In Colossians 1:13, the apostle Paul describes salvation as God’s work of rescuing believers “from the kingdom of darkness” and transferring them “into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (NLT). This imagery of rescue and deliverance as moving people out of darkness into light appears throughout the book of Isaiah, and Paul may have borrowed from it (see Isaiah 9:1–2; 42:6–7; 58:10; 60:1–3).
The “kingdom of darkness” in Colossians 1:13 is alternatively rendered “domain of darkness” (ESV) and “dominion of darkness” (NIV). Bible scholars interpret Paul’s meaning in a couple of ways. For some, the kingdom of darkness represents a spiritual realm, or domain, where Satan heads a hostile resistance force against the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ. In this dark sphere, Satan holds the position of power, authority and rule over human hearts and other spiritual beings. Such an invisible kingdom is depicted by Paul in Ephesians 6:12: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (NLT).
Others view the kingdom of darkness more as a darkened, unregenerated condition in which Satan dominates the hearts and minds of sinful humanity. Before salvation, people’s minds are “full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him” (Ephesians 4:18, NLT; see also Romans 1:21). Unbelievers live under the rule of darkness in contrast to Christians “who live in the light” (Colossians 1:12, NLT; see also Romans 13:12–13; 1 John 2:10). Paul explained, “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!” (Ephesians 5:8, NLT).
At Paul’s conversion, Jesus said that He was sending Paul out as a servant to open people’s eyes “so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me” (Acts 26:18, NLT).
The kingdom of darkness is a realm controlled by sin and rebellion toward God (1 John 1:6; 2:11; John 3:19). But the kingdom of Christ is the new home of believers. God relocates us from our country of origin to become “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20, NLT) and “members of God’s family” (Ephesians 2:19, NLT). We are rescued from the dangerous and deadly dominion of darkness and transferred into the glorious light and fellowship of God’s kingdom, where Jesus Christ rules and reigns (1 John 1:7).
The kingdom of darkness is a domain dominated by death. The author of Hebrews explains that Satan has “the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14). “But God is so rich in mercy,” writes Paul, “and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:4–5, NLT). God rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and the power of death through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our Savior’s death takes away sin’s curse of death that was on us (Galatians 3:13).
Jesus is “the light of the world,” and those who follow Him “will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christ gives His “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79, NLT). If we receive God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, we pass “from death to life” (John 5:24; see also 1 John 3:14; Romans 6:3–4, 13; Ephesians 2:6). In His mercy, love, and grace, God the Father through Jesus, His Son, gathers us out of bondage to sin and death in the kingdom of darkness and moves us into the eternal light and freedom of Christ’s kingdom.