He [Christ] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (ESV).
With a stroke of the pen, the apostle Paul added a small but profound detail in the above verse. In so highlighting the triumphant nature of Christ’s victory over the principalities of darkness, something of the cross’ humiliating design is brought out. Christ is said to have made an open spectacle of his enemies, thereby shaming or humiliating them.
In a word, God embarrassed the kingdom of darkness.
Imagine for a moment that fallen angel, the devil, who first began to utter treasonous words in the courts of heaven. Consider his idolatrous claims, his promise of new found pleasure through sin, his promise of unholy power, his promise of unexplored wisdom and knowledge, his promise of self-mastery through autonomy, and his promise of glory through self-deifying transcendence.
There he speaks in the midst of the angels, weaving together fine sounding arguments, urging that he has unlocked a course by which the creature- a mere creature- can be like the Most High. Astonishingly, almost unthinkably, his seditious promises prove persuasive and a host of angelic beings break off and follow him.
Severed from the Fountain of all goodness, the once pristine natures of those angels following Satan twist under the weight of sin. Their souls pervert into that which God is not: evil, darkness, foolishness, death, malice, cruelty, depravity… Drunk with the passions of sin, they begin to boast. They blaspheme God, claiming to be able to erect a kingdom rivaling, even surpassing that of the Most High’s. It is an absurd notion, but one that nevertheless sends shockwaves throughout the angelic realm.
In a move that must have been astonishing, the demonic host is given space to work out their evil designs. The central question at stake in this great contest: Who is really Lord?
As we well know, Satan’s awful idea infected the man and the woman in the Garden, thereby extending the serpent’s ungodly kingdom to the physical realm. The earth became sick with the disease of sin, and a great darkness and deep groaning followed.
Now imagine the struggle between these two kingdoms. Century upon century, millennia upon millennia, Satan seeks to discredit God through the powers of sin and vindicate his pride-soaked position. But as the story unfolds, God continues to orchestrate the devil’s demise, sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly. A bloom from the seed of the woman always persists.
After countless conflicts and divine preparations, the fullness of times arrives, and Jesus enters the scene wrapped in flesh. Here is the One destined to crush the head of the serpent.
But note Christ’s methods of warfare. Surprisingly, He empties Himself taking on the form of a servant. There is power in Him, but He does not crush the serpent while riding atop a mighty stead. He is fully divine, but He does not shatter the devil into nothingness with a shout. Jesus doesn’t swing a sword of iron. He doesn’t strike with a clinched fist. He humiliates the devil through humiliation.
Through an amazing use of irony, Christ takes the very powers of sin and uses them against the devil. Like David of old, Christ cuts off the head of the Goliath with the blasphemer’s own sword.
In this respect, consider the power of autonomy. It claims to be able to usurp the will of God, step outside of the divine plan and forge an independent trail. But what does God do? He uses the very sin of men and devils to bring about their defeat, thereby uncovering their utter folly.
In this vein, consider the following:
“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’– for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:26-28
What is one of the chief powers of the kingdom of darkness? In Hebrews 2:14 we read that it is death. But what does Christ do? He defeats death through death. In so dying, the cords of death are cut, thereby breaking the chains of sin. Abundant life springs forth from His crucifixion.
Consider as well the manner of Christ’s strength. If a powerful man defeats an enemy through an impressive display of might, onlookers are impressed. However, what does it say about a victor who can defeat his enemy through weakness? If Christ’s frailty and poverty can overcome the devil, how great the strength indeed!
In each instance, and in many more, Christ makes a spectacle of Satan, not only to the watching world of humans, but to the innumerable angels and demons perched about our globe. Irony is the divine weapon of choice, as nothing humiliates a proud creature more than for it to be mocked. So when Satan’s boastful claims are shown to be hollow- when his own weapons are turned against him- the devil, along with all his swarming flies, are put to open shame. Their godless quest for glory is reversed, and they are made to drink from the bitter cup of ignominy, the very thing they were so convinced would not befall them.
So when Paul wrote those inspired words in Colossians 2:15, he captured in a few short remarks the humiliating defeat of the enemy and the glory of the One who brought it about.