“Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).
While the exact meaning of “principalities and powers” is open to debate, this phrase suggests that an organizational hierarchy exists within the angelic realm. For instance, Ephesians 6:12 identifies a similar type of organizational structure when it says, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Later on, the New Testament book of Jude will reference angelic beings “…who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home — these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 1:6 NIV). The use of words such as “rulers” and “principalities” suggests the existence of a chain of command, one that is populated by spiritual entities who possess various levels of stature, power, and authority.
Nevertheless, Colossians 2:15 tells us that Jesus disarmed these “spiritual hosts of wickedness” through His death on the cross. In bearing the sin that that separates human beings from their Creator, Jesus eliminated the single greatest weapon they possessed. Thus, the image presented in this passage is one of Jesus as a victorious military commander leading a triumphant procession.
A citizen of the ancient Roman Empire would have been familiar with this imagery for it depicted a conquering Roman general who had received the honor of leading a great procession following his return from the battlefield. As part of that procession, the victorious leader and his conquering army were first to march on display. Next came the spoils of war that had been collected from the battle. Finally, there came an appearance of the opposition forces, now defeated and weaponless, and other enemy personnel who were condemned to die.
Such processions represented a great honor for the triumphant and a shameful humiliation for the vanquished. One commentary expands on this idea with the following observation…
“What Christ ‘disarmed’ on the cross was any embodiment of rebellion in the world—whether that be Satan and his demons, false idols of pagan religious, evil world governments, or even God’s good angels when they become objects of worship (as in the Colossian heresy). This ‘disarming’ occurred when Jesus died on the cross, like stripping a defeated enemy of armor on the battlefield. Evil no longer has any power over believers because Christ has disarmed it.” (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible, Colossians 2:15 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.