Study #8 Colossians 1:18-20
by Bob Burridge ©2021
I’ve purchased some battery run things that have that little plastic tab you need to remove for it to work. It’s there to keep one end of the battery from being in contact with the electrical circuit inside. When you pull that tab out the battery comes in contact, and the toy, lamp, or clock starts to work. It’s there so the battery doesn’t wear down before you buy it. It’s a helpful barrier. There are all sorts of barriers that keep things apart.
Sometimes there are barriers between people. Though we’re not supposed to hold grudges we weak humans sometimes find it hard to forgive others. Barriers like that can be painful, and if not dealt with they weigh on us heavily. They keep us from being the kind of family, friend, or community we ought to be. When the Lord softens our stubborn hearts by his grace, we’re reconciled with one another again. There are often tears of joy and great relief when the grudge-barrier is taken away.
The Bible tells us that God is perfectly and infinitely holy, but there’s a barrier between us and him.
We are a fallen and corrupted race, having sinned in Adam. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” The physical death we face is when our body dies and our soul is separated from it. The spiritual death we face as fallen sinners is our separation from God. Sin and its guilt act as a barrier between us and our Creator.
For broken relationships to be restored, the barriers that separate need to be removed. The barrier of sin that so offends our Creator can’t be taken away by anything we are able to do on our own. We’re finite beings with corrupted natures. How can our holy God ever again have a relationship with any of us in this fallen race?
That reconciliation is what this next section of Colossians deals with. Paul started this letter with an opening prayer thanking God for transforming us. When our Savior died in our place, he liberated true believers from the shadows of the domain of darkness, and moved them into the kingdom of light. That change is evidenced by faith in Christ, and a sincere love toward God and one another.
The Colossians sincerely hoped in God’s covenant promises and their fulfillment at the cross. So Paul prayed that they would be filled with knowledge of God and of his will, that they would be bearing fruit in every good work, that they would be strengthened in steadfastness and patience, and thank God joyfully. By redeeming and forgiving us, our Savior qualifies us to share in the promised inheritance of his children.
Paul then gives us some details
about our Savior.
To get the context it’s helpful to review Colossians 1:15-18.
15. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.
17. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
In verse 15 the expression “first-born” has a special legal meaning. It doesn’t mean he was the first one born into existence, as if he had a beginning in time. The original Greek word here is “proto-tokos” (πρωτότοκος) had a legal use. The first-born son was considered to be the legal heir of all that was the father’s. He controls the estate. He’s the one who becomes the legal head of the extended family.
Verse 16 reminds us that Jesus is the Creator, not the first thing created. “For by him all things were created …” John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
As the Creator and “first-born” of all creation, Jesus administers the blessings to his people. He is the head of all things and oversees the whole estate of what God made.
Verses 16-18 reminds us that we and everything in the entire universe owe our existence to him. This makes him the head of all things, all authorities on earth and specially of his church, those he redeemed. In this sense he is before all things. As Creator he started it all, and it’s all made “for him”.
Verse 18 adds that Jesus is the “first-born from the dead“. His resurrection proved his victory over sin, since death is its penalty. He’s the one who administers the resurrection promises to us when we die and God’s blessings while we live.
Verse 18 ends with the statement “…that in everything he might be preeminent.” Because of his authority as Creator and Firstborn, he rightly has first place in everything. The word in the original Greek text is “pro-teu-ōn” (πρωτεύων). The ESV has “preeminent”, “preeminence” in the KJV. The NASB has “first place”; the NIV says “supremacy”. These English words are all good ways to translate it. The word means rulership and headship over all.
An interesting Greek fragment from that time uses the word this way, “… never does a house fail to come to grief, where a woman takes the preeminence in all things.” It illustrates the way the word was commonly used at that time. Very often this was the word used to describe the authority of political leaders and governors.
This means that the headship of Jesus makes him the rightful Lord over all of life. His teachings and honor must be recognized and preserved in our homes, communities, work, and worship. In all things he must have the preeminence.
The whole Divine Nature is completely
ever-present in Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:19, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,”
This was the Father’s good pleasure: that all the fullness of the Godhead would dwell in him. Jesus is eternally the second person of the Trinity. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 6 summarizes what we know from the Bible about the Trinity: “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”
As a person of the Trinity, Jesus embodies all fullness, the whole, of the divine excellence. As shown already in this chapter: He the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He is eternal and above everything else that exists outside of God himself.
Nothing of what God is, is lacking in Jesus Christ. Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” By describing that fullness, Paul laid the foundation for what he was going to say next about Jesus.
Paul then turned to the purpose that
drove Jesus Christ to carry out his saving work:
Colossians 1:20, “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
He came to reconcile fallen humans with the Creator. The shed blood of our Savior is the means by which we can be reconciled with God. That’s the only thing that could remove the barrier of our offenses.
Sin and its guilt are what divide us from glory. Death is the penalty for sin. This death includes our spiritual alienation from God for all eternity. The term “shedding of blood” represents death, the penalty our sin deserves. Hebrews 9:22 says that … “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
To reconcile us, Jesus came to represent his people when he died on the cross. As Creator and Sustainer, in whom all the fullness of the godhead dwells, Jesus suffered and experienced death in our place, satisfying the demands of justice.
Reconciliation is when an offense that divides two parties is removed. The two are brought back together. Alienation is exchanged for union.
This is the promise we have in Christ. Ephesians 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Of course sin itself isn’t destroyed. It remains a barrier between God and fallen creatures. Some will be forever separated from fellowship with their Creator. Those not redeemed by Christ, along with the fallen angels, are never reconciled. However, undeserving fallen people who are redeemed by the work of God’s grace alone will be infused with a true faith in the work of the Savior. These can say with King David, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6). When someone truly trusts in Jesus Christ as his Savior from sin, the impenetrable barrier, the offense that divides us from God, is removed in full. That person can never again be insulated from God’s saving love by the barrier of unforgiven sin.
But what does verse 20 mean that all things, on earth or in heaven, are reconciled by Christ? We know that those who remain outside of Christ are never reconciled with God. Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
No angels or other spirit beings are ever said to be reconciled with God. The holy angels were never separated from God, and don’t need reconciliation. The fallen angles are separated forever, and there’s no promise that they will be restored to fellowship with God. The whole context of Colossians makes it clear that not every created being in heaven and earth is redeemed by Christ and reconciled with God.
So, what does the Apostle mean that all things on earth or in heaven are reconciled to him? We do know that the redeemed humans on earth and those already in heaven are reconciled. But the “all things” seems to include more here than just the saints on earth and in heaven. There is a more pervasive separation caused by sin than just humans from God.
When Adam sinned, God’s curse pronounced a hostility between man and nature. Thorns and thistles become a frustration in our labor. We struggle to get our daily provisions from the resources God gave us. Being alienated from God, divides us from the full enjoyment of his entire creation. But, when Jesus restores us to fellowship with the Creator, we have comfort in our struggles against the weeds and torments of this world. One day there will be a New Heavens and a New Earth. Our reconciliation with things of this created universe will be completed.
At the fall that barrier also hindered our relationship with God’s angels. Angels guarded Eden to keep fallen man out. They had a sad awareness of man’s alienated condition. But as each child of God is redeemed and believes, the angels are said to rejoice.
So our being reconciled with God also reconciles every aspect of creation together in Christ. There is a restored harmony and unity that reflects its Lord’s glory. In this sense, the work of Jesus Christ reconciles all things in heaven and earth to himself. He restores its glory little by little until, in the last day of judgment, the New Order is finalized.
There should be great hope to all
who are reconciled with God
through Jesus Christ:
Nothing can ever again separate them from a restored fellowship with their Heavenly Father. There is no “insulator tab” left between them and the source of spiritual life. Jesus has removed the barrier of sin and its offense by meeting all its demands. No enemy or spiritual power in all the universe can ever put an obstacle there again.
But Satan is a master of illusion. Our still imperfect souls are often his gullible audience. That old deceiver projects all sorts of false barriers to shake our confidence in God’s grace. Some still live as if a barrier was still there, as if they’re still separated from God.
We might mistake that disrupted awareness of our reconciliation, with the fact that we are reconciled by grace. We can be mislead into worrying that we are so bad that God won’t forgive us. If we do that, we reason as if reconciliation was earned, instead of a gift of grace.
God’s word says in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
So, how can we grow in our confidence that the barrier is gone? We need to confidently make use of God’s four appointed means of grace:
1. We must make faithful and diligent use of God’s word. Read the Bible every day to refresh our hearts with its promises about the work of Christ. Think on the fact of the completed work of redemption to which nothing must be added. Put the teachings of the word into practice in our lives by the power of the Redeemer in us.
2. We must exercise ourselves in regular prayer throughout every day. We need to pray confidently in Christ’s work, and in the promise that God strengthens us. We need to remember that as we speak to him we are heard by him.
3. We must be actively encouraging one another in the family of believers. We should help our brothers and sisters in the Lord to avoid the false barriers and deceptions of Satan. We need to pray for and support one another as a reconciled family in godly friendship.
4. We must be faithful to worship God in the ways that he says please him. That worship isn’t only in our Sabbath gatherings as a church of reconciled believers. It’s not only in partaking of the Lord’s Supper as those made neigh by the blood of Christ. We should worship always as we praise the Creator for the wonders of creation, providence, and grace. We ought to honor him daily, moment by moment, privately and in our homes as families.
To the degree that we fail in any of these duties, the deceptions of our spiritual enemy seem real. When we omit these regular means and responsibilities, false barriers seem to loom between us and God’s promises. But when we engage in these means, we draw near to Jesus Christ our Reconciler, the fog clears away, and we see that there is no real remaining barrier.
The spiritual diseases that attack homes, churches, friendships and civilizations are caused by failure to grasp the wonder of reconciliation by grace. The cure is in the means God appoints for maintenance of the soul.
So to heal a home, a church, friendships, or a declining civilization the redeemed individuals in them must be improving their personal relationship with Christ. Jesus paid the debt in full, and removed the barrier for every one of his children. The astounding result is reconciliation with God and with all things as he made them to be. As we grow in confidence in that promise, we grow in peace and hope.
For all eternity, nothing will ever again separate us from the love of God As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:34-39,
34. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36. As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39. nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this life there still remains the troubling effects of our sins against God. Our unrepented sins will disrupt our awareness of our fellowship with God. By knowing and trusting God’s promises, and by following his loving instructions for daily living, we can overcome the deceptions and rejoice in what can’t be taken away.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.