Colossians 1:26, ‘the mystery of the ages’

How Jesus conquered and spoiled certain principalities and powers

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This article takes a closer look at the “mystery of the ages” which is mentioned in Colossians 1:26 with its context. The relevant word in the Greek text is the noun mustêrion which means “secret”. It was a secret which God had kept hidden from “ages and generations”, but which was then made known, in New Testament times. This study considers what that secret might have been, and why and from whom it had been kept hidden. It will also be considered in what way it was that Jesus conquered and spoiled certain “principalities”, “powers”, “princes of this age”, “thrones”, “dominions”. (This refers to what is mentioned in Colossians 1:16 and 1 Corinthians 2:6–8.)

The phrase “mystery of the ages” is derived from this passage in the apostle Paul’s letter to the saints (believers) in Colosse:

Colossians 1:26 Even the mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints (AKJV)

Here is another translation of that verse and the following one:

Colossians 1:26 The secret [a] which has been kept from all times and generations, but has now [b] been made clear to his saints, [c] 27 To whom God was pleased to give knowledge of the wealth of the glory of this secret among the Gentiles, [d] which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (BBE, note signs added)

a Verses 26 and 27, “secret” – again, the Greek text has mustêrion which simply means “a secret”. Many bible-translators have left that Greek word untranslated, in the transcribed form “mystery”. Thence, “the mystery of the ages” – the secret of the ages.

b Verse 26, “now” – this refers to the first century. The apostle Paul wrote that letter to the saints in Colosse, around the middle of that century.

c Verse 26, “saints” – the people who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.

d Verse 27, “among the gentiles” – the Greek text has en tois ethnesin which means “among the nations”.

Even other passages refer to that “secret of the ages”. Here are some of them.

Romans 16:25 […] the secret, in the times of the ages having been kept silent (YLT)

Ephesians 3:3 that by revelation He made known to me the secret […] 4 […] the secret of the Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it was now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit […] 9 the secret that hath been hid from the ages in God, 10 that there might be made known now to the principalities and the authorities in the heavenly places, through the assembly, the manifold wisdom of God (YLT)

1 Corinthians 2 is an interesting passage in this connection. For, it records how the apostle Paul noted that if certain powers had known that secret, they would not have caused Jesus to be crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:6 However, we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nothing: 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, [e] even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world to our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (AKJV, note sign and highlighting added)

e Verse 7, “mystery” – even here, the Greek text has mustêrion, “secret”. (“The secret […] which none of the princes of this world knew”, verses 7–8.)

So, God had kept some of his plans for himself. It appears that the words “the princes of this world” in verses 6 and 8 refer to the wicked spirit rulers of this age. [f] They knew that Jesus was the Son of God, but they did not know those plans. So, when they caused Jesus to be killed, they did not realise what that would lead to, in regard to their own fate, as well as in regard to mankind’s fate.

f The above-quoted translation of 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 talks about “the princes of this world”, but some others have “of this age”. Romans 8:38 and Ephesians 3:10 mention “principalities” and “powers”, Ephesians 6:12 “principalities”, “powers”, “rulers of the darkness of this age”, “spiritual wickedness in high places”. Colossians 1:16, “thrones”, “dominions”, “principalities” and “powers”. 1 Peter 3:22 has “angels”, “principalities” and “powers”. Even other passages mention those powers, in various ways.

Here, it must be noted that many of the things that are connected to this matter, are not spelled out in detail in the Scriptures. They are only indicated, in a shadowy way. The apostle Paul did write about those things, but at the same time it is obvious that he knew more than what he put in writing. Also: The things that Paul did write, are not always easy to interpret. But, let us nevertheless consider this matter.

Hebrews 2:14, ‘that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil’.

The secret which God had kept hidden until New Testament times, had a bearing on mankind’s salvation. (Salvation is the same as being saved from death. The resurrection of the dead is a part of that matter. For, we humans are mortal, and when we die, that’s the end of us, unless we are given a new life.)

Jesus has a central role in the matter of salvation and resurrection, of course. He gave his life, in place of others.

The earlier quoted 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 indicates that if the wicked spirit rulers who control the planet Earth, had known God’s secret, they would not have caused Jesus to be crucified.

When Jesus on the cross gave his life in place of others, he stripped those “dominions and principalities” of the authority or jurisdiction which they had had over the Earth and its inhabitants. This is not a fully simple matter, and again, the Scriptures do not spell it out in detail. But, there are a number of bible-passages which can help us to form at least a sketchy view of that matter. Here is one of them.

Hebrews 2: […] 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.” 14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (NRSV, highlighting added)

Matthew 4:8–10 records that Satan offered the kingdoms of this world to Jesus, if he just bowed down before Satan. Jesus did not deny that Satan, at that time, had power over this world (the Earth). But, Jesus did not bow down to Satan. After all, he had given up his former status and become a mortal, for the purpose of stripping Satan of his powers. That in its turn made it possible for humans to receive lasting life, through Jesus.

A number of scriptures, considered together, indicate that in the past, this planet and its inhabitants were in one way or another under the jurisdiction of some [wicked] spirit powers. It appears that this was the reason why Jesus chose to become a mortal – so that through his Sacrifice when he gave his life in place of others, he could ransom and free mankind from the power of those wicked “dominions” and “principalities”.

Why did Jesus have to give his life?

Most people have probably not given that question much thought. Someone might say, “Jesus died to free men of the power of sin”. Someone else might say, “He paid the death penalty, for sinners who repent”. And so on. But again, most people have not considered that matter in more depth.

The question is this: Actually who demanded the death penalty on humans, so that Jesus the Son of God had to become a mortal so that he could die and give his life in the place of others? Well, at least not God the Father. For, we know that he wanted mankind to be saved. That is why he even gave his own Son into mortality, humiliation, suffering and death. We read:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (AKJV)

But why was it that God had to send his Son to become a mortal and to be mocked, tortured and killed? Could not God have simply forgiven sinners, if and when he wished to do that?

Certain scriptures indicate that he could not do that. We do not know the details, but again, it appears that some spirit rulers had come to have some legal powers – jurisdiction – over this planet and its inhabitants. Worse: Those spirit rulers had rebelled against God. And, they were not favourable towards humans.

It is clear that God was not happy with that situation. Mankind had to be saved.

We do not know the “legal” background in regard to how Jesus’ death ransomed mankind from the hands of the wicked spirit rulers. But it is obvious that the Accuser (the Diabolos, Satan), and some others with him, indeed had some jurisdiction over the Earth and its inhabitants. The earlier quoted Hebrews 2:14 talks about Jesus through (his own) death making powerless him who had the power of death – that is, Satan the Devil. Jesus ransomed mankind through his Sacrifice, and opened for humans a way to lasting life.

A note: This world is still under the sway and control of wicked powers. When Jesus on the cross gave his life in the place of others, that stripped Satan of his powers, but that was only on the “legal” level. In the future, when Jesus returns, he will put an end to Satan and other evil ones and their rule here on Earth, even on the practical level.

(The article roa012.htm studies the matter of the Reign or Kingdom of God – what, where and when it really is.)

The parable regarding the wicked vineyard workers who killed the owner’s son.

Mark 11:27–12:12 records how Jesus spoke a parable to some of the Jewish chief priests, scribes and elders.

Mark 11:27 Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. 28 And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” 29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: 30 “The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” 31 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 “But if we say, ‘From men’”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. 33 So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 12:1 Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers [g] and went into a far country. 2 “Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. 3 “And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 “Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. 5 “And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. 6 “Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 “But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 “So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. 9 “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. 10 “Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. 11 This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 12 And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away. (NKJV, note sign and highlighting added)

g Mark 12:1, “vinedressers” = grape farmers, vineyard workers.

When Jesus spoke that parable, he knew that he would killed. Was that parable only regarding the priests, scribes and elders who are mentioned in Mark 11:27? It appears that that parable refers to God who through his representatives sent warnings to the Earth (“the vineyard”), warnings to the powers (the “vineyard workers”) who were in control here. But, the messengers whom God sent, were not received in a positive way, Mark 12:3–5. Verse 6: Finally, the owner of the vineyard (God) sent his son (Jesus). Verse 7: The wicked vineyard workers recognised him as the son of the vineyard’s owner (God).

Now, who really was it that caused Jesus’ death? Was it the Jews? No; on the practical level it was the Roman government and its soldiers who killed him. Also: The common-people Jews who were caused to shriek “crucify, crucify” at the tribunal, did not really know what they were doing. They were simply induced by “religious leaders” to do what they did; see Matthew 27:17–20, Mark 15:9–14. Further, a large part of the Jewish nation was not there and was not at all involved in that. So, was it the priests and scribes and so on? Perhaps some of them, but the question is, really whose idea and wish was it that Jesus was to be killed? Obviously, that evil must have originated with the wicked spirit rulers of this world. Those rebel spirits knew that Jesus was God’s Son. And so, they arranged things so that he was killed.

Thus, it seems that it actually was those wicked spirit rulers who thought, “this is the heir, let us kill him and take his place”, Mark 12:7. They knew who Jesus was.

But again, it appears that certain things had been kept secret from them. The apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth (this is one part of God’s secret which had been “hidden from the ages”):

1 Corinthians 2:7 […] a secret, that God foreordained before the ages to our glory, 8 which no one of the rulers of this age did know, for if they had known, the Lord of the glory they would not have crucified (YLT)

Exactly what do those words mean and refer to? That is not clear, but it could be that the evil “dominions” who caused Jesus to be killed, had not realised that Jesus would be resurrected, and that his Sacrifice and resurrection would open for humans a way to lasting life.

Indeed, if those evil spirit rulers had known what they actually did when they caused Jesus to be crucified, they would not have done that but would have seen to it that he died of old age instead. [h] But, God had hid certain things from them, keeping them secret. And so, without understanding what they actually were doing, they came to arrange for the Sacrifice which was the reason why Jesus the Son of God had given up his immortality and become a mortal.

h When Jesus became a human, he gave up his immortality. (He was a son of God, but also a human, through his mother.) When he was crucified, he indeed died and would have remained dead, had not God the Father raised him up to a new life.

And again, even though we do not know the “legal” background concerning this, it is clear that Jesus’ death in place of others in some way ransomed mankind from the power of those wicked “dominions” (on the “juridical” level).

It must have been quite a blow for those wicked “principalities” when they realised that by having Jesus killed, they had helped God to provide salvation [i] for mankind. Still worse for those “principalities”: Humans could now receive salvation through Jesus, while rebels who do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, faced death. [j]

i Salvation is simply the same as being granted lasting life. Again, we humans are mortal, and when we die, that’s the end of us, unless we are given a new life. (The resurrection of the dead is a part of that matter.)

j Everlasting life is something that is only given by God, at his will. There is reason to assume that this applies even to angels. They are not immortal in the meaning that they cannot die. Nor is Satan that. The Bible indicates that both Satan as well as rebellious and unrepentant angels are headed for death.

That appears to be the secret of God, the “mystery of the ages” which had been kept hidden from those evil “dominions” and “principalities”. Jesus’ death in place of others, followed by his resurrection, opened a way to salvation (lasting life) for those who repent and turn to Jesus and his Father and submit to them. In that way, Jesus stripped Satan the Accuser and his cronies of their “powers”. Keep in mind Hebrews 2:14 which talks about how Jesus became a mortal, so that he through (his own) death could “render powerless him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (CT). (“Power of death” – obviously, this must refer to some powers or jurisdiction that Satan had had over the inhabitants of this planet.)

Can spirit beings repent?

The Bible tells us that many angels or spirit beings have sinned. It might even be that all of them have erred or sinned, in some way, just as all humans have, some less, some more. But no, we do not know exactly how it is with that matter; all we know is that at least some of them have sinned.

Now, can spirit beings who have sinned, repent and be forgiven? Let us read something the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Colosse.

Colossians 1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. […] 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (NRSV, highlighting added)

A note: One writer claimed that angels “cannot repent since their character is set”. But, where does that concept come from? The Bible does not say anything of that kind. The above-quoted Colossians 1:20 indicates something different. Indeed, it appears that even spirit beings can be forgiven, if they repent and turn to Jesus and his Father and bow the knee before them. But, those who will not repent and acknowledge Jesus as their lord and master, will have to take the consequences of that.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (KJV1769)

Now, regarding Satan – will he turn from his evil ways, and will he accept Jesus as the Lord and bow the knee before him? Certain scriptures indicate that he will not do that. If so, in that case Satan the Accuser will receive the “justice” which he (as it seems) demanded to be done to others. That is, death.

Again, the Bible indicates that even those whom we call “spirit beings”, can die. The article rda022.htm has some notes on this.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → roa012.htm

Do angels have absolute immortality, so that they cannot die? → rda022.htm

Why does God allow evil, sickness, pain, war and suffering? → rwa012.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga022.htm

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