What is the "Domain of Darkness?"
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…” (Colossians 1:13).
Usually, the “domain of darkness” conjures of images from Dante’s Inferno. It’s an invisible realm where demons carry out their nefarious deeds and torments of the saints. This view was popularized a few decades ago by Frank Peretti in his book This Present Darkness where, unseen by the human characters of the novel, angels and demons fought against each other in a bid to gain dominance in the real world.
This would certainly pick at our imaginations as we ponder there may be a host of unseen devils around us, whispering in our ears and inserting rebellious and vulgar thoughts into our minds. Many teachers and preachers cultivate this paranoia in spite of the clear teaching in this verse that declares that Christians are no longer in that realm.
Is this – an unseen realm of demons and spiritual rulers – the idea that Paul has when he speaks of our rescue from this “domain of darkness?” Let’s take a closer look and see.
First, the Greek word for “domain” is exousia and is more literally translated "the authority" of darkness. The word has connotations of unrestrained or arbitrary power, perhaps even "tyranny." We actually find the phrase “power (Gr. exousia) of darkness” in one other passage of scripture.
“Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber? While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power (Gr. exousia) of darkness are yours’” (Luke 22:52-53).
Notice here to whom Jesus is speaking and notice to whom he attributes “power of darkness.” He is not speaking to invisible beings. He is not speaking to demons. He is speaking to – and this is clearly stated – “the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him.”
This is powerfully significant! These were the leaders of the temple religion of that day. They were the authorities that ruled over the ritual ceremonies under which all in that day were enslaved. So the “domain of darkness” from which people need rescue is not some invisible, demonic dimension, but it is the tyranny of ritual religion.
As we’ve already seen in our previous studies, it is the worst kind of religion that insists that the love of God can only be known through a mechanical, ritual system – one that says the love of God can be known only after the proper sacrifices and washings, only after faithful observance of days and seasons, only after one has faithfully abstained from certain foods, and then only after repetitive practice of these rituals.
This type of religion is pure tyranny! It keeps its practitioners in a prison of guilt and condemnation, never able to believe that the Almighty God could ever love them. It breeds inmates who are either torn inside by remorse or who are puffed up by their own deluded self-righteousness. It is from this prison that God mounted a rescue operation through his son!
The word for "transferred" was often used to signify deportation of a body of men or the removal of them to form a colony. New Testament scholar J.B. Lightfoot paraphrases Colossians 1:13 like this:
"We were slaves in the land of darkness. God rescued us from this thralldom. He transplanted us and settled us as free colonists and citizens in the kingdom of his Son, in the realm of light."
In other words, the work of Christ was not to deliver us from some invisible, torturous realm of demons, but from a useless system of religion that could deliver no assurance that God loved us. We became citizens of a spiritual realm where, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we could know the boundless treasures of the love of the Father for us!
One final illustration of this from 2 Corinthians 2: In this chapter, Paul is historically contrasting the two covenants unfolded by God in Israel’s history. The first – the Old Covenant delivered by Moses on Mt. Sinai – is called written “on tablets of stone,” it is a letter that kills, it is a “ministry of death,” and a “ministry of condemnation.” Paul acknowledges that this religion has a “glory” to it, though that glory is fading.
With this he contrasts the New Covenant in Christ – it is written “with the Spirit of God” on the “tablets of the human heart,” it is from the Spirit that gives life, it is a “ministry of righteousness” that has a glory far surpassing the glory of the Old Covenant. Under this Old Covenant, there is a veil that lies over the eyes of those under it. Paul concludes the chapter like this:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 2: 18).
Many teachers have interpreted the idea here, “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,” as meaning that we are growing up daily in our Christian walk. We are going from one level of glory to a better level of glory day after day. However, this perspective ignores the context and misses the real power of what Paul is saying.
In the context, the contrast is between two glories: the glory of the fading Old Covenant and the surpassing glory of the New Covenant. Paul is expressing that the real transformation that God is doing is not some daily self-improvement, but a leaving of the fading, Old Covenant glory (ministry of death, condemnation, etc.) to the New Covenant glory (the Spirit of life, the ministry of righteousness).
It’s the same message as in Colossians, being “…rescued … from the domain of darkness, and transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son,” being delivered from the ministry of death and condemnation, a life of ritual, legalistic religion to Christ, who is the ministry of righteousness and life, in whom we can know all the bounty of the Father’s love by faith.
Grand Junction, Colorado
What Is the Will of God?
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…” Colossians 1:9
Every discussion on the will of God gets pretty lively. We all want to know what the next step in life might be. We’re creatures who want to know that the next decision we make will result in success and happiness. Naturally, this explains the popularity of things like horoscopes and palm readers. We crave success and want someone to tell us the next thing to do in order to achieve that.
I wonder if our concept of the will of God has not degenerated into lowering the Heavenly Father down to the level of the common fortune-tellers. I want us to look again at Colossians and see if we’re in need of re-thinking this idea of “the will of God.”
In order to first understand what Paul means in this context, there are a couple of things we need to understand.
1. God is not secretive about his will for his people. I think the concept we have of God is that he will only tell the most dedicated and pious of his people. Only those given a special unction will really know what God’s will is. Or, we think he’ll only tell us what he’s thinking if we spend sufficient time waiting, praying, fasting, crying out, groveling, etc. We need to understand that the Father is very willing to let his people know his will and what they are to do for his glory and their benefit.
2. In the days when the apostles were preaching, there was no lack of people who would confidently preach what the will of God was. In that first century, the religious leadership had the will of God revealed to them (through the Law and the Prophets) and boldly passed that on to the people. God’s will was that they obey the prescribed mandates of the Torah: keeping Sabbath, observe the dietary restrictions, be circumcised, attend the temple functions (three times a year for the men), bring the acceptable sacrifices, tithe, and on and on. Whatever we may say about these things, they were the revealed will of God for the people of Israel.
It is this second point that we need to grasp if we are to understand what Paul is saying. Paul was bringing a message of grace to the world. It was a message proclaiming that it was the will of God that acceptance into his favor came about through faith in his Son, not by the practice of ritual religion.
That was a powerful contradiction to the accepted teaching of the day. God’s will was not considered outside of the ritual, institutional religion represented by the temple system. The religious culture could not conceive of God’s will being described in such a way that excluded religious ritual and did not require righteousness by works of law. The temple was the big box that contained God’s will and no one could see outside of that and no one was willing to ponder the will of God outside of that box.
With his advent, understanding of the will of God was about to take some very radical turns. In saying this, I’m not suggesting that the will of God was “wrong” under the Old Covenant and Jesus came to set that straight. It was always God’s will from the beginning that sinners be justified by the grace found in the Messiah. The fullness of this message took forty years to unfold, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptizer and coming to completion at the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70.
Until that full revelation of God’s will was unveiled in the destruction of the temple, Paul prayed for the believers in Colossae to have understanding of the will of God. They needed to stand firm that the will of God was not as touted by the established, religious leadership of the day. It was not the will of God that acceptance into his loving presence was gained by the temple ritual – Sabbaths, circumcision, sacrifices, tithes, etc. The Old Covenant leadership hammered this at every opportunity (sometimes using real hammers!).
Paul prayed that, in spite of the relentless pressure from the institutional religion of the day, the believers would understand that when they walked in grace, when they embraced the righteousness of Christ as their own, when they believed that they were loved by the Father without any practice whatsoever of legalistic religion, then they were walking squarely in the center of the will of God!
So, today, does God give revelation to Christians about their personal futures? Does he direct them to the college they should attend, the job they should take, or the person they should marry? Does he give signs, words, visions, revelations and assurances about these things? He can if he wants to. Personally, I don’t think it’s the norm. Sometimes, God shows a distinct disinterest in micromanaging our lives.
Sometimes, we take those steps – perhaps with full assurance that God has directed us this way – and the results turn out from being disappointing to downright disastrous. Does this mean we are outside of the will of God? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to tell unless God gives us a clear revelation regarding his will.
This is the point with the will of God. If we’re not sure about something being God’s will because he hasn’t clearly revealed it, then where do we look for unmistakable clarity? Paul is praying that the Colossians will have understanding of will of God in what he has revealed in Jesus Christ.
In essence, Paul is praying, “I want you to know that, even in the midst of the hard times you and your fellow believers around the world are experiencing, the will of God is very clear. His will is that you not be crushed with guilt and condemnation from those who say you’ve abandoned God by leaving the temple worship. It is his will that you rest with assurance that Jesus is faithful as your great high priest and has not abandoned you. It is his will that you rejoice with joy unspeakable and that you abide in the abundant love of the Father through his son Jesus. If you go through suffering (and many of you will), know that there is no suffering so severe that you will be separated from his love in Christ Jesus. It is his will that you embrace this with all your heart.”
Grand Junction, Colorado
When I was young, I wanted nothing more than to be theologically trained and enter the ministry. Then, I'd hoped I would be run out of the church I pastored and wind up in a low-paying retail job. People, I am living the dream! Besides that, I'm part of a small, home fellowship in Grand Junction, Colorado, married to a wonderful woman and we raised three wonderful daughters. One is married to a great guy, one is in nursing school, and our youngest passed away in 2010. Yes, life is good!