By John Aldworth

Published Dec. 31, 2014

Col. 2:15: And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it (or, in Himself, KJB margin note).

Eph. 4: 8-9: Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men … And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.

Col. 2:18: Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.

Heb. 2:5: For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.

Just how did our Lord spoil the principalities and powers, the ‘rulers of the darkness of this world’ (Eph. 6:12) and ‘make a shew of them, openly triumphing over them…’?

The short answer is that He spoiled them by ‘putting off’ their rule and power from Himself and in Himself. But there is much more to it than that, as this study will endeavor to explain. For example, realisation of God’s great eternal purpose has its beginning in the Lord’s triumph here.

To begin with, let’s examine the work ‘spoiled’. In the Greek it is epekduomai, only used in elsewhere in this epistle in Col. 3:9 where it is translated ‘put off the old man with his deeds’. Believers then are urged to realise that they also have ‘spoiled’ or ‘put off’ the old man with his deeds just as Christ Himself put off their evil exertions and rule.  

Verse 10 explains how this is accomplished. It is achieved when believers find they ‘have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him’. The image then, is that of God Himself, and it is of the utmost importance that the believer is renewed in the likeness of it. More on that at another time.

Meanwhile let us see the extent to which the Lord truly ‘spoiled’ the dark rulers of this evil world (Eph. 6:12), who also exert their ‘spiritual wickedness in high places’, meaning the ‘heavenlies’. In Col. 2:14-15 we learn the progress of this triumph over angels. It begins on the cross with the Lord ‘blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us’ by ‘nailing it to his cross’.

Why is that important, you ask? Answer: Because the Law was given ‘by the disposition of angels’.  This is clearly taught in the following verses:

Acts 7:53: Who (referring to Israelites) have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

Gal. 3:19: Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made, and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (i.e. Moses).

Heb. 2:2: For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward.

Heb. 2:14: Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of the death, that is the devil.

Deut. 33:2: And he (Moses) said, The Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir unto them: He shined from mount Paran, and He came with 10,000 of his saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.

Yes, Moses was the ‘mediator’ of the Law, but its disposition was in the hand of angels. The Lord was accompanied by 10,000 of them when He issued the fiery law at Sinai. Incidentally, this verse shows the true application of Enoch’s prophecy in Jude 14-15. The law was ‘added because of transgressions’ and Enoch before the flood prophesied just how it would be added:

Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints to execute judgement upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed and of their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.

Indeed to this day the Law serves that purpose for the ungodly as 1 Tim. 1:9 attests. Thus the Law was, and in the case of unbelievers still is, the power base of angelic control in the world and apparently in heaven as well. For godly believers, however, it is a different story. For them the law is a ‘schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” and once there, for those who are truly ‘in Christ’, it ceases to exist.  Thus while the disposition – or dispensation, if you will - of angels exists for the unbelieiving, for believers both the Law and the disposition of angels have been nailed to the cross. As the Apostle John put it, ‘the Law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’.

Importantly, Jesus Christ not only nailed the law to the cross but also put it off from Himself. And in doing so He put off from Himself every influence, persuasion and power angels whether good or bad could have upon Him. What’s more we learn in the mystery, revealed through the Apostle Paul in the prison epistles, that in doing so He also put them off from grace-saved believers who trust in Christ (Eph. 1:12-13).

Now disposition is very close in meaning to the word dispensation and the good news of Christ’s ‘spoiling’ of the principalities and powers is that for believers in Christ the angelic disposition or dispensation is at an end. Already they are seated with Christ in heavenly places ‘far above all principality and powers’. Indeed God hath put them, along with ‘all things’ under Christ’s feet and made Him ‘… Head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all’ (Eph. 2:21-13).

According to Eph. 4:8-9 this spoiling of the heavenly powers took place during our Lord’s resurrection and ascension. But the spoiling doesn’t stop there. In putting off the dark powers from Himself Christ has put them off permanently from his future purposes for the earth and those who dwell in it. In ‘the world to come’ angels will no longer lord it over man, nor will they corrupt and pervert his God-given destiny and glory. Thus on earth the disposition of angels will be brought to an end.  Heb. 2:5 insists: For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come.  

As intimated earlier, the ‘spoiling’ of the principalities and powers in the heavenlies has already taken place, in that Christ (and believers in Him) has been placed far above them. Yet although for the believer they are already overcome in grace, they otherwise still retain their heavenly positions and powers (Eph. 6:12-13).

This, I believe is because the full glory of the Lord and those in Christ has yet to appear (Col. 3:3-4). It is also because the ‘church which is his body’ has a task to perform before this appearing takes place. This mission is detailed for us in Eph. 3: 9-10:

… to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world  hath been hid in God, who created all things by Christ Jesus. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.

This is the challenge set before those called by grace and initiated into the mystery. It has to do with exhibiting to angels the full effect in a believer’s life of the heavenly gospel of grace, the ‘glorious gospel of Christ’. It also has to do with saved believers truly walking in the glory of the ‘new man who is renewed in the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:10). With God’s help we will address this hugely important subject in our next study.

©John Aldworth Dec. 31, 2014