Expelliarmus!

If you’re a Potterhead (like yours truly), you know exactly what the title of this post means; if not, allow me to explain. In the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling, the spell to disarm an opponent is performed with the word Expelliarmus! and a flourish of one’s wand. When done correctly, this spell causes the wand of the adversary to fly from his hand, leaving him vulnerable to attack. In this fantastical world, a wizard without a wand is like a western gunslinger without his Colt six-shooter—helpless. Disarmament is not final defeat, but it certainly puts the weaponless party on the ropes.

We know that we fight against a real and worthy adversary. First Peter 5:8 tells us that our enemy is “like a roaring lion” on the prowl, waiting to devour a tasty morsel. Jesus calls him a “murderer” and the “father of lies” (John 8:44). And Paul gives him the powerful titles of “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:1) and “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). Finally, in John’s vision recorded in Revelation, Satan (transliterated from the Greek word for adversary) is figured as a dragon. Clearly, our enemy is no joke. However, in Colossians 2:15, Paul gives us another very important truth about this enemy:

“When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, he made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”

Our great adversary—the hungry lion—has been declawed and had his jaw wired shut. Or, to put it another way, he’s a wizard without a wand. This is great news and should give us confidence in resisting him. Let’s take a closer look at this verse and its encouraging Gospel truth.

Disarmed?

Our first order of business is to determine just what it means to “disarm” in this case. The Greek word, apekdyomai, literally means “to put off, strip, or take off clothing.”[1] Paul uses this word later in Colossians to describe a believer’s “laying aside” his old nature. Here in 2:15, the idea is that Christ has stripped the rulers and authorities of their power.

Indulge a silly, but hopefully helpful, illustration. Remember the movie Space Jam? (I’m a 90s kid and a basketball nut. Just go with it.) If not, the premise is basically this: The Looney Tunes gang (Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, and the rest) are going to be forced into eternal servitude on a faraway planet as amusement park fixtures unless they can win a game of basketball. The tunes choose basketball because the aliens who come to earth to capture them are little more than slugs. The tunes’ victory seems like a slam dunk. However, the alien slugs come up with a plan. They watch some NBA basketball and devise a way to steal the talent of some professionals and use it for themselves. Thus, famous names from the time, such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, are “zapped” mid-game and suddenly rendered unable to do the simplest of basketball tasks: catch, dribble, pass, or shoot. They have been “stripped” of their talent. (To find out how this classic cinematic masterpiece ends, you’ll have to watch it for yourself.)

This is a picture of what has happened to the “rulers and authorities.” They have been divested of their power. They’re still up and walking around, but they’ve lost their weapons. The author of Hebrews puts it this way:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. (Heb. 2:14)

Rulers and Authorities?

Next, we must determine who has been disarmed. Paul says it’s the “rulers and authorities.” But who’s that exactly? Because of the context of this verse, situated at the close of a paragraph of Gospel indicatives, we infer that the “rulers” are not human kings and emperors. Paul is referring to the spiritual beings in opposition to Christ. This would include Satan, as well as his host of demons. This aligns nicely with a similar claim to Christ’s supremacy in the spiritual realm found in Ephesians 1:

“…These are in accordance with the working of His strength and might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him…far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also the one to come” (Eph. 1:19-21).

Or, consider these familiar verses from the close of Romans 8:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vv. 38-39)

A Public Spectacle?

Next, we read that Christ has made a “public spectacle” of the “rulers and authorities.” When we think of “making a spectacle” of ourselves, we probably think a little differently than the first-century audience would have. The term here strongly alludes to a custom of the Roman army. After winning a victory, the warriors would return in a parade to be celebrated by the loyal citizens of the empire. “Behind the general as he rode in splendor through the city would follow, in chains, prisoners from the successful campaign.”[2] Essentially, the defeated enemy was paraded through town to be shamed by the victors.

This may seem like a shocking metaphor. After all, making a mockery of even an enemy, doesn’t seem much like “turning the other cheek.” Is this really what Jesus did? Remember, this is figurative language. Paul is indicating that Satan, the angel of light who fell from heaven brimming with pride and bravado, has lost all his power, and is now like those shamed enemies: helpless and at the mercy of his captor. Like the citizens watching the victorious soldiers parade by, we have no need to fear this foe.

Already? Not Yet?

Finally, our verse says that all this occurred when “He [God the Father] triumphed over them through Him [God the Son.]” Has this already happened? Or is it yet to come? Given the verb tenses that Paul uses, it’s safe to say that this triumph has already taken place. It came to pass early one Sunday morning as a large stone rolled away from the tomb of the Nazarene; the guards charged with securing the tomb fell unconscious; and the crucified King of the Jews emerged, whole and glorified—the champion of death.

The Resurrection. Because Christ defeated death, Satan has no more power. Perhaps you read my explanation of “disarming” with a bit of skepticism. After all, a quick glance in any direction will yield what seems to be the fruit of Satan’s work in the world. True. Satan is still the “god of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air.” He has not lost his jurisdiction (yet). However, all who bow their knee to the true King cannot be ultimately wounded or defeated by this opponent. His greatest and most powerful weapon—death—has been seized from him. Yes, he can tempt and cause quite a ruckus, but he cannot condemn anyone found in Christ.

We must take our enemy seriously; he can still cause some damage. We’re commanded to do battle against “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). However, while we have the whole armor of God at our disposal, our enemy has lost his weapon.

Expelliarmus!


[1]Spiros Zodhiates. The Complete Word Study Dictionary, “apekdúomai”.

[2] Douglas J. Moo. The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon. The Pillar New Testament Commentary, pg. 214.

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