Blog is finally up! So this is a repost, as I am adding it here. I am indebted to Pastor Wes Baker and Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society on the last Trinity House session’s reading list for a great deal of the following.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Paul begins by telling us that Christ is preeminent above all things. He is the firstborn of creation. The “firstborn” speaks not so much of Christ’s origin (though being the eternal Son, He is indeed the first in order as well), but of his status as the heir of all things, worthy of a double portion. For all things are through him. So why does Paul’s mind turn immediately to “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”? Why not name the heavenly bodies of the stars or the various grand features of creation? While it is true that Christ is creator and preeminent above all those things as well, that is not the burden that Paul has for the Colossian church in this letter.
The four categories Paul names must be read in light of what has immediately preceded them in the text. Namely, things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” Thrones are the visible earthly continuous manifestations of invisible dominions. Rulers are individuals, visible persons, behind whom influential and invisible authorities stand. Christ is creator of, and therefore rightful ruler all these powers that exercise rule over the earth. Paul’s cosmic worldview, also evident in Ephesians 6 (we wrestle not with flesh and blood, that is, against the rulers and thrones, but against spiritual forces in heavenly places), is based in Deuteronomy.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
Here, each nation was allotted to a “son of God.” And while “sons of God,” may sometimes mean His covenant people, this reference must mean angelic powers in the same sense as Job 1:6, for we are told that Jacob is then reserved for YHWH Himself. Each nation has an angelic force behind it, and in most cases, it is become a demonic force. Each angel was given by YHWH an earthly dominion to rule. Satan himself is called “the god of this world,” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the demonic hosts (and therefore the nations) are under his command. We can see in the temptation of Christ that Satan offers Him the dominion over this world—a way to dominion that does not include the cross—which would be temptation indeed only if it was in some way the devil’s to offer.
It is with this worldview that Paul refers to the thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. The “worship of angels” in Colossians 2:18 is integrally connected. Are we tempted to worship angels today? In the sense of Colossians, most certainly! We may not bow down to a spirit named Lucifer, or Wormwood, or Screwtape, or even Gabriel, but we are tempted to bow down to the will of the Roman Empire, or the United States, or the United Kingdom, or Russia, or wherever we may live. If the State would be God, then inasmuch as we equate the will of our government with the will of God, we are in danger of worshiping angels in the way Paul speaks of it. That is, we are in danger of submitting ourselves to the dominions and powers which stand behind thrones and rulers, rather than submitting to the kingship of Jesus Christ. A certain kind of patriotism or nationalism can easily become that worship of angels that Paul is warning us against.
Now, Paul tells us, no longer are we to be enslaved to those authorities and dominions. All things, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, being created by our Lord Jesus Christ, rightfully belong under His dominion. Once, we Gentiles were under the dominion of these “elemental spirits.” We were not of the heritage of Jacob, but under the dominion of the devil. No longer:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Christ is not only creator. He was always creator of these things, and had a Divine authority over them, and yet YHWH allowed them to exercise rule in the earth. But now, things are different. The nations are no longer given over to demonic powers, for Christ has disarmed those rulers and authorities by His death and resurrection. He is become the firstborn, not only of creation, but the firstborn from the dead, “so that in all things He might be preeminent.” By conquering the grave, Jesus has put rulers and authorities to open shame. We are freed in Him from the dominion of sin and death. Therefore can Paul say that we are heirs with Christ:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
So the state of affairs in Deuteronomy is no longer the case. Because Christ has risen from the dead, He is the one who has dominion. Through His co-heirs and those He has qualified to be called “brethren,” He continually brings those nations under their rightful ruler. And He will reign until all those enemies have been put beneath His feet.