The Epistle to the Colossians - Part 5
William Banks, Hamilton, Scotland
The majesty of Christ in new creation, 1. 19-23
A great day for the universe is yet to dawn when the Lord Jesus reconciles ‘all things unto himself’, v. 20. It will effectively be a new creation! Millennial conditions will be the order of the day. The mournful groaning of the present universe will be gone, Rom. 8. 22. ‘The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose’, Isa. 35. 1; the arid mountains will be harvested, Ps. 72. 16; the ferocity of the animal kingdom will be gone, Isa. 11. 6; and children will have a childhood once more, ‘And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof’, Zech. 8. 5 – paradise will be regained!
However, it doesn’t come without a cost; ‘in the body of his flesh through death’, v. 22. The death of Christ was the necessary price paid for the corresponding result that creation will be redeemed and rejoice. But not creation only – ‘and you’, v. 21 – what a blessing! We who were ‘enemies . . . by wicked works’ are to be reconciled as well and presented ‘holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight’! The concept could only have been conceived by a loving God!
The balance and symmetry of the previous paragraph is then replicated in this section and it all focuses on Christ.
His relation to God, v. 19
It is not surprising that a reconciled universe with a reconciled people is going to elicit the pleasure of the Father. It is surely even less surprising, however, that the Father’s pleasure is focused on the Son who is going to implement the reconciliation, v. 19. His pleasure in His Son is not something new. He has already made His pleasure known at His baptism and at the transfiguration; Mark 1. 11; Matt. 17. 5. This pleasure was not made known publicly through the (mainly) silent years of the ministry of Christ in Nazareth but could not remain unarticulated on His entry to public ministry.
The fullness, pleroma, of the Christ has already been displayed in creation – it is now to be displayed further in new creation, cp. 2. 9. All the resources necessary; the totality, ‘all’ – in abundance, of the divine attributes, dwell – are ‘at home’ – in Him. The uniqueness of His person is thus unequivocally affirmed – verily God (the unfolded fullness of divine perfection at home in Him) and at the same time truly human.
His relation to new creation, v. 20
The new title
A new title is necessary to suit the new conditions. While it is not specifically stated in the text, it is surely appropriate to call our Lord Jesus in this section by the unique title of the Reconciler. The need for reconciliation implies a condition of enmity and dis-peace. The subject is treated at length in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verses 18 to 21, where it is clear that the requirement is for man to be reconciled to God; not God to man – ‘be ye reconciled to God’, v. 20. Reconciliation was initiated by God and accomplished for God in the death of Christ as will become clear, Col. 1. 22. The result is that He has laid the righteous basis for enmity to be removed and for peace to be known. 1 Four aspects of reconciliation have been suggested; individual, Col. 1. 21, 22; corporate, Eph. 2. 16; national, Rom. 11. 15; millennial and universal, Col. 1. 19, 20. 2
The important prepositions
As before, the six prepositions in verse 20 are of fundamental importance. Indeed, it should be emphasized in passing that the doctrine of New Testament prepositions is well worth detailed consideration. Three of the prepositions translated in the KJV as ‘through’, ‘by’ and ‘by’ are all dia [through] and indicate the necessary means through which reconciliation is effected.
In the first case it is ‘through the blood of His cross’. This is the bond of peace. Death is essential to reconciliation, ‘when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son’, Rom. 5. 10. In this verse, Col. 1. 20, it is by His ‘blood’. In Ephesians chapter 2 verse 16, it is by His cross that reconciliation is effected, ‘by the cross the enmity between Jew and Gentile has been slain (not annulled)’. 3
Also, twice over we read ‘through Him’ RV, i.e., it was through Himself as the necessary sacrifice involved – it was effected by Christ – no other had the necessary qualification. But it was also unto [eis] Himself as the ultimate objective – His millennial glory was in view when ‘the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’, Hab. 2. 14; Isa. 11. 9.
The comprehensive effect
The phrase ‘all things’ which was used five times in verses 16 to 18 is used again to indicate the comprehensiveness of the reconciliation to be effected ‘through the blood of His cross’. A further two prepositions are used (see RV again) to indicate the results of the reconciliation. It will affect ‘things in [epi = upon] earth’ and ‘things in [en] heaven’. Three observations are apposite. First, the order is important – earth comes before heaven in contrast to verse 16. The earth has to be reconciled to heaven not the reverse! Second, it is things upon the earth and in heaven. This is interesting. All upon the earth will benefit – animate and inanimate, Isa. 11. 6; Rom. 8. 19-23; but note the omission of ‘things under the earth’ in contrast to Philippians chapter 2 verse 10. Things ‘under the earth’ will acknowledge His lordship but never experience His reconciliation, cp. 2 Pet. 2. 4 and Jude 1. 6. Third, the omission of any reference to angelic beings is telling. Reconciliation is not necessary for ‘holy’ angels and not possible for ‘fallen’!
His relation to the Church, vv. 21-23
The appropriate title is again that of the Reconciler but not now in relation to creation, but in relation to the Church.
The condition requiring reconciliation, v. 21
The verse opens with an affirmation that it is persons and not sins that require reconciliation, ‘and you’. As indicated above, this is why the apostle says, ‘be ye reconciled to God’, 2 Cor. 5. 20. The source of the problem is clearly indicated; it is internal. The mind is noted as the seat of the enmity. The apostle desires a different focus for the believer’s mind in chapter 3 verse 2, ‘set your mind on things above’, RV. The evidence of the need was expressed generally in their alienation and becoming enemies and externally in their activity, by [en = in] wicked works – this was the sphere of their movement and the external manifestation – the result not the cause of the enmity
The activity effecting reconciliation, v. 22
The incarnation and death of the Lord Jesus was necessary to effect it. It was ‘in the body of his flesh through death’. The evident reference to the incarnation, ‘the body of his flesh’ was a further blow to the Gnostics, cp. John 1. 14. Death would not have been possible apart from His incoming, Heb. 2. 9. Creation was brought into being by a word; reconciliation required death!
The purpose in the reconciliation, vv. 22, 23
In these verses the purpose of the reconciliation is seen to be twofold: to present and to provide the platform for perseverance.
The first purpose is ‘to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight’. It is not immediately clear who is doing the presenting and for what purpose. It may be the Father, v. 19, or the Son, v. 22. Perhaps in the immediate context it is the latter. What then is the purpose? Is it as a sacrifice, or as a bride, or for the purpose of assessment at the Bema – perhaps as a bride? 4 Whatever the purpose, the desire is that we may be ‘holy’ [internal, cp. ‘your mind’], ‘unblameable’, without blemish, as was true of the offerings, and ‘unreprovable’, no charge to be brought, ‘before him’ RV.
The second purpose is that we may persevere, ‘if ye continue’, v. 23. This perseverance is not expected without an adequate and objective basis. It is founded on ‘the faith’, the objective body of truth as found in the reliable and inerrant scriptures of truth; 2. 7, Jude 1. 3; and a gospel that gives ‘hope’. 5 Continuance is always the proof of reality. ‘If the gospel teaches the final perseverance of the saints, it teaches at the same time that the saints are those who finally persevere – in Christ’. 6, 7 The nature of the continuance is seen as being ‘grounded’, on a solid foundation, and ‘settled’, steadfast, fixed to a rock (positive), and ‘not moved away’ in a gradual process from ‘the hope of the gospel’ (negative). Thus, there is a need for a habitual exercise of subjective faith. This has to be focused on Christ, who is ‘the hope of the gospel’.
The result of the reconciliation will thus give a true appreciation of the gospel as the basis of faith. That faith was based on hearing, ‘which ye have heard’ and led to conversion’s day, Rom. 10. 17. It was an honour to participate in what was ‘preached to every creature which is under heaven’ or ‘in all creation under heaven’ RV, and should still be a delight to enjoy. It had changed the apostle and made him ‘a minister’. What Christ did for him, He can do for us. It can change us as well and, based on that reconciliation, give us an authoritative base for further divine service.
1 See Rom. 5. 10; 11. 15; 2 Cor. 5. 18, 19 for the former and verse 20, ‘having made peace’ for the latter.
2 J. M. DAvies, Prison Letters The epistles to Colossians and Philemon, Precious Seed Publications, 2008.
3 A. Leckie, Ephesians in What the Bible teaches, John Ritchie Ltd, 1983.
4 Rom. 12. 1; Eph. 5. 27; Jude 1. 24; Rom. 14. 10-12; 1 Cor. 3. 10-15; 2 Cor. 5. 10.
5 Cp. ‘the hope laid up for you in heaven’, 1. 5; ‘the hope of glory’, 1. 27.
6 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Colossians, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1984.
7 See John 8. 31; 15. 4, 7; Heb. 3. 6-19.