Colossians 2:1-4

Summary: The church in Colossae was threatened by a deception.  Fellow-Christians were persuasively trying to merge the church with the mystery religions.  They argued that Christ is only one of many supernatural beings, that the mysteries will allow them to receive secret knowledge that is not available from Christ, resulting in a much better Christian experience.  Paul refutes this, claiming that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells”.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 2:3  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 2:4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.

Struggle – This letter is motivated by Paul’s concern for the Colossians.  God’s actions are always motivated by love. The same is true for His true ministers.

Laodicea was nearby church; probably with similar problems.  Laodicea is also the church to which the seventh letter in Revelation was addressed (Rev. 3:14).

No one will delude you (2:4) – Verse 4 is discussed first because it provides the context for verses 2 and 3.  Colossians has been written to address a specific threat in that church.  In verse 4 Paul refers to a delusion.  Chapter 2 contains four warnings that use the phrase “no one”:

  • I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument … (2:4)
  • See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception … (2:8)
  • Therefore no one is to act as your judge … (2:16)
  • Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by (2:18)

With persuasive argument (2:4) – The implication is that there was someone or some group in that church that was able to argue persuasively and what he said sounded right, but what it was a deception (2:8) and a fraud (2:18). That was not somebody outside the church, but somebody right inside the church.

I say this so that (2:4) – This phrase is important for the interpretation of this letter. It is assumed here that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, are intended to address the specific threat in Colossae, and state the opposite of what was argued by the deception. We do not know exactly what that threat was. We only have 50% of the argument. We only have Paul’s response to the deception and must reconstruct the nature of that deception from Paul’s defense against it.  This principle will be applied to verses 2 and 3.

Academics have researched the historical situation in Colossae for centuries from sources outside the Bible to determine the nature of the Colossian deception, but they fail to agree. The proposal here is that we must limit ourselves to this letter to understand the nature of the deception.

Full assurance (2:2) – Paul wishes the Colossians to have “full assurance” (2:2). This implies that the deception took away from the Colossians their “full assurance” by telling them that they have a less than optimum Christian experience. Christians presumably were led to believe that they do not surrender their faith in Christ by submitting to the Colossian deception, but that they would receive something that would otherwise not be possible. Paul opposes this deception by assuring the Colossians that they can have “full assurance” from “a true knowledge of God’s mystery”, which is Christ (2:2).

God’s mystery (2:2) – It is proposed here that Paul’s frequent use of the word “mystery” in the letter to the Colossians (1:26, 27; 2:2; 4:3) implies that the deception in the church in Colossae was related to the mystery religions that were rising at the very time Christianity was spreading across Roman Empire and reached their peak of popularity in the first three centuries AD:

These were various secret cults. Each had an initiation rite through which cult secrets (the mysteries) were revealed to the initiates (mystai). Initiates were not allowed to reveal particulars of the initiation, the ritual practice or the cult secrets to outsiders. The mysteries also included some sort of promise for a better life after death. Through the initiation, a worshipper became united with the god and thus shared in divine power and, perhaps, immortality. The mysteries religions drew from the myths of paganism “and set forth that the gods were ultimately reducible to a single being considered under different aspects, and that the multiple names by which they were worshipped were the equivalent of that of Helios (the Sun)” (Franz Cumont, “Mystries of Mithra” p.187)

Since Paul describes the Christian faith as similar to the mystery religions, critics of the Bible conclude that Christianity did in fact evolve from the mystery religions. It is proposed here that Paul used the terminology of the mystery religion to describe the Christian faith to thereby show Christianity as superior to the mystery religions.

True knowledge (2:2) – In the current verses and also elsewhere in the letter Paul emphasizes Knowledge. “True knowledge” is “Christ Himself” (2:2). In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). Paul has not ceased to pray for the Colossians that they “may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9), and that they “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge” (3:10). The gospel is “the word of truth” (1:5), explaining “the grace of God in truth” (1:6).

This emphasis on knowledge and truth is significant because these ancient mystery religions claimed to offer true “wisdom and knowledge” that was only available to the ‘mystai’ (initiates).  Paul’s emphasis of “true knowledge” therefore lends further support to the proposal that the deception in Colossae was related to the mystery religions.

In whom are hidden all In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). “By Him all things were created” (1:16). “In Him all things hold together” (1:17). “He … will come to have first place in everything” (1:18).  “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (1:19).  “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9).  Notice how frequently the words “all” and “everything” are used in the description of Christ.  Teachers often comment that Colossians is Paul’s most elevated description of Christ.  But there is a reason for Paul’s “Christology”, as theologians call it, in this letter.  The Colossian deception taught that Christ is but one among many.  They might even have taught that Christ is the most important of the heavenly beings, but still only one among many.  Paul refutes this, claiming that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells”.  Therefore nothing exists and nothing can be found outside of Christ.

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: 2:5-8

Colossians – Table of Contents

1:1-8 – Introduction of the letter – Paul is the author – addressed to the church in Colossae – the Father is the One Who willed Paul’s apostleship

1:9-14 – The Father rescued us to share in the kingdom of His beloved Son.  The deception in Colossae claimed to have special knowledge.

1:15-19 – The deception claimed to have received special knowledge from supernatural beings apart from Christ, but all knowledge is found in Christ; the Creator of all.

1:20-22 – Before Christ some intelligent earthly and heavenly creatures waged war against God by evil deeds.  God was not angry.  He ended the war by providing evidence through Christ’s death, which even heaven needed.

1:23-28 – Paul rejoices in his suffering because it part of the stewardship he received from God.  The Lord gave Paul a new message, namely that Gentiles can also be saved.

2:1-4 – Deceivers in Colossae were merging the church with mystery religions, arguing that Christ is not the only source of supernatural knowledge.

2:5-8 – The Colossian deception was man-made pagan philosophy; not Old Testament law.  It claimed that God’s grace flow to man through various supernatural mediators.

2:9-10 – The deception claimed that Christians will only be complete if they obey supernatural rulers.  But Christians, trusting Christ, are already complete.

2:11-14 – Christians were made complete through circumcision of the heart, through baptism into Christ’s cross and by cancelling their certificate of debt, which is forgiving all their sins.

Circumcision without hands – A heart circumcised by the Spirit loves the LORD and His Law and hates sin.  Its guilt and penalty for past sins is cancelled.

Certificate of debt consisting of decrees – Given the pagan nature of the deception cheirographon is not the Law of Moses.  It is a note of indebtedness, as confirmed by most translations and by the context.  It means to be “dead in your transgressions”.

Translations of cheirographon – Essentially only the KJV implies that the Law of Moses has been cancelled.  Most translations imply that the penalties for our sins have been cancelled.

Ephesians 2:15 abolishes the Law of Moses and is similar to Colossians 2:14, but Colossians 2:14 abolishes something else to achieve a different purpose.

2:15 – Satan accused God of unfair judgment.  The cross demonstrated the true nature of both sides of the war in heaven, and vindicated God’s judgment.

2:16 Introduction – While the Sabbath is heavily debated, but it was a not controversial issue in Paul’s day.

Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths – “Festival … new moon … Sabbath” (Col. 2:16) is a technical phrase for “all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel”.

 

Specific Topics

  • Rulers and Authorities – 2:9-10
  • War in heaven – 1:20-22
  • The Cross as a public display – 1:20-22
  • Jewish elements in the Colossian deception – Refer to the section dealing with the “Pagan nature of the deception” on the page that discusses the “Certificate of debt consisting of decrees”.
  • Historical Context – Traditional interpretation & Conclusion & Comparing the three texts
  • 2:18-23 as parallel to 2:16-17 – Substance
  • Gentile community (2:16 intro)
  • Weekly versus Annual Sabbaths – 2:16 Introduction

 

Building …

Colossians 1:23-28

Summary: Paul rejoices in his suffering as prisoner in Rome because it part of “the stewardship from God bestowed on” him for our benefit (1:25). The Lord said to Ananias:

Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

The Lord gave to Paul the task to proclaim a truth that has been hidden in all past ages, namely that Gentiles can also become the people of God—descendants of Abraham—and share in the glory of the age to come.

With the background of the deception threatening the Colossians (2:8), Paul warns the predominantly Gentile Colossian Christians (1:27, 21) to remain on the firm and sure foundation of the message preached to them (1:23).

1:23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

Moved away – Some teach that God decides who should live eternally and who should go to hell, irrespective of what they are or do.  Such teachers consequently have to promote the ‘once saved, always saved’ concept, but the current verse implies that people are able to move away from God.  God does keep people.  Romans 14:4 says “and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand”, but people are able to resist God’s keeping power and move away “from the hope of the gospel” (1:23).

This verse warns the Colossians to remain faithful to the message that was preached to them.  This warning will be repeated four times in chapter 2 with growing seriousness.

Hope of the gospel – This is the “inheritance of the saints” (1:12), “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (1:5) and “the hope of glory” (1:27).  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:3-4).

1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

My sufferings – Paul wrote this letter from prison (4:3).  When Paul served, being in ministry was the greatest sacrifice that one could make.  Paul’s message also reflects the greatest sacrifice that was ever made—the cross.  For that reason God gave him strength, and Paul could claim that he labored, “striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (1:29).

Today however, being in ministry, in general, no longer requires that level of sacrifice.  But the lack of sacrifice is also reflected in our lives.  Most of our own decisions are based mainly on what would get us further, not on a consideration of the will of the Lord.  This even includes the decision to enter God’s kingdom. Even in our desire to allow God to show us our own faults, we are motivated by what would help us to victory without suffering loss.  We are still living for ourselves, not for Him.  We are walking much more in self-centeredness than in Christ-centeredness.

This is also reflected in our message.  We today have so little power to transform the minds and hearts of people because we do not live, and do not preach the immense sacrifice of the cross.  Consequently it is difficult today to see much difference between church and non-church people.  Although it is many, many times larger, the church is now but a phantom of what it was even in Paul’s time, .

The cross is the power of God, and it is the center of all we are called to live by.  The cross is the gospel and the salvation with which the church was entrusted.  We must return to the cross.

1:25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 1:26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 1:27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 1:29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

These verses may be analyzed into two concepts:

The first “the stewardship from God bestowed on” Paul (1:25), “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom” (1:28), “striving according to His power, which mightily works within” Paul (1:29).

The second is the purpose of his ministry, which is “for your benefit” (1:25), to establish “Christ in you” (1:27), “that we may present every man complete in Christ” (1:28).

Christ in you (1:27) – This indicates the close relationship between Christ and the believer.  We must be “complete in Christ” (1:28) but the mystery among the Gentiles isChrist in you” (1:27).  Notice how Christ explained that everyone is in everyone:

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you”. (John 14:16-20)

Mystery – The “mystery … has been hidden from the past ages and generations” – In Ephesians 3:1-6 Paul similarly wrote:

… by revelation there was made known to me the mystery … which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel …

What this mystery is, is clearly stated in Ephesians and less clearly so in Colossians, but it does seem clear that it is the same mystery, because Colossians also relates the mystery to the Gentiles, and indicates that the mystery is “Christ in you” (1:27), which means to be a child of God.  The mystery that is now revealed is therefore that non-Jews can also be saved.  They now “are fellow heirs” (Eph. 3:6) of the promises made to Abraham (Gal. 3:29; Rom. 4:13).  Today this principle is generally accepted, but in Paul’s day it was a novel idea and a new message that God gave Paul to preach, resulting in severe controversy in the church.  For the Jewish Christians, forming in the beginning the majority of the church, this was contrary to everything they were told as Jews.  In their view, to be saved, one must become a Jew through circumcision.

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: 2:1-4

Colossians 1:20-22

Summary:  These verses can be analysed into the following statements:

  1. Before Christ’s death there was “war” between God and His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.
  2. That war was caused by the aggression of God’s intelligent creatures against Him.
  3. God was not angry with His enemies.
  4. To bring an end to the war, God changed the minds of His enemies by providing evidence through Christ’s death.
  5. The intelligent beings in heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross
  6. God forgives completely.

1:20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 1:21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 1:22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—

Before Christ’s death there was “war” between God and His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.

Through Himthe Father reconciled “all things to Himself” and also “made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him” (1:20).  To reconcile therefore means to make peace between God and His alienated intelligent creatures.  This is also seen in verses 21 and 22, where it is stated that the Colossians previously were “hostile in mind”—which indicates a lack of peace—but now are “reconciled”.  Since God had to make “peace”, there previously was war.

The blood of Christ not only reconciles humans to the Father; even the “things in heaven” are reconciled to the Father through His blood (1:20).  This means that there also was war in heaven.  The Bible is generally silent on the war in heaven.  With the exception of a few places (Job 1:6-; Eph. 1:10; 3:10; Col. 1:20-22; etc.) the Bible only describes events on earth.  But right at the beginning of the Bible we read that Satan came to deceive our first parents.  Sin therefore did not originate on earth; the rebellion against God started elsewhere: in what we may call heaven.  Revelation 12:7 describes that war as between two groups of angels:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war

This “dragon” is a symbol for Satan (Rev. 12:9).  Satan and his angels are alienated from and hostile towards Him, to quote from Colossians 1:21.

It is this war that spilled over to earth when Satan deceived our first parents, and which is continued today:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places“ (Eph. 6:12).

That war was caused by the aggression of God’s intelligent creatures against Him.

Notice the ‘before’ and ‘after’ conditions of the Colossians:

Before they were reconciled, they were “alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (1:21).

After they were reconciled and at “peace” with God, they were “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22), i.e. the absence of evil deeds.

It is not God that is described as “hostile”, but His intelligent creatures.  God is perfectly good.  “Evil deeds” are acts of aggression against God.

God was not angry with His enemies.

Since “Him” and “His” in the current verses refer to Christ, these are things which the Father did “through Him”.  It is important to note that it is God that made peace with His enemies; His enemies did not make peace with Him.  The Father took the initiative and through Christ unilaterally acted to reconcile His enemies to Himself.  This means that it is not the Father that is angry with His enemies; it is His enemies that are angry with God.  They are trying to exclude Him from their lives in all possible ways.  A common method is to insult God by using His name in vain, and even to use His name as a swearword.

Some people conclude from the Bible that God is angry and that Christ died to pacify Him.  The current verses present His enemies as angry, and God as the One that seeks reconciliation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).

To bring an end to the war, God changed the minds of His enemies by providing evidence through Christ’s death.

The previous verses explained who Christ is.  By using the word “through” four times, the current verses (1:20-22) shift the focus to what God did through Christ, indicating that Christ was the Means of reconciliation:

The Father “through Him … reconcile all things to Himself … through the blood of His cross; through Him” (1:20).  That includes the Colossian Christians, who were “reconciled … in His fleshly body through death” (1:22).

We should not think that His literal blood has any magical power.  “Through the blood of His cross” (1:20) means “in His fleshly body through death” (1:22).  “Blood” is therefore a symbol of His death.

The question now is how Christ’s death succeeded “to reconcile all things to Himself” (1:20):

According to Colossians 2:15 the cross made a “public display” of the “rulers and authorities”.  These are supernatural beings. (See discussion of 2:10)

According to Romans 3:25-26 the cross made a “public display” of Christ to demonstrate His (the Father’s) righteousness; to show the Father as just in spite of the fact that He justifies (forgives) people.

In Revelation the victory of “Michael and his angels” over “the dragon and his angels” is expressed as that the “dragon” and “his angels” were “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8) to earth (v12).  Since Satan is represented as accusing “our brethren … before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10), his being “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8) implies that the cross of Christ made it impossible for him to further accuse “our brethren”.  The analysis of Revelation 12 concludes that this victory was won through “her child“ (Christ), when He “was caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev. 12:5).

For the following reasons it is therefore proposed that God reconciled His enemies with Himself by changing the minds of His enemies by providing evidence:

  • Christ’s death is said to be a “public display” (Col. 2:15; Rom. 3:25-26).
  • Christ’s death is said to be a demonstration of God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25-26).
  • Christ’s death is said to have made an end to Satan’s ability to accuse “our brethren” (Rev. 12:8-10). As stated by Colossians 2:15, the cross “disarmed the rulers and authorities”.

To combine these thoughts: by accusing “our brethren”, Satan was actually accusing God of injustice for forgiving (justifying) “our brethren”.  Somehow the public display and demonstration of both Christ and the “rulers and authorities” through the cross made it impossible for Satan to further accuse “our brethren” because it has been shown the justice of God.  In other words, Satan’s arguments were proven false by the public demonstration of the cross.

To take this idea further, we need to ask what Christ’s death revealed of Christ, of God and of Satan.  This will not be discussed now.

If the cross made peace, why are we still involved in the war?  In the words of Revelation, peace came to heaven when Satan was cast out of heaven, but he was given more time on earth (12:9-12).  Why?  This issue is addressed in the discussion of the seals in Revelation.

The intelligent beings in the heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.

This brings us to the perhaps surprising conclusion that the intelligent beings in the heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.  The war that is started in heaven is ended on earth.  The struggle that you and I are involved in, has cosmic implications.

God forgives completely.

Lastly, the Colossian Christians were reconciled “to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22).  As verse 23 indicates, this must still happen.  But the point here is that God will not hold the sins of His people against them.  God is the great Physician.  He wants to heal us of a deadly cancer.  Yes, our evil deeds are aggression against Him, but once we are healed from this cancer He will not hold it against us.

Atonement

Another way in which the Bible expresses the “reconcile”-concept is “make atonement”, as indicated by the following definition of “atonement”:

Atonement: reconciliation … specifically the reconciliation between God and humanity effected by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  … The New Testament rarely uses a word for atonement. The basic Greek word is katallasso, usually translated “to reconcile”.  The basic meaning is to establish friendship. (Holman Bible dictionary)

The original meaning of “atonement” is “at-one-ment”, which means to be “at-one”, which means to be reconciled.  That is what “atonement” meant when the Bible was first translated into English.  In the Bible it is God, because He loves us, that sent His Son (“the Lamb of God”-John 1:29) to bring His people back to Him (John 3:16).  But the forensic doctrine of salvation caused the meaning of “atonement” to change over the centuries.  The forensic doctrine of salvation teaches that somebody must pay for sins committed.  This doctrine presents God as angry and the death of Christ as a sacrifice to pacify God.  Therefore “atonement” has today come to mean “reparation for an offence or injury” (Merriam-Webster).

But that is not how we should understand the purpose of Christ’s death.  It is not God that must change.  The blood of the Cross did not change how the Father feels about sinners.  The opposite is rather true, namely that the blood of Christ was the means by which the Father changed the hearts and minds of His creatures; to be reconciled to Himself (1:20).  It is us that must change.  It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (1:21).  In the Bible God is never reconciled to us.  The current verses (Col. 1:20-22) indicate that God, through Christ, reconciled all things “to Himself” (1:20).  And in Romans 5:10 we read:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: 1:23-28