Together with Ephesians, the epistle to the Colossians is one of those places in Scripture where you have a much higher density of truth. The letter is not more true than other passages of Scripture, but there is certainly more truth per square inch. This letter will repay many visits.
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Colossians 1:1–20)
Summary of the Text:
The letter is from Paul the apostle and Timothy both, but since the pronoun I is used throughout, we may assume that Timothy’s role was as the secretary (v. 1). The saints and faithful brethren there in Colossae are greeted with grace and peace from the Father and Son (v. 2). Paul had been constantly grateful for the Colossians (v. 3), ever since he heard of their faith in God and love for the saints (v. 4). That faith and love sprang from their hope laid up in heaven, which they had heard about through the gospel (v. 5). That gospel, among the Colossians and everywhere, is fruitful from the beginning (v. 6). They learned all this from Epaphras, a faithful minister (v. 7), who had reported their love back to Paul (v. 8).
Since the first day Paul heard of their beginning with Christ, he constantly prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (v. 9). This is so that they might walk in a manner that was fruitful and pleasing to God (v. 10). This would happen as they were strengthened by His power in all patient joy (v. 11), giving thanks to the Father who included them in His inheritance (v. 12). God had delivered them from the power of darkness (v. 13) into His kingdom, and they had redemption through the blood of the Son, which is the forgiveness of sin (v. 14).
This Son is particularly exalted in this book. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (v. 15). This Son is the Almighty Creator of all things—they were created by Him and for Him (v. 16). He is prior to all things, and in Him all things hang together (v. 17). He is the head of the church, and the arche (the “beginning”), the firstborn from the dead, the preeminent one (v. 18). It pleased the Father that all fullness should reside in the Son (v. 19). And having made peace through the cross, it was the Father’s intention to reconcile everything in Heaven and on earth through that one magnificent sacrifice (v. 20).
Background of the Book:
For many reasons, the book of Colossians should be considered as the twin sister of Ephesians. These two books were written around the same time (c. 62 A.D.), during Paul’s Roman imprisonment—the imprisonment recorded at the end of the book of Acts. Another letter written at the same time was Philemon. All three of these letters were apparently delivered by Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7) and Onesimus (Col. 4:9).
Colossae is located about one hundred miles to the east of Ephesus, in modern Turkey. Ephesus was on the coast, and Colossae was inland. The church at Colossae had been founded about ten years earlier, but not directly by Paul. When Paul had been teaching for that three year stretch in Ephesus (c. A.D. 52-55), a Colossian native named Epaphras had heard Paul in Ephesus there, was converted, and returned to Colossae in order to plant the church (Col. 1:7).
Christ the Creator:
If something exists, then that something was created by Christ. He is the executive of God’s power, He is God’s power, which is to say, He is God. Consider verse 16 again. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:” (Col. 1:16).
But we are told this truth many times in the New Testament. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).
“Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2). If something is, then Christ made it.
We do not affirm the doctrine of creation as some sort of generic truth. The fact that the creation account is given to us in Genesis must not prevent us from seeing the doctrine as an explicit Christian doctrine. The oceans and rivers and mountains and forests were created by the Son of God.
Christ the Arche:
The word arche in verse 18 is translated as beginning, but there is much more to this than what a stopwatch measures. The word arche is used in John 1:1, but there at the beginning is the Word, who is God and with God. He does not say “in the beginning, things started.” He says “in the beginning was the Word.” And in Col. 2:15, Christ spoils the principalities (arche), which refers there to spiritual rulers. Christ is the ultimate ruler, the ultimate point of integration, the firstborn of all creation. He is the ultimate arche, the final and ultimate point of integration.
Paul says more about this explicitly in verse 15. He is the firstborn of all creation. This is echoed a moment later in the phrase firstborn from the dead. And so we see that firstborn of all creation does not mean “first born creature.” Christ is no creature, but rather the Creator, as already noted. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is God’s declaration of who He really is (Rom. 1:4; Acts 13:33). Jesus was begotten from the dead, which is what “this day I have begotten thee” refers to in the second psalm. He the Lord of the new creation, and His resurrection was the first appearance of that new creation.
Christ the Cosmic Reconciliation:
Now Paul says something very striking in verse 20. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). The death of Christ on the cross did not just result in our forgiveness and our redemption, although it includes that. We see that in verse 14—“in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” And so the estrangement between our unholy selves and a holy God is accomplished this way. This is what evangelicals have properly emphasized down through the years. But notice that Paul is talking about a much grander reconciliation accomplished through the cross. Here the reconciliation is between “all things” and “Himself.” And the allness of the “all things” includes things in Heaven as well as on earth. Everything is to be put back together.
Do not simply think of Heaven as a place that is utterly distant—although the Scriptures do speak of the highest heaven, and so that is part of the picture. We should also think of Heaven as something that is near but hidden from us. There are multiple places where we are told that the heavens “opened.” We see this at the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:10). Jesus told Nathanael that he would see it (John 1:51). Peter saw this in his vision of the sheet with the unclean animals (Acts 10:11). This what Stephan saw at his martyrdom (Acts 7:56). And so this is the revelation that John saw (Rev. 4:1).
So do not say, “who will go up into Heaven to get Christ for us?” (Rom. 10:6; Deut. 30:12-13). No, Heaven is nearby, because Christ is being preached, and whenever Christ is preached, He is necessarily nearby.
“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 10:8).