and activity. From what I can see, the Bible does not make how this works entirely clear. Somehow, these rulers have capitalized on the situation. Because of them, we live in need of deliverance from lifelong fear and slavery (Hebrews 2:15).
Moses ran in fear to Midian and there encountered God the consuming fire in a burning bush. Paul would have us run to Golgotha to see Christ triumphing over the rulers and authorities. They had something on us and had us in their power, but here they are stripped and laid bare. Though they loomed over us they now lay limp and powerless, a crumpled heap of rags in the corner. Because the record of debt that stood against has been cancelled they have nothing on us any longer. As we see Christ held to a cross, we feel the hold of the powers on our lives weaken. As we watch him die, the hold of evil on us dies with him. Our problems run deeper and wider than we often think but the maker of “all things” is also the reconciler of “all things.”
Moses returned to Egypt to stand toe to toe with Pharaoh. We turn from the cross ready to stand against the rulers and authorities. Whatever shape they take, in Christ we overcome. From the wilderness we turn to the people in captivity. We proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison doors to the bound. In Christ we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of the vengeance of our God. In Christ we grant to those who mourn a beautiful headdress instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:1-4).
Let it be a mighty Pharaoh or any other power, we cannot cower when we know who we are. Christ has bled for our helpless race. Though we lay imprisoned our chains have fallen off and our hearts are free. In Christ we rise and go forth, dreading no condemnation from any power. We “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” because we know that we have died, and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).