God disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it (i.e. the cross).
The cross was an instrument of shame. The condemned were stripped naked and hung up for all to see. There was no place to go, nowhere to hide. You couldn’t escape the mockery and the insults. It was designed to elicit as much dishonor as possible.
What an irony that this is the way in which God chose to bring the rulers and authorities to open shame. Now, rulers and authorities are not the Roman governors or the Jewish religious leaders. Paul is almost certainly referring to the spiritual forces of evil. One translation even says that God “made a public spectacle” of them. No longer could they accuse or swindle those who would claim the cross. Their power was greatly limited.
But what’s fascinating is that, according to the work of God, we have to change our standards for what defeat and victory look like. For Christ, the way to victory was the way of submission and weakness. “Like a lamb led to the slaughter is silent, he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). His victory looked like defeat.
This means that we need to question the world’s standards of success. It also means that we need to look for God’s work in the things we do for the kingdom that look like apparent failures. Perhaps God is doing something bigger.
Father, we want to have successful lives that we can be proud of. But your kingdom doesn’t look like the world. You ask us to endure suffering and even shame, and from those you often bring about good. We don’t want to accept this because it means taking it from a general principle and applying it personally. And I don’t want to feel suffering or shame.
Have mercy on us. Show us the glory of your kingdom which triumphs over evil…even when it looks like evil has won.
And forgive us for not trusting you.