What book is this?

In Revelation 5, Jesus receives from God a book that is sealed with seven seals.
– What book is this?
– W
hen did He receive it?
– Why is only Jesus able to open the book?
– Why did He not immediately open the book?

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the book of Revelation. Italics are used for quotes; not for emphasis.

Summary of this article

The seven seals – in Revelation 4 to 7 – is the second of the seven main divisions of the book of Revelation.

Revelation 4

In Revelation 4, John is called up to heaven, where he saw God’s throne. The throne is a symbol of God’s authority to rule.  God is described in rather vague terms becauseno man has seen or can seeGod (1 Tim. 6:16).

Around God’s throne, 24 elders sit on 24 thrones.  They are interpreted in this article as human beings.  Their task is to judge.

Seven lamps, “which are the seven Spirits of God,” burn before the throne (4:5). The number seven symbolizes fullness in terms of time; from the beginning to the end.  The seven Spirits mean that, through His Spirit, God is ALWAYS with us.

The last part of Revelation 4 shows the joyous worship of the four living beings and the 24 elders.

Revelation 5

While Revelation 4 presents a continuous state, Revelation 5 presents a special event in which “every created thing” (5:13) is gathered around God’s throne to watch the Lamb take the sealed book. A sealed book symbolizes concealed information.  This has caused much sorrow in heaven. But then Jesus arrives at the Father’s throne and it is announced that He “overcome so as to open the book” (5:5), causing sorrow to turn into much joy.

Enthronement

This event, when Jesus received the sealed book, was when He was exalted or glorified at His father’s right hand at His ascension, about 40 days after the Cross.  This is indicated by the following:

  1. The New Testament often mentions that Jesus, at His ascension, was exalted at the Father’s right hand, and in Revelation 5, He took the sealed book from God’s right hand.
  2. Jesus appears as a slain Lamb.
  3. Jesus appeared “in the midst of the throne” (5:6 KJV).
  4. He became worthy to open the book because He overcame.  “Overcame” is what He did during His life on earth. According to 3:21, He sat down with His Father on His Father’s throne after He overcame.
  5. In Revelation 4 the Holy Spirit is seen before the throne. But when Jesus appears in Revelation 5, His Holy Spirit has been “sent out into all the earth” (5:6), apparently a reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

In the dispensational approach, Revelation 4:1 is the rapture, which would mean that Revelation 5 refers to an event after the rapture.  According to the arguments above, this view is not correct.

Jesus did not open the scroll immediately.

The Cross gave Christ the authority to open the book, and He received the book immediately after His ascension, but He did not open the book immediately. The Cross did not open the book.  Revelation 6 describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the seals.  This relates to the question of why God has not yet made an end of sin.

The Book of Life

The sealed book is the book of life, containing God’s judgments of who will live and who will die.  This conclusion is supported by the following:

1. Revelation 5:9 indicates that Jesus purchased for God with His blood men from every nation and, THEREFORE, became worthy to open the sealed book. The sealed book is therefore about redemption.

2. The book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8) and “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27), linking it directly to Revelation 5, where a slain Lamb receives a book (5:6, 9).

3. The sixth seal will be opened at “the great day of their wrath” (6:17; 8:1), which is the return of Christ, which means that one seal remains to be opened even after the return of Christ. The book of life, similarly, will only be opened in the final great judgment (20:12)—one thousand years after the return of Christ (20:7).  Both books are therefore opened after the return of Christ

– END OF SUMMARY – 

Series of articles

This is the first article in a series on the seven seals.  These articles, which will also explain the relationship of the seals to other parts of Revelation, are:

  1. Introduction (this article), which identifies the book and defines the historical starting point of the seals;
  2. The sixth seal, identified as the same as the seventh plague and as the great day of God’s wrath at the return of Christ;
  3. The fifth seal identifies the plagues as the revenge requested by the souls under the altar.
  4. The sealing of the 144000; who are they, when are they sealed, and for what purpose?
  5. The first four seals, identified as the experience of God’s people;
  6. Why questions; asking why was the book sealed?  Why was Jesus not “worthy” before the cross to open the book?  Why is the book only opened 1000 years after Christ’s return?
  7. Summary

Main Divisions of Revelation

The main divisions of Revelation are:

  1. The seven letters in chapters 1 to 3;
  2. The seven seals in chapters 4 to 7 including 8:1;
  3. The seven trumpets in chapters 8 to 11;
  4. The seven wars in chapters 12 to 14;
  5. The seven plagues in chapters 15 to 19 (*);
  6. The millennium in chapter 20;
  7. The new heaven and the new earth in the last two chapters;

(*) Babylon receives God’s fierce wrath in the seventh trumpet at the end of Revelation 16 (16:17-19).  Revelation 17, 18 and 19:1-10 are an interlude that explains the origin, nature and end of Babylon.  The return of Christ is described in the latter half of Revelation 19 (19:11-20:3), and therefore chronologically follows immediately after the plagues of Revelation 16.  Stated differently, the plagues conclude with the return of Christ.  For more information about the relationship of the plagues to the return of Christ, see Return of Christ in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 4

The first three chapters of Revelation focus on the church on earth, but in 4:1 John saw “a door standing open in heaven”, and hears the invitation:

Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.

God’s throne 

This shifts the focus away from earth to heaven and away from John’s time to a different time.  In heaven John saw God’s throne.  A throne is a symbol of authority.  God’s throne symbolizes His authority to rule the universe. God’s throne is mentioned many times in Revelation—in 16 of the 22 chapters.  In Revelation 4 everything is described relative to the throne:

24 elders sit on 24 thrones around the throne (4:4).
Out from the throne come lightning, sounds and thunder (4:5).
Before the throne there was something like a sea of glass (4:6).
In the center and around the throne are four living creatures (4:6).

In Revelation the throne often signifies God.  For instance, “a loud voice … from the throne” (16:17) means that God speaks, and to stand “before the throne” (7:9) means to stand before God.

God

Jesus is described in much detail in Revelation 1:13-18, but God is described rather vaguely in Revelation 4:3.  God has created everything that can be seen and cannot be described in terms of things that can be seen.  God does not exist somewhere in the universe.  The universe exists somewhere within God:

who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Ti 6:16).

24 elders 

John also saw 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones around the throne, clothed in white and with golden crowns on their heads (4:4).  Some believe these elders are a special class of angels, but for the following reasons it is proposed here that they are humans:

  • The title “elder” is never used in the Bible for angels—only for humans.
  • The Bible never says that angels will sit on God’s throne, but does say that humans will (3:21).
  • The elders have stephanos-crowns on their heads, which is used in Revelation as the crown of the overcomer—which is the crown of life (9:7; 2:10; 3:11; 12:1; 4:4; 6:2; 12:1; 14:14).
  • The number 24 is derived from the number 12, which is the number of God’s people. The New Jerusalem has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (21:12).  It also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (21:14).  The number of the sealed is 144000 (7:4), which is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000.

For these reasons the 24 elders probably are human beings.  They might be the beings to whom the responsibility for judgment is given in Daniel 7:9, 10, 26 and in Revelation 20:4.

The number seven

Seven lamps—“which are the seven Spirits of God”—burn before the throne (4:5).  God does not literally have seven Spirits.  The number seven must be interpreted symbolically.  It originates from the seven days of the week, is mentioned may (56) times in Revelation, and is interpreted as a symbol for ‘the full period’.  Many of the sevens in Revelation are different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stands in chronological sequence to each other—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh as the last or end.  The same cannot be said of the other important numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10 and 12.  The number seven therefore has to do with time, and should be understood as completion or perfection of time—the full period.  The seven Spirits of God therefore perhaps symbolize that He is present from the beginning to the end.

Worship

Before the throne is a sea of glass (4:6).  In the center and around the throne are four living creatures; full of eyes in front and behind (4:6-7).  They ceaselessly say (4:8):

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come.

One may think that continual worship is boring, but to be in the presence of God is an extremely emotional experience, because God is the most emotional Being in the universe.  To be in His presence is the highest joy possible.

When the living creatures give glory to Him who lives forever and ever (4:9), the 24 elders fall down and worship Him, saying (4:10-11):

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.

Revelation 5

Specific EventWhile Revelation 4 presents a continuous state, Revelation 5 presents a special event in which “every created thing” (5:13) is gathered around God’s throne to watch the Lamb take the sealed book.

Sealed book –  John saw, in the right hand of God, a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals (5:1).  This is not a real literal book.  A book is a symbol of knowledge and a sealed book is a symbol of concealed information—something that is not understood.  Daniel was similarly told “seal up the book until the end of time” (Daniel 12:4) and “these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time” (v9).

Sorrow in heaven At first nobody is “worthy” to open the book (5:2-3), and John began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book (5:4).  John’s tears symbolize the sorrow of the entire universe.  We see the universal nature of the sorrow when Jesus arrives at God’s throne and, by taking the book, converts the sorrow to joy throughout the universe (5:8-14).  The sorrow therefore represents the time before the Cross, when no one was able to open the book.

Worthy – John saw a “Lamb …  as if slain” (5:6), and heard “one of the elders” say that Jesus “overcome so as to open the book” (5:5).  Then John saw millions and millions of angels around the throne (5:11), saying with a loud voice (5:12):

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.

Then John heard every created being say (5:13):

To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.

At His Ascension

Revelation 5 depicts a special and critically important heavenly meeting, as indicated by the millions and millions of angels looking on (5:11) and by the interest of “every created thing” (5:12).  They are gathered to see Jesus receive the sealed book from God.  For the reasons provided below, this was when Jesus was exalted at His Father’s right hand at His ascension (12:5), about 40 days after the Cross:

FIRST: He appears as a slain Lamb, which implies that the event described by Revelation 5 followed immediately after He was slain.

Jesus is described as a “Lamb, as if slain” (5:6) and the beings in heaven said to Him, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain” (5:8-9). 

SECOND: He earned the right to open the book because He overcame, and therefore logically received the book immediately after He overcame.

In Revelation 5 Jesus is declared worthy to receive and open the book because He overcame (5:5):

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.

The “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” is Jesus.  He overcame on earth, as a human being (3:21).  Since He overcame during His earthly life, He logically received the book immediately after the end if His earthly life.

THIRD: He appears on God’s throne; on God’s right hand, which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

The New Testament frequently mentions that Jesus was glorified at the Father’s right hand at His ascension to heaven, for instance:

when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority“ (Eph. 1:20-22; cf. Acts 2:32-36; Rom. 8:34; Hebr.  8:1; Acts 5:30-31; Phil 2:6-11; Col 3:1; Hebr. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:21-22; Rev. 3:21). 

In Revelation 5 we see Jesus at the Father’s “right hand”:

The NASB reads that the book is in the Father’s right hand (5:1), but this can also be translated as “on” (epi Strong G1909) God’s right hand.  The point is that, to receive the book, Jesus had to take up His position at the right hand of God. 

In Revelation 5 we also see Him sitting on the Father’s throne:

Jesus appears “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts” (5:6 KJV).  The four living beings are “in the center and around the throne” (4:6).  Jesus therefore appears at the center of the throne. 

In Revelation 5 Jesus is furthermore glorified.  He is—along with God—praised by “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them” (5:13).

Revelation 5 is therefore very similar to the statements elsewhere in the New Testament, that Jesus was glorified and seated at the Father’s right hand when He ascended to heaven.

FOURTH: His appearance on God’s throne sent out the Spirit of God into all the earth as His eyes (5:6), which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

The New Testament links Jesus’s glorification at the Father’s right hand to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, about ten days after His ascension:

for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

In Revelation 4 “the seven Spirits of God” are “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” (4:5).  But in Revelation 5, when the Lamb appears on the throne, “the seven Spirits of God” are said to have been “sent out into all the earth” (5:6), apparently a reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  This links the outpouring of the Spirit to the event described by Revelation 5.

In summary, for the following reasons the event described in Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement at His ascension to heaven:

  • He appears as a slain Lamb, which implies that the event described by Revelation 5 followed immediately after He was slain.
  • He earned the right to open the book because He overcame, and therefore logically received the book immediately after He overcame.
  • He appears on God’s throne; on God’s right hand, which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.
  • His appearance on God’s throne sent out the Spirit of God into all the earth as His eyes (5:6), which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

Rapture – In the dispensational approach 4:1 is the rapture, and Revelation 5 therefore refers to an event after the rapture.  This seems to do an injustice to the text, and cannot be supported by Revelation 5.  The following are some further reasons for not agreeing with the view that 4:1 is the rapture:

  • The interpretation of 4:1, where John is called “Come up here”, as the rapture of the Church, rests on very slender evidence. It is much more likely that 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called “Come up here“, represents the rapture of the church. 
  • The purpose of John’s ascension to heaven in 4:1 is not to rescue the church from tribulation, but, as explicitly stated, to show John “what must take place after these things” (4:1).
  • In 10:1 John sees an angel coming down from heaven. He therefore is again or still on earth.  John represents the church when he receives the little book (Revelation 10).  The church is therefore still on earth in Revelation 10.

Judgment at Christ’s return – Many understand Revelation 5 as the judgment prior to Christ’s return to the earth, as in Daniel 7, but:

  • No books are opened in Revelation 5, as in Daniel 7:16. Jesus is praised for taking the book, but He does not open it in Revelation 5.  The books are only opened in 20:12.
  • We find no typical judgment language (judge, avenge) in Revelation 5. Such language we only find in the second half of Revelation (except for the fifth seal—but this is only a request for judgment).
  • If Revelation 5 was the judgment before Christ’s return, then Revelation 6 would have been His return, but, as discussed below, the first five seals represent the history of the Church.

Still sealed – The Cross gave Christ the authority to open the book, and He received the book immediately after His ascension, but He did not open the book immediately. The Cross did not open the book.  Revelation 6 describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the seals.

The Book of Life

Many books will be opened in the last judgment, one thousand years after the return of Christ (19:11-20:12).  The book of life is one of these books (20:12).  It contains the names of the saved (Ps. 69:28; Ph. 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27).  It indicates who will live and who will die (21:2, 27; 20:14-15):

and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it (the holy city, new Jerusalem), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.   This is the second death, the lake of fire.

A fundamental concept, which will greatly influence the interpretation of the seals, is that the sealed book, which Jesus receives in Revelation 5, is the book of life.  This statement is justified as follows:

Both the sealed book and the book of life are about redemption. God’s Lamb was slain, with two consequences.  The first is that He purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).  The second and subsequent consequence is that He is considered worthy to open the sealed book (5:9).  This context indicates that the sealed book is about redemption, and therefore could easily be the book of life, which contains the names of God’s redeemed people (20:15).

The book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8) and “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27), linking it directly to Revelation 5, where a slain Lamb receives a book (5:6, 9).

The book’s sixth seal will only be opened at “the great day of their wrath” (6:17), which is the return of Christ, which means that even then one seal remains to be opened. The book of life will also only be opened in the final great judgment (20:12)—one thousand years after the return of Christ, which is described in Revelation 19:11 and following.  Both books are therefore opened after the return of Christ.

Conclusion

In Revelation 5 we read about sadness in heaven due to a sealed book, which nobody is able to open.  A sealed book symbolizes concealed information.  It was concluded above that the sealed book is the book of life.  The concealed information is therefore the names of the people that will receive eternal life (20:14-15).  The questions remain, why was this information concealed, and why did the fact that it was sealed cause so much sorrow?

After the sorrow was mentioned, Christ appears on the Father’s throne in the form of a slain Lamb (5:6), and we are told that He “has overcome” (5:5).  It was concluded above that the heavenly meeting in Revelation 5 describes what happened when He ascended to heaven, 40 days after the Cross.  As Jesus said “I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).  He was slain when He died on the Cross.  The sorrow therefore refers to the time prior to the Cross.  He overcame Satan’s temptation by being faithful to God, even to death.  In this way he purchased men from all nations for God (5:9).  These things are not new to us, but we would like to ask: How did His faithfulness purchase men for God?  Why was it necessary for Him to die?

What Revelation 5 further adds is that, because Jesus overcame, and because He was slain and purchased men for God with His blood, He became worthy to open the sealed book (5:5, 9).  We might have expected Him to open the book immediately, but He does not open the book in Revelation 5.  The seven seals are things that prevent the book from being read, and they are only broken in Revelation 6.  This is a bit strange, for it means that, although He bought people for God with His blood, something else must still happen before it will be known who those people are.  We may also ask what things prevent the book from being read, and why was He not worthy to open the book before He was slain?  The seven seals are broken by the happenings described in Revelation 6.  Only after those things happened will we know the names of the saved.  We will next investigate Revelation 6 with these questions in mind.

TO: General Table of Contents

Disarmed the rulers and authorities.

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 today 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, or how it was solved.  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, such as that God is angry with sinners, destroy 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.

SUMMARY

In Colossians 2:13-15 we read about three events:

  1. We have been made alive when our transgressions have been forgiven.
  2. The certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us has been canceled by being nailed to the cross.
  3. God disarmed the rulers and authorities through Christ.

As discussed on a separate page, the “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 the current 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 God’s judgments, 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.

DISCUSSION

In Colossians 2:13-15 we read of three things which God (v12) did through Christ:

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

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.

Romans 3

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 the 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 authoritieswhen 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 support for this is the statement in Revelation 12:11 that Satan was overcome by the blood of the Lamb.  The conclusion is therefore again that Satan was disarmed through the Cross.

Disarmed Rulers and AuthoritiesTo 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) righteousnessso 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 Colossians 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:

  1. These sins have been forgiven (Verse 13).
  2. The penalty for those sins have been cancelled (Verse 14).
  3. The rulers and authorities are no longer able to use those sins to accuse the believers (Verse 15).

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 revealed 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 encouraged 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 humans; 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.

TO: General Table of Contents