In the Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, John Owen expounded on the mysteries of God, that nothing we do has any meaning outside of that which Christ anoints with His glory.
It’s a massive concept to wrap your head around, deriving, in part, from Colossians 1:16: “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.”
The three prepositions force themselves to be noticed. All things exist “By… through and for him.”
The first two prepositions point to the glory of Christ in creation. All that we know and all that we don’t know was created by him and through him. He was with and in God—and was God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) 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 smallest particle to the biggest star, from the dullest conversation topic to the most scintillating philosophical concept, from the ugliest cockroach to the most beautiful blonde, 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.
I have the sense that when Eugene Peterson came to paraphrase Colossians 1, he did so striding about, laughing and throwing his arms about in sheer exhuberant joy. Here it is:
“We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
But notice three things that exist for his glory: “thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities.” It’s as if he’s saying, “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 Col 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.” So here are the “rulers and authorities” of Col 1:16.
They turn up again in Eph 6:12: “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.
.So where do they come from and why do they exist? Col 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? “All things were created through him and for him.” They 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 (6) speaks of “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling” They were created good, and they rebelled against God. Paul knows what they once were and what they have become. And 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.
So, 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. Why? Why does he think this is good for us to know?
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”
“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.
Right now we “do not yet see everything under his feet”. Right now we wrestle against these forces, as we see them within ourselves and within the political and social structures of our world.
But the Bible offers us the eyes of faith, a retrospective gaze that sees way back to the beginning, to the “lamb slain before the foundation of the world”, and forward, to the end, to the massed gatherings of worshippers in white singing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lamb.”
And as a part of this worship comes this mighty truth, that All Things Serve His Glory and Our Gladness. 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.
In the end, everything and everyone serves to magnify the glory of our Saviour and increase the gladness of his people in him.