Wedgeworth: “Rulers and Authorities”


How Jesus Disarmed the Devil

It may not show up on Christian motivational posters, but Colossians 2:15 is one of the great verses of victory in the New Testament. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Our great captain has won the contest. The seed of the woman has bruised the head of the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

While not as familiar to us, Colossians 2:15 was beloved in earlier periods of Christian history. It is also regularly invoked in academic theology to support a certain understanding of Christ’s atonement known as the “Christus Victor” model, which argues that Christ’s saving work consists in defeating the evil powers that afflict and enslave humanity. Unfortunately, some go on to argue that this way of looking at Christ’s atonement excludes other important aspects of his work, particularly his satisfaction of divine justice on our behalf.

As we’ll see, properly understanding Colossians 2:15 can help us avoid this error by rightly affirming Christ’s victory over evil in and through his sacrificial death on the cross.

Who Are the Rulers and Authorities?

Colossians 2:15 states that Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities.” To whom does this phrase refer? The combination of “rulers and authorities” appears elsewhere in Paul’s writings in reference to human authorities (Titus 3:1), but more often it applies to spiritual powers (Eph. 3:10; 6:12). When we compare Colossians with Ephesians (its parallel epistle), we see that “thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities” are obviously spiritual entities, whether angels or demons (Eph. 1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 6:12).

We can safely conclude that the enemies Christ triumphed over in Colossians 2:15 are the spiritual beings who were at war against him.

But if Christ disarmed Satan and his demons and took away their power, how exactly did he do it? At this point, the history of interpretation gets rather interesting.

Did Jesus Harrow Hell?

Many commentators have connected this verse to the so-called “harrowing of hell.” There are varying versions of this concept, but the general story goes like this: after the crucifixion, Jesus descended into the underworld where he defeated Satan and his demons and freed the souls who’d been held captive under the old covenant. Proponents of this view combine Colossians 2:15 with Ephesians 4:8–10 and 1 Peter 3:19 in order to fill out the story.

This is certainly an inspiring narrative. It seems like perfect material for a C. S. Lewis novel. But despite its literary quality, it actually confuses important biblical and theological content.

First, these three passages aren’t necessarily talking about the same thing, but even if they are, none of them says that Christ rescued believers from an underworldFirst Peter 3:20 specifies the spirits were disobedient spirits, so this isn’t a reference to the faithful being rescued but rather bad guys (whether human or demonic) being judged. Ephesians 4:8–10 says that he leads a host of “captives” in his train. The captives are those whom Christ has defeated, not those he’s rescuing.

Additionally, there is no biblical reason to believe that Satan was in hell during the old covenant. To the contrary, Satan is presented as prince of the “air” (Eph. 2:2), entering into heaven itself (Job 1:6Zech. 3:1Rev. 12:7) and roaming the earth (Job 1:7Gen. 3:1Matt. 4:1). Only at the last day is Satan cast into hell (Rev. 20:10).

We must also deny that old covenant believers went to “hell.” What most of us today think of as hell is “Gehenna” and “everlasting fire” (Matt. 5:30; 10:28; 25:41Mark 9:43James 3:6Rev. 20:10). It’s a place of punishment, where God pours out his wrath against sin. Believers do not go here. They are saved from it.

There are two other biblical terms for an “underworld” in a more general sense, and these are the Hebrew sheol and the Greek hades. These terms are used frequently in the Scriptures, and they can refer to the literal grave or the spiritual realm of the dead. They don’t necessarily imply a place of torment. When Jesus tells about Lazarus being taken to “Abraham’s bosom” after his death, this is said to be a place of “comfort” (Luke 16:23).

At their deaths, Old Testament saints didn’t go to be imprisoned by the Devil but rather to rejoice with the Lord (Ps. 23:6Eccles. 12:7).

Nailing Satan’s Chief Weapon to the Cross

Colossians 2:15 isn’t talking about some war in the underworld, then, but of Christ’s victorious work on the cross. In the prior verses, Paul speaks about the “legal debt” sinners were under. Christ has now “set this aside” by “nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). Because of this, no one can condemn us (Col. 2:16).

This is how Jesus has disarmed the powers. He has taken away Satan’s power to hold sinners to the debt of their sins and trespasses.

Indeed, accusation is the chief activity for Satan. He attempted to undermine God’s righteous verdict over Job (Job 1:9–10), stood ready to accuse Joshua the high priest (Zech. 3:1), and accused all believers before God day and night (Rev. 12:10). The power of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56), and Satan attempted to use the demands of the law to destroy God’s people. But Christ, in taking the law’s curse on himself (Gal. 3:13), has wrested this weapon from Satan.

He has disarmed him and triumphed over all the forces of evil precisely in his sacrificial death on the cross. As John Calvin put it, “There is no tribunal so magnificent, no throne so stately, no show of triumph so distinguished, no chariot so elevated, as is the gibbet on which Christ has subdued death and the devil, the prince of death.”

Making a Spectacle of Satan

This understanding also explains the nature of Satan’s defeat. He hasn’t yet been so utterly destroyed or defanged that he can’t do battle against the believer. But he cannot hurt us spiritually or bring a successful charge against us (Rom. 8:33). We’re now free to wrestle against the spiritual forces of evil knowing we will get the victory. In the words of John Davenant, “Those who are vanquished are always more angry than powerful.” While Satan and his minions rage, they can only express frustration that their fate is sealed.

Indeed, Satan was made a spectacle in the cross. Believing that Jesus had been defeated, Satan made his grandest boasts. And yet, the death of Christ was the greatest victory. The cross crushed Satan’s head for good. His boasting became foolishness and his glory shame, as the justification of all God’s people now makes plain.

The cross crushed Satan’s head for good.

True Victor

Perhaps there is a little something of Lewis in this version of the spoiling of Satan. After all, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it was the laws of Narnia that Edmund had violated and that the White Witch tried to use against Aslan. “The Law” (or “the deep magic”) in Narnia was from the Emperor, which Aslan would not contradict. But the deeper magic from the dawn of time—or we might say, from the before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4)—reconciled the demands of the law with the redemption of lawbreakers, bringing about the witch’s defeat.

We could summarize Colossians 2:13–15 along similar lines: the satisfaction of divine justice shames the powers and shows Christ to be our victor.

The Mosaic Law Functioning as a Two-Layer Cake Arrangement

By Lee Irons

It is very important to understand that Kline [Meredith] viewed the Mosaic economy as a two-layer cake. The underlying layer (what he called “the substratum”) is an administration of grace having to do with the eternal salvation of the individual elect Israelites. The overlying layer is what he called “the typal kingdom.” The typal kingdom is the land of Israel, a territory completely set apart as holy unto God, functioning as a theocracy, focused on the central temple where God dwells and reigns as King over his people. It is a picture or type of the eschatological kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth. Just as the new heavens and new earth will be free from all evil, a new creation “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13), so the typal kingdom of Israel was to be rid of Canaanites and idolaters. Just as the eschatological kingdom will be ushered in by purifying judgment, so the typal kingdom was ushered in by Joshua’s conquest and the devoting of the idolatrous inhabitants of the land to destruction.

You might be wondering where Kline got this two-layer metaphor. At first it looks like a neat visual metaphor that Kline just made up. He was a very visual and poetic thinker, so it is a plausible theory. However, there is a biblical basis for it – an exegetical one and a biblical-theological one.

First, the exegetical basis

Kline got the metaphor from Paul in Gal 3:15-19, where he teaches that the Abrahamic covenant was not annulled by the coming of the Mosaic law, nor did the Mosaic law change the terms of the Abrahamic covenant by making the promise dependent on law-keeping. Rather, the law was “added” or “superimposed” (v 19) until the coming of the Seed promised in the Abrahamic covenant. Here is the paragraph:

15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it (ἐπιδιατάσσεται) once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added (προσετέθη) because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made. (ESV)

Verse 18 is critical: “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” This verse makes clear that for Paul “the law” and “the promise” are opposed to one another. In the one, the inheritance is by works; in the other, it is by grace. And yet somehow the two principles, though coexisting in the Mosaic era, are not ultimately in conflict. How can this be?

The key is to note that there are two different Greek verbs translated similarly in English as “add to” and “add.” The first verb, ἐπιδιατάσσομαι (v 15), rendered by the ESV as “add to,” is a technical term for adding a later codicil to a covenant (or will) that changes the terms of the covenant (or will). The NASB’s rendering, “adds conditions to it,” is more precise.

The second verb, προστίθημι (v 19), rendered by the ESV as “add,” has a different nuance. In this context it has the sense of a temporary, removable overlay, since it is clear that the law was “added” in such a way that it did not annul or modify the underlying Abrahamic covenant. It was given with a terminus in view, “until the Seed should come.” Or, as Paul will explain a few verses later, the law was a guardian or pedagogue for Israel in her minority “until the date set by the father” (Gal 3:24; 4:2). In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that the Abrahamic promise, which was there all along, might be brought to fulfillment and the people of God might take up the inheritance no longer as slaves but as sons (Gal 4:1-7).

So the principle of inheritance by law and the principle of inheritance by grace coexisted in the Mosaic era, without the law canceling or annulling the promise, because the law was “added” as a temporary overlay but not as a codicil that modified the terms of the Abrahamic covenant. Kline appeals to this key passage (Gal 3:15-19) again and again in his writings. For example:

“On the classic covenantal understanding, the law that came 430 years later did not disannul the promise (Gal 3:17) – not because the old covenant did not really introduce an operative works principle, but because works and faith were operating on two different levels in the Mosaic economy” (“Gospel until the Law,” 436).

Second, the biblical-theological basis

Not only did Kline derive the two-layer cake metaphor from Paul in Gal 3:15-19, but he further developed the metaphor by his biblical-theological analysis of the Abrahamic covenant itself. The Abrahamic covenant was God’s promise concerning the seed and the land. Everyone knows that. However, what most miss (especially dispensationalists) is that God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled in two stages. The first-level fulfillment was unfolded historically in the formation of the nation (the seed) and the bringing of the nation into the promised land. This first-level fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise is actually a long process that begins with the exodus, continues in the conquest of Canaan, takes many generations to drive out the Canaanites from God’s holy realm, and culminates under Solomon when the temple is finished. The kingdom of God finally arrived when God was dwelling in the midst of his people, in his holy temple, in the holy land, and exercising his authority through his appointed vassal king, the anointed son of David.

But this first-level fulfillment was not the true fulfillment. It was only a “typal kingdom” pointing ahead to the eschatological fulfillment in Christ. Christ is really “the Seed” that the promise referred to (Gal 3:16), and all who belong to Christ are Abraham’s offspring in the collective sense (Gal 3:29). And the land that God promised Abraham, with God dwelling in it as a holy kingdom, was not some earthly real estate but the new heavens and the new earth (as Hebrews 11 makes clear).

And yet, all during the time of the first-level fulfillment, generations of godly individual Israelites were able to see in and through the types and shadows, especially in the sacrificial system, the coming Seed and his atoning sacrifice, so that they were saved, forgiven, and justified by faith in the Messiah to come.

“The Mosaic economy [was] an administration of grace on its fundamental level of concern with the eternal salvation of the individual” (KP 109).

“Paul, perceiving the works principle in the Mosaic law economy, was able to insist that this did not entail an abrogation of the promises of grace given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries earlier (Gal 3:17), precisely because the works principle applied only to the typological kingdom in Canaan and not to the inheritance of the eternal kingdom-city promised to Abraham as a gift of grace and at last to be received by Abraham and all his seed, Jew and Gentile, through faith in Christ Jesus” (KP 237).

God did not give the Mosaic law with its works principle to be the means by which the individual elect Israelite would be saved. Personal salvation was always administered, in every epoch of redemptive history, including the Mosaic epoch, through the promise, that is, through the Abrahamic covenant of grace, founded as it was on the paradigm of Abraham’s own soteriological experience, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

Kline’s analysis of the Abrahamic promise as finding fulfillment in two stages (the first-level typological fulfillment in the land, and the second-level antitypical fulfillment in Christ and the eschaton), combined with a recognition that individual Old Testament believers were saved by faith as they looked ahead to the antitype through the type, provides further support for the concept of the two-layer cake.

In the next post, I’ll answer the question: If God did not give the Mosaic law and its works principle to Israel to be a means for individuals to be saved and attain eternal life, why did God give the Mosaic law and establish this second typological layer?

Lev. 18.5- The Devil’s Armor

Paul, as a Pharisee, recognized the promise of eternal life in Lev. 18.5 before he was a Christian and sacrificed as needed to keep his slate clean in anticipation of the resurrection. Thus Heb. 2.15 speaks of those in slavery to death (all the obligations of observance such as Sabbaths, 3 Yearly feasts, dietary restrictions, and further. Heb.2.14 argues that Christ’s purpose was render the devil powerless. He could accuse any for falling short especially if they didn’t fast and give the half shekel yearly on the Day of Atonement where sins were remembered yearly (Heb. 10.1-3).

This is the “Stronger man” of Lk. 11.22. Also, Col. 2.14-15 speaks of the debt of obligation which, taken away, leaves the adversary powerless.

Therefore, when looking at Paul’s use of our verse in Rom. 10.4, the end of the Law is Christ because He kept it perfectly as under the Law and God raised Him from the dead. People seeking salvation by trying to keep the Law have a burden that is impossible to bear and, and also, was only the shadow of greater realities in heaven.  (Gal.3 Paul uses the same argument). Notice what Jesus claims in Jn. 8.26- “Which of you can prove me guilty of sin?” The man Jesus was sinless and so was granted eternal life, and, as the second Adam, gives it to us.

Eternal Generation of the Son and Eternal Procession of the Spirit

In order to understand the Trinity students will need to pay close attention to all of scripture and consider it divine revelation. Here is a good summary of eternal generation and where to find resources to explain the nature of God found in the scriptures:



Its time for me to drop the “Evangelical” label and refer to a better idea captured in the term Paleo-Orthodox. The term “Evangelical” indicates the Christian belief that one needs a conversion from their fallen state to faith in Christ. Of course I believe this but I also believe a lot more. “Evangelicalism” as a term has become too shallow for me to use anymore but Paleo-Orthodoxy describes my position more accurately. Here is an interview of Thomas Oden by Al Mohler (the transcript has a few spelling hiccups but its not too hard to catch every point- or one could listen). Thomas C. Oden coined the term Paleo-Orthodoxy.

Judah’s Captivity 597 BC; the Babylonian Chronicles — Leon’s Message Board

Some of my current studies include 2 Kings 24-25, which tell of the reigns of Judah’s last three kings: Jehoiakim (r. 609-597 BC), Jehoiachin (597 BC), and Zedekiah (597-586 BC). For so long down to that point in time, God’s people had repeatedly turn to idols, such as Baal (other names included Teshub, Hadad, etc.), […]

via Judah’s Captivity 597 BC; the Babylonian Chronicles — Leon’s Message Board

Agrippa I: An Archaeological Biography — Bible Archaeology Report

We’ve learned about two of the Herodian Rulers in our bioarchaeographies thus far: Herod Agrippa II, who was the ruler before whom the Apostle Paul made his defense in Acts 25-26, and Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist (Mt 6:17) and interviewed Jesus before his crucifixion (Lk 23:9). In this archaeological biography, we’ll explore […]

via Agrippa I: An Archaeological Biography — Bible Archaeology Report

Inspecting Isaiah 53

In the past few weeks and months, ancient biblical texts have made their way into major news outlets. Recently, National Geographic revealed that all of the newly discovered “Dead Sea Scrolls” in the Museum of the Bible’s collection are forgeries. On the New Testament side, there was much made of a sensational “First-Century Mark Fragment”…

via The resurrection really happened: textual criticism and Easter — Southern Equip

Origen: Comparing his Manuscripts to Jewish Copies — The Textual Mechanic

In the midst of discussing a textual reading at John 1:28 in his “Commentary on John” Origen of Caesarea (ca. 184 – 253 CE) waxed long on the various place names found in the Gospel accounts and the variations in spelling that can be seen in the manuscript tradition.“We are aware of the reading which…

via Origen: Comparing his Manuscripts to Jewish Copies — The Textual Mechanic

Exact Biblical Fulfillment

At least on a metaphorical level. After the Fall in Eden, the man, woman, and the serpent all stand judged at God’s tribunal. At this judgment scene the curse upon the serpent features two prophecies: 1. The Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (This is future since Heb. 9.28 says a second appearance for salvation). 2. The serpent would pierce the heal of the Seed of the woman.

One of the few artifacts indicating Roman crucifixion shows a heal bone with an iron nail still embedded. This is how the prophecy of Gen. 3.15 was fulfilled. The people reading this  text probably were only aware of vipers instead of constrictors, and so would reason a fatal bite. It was. Gen. 3.15 also implies a resurrection since the crushing is after the harvest at the end of the age.


It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals. In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child. A 4.3 inch nail penetrated the right heel bone […]

via Crucified Man from Jerusalem — HolyLandPhotos’ Blog