This also helps us understand Paul’s statement about the “disarming of rulers and authorities” found in Colossians 2:13-15:
And when you were [spiritually] dead in your transgressions…He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (emphasis added).
Paul uses obvious metaphorical language in this passage. In the first part, he compares our guilt to a “certificate of debt.” What we could not pay was paid for us by Christ, who took our sin-debt to the cross.
In the second part, just as ancient kings stripped their defeated foes of their weapons and triumphantly paraded them through their city streets, so Christ’s death was a triumph over “rulers and authorities,” that is, the lower ranks of demons who rule over rebellious humans, holding them captive.
Could we not say, based upon this passage, that Christ defeated Satan? Perhaps, but with some qualification. We must keep in mind that in this passage, Paul was writing metaphorically. And every metaphor has a point where the similarities turn to dissimilarities, as we learned in the chapter about biblical interpretation.
In interpreting Paul’s metaphors in Colossians 2:13-15, we must be cautious. Obviously, there wasn’t an actual “certificate of debt” that had all our sins written on it that was nailed to the cross. That is, however, symbolic of what Jesus accomplished.
Similarly, the demons who ruled over unsaved humanity were not literally disarmed of their swords and shields and paraded publicly through the streets by Jesus. The language Paul uses is symbolic of what Jesus accomplished for us. We were held captive by those evil spirits. By dying for our sins, however, Jesus released us from our captivity. Jesus didn’t literally fight against those evil spirits and they were not at war with Him. They, by God’s righteous permission, held us in their power all of our lives. Their “armaments,” as it were, were pointed, not at Christ, but at us. Jesus, however, “disarmed” them. They can’t keep us captive any longer.
Let us not think that there was some age-long fight between Jesus and Satan’s evil spirits, and finally, Jesus won the battle on the cross. If we are going to say that Jesus defeated the devil, let us be certain we understand that He defeated the devil for us, and not for Himself.
I once chased away a small dog in my yard who was terrifying my baby daughter. I might say I defeated that little dog, but I hope you understand that dog was never any threat to me, only to my daughter. It was the same with Jesus and Satan. Jesus chased a dog away from us that never bothered Him at all.
How did He chase away that Satan-dog? He did it by bearing the punishment for our sins, thus releasing us from our guilt before God, thus delivering us from God’s wrath, and thus the evil spirits whom God righteously permits to enslave human rebels no longer had any right to enslave us. Praise God for that!
This leads us to an appropriate place to examine a second related myth.