"When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him." (Colossians 2:15)This verse has always been a bit difficult for me to understand and to parse. Partly because I am not fluent in Greek and partly because I am not fluent in the history of the times. Paul speaks of Jesus disarming the rulers and authorities, those same rulers and authorities he previously said that Jesus had become the head and ruler over (Colossians 2:10). However, it is unclear if Jesus disarmed himself of those who claimed power and authority over Him or if He disarmed those of their power and authority. The Bible in Basic English translates this verse assuming the former. "Having made himself free from the rule of authorities and powers, he put them openly to shame, glorying over them in it." (Colossians 2:15 BBE) Either way, it is clear that Jesus was both victorious over them (no longer under their rule and authority) and that they were defeated by Him (no longer retaining their power and authority over Him). Jesus has both defeated and dethroned them.
It is also unclear exactly what Paul was saying was the source of the power that overthrew the rulers and authorizes in defeat. Some translators interpret Paul as saying Jesus and other as saying "it" meaning the Cross. The New International Version of the Bible takes the later interpretation. "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15 NIV) However, either way, the cross was just a piece of wood, devoid of any real power and ability. It was the obedience of Jesus to suffer death upon the cross for us and to overcome death by raising from the dead that was the true power behind His victory over all rule and authority and even sin itself. Which ever reading Paul meant, it amounts to the same thing, Jesus death on the cross brought about great victory and defeated His and our enemies in the spiritual realm.
The idea of a public show of one's captives in victory is foreign to us. Yes, we see news footage of wars being fought and won (and lost) but we are not accustom to seeing victory parades that include the procession of those who were conquered. It would be as if, at the end of World War II, we brought all our German captives back to the USA and paraded them in front of our victorious troupes. This was, however, common in the Roman empire of Jesus' day. The Greek word Paul uses for "disarmed" can also be translated as to "strip naked" which was how Roman captives defeated in war were paraded before their troupes for all of Rome to see and disdain. The Message Bible captures this image as it translates this verse. "He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets." (Colossians 2:15 Message)
The Roman Victory march, known as a Triumph, was the highest honor that could be shown a conquering Roman general. In fact, many generals, before going to war, would first make sure that their victory would be honored with a Triumph before agreeing to go forth in war. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes a Triumph procession in the following way. "The magistrates and members of the Senate came first in the processions followed by musicians, the sacrificial animals, the spoils of war, and the captured prisoners in chains. Riding in a chariot festooned with laurel, the victorious general (triumphator) wore the royal purple and gold tunic and toga, holding a laurel branch in his right hand and an ivory sceptre in his left. A slave held a golden crown over the general’s head while repeatedly reminding him in the midst of his glory that he was a mortal man. The general’s soldiers marched last, singing whatever they liked, which included ribaldry and scandal against their commander, probably as a way to avert the evil eye from him. On reaching the Capitoline temple the general presented his laurel, along with thank-offerings, to the image of Jupiter. The prisoners were usually slain, and the ceremony concluded with a feast for the magistrates and Senate." (Encyclopedia Britannica)
This is a picture of the victory that Jesus won over all rulers and authorities as He triumphed over them by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. It was quite a show! It also reminds us of the victory He has conferred upon us. Not a secret victory, but a bold, boastful, and public victory. Why then should we still live like we are defeated? Let us never forget our deliver's Triumph; let us always live in the reality of what He did and the victory that is now ours.