When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2:13-15 — NIV
The verse I want to focus on is verse 14, but I kept all 3 verses for context. Actually, for the full context, read the entire book of Colossians. It’s only 4 chapters, so it shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes.
having canceled the written code, with its regulations
A reasonable person might read this and think, “How many ‘written codes’ did God give?” Certainly the Old Law comes to mind. Any others? In fact, this is a popular interpretation of this passage — based on the NIV translation — but I’d like to suggest a different interpretation. (Are we under the Old Law then? No, but that doesn’t mean that’s what Paul was writing about in this verse.)
Here’s the same 3 verses, from the New American Standard Version:
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Colossians 2:13-15 — NASV
having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees
Suddenly that doesn’t sound so much like the Old Law. In fact, I’d like to suggest it wasn’t the Old Law that “stood opposed to us”. In fact, the Law was perfect (Psalm 19:7). If it was the Law that was imperfect and that “stood opposed to us”, surely Jesus would have come to destroy the Law, but he didn’t (Matthew 5:17).
So what was “nailed to the cross” with Jesus (v. 14)? I believe context leads us to the interpretation that it was the fact that the Old Law could not save — that no one could keep it perfectly except the One Who was perfect already. You know the song — “He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay.” That was “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” — not the Law itself, but our slavery to the debt of having to keep the Law perfectly in order to achieve righteousness. This segues perfectly into that last word Jesus spoke from the cross — tetelestai (commonly translated into 3 English words, “it is finished” ). This word literally means “the debt has been paid”.
So what did Jesus nail to the cross?
He nailed to the cross our certificate of debt. It was that certificate that said under the Old Law, we must keep the Law perfectly in order to be justified, but under the law of grace, we can be counted as righteous — we can be justified — by Jesus having paid the debt on our behalf. Hallelujah!