Rulers and authorities—the supernatural beings condemned by God—use the sins of humans to accuse God of unfair judgment, but Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities.
The reader should read the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God prior to reading this article. That article defines the problem that was solved by the Cross. This article explains how the Cross solved that problem.
The explanation which the reader will find in these two articles is very different from the standard explanations one finds in churches today. Paul emphasized and all believe that the Cross solved the problem, but the Bible does not clearly explain what the problem was, that was solved by the Cross. The Bible is mostly a description of events on earth. Very little is said of the events in the background in heaven. For that reason different people understand the problem differently. Some believe that God was angry and had to be pacified, but since the Bible clearly teaches that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16), many others believe something like that God’s justice demands that somebody must suffer, and that the innocent Son of God suffered in our place. This article argues that the Cross had to disarm the rulers and authorities. These ideas are critical to one’s Christian experience because ideas have consequences. We are saved through faith by grace, but some ideas destroys faith and trust in God. We must make sure that our understanding of the problem, and of the solution provided by the Cross, is Biblical.
In Colossians 2:13-15 we read about three events:
- We have been made alive when our transgressions have been forgiven.
- The certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us has been canceled by being nailed to the cross.
- God disarmed the rulers and authorities through Christ.
As discussed on a separate page, this “Certificate of debt consisting of decrees” is the penalty for our sins. The second event is therefore the same as the first.
As also discussed on a separate page, the Rulers and Authorities are supernatural beings—different ranks of angelic beings (Rom. 8:38, Eph. 1:21, 3:10 and 6:12). Since God had to triumph over them, we understand that they oppose God; they are His enemies, under Satan’s leadership. The purpose of this page is to explain how the Cross disarmed them.
It is concluded below that the “rulers and authorities” used our sins as weapons against God, who “passed over the sins previously committed” by the believers (Rom. 3:25). Satan refused to accept His judgment, and continued to accuse God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of the believers.
Through the Cross God “disarmed” the “rulers and authorities”. The Cross demonstrated God as faithful to the principle of love, but revealed Satan and his “rulers and authorities” as evil murderers. In this way the Cross confirmed the justice and fairness of God’s judgment; showing that God acted fairly in forgiving the sins of the believers. Thus Satan was disarmed. He is no longer able to accuse the believers and he is no longer able to accuse God of unfair judgment.
In Colossians 2:13-15 we read:
“having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”
God “disarmed” them (Col. 2:15), which means that God took their weapons away. The purpose of this page is to identify the weapons of the “rulers and authorities” and to explain how they were “disarmed”.
Our sins are their weapons.
Revelation 12:7 describes this heavenly conflict as war:
“there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels” (Rev. 12:7)
The “dragon” is “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9). He is also “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10) because he accused the believers “before our God day and night” (Rev.12:10). The “war in heaven” therefore was a war of words and Satan’s weapons were the sins of the believers. Satan accused “our brethren”, but because God forgave them their sins, he effectively accused God of injustice; of unfair judgment for forgiving (justifying) the believers.
We see this same principle in Romans 3:25-26, which states:
That the cross demonstrated God’s righteousness, and
That it was necessary to demonstrate God’s righteousness because “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25).
In other words, Satan attacked God’s “righteousness” for passing over “the sins previously committed”. He used those sins of God’s people to accuse God of unfair judgment.
This is also the implication of Col. 2:15, where disarming the “rulers and authorities” is mentioned in the context of forgiveness (v13) and cancelling the penalty for sins (v14).
Satan was disarmed by the cross.
God “triumphed over them through Him (Christ)” (Col. 2:15). This means that God disarmed Satan through the cross.
Col. 2:14-15 also says that God “disarmed the rulers and authorities” when He “canceled out the certificate of debt … having nailed it to the cross”. In other words, the rulers and authorities were disarmed by cancelling the certificate of debt, which was done through the Cross.
We see this also in Revelation 12, where Michael’s victory over the dragon and his angels is symbolized by the throwing down of the dragon and his angels (v9) from heaven (v8) to earth (v12). When did this happen? As shown in the discussion of Revelation 12, the “time and times and half a time” in verse 14, which the woman spends in the “wilderness”, is the same as the 1260 days in verse 6 during which she was nourished in the wilderness. It is therefore proposed that the description of the conclusion of the war in heaven—the triumph of Michael over Satan, described in the verses between these two “wilderness” verses—jumps back in time, and parallels 12:5, which says that “her child was caught up to God and to His throne”, which refers to the Cross. Further evidence for this is the statement in 12:11 that Satan was overcome by the blood of the Lamb. The conclusion is therefore again that Satan was disarmed through the Cross.
To conclude, Satan’s weapons were the sins of the believers, which Paul refers to as the Certificate of debt consisting of decrees. By nailing it to the Cross, God canceled it and “has taken it out of the way” (Col. 2:14), thus disarming Satan’s rulers and authorities.
The Cross cancelled out the “Certificate of Debt” through demonstration.
According to Romans 3:25 Christ Jesus was “displayed publicly … to demonstrate His (the Father’s) righteousness … so that He (the Father) would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”. In other words, the Cross demonstrated that it is just for God to forgive (justify) the guilty “who has faith in Jesus”.
Also in Col. 2:15 Paul used the words “public display”, but here it says that the cross “made a public display of” the “rulers and authorities”.
The words “demonstration” and “public display” means that the Cross demonstrated or showed something, and that this revelation cancelled the penalty due for our sins, with the consequence that Satan and his followers are no longer able to accuse “our brethren” or to use those sins to accuse God of unfair judgment. The public demonstration of the Cross verified the justice and fairness of God’s judgment, and disarmed Satan by proving his arguments as false.
In Revelation 12, where Satan is described as accusing “our brethren … before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10), Satan is “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8). This is interpreted as that the Cross of Christ convinced the heavenly beings that God is right and Satan is wrong, destroying any credibility which Satan still had with the heavenly beings that still were loyal to God.
To summarize, the Cross did not change God, as many seem to think; it changed the heavenly beings. The Cross gave them conclusive evidence. As discussed in the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God, Satan accused God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people and the angels were not able to determine conclusively who is telling the truth; God or Satan. But the Cross gave them the evidence they needed. We see this symbolized in Revelation 5, where there is a sealed book (5:1), and nobody is able to open it (5:3), but then the Lamb overcomes (5:5) and is worthy to open the book because He was slain (5:9).
The Cross did not make an end to human sin, and our sins remain clearly visible to the heavenly beings, but God took away Satan’s ability to use those sins to accuse God of poor judgment.
Verses 13 to 15 of Colossians 2 therefore all deal with the same subject; the sins of the believers:
- Verse 13: These sins have been forgiven.
- Verse 14: The penalty for those sins have been cancelled.
- Verse 15: The rulers and authorities are no longer able to use those sins to accuse the believers.
The cross revealed character.
Christ’s death did not publicly display anything to human eyes, for human eyes see in the Cross only defeat and weakness. The Cross was a “public display” essentially to heavenly eyes only.
The Cross revealed God’s character (Rom. 3:25). The Cross shows that Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8). The Father “triumphed over them through” Christ (Col. 2:15), not by the mere fact that Christ died on the Cross, but by Christ remaining faithful to God’s principles of service to others, while suffering to death through the most intense form of physical and mental torture. On the cross He could not see the future and He lost His continual contact with the Father, for He cried out: “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46; Mark 15:34) But still He did not use supernatural power to relieve His pain. “Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God … emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant … Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus once said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christ behavior therefore revealed God’s character to the universe as contrary to the way in which Satan depicted God.
The Cross also displayed Satan’s character and that of his “rulers and authorities” as evil murderers of their Innocent Creator, for it was the madness of the evil angels that activated the Jews to kill Him.
The cross therefore demonstrated both sides of the war in heaven for what they really are. For that reason Satan and his angels were thrown out of heaven (Rev. 12:9); they lost all credibility which they previously might have had with the heavenly beings.
To bring an end to the war God provided evidence through Christ’s death. The Cross was a decisive battle in the ongoing war in heaven. The war in heaven was concluded on earth. The Cross was not for human beings specifically; it was for the entire universe. The Cross has all-important consequences for us as human; but because it made an end to the war in heaven, it was equally important for all beings in God’s universe.
Rome was the greatest military power on earth at that time. Judaism (church) conspired with Rome (State) to kill the Son of God. Angry at His challenge to their sovereignty, they stripped him naked, held him up to public contempt, and in human eyes triumphed over Him. But the paradox of the cross is that Jesus, in reality, took the spiritual powers animating these earthly powers and stripped them, held them up to contempt, and publicly triumphed over them.
The war shifted from heaven to earth.
The Cross made an end to the war of words in heaven, but as Revelation 12 indicates, Satan continues the war on earth:
“… rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12 ).
The battleground has changed. The war has shifted from heaven to earth. Why does the war continue after the Cross? Why is God still tolerating sin? See The Seven Seals of Revelation for a discussion of God’s glorious purpose.