This is the first of a series of messages titled Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Lord willing, we will be on this theme until September 23. The series arises out of four impulses.
First, on a porch in Asheville, North Carolina, I was reading during the last half of July the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles. As in every year when I get to this portion of Scripture, I am hit between the eyes by the repeated stories of fateful human sins under the sovereign control of God. For example,
- Rehoboam rejected the wisdom of the old men and said to the people: “My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” Then the inspired writer says, “The king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by God that the Lord might fulfill his word” (2 Chronicles 10:15).
- Then king Ahab is enticed by false prophets to fight against the Syrians, and Micaiah, the true prophet of the Lord, says, “Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets. The Lord has declared disaster concerning you” (2 Chronicles 18:22).
- Then Joash, King of Israel, gave wise counsel to Amaziah, king of Judah, not to go out to battle against his own people. But Amaziah refused to listen, and the inspired writer says, “But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom” (2 Chronicles 25:20).
Why does God think this is good for us to know this? Why does God tell us repeatedly in the Bible that, in some unfathomable way, he governs the sinful acts of men without himself ever sinning or doing anything evil or unholy? That’s the first impulse that gave rise to this series. God wants us to know this and there are reasons.
The second impulse behind this series is that whatever month of the year you choose, heart-rending calamities fill the news from coast to coast and around the world. In Newark, New Jersey, the murder rate is up fifty percent since 1998, and a week ago an execution-style murder killed four teenagers. In Utah, six miners have been trapped 1,800 feet underground since Monday with no signs of life. And in the heartland of Minnesota, day by day the full extent of the collapse of the 35W bridge grows. And while we groan over our losses here, on the other side of the world, scarcely in the news, twenty million people have been displaced in the last two weeks in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal from the worst flooding in years. Does any of this have anything to do with the risen Jesus Christ who said, “All authority in heaven and earth belongs to me” (Matthew 28:18)? That is the second impulse that gave rise to this series.
Third, the Bible itself tells us that in the last days things will be difficult and severe. In 2 Timothy 3:1–5, Paul says,
Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.
As a pastor, I do not think it is my job to entertain you during such days or help you have superficially cheerful feelings. My job is to put the kind of ballast in the belly of your boat so that when these kinds of waves crash against your life, you will not capsize, but make it to the harbor of heaven full of faith and joy.
“Put ballast in the belly of your boat so that when waves crash against your life, you will not capsize.”
The fourth impulse behind this series comes from our text this morning, namely, the glory of Jesus Christ. In the last two weeks, I spent a lot of my time writing an eight-year plan to share with the Lead Team next Wednesday. When I go back and listen to my candidating sermon of January 27, 1980, nothing has changed on this point. I exist and we exist as a church to magnify Jesus Christ. The text was Philippians 1:20:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
This is the fourth impulse: How is Christ magnified in world like ours? In Newark and Utah and Bangladesh and Minneapolis? Or a world like 2 Chronicles? How is Christ magnified in the fall of Satan from his position of perfection? In the sin of Adam and the fall of the entire human race? In the tower of Babel and the fracturing of the human race into languages? In the sale of Joseph into slavery into Egypt? In the treason against God as Israel demands a human king like the nations? In the betrayal of Judas?
God has not answered all of our questions about the sin and misery that is in the world. “The hidden things belong to God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). There are mysteries we will not fathom while “we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Here we know in part; in the age to come we will know even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
But God has not been silent about these things. There are things he wants us to know. The honor of his Son is at stake in the spectacular sins of history and their global purpose in the glory of Christ. To see that most clearly, let’s turn to Colossians 1:14–20.
Paul has just prayed for the Colossians that they would “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9–10). In verse 14, he begins a litany of amazing truths about Jesus Christ that are probably the most concentrated description of the glories of Jesus in the New Testament. Let’s list them — all fifteen of them — and then come back to the one I want to focus on.
“Memorize this litany of glories and ask God to give you affections that correspond to the measure of this greatness.”
- Verse 14: In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
- Verse 15: He is the image of the invisible God.
- Verse 15: He is the firstborn of all creation — that is, the specially honored, first and only Son over all creation.
- Verse 16: By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. (We will come back to verse 16.)
- Verse 16: All things were created through him.
- Verse 16: All things were created for him.
- Verse 17: He is before all things.
- Verse 17: In him all things hold together.
- Verse 18: He is the head of the body, the church.
- Verse 18: He is the beginning.
- Verse 18: He is the firstborn from the dead.
- Verse 18: In everything he is preeminent.
- Verse 19: In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
- Verse 20: He reconciles all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven.
- Verse 20: He makes peace by the blood of his cross.
This is worth memorizing. If your heart ever wavers and grows cold, go here; memorize this litany of glories and ask God to give you affections that correspond to the measure of this greatness. If any person or any power or any wisdom or any love awakens any admiration or any amazement or any joy, let it be the greatest Person and the greatest power and the greatest wisdom and the greatest love that exists — Jesus Christ.
But for our purposes, go back with me to verse 16. Notice the three prepositions:
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.
So Paul teaches us that Jesus Christ created all that is. They were created through him. He was with and in God — and was God (John 1:1–3) — as God created all things through him.
And all things were created for him. All that came into being exists for Christ — that is, it exists to display the greatness of Christ. Nothing — nothing! — in the universe exists for its own sake. Everything from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains, from the smallest particle to the biggest star, from the most boring school subject to the most fascinating science, from the ugliest cockroach to the most beautiful human, from the greatest saint to the most wicked genocidal dictator — everything that exists, exists to make the greatness of Christ more fully known — including you, and the person you have the hardest time liking.
But of all the things — the millions of things Paul could have mentioned that Christ made and that exist for his glory — he chose to mention these: “thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities.” Verse 16: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — [even these] were created through him and for him.”
Now Paul knows that these “rulers and authorities” include evil supernatural powers. Look at Colossians 2:15 where Paul celebrates Jesus’ triumph on the cross:
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities.
They are, Paul says, “the cosmic powers over this present darkness . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
They are evil supernatural powers that aim to deceive and destroy the human race. They have been decisively defeated at the cross where Jesus disarmed them and made his people completely secure through faith in Christ. But they still do much harm in the world because not everyone believes, and even believers can be hurt by them, but not destroyed.
So where do they come from and why do they exist? Colossians 1:16 gives a decisive part of the answer. Not the whole answer but the part we need to know. “By him — by Christ, the Son of God — “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities . . . .” That’s where they came from. They were created by Christ. And why do they exist? Verse 16: All things were created through him and for him. They exist for Christ. They exist to make his glories known.
“All things exist for Christ. They exist to make his glories known.”
It doesn’t say he created them evil. In fact, the little book of Jude speaks of “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling” (Jude 1:6). They were created good, and they rebelled against God. Paul knows this. He knows what they once were and what they have become. And we will see in the weeks to come that Paul knows something else. He knows that Christ knew they would fall before they fell. Christ knew that there would be sin and rebellion and evil. And with infinite wisdom, he took it all into account as he planned the history of salvation and the triumphs of grace at Calvary.
Therefore, when Paul says, “the rulers and authorities” were created by Christ and for Christ, he means that God created them knowing what they would become and how, in that very evil role, they would glorify Christ. Knowing everything they would become, God created them for the glory of Christ.
Now, why would Paul tell us this? Is it helpful to know this? Paul certainly thinks so, because these evil powers are the one thing Paul chooses to mention as an example of what was created by Christ and for Christ. Of all the thousands of things he could mention, he mentioned this. He wants us to know this. Why? Why does he think this is good for us to know?
That’s what this series of messages is about. The main point of this series is not information for your heads, but application to your lives. I was just reading in my devotions in 2 Timothy yesterday and saw this again, this intensely practical point of profound doctrinal truth: Timothy is afraid, and Paul wants to help him overcome his fear and be courageous. So Paul says,
Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God (2 Timothy 1:8).
And then to help Timothy, he takes him back before time — “before the ages began” — and tells him that already, before creation, before the sin of Adam, and the need for redemption, there was free grace and a divine sovereign purpose to save sinners. All of this profoundest of doctrine was brought up to help Timothy be less timid! Great biblical truths about Christ and creation and evil are the fuel in the fire of the God-centered human soul.
But let me close with five summary statements for why God wants us to know the truth of Christ’s sovereignty over “the rulers and authorities.”
- It is objectively true, not merely opinion or idea — like the seat you are sitting on. And people perish for lack of truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
- These truths make clear that Christ is the only being worthy of worship. There were people in Colossians saying that “the worship of angels” (Colossians 2:18) was part of the way up to God. No, Paul says, these angels that some think are so great were created by Christ and for Christ. Don’t worship them. Worship the one who made them.
- Paul was concerned that in the pluralistic, intellectual atmosphere of Colossae, Christians could be captivated by high-sounding heresies. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). With these great truths about Christ, Paul is protecting us from philosophies and traditions that do not cherish the supremacy of Christ. When you embrace truths like this, you are not easily swept away by man-centered trends or traditions.
- Paul wants to make crystal clear that when Christians, who feel so small and vulnerable, hear about hostile “thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities,” they know beyond any doubt that Jesus Christ has all authority over them, and they cannot do anything apart from his sovereign permission (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31).
- And therefore, finally, Paul tells us these things because he wants us to see and feel that our salvation in Christ is invincible. When Christ died for sin and rose again, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15). Have you put your trust in him? If so, here is what he says about you in Colossians 3:3–4: “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
You are secure forever in Christ.
All things were created by him and through him and for him. Even your worst supernatural enemies. In the end, it was they — not Christ — who were shamed at the cross (Colossians 2:15). In the end, everything and everyone serves to magnify the glory of our Savior and increase the gladness of his people in him.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.