The Legitimacy of the Earthly Powers to Crucify the Son of God
It’s common to talk about Jesus’ trial as a great miscarriage of Roman/Jewish justice, but I think that another way of viewing it is possible. That is, that, following the logic of Paul in Colossians 2: 13-15, the trial and crucifixion of Christ, as both the means of atonement for sin, and as God’s own kenotic revelation of himself as self-emptying love, is also the means by which God judges the ‘powers that be’. What I mean is that the legitimate powers of this world (be it spiritual, Roman, Jewish, British, American, etc) can never draw their legitimacy from Christ, who, as the only innocent man ever to have walked the earth, was, by their standards, legitimately condemned according to Roman/Jewish law. The trial/crucifixion account therefore includes within itself a deconstructive movement whereby all forms of earthly power is judged, be it autocratic (Roman), colonial (Roman, again), theocratic (the Elders of Israel), provincial (Elders of Israel again), the monarchical (Herod), or democratic (the Jewish mob), because all forms of possible legitimate government were complicit in the trail and execution of the Son of God. Since all forms were complicit then this means that all forms are still complicit, as having at their heart a violence against the Son of God. It is important to note that Christ wasn’t murdered illicitly, he wasn’t assassinated, and he didn’t die of natural causes; his death was the direct result of the coming together of various forms of earthly power in a brutal and open display of itself against him. This wasn’t a result of the Romans or the Jews or the mob being somehow more barbaric than we are today, as if were Christ to turn up today he would have had nicer treatment from the contemporary powers that be. The mutilated body of Christ on the cross testifies to the opposition that he must necessarily have to all principalities and powers whenever and wherever they arise. The more legitimate the exercise of earthly power is seen to be in Christ’s trial and execution, the greater the opposition is seen to be of God to those powers.
The execution of the innocent Christ, points, then, to an inherent violence behind all earthly power, and the opposition that it too must have to God. This opposition, though, must not be seen as being one of two opposite equals. There is something almost festive about the way that Paul describes the triumphal procession of the crucified Christ – as the crucified Christ – his triumph, the despoiling of the powers that be, and the procession, all being performed through what ostensibly looks to all the world like a total defeat. In this sense, Christ disarms the powers through his own self-emptying love, his own willingness to be nailed, his own nakedness on the cross, and the violence they legitimately and openly show in the exercise of their authority exposes those powers for what they really are (violent, unjust, unrighteous, self-righteous, sinful), rendering them as naked as prisoners in a triumphal procession.
My only concern against the idea presented here is that both the NIV Study Bible and the New Bible Commentary Revised draw attention to the phrase ‘[a]nd having spoiled principalities [ἀρχἀς] and powers [ἐζουσίας] he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it’, and exclusively render archas and exousias in terms of demonic principlalities and powers. This is not against the meanings given in the Greek New Testament & Dictionary definition, but it does seem to exclude the other meanings of ἀρχή, which can be earthly or spiritual powers and elemental principles; the same goes for ἐζουσία, which is anything from a supernatural power to a governmental authority. Based on the dictionary meanings I think it is legitimate to think about the triumphal procession as not just being one involving demonic, spiritual authorities, but also earthly, human authorities.