Colossian 2:16; Annual Sabbaths or Weekly?

The “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the annual Sabbaths, but to the weekly Sabbath, because the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths”:

► Implies an annual, monthly and weekly sequence;
► Includes all of Israel’s holy days, also the weekly Sabbath.
► Already includes the annual Sabbaths in the “festivals”.

Different Laws

The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:

Weekly Sabbath

The weekly Sabbath is required by the Ten Commandments, which God wrote with own His finger on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ex. 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13).  These stone tablets were put inside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5), signifying that the Ten Commandments were at the center of the covenant.

Annual Sabbaths

The instructions for annual Sabbaths were contained in a book which was written up by Moses (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; Deut. 31:24, 26).  This book became known as the “Law of Moses” (Joshua 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kings 14:6; 2Chron. 34:14; etc.) or the “book of Moses” (2Chron. 35:12; Ezra 6:18; etc.).  It was kept “beside the Ark of the Covenant” (Deut. 31:26).  To quote typical verses:

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses” (Jos. 8:31).

Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26).

The annual Sabbaths were part of the seven annual feasts, and fell, like our annual holidays, on any day of the week.

Origin

Another important distinction between the weekly and annual Sabbaths is their origin:

The Seventh Day was blessed and sanctified at creation (Gen. 2:1-3).  Christ therefore could say that the Sabbath was made for man (all people) (Mark 2:27).  Many people are unable to believe the creation account, but at least must agree that Moses and Christ believed that the seventh day was sanctified at creation.

The annual Sabbaths were given to the Jews specifically, thousands of years later.

Which Sabbath is intended in Colossians 2:16?

It is sometimes said that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the weekly seventh day Sabbath, but to the annual Sabbaths.

Hebrews 10

This view is argued as follows:

The Sabbath in Col. 2:16 is “a shadow of things to come” (2:17).  A shadow, in this sense, is an image of a major future event.

Hebrews 10:1-10 also mentions a “shadow” and “things to come”.  In Hebrews 10 the “shadow” is the Jewish sacrificial system and the “things to come” are “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebr. 10:10).

The CrossIt is then assumed that the “things to come” in Colossians 2:17 also refer to is “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.

Since “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” is God’s solution to the sin problem, any shadow of His death must have been instituted after the entrance of sin into this world.  Since the Sabbaths in 2:16 are then a shadow of His death, they cannot refer to the weekly Sabbath because the weekly Sabbath was sanctified before sin (Exodus 20:8, 11).  It can only be the annual Sabbaths (Lev. 23).

The flaw in this argument is the assumption that the “things to come” refer to “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.  Colossians 2:16-17, which was written nearly 30 years after Christ’s death, says that the special days and Sabbaths “are (now, today) a shadow of things to come (in the future)”.  This means that the special days in 2:16-17, including the Sabbaths, do not point to Christ’s death, but to His second coming and the renewal of all things.  It is argued below that the festivals and annual Sabbaths do also point to the renewal of all things, but the same applies to the weekly Sabbath.  Hebrews 4 describes the weekly Sabbath as a shadow of the eternal rest in the new heavens and new earth.  The Sabbaths in Colossians 2:16 may therefore include the weekly Sabbath.

Sabbaths (Plural)

A second argument sometimes used, to show that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 refers to the annual Sabbaths, is that the Greek term for Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 is plural in form (sabbaton) and that it is better to apply it to the annual Sabbaths, of which there were many in a year.  But this argument does not hold because sabbaton is quite frequently translated “Sabbath” (singular) because the context indicates that it must be singular, for instance:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 12:1; see also verses 2, 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12).

But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 24:20).

Matthew 28:1, “Now after the Sabbath (Sabbaton)

They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach” (Mar 1:21).

Luke 4:16, “He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath

Acts 16:13, “And on the Sabbath day

It is the Weekly Sabbath.

Further proof that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath includes the following:

Firstly, the sequencefestivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” is found several times in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 2:4; 31:3; Neh. 10:33; Eze. 45:17; Hosea 2:11) and also several times in literature outside the Bible (Jub. 1:14; Jos. Ber. 3:11; Justin, Dialogue 8:4.).  At times the order is reversed, but “new moon” is always in the middle.  Since the festivals were annual and the new moons were monthly, the sequence implies that the Sabbaths were weekly.

Secondly, the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” was used as a composite technical term to refer to all of Israel’s holy days, which means that this phrase must include the Sabbath.   See the separate discussion of “Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths” for more detail.

This is confirmed by Numbers 23, which lists Israel’s holy days, including the weekly Sabbath.  The implication is that the weekly Sabbath was regarded as part of the system of holy days.

Thirdly, all the verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” actually are a summary of the daily, weekly, monthly and annual sacrifices prescribed in Numbers 28.  Many of these verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” refer explicitly to sacrifices, for instance:

to offer all burnt offerings to the LORD, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals” (1Chr. 23:31).

The Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 at least includes the weekly Sabbaths because Colossians 2:16 is based on Numbers 28, and Numbers 28 include sacrifices for the weekly Sabbath:

  • Daily:a continual burnt offering every day” (v3-8)
  • Weekly:on the sabbath day … every sabbath” (28:9-10)
  • Monthly:at the beginning of each of your month” (new moons) (28:11-15), and
  • Annual: the feast days (28:16-40); “the LORD’S Passover” (v16), “feast, unleavened bread” (v17) and “the day of the first fruits” (v26).

Fourthly, the annual Sabbaths are already included in the “festivals” in the sequence “festivals … new moon … Sabbath day” (2:16).  If “a Sabbath day” meant the annual Sabbaths there would be a needless repetition.

The evidence is therefore that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Meros in Colossians 2:16 – Let no man therefore judge you

Colossians 2:16The KJV translates Colossians 2:16 to say let no man therefore judge you “in respect of” the Sabbath, but the word translated “in respect of” actually means “part of”.  To say that the Colossians were criticized for an aspect of the Sabbath cannot mean that they were criticized for keeping or not keeping these holy days.  It can only mean that they were criticized for HOW they observe the Sabbath.  This implies that the Colossians did observe these holy days.

The Greek words of Colossians 2:16, and their English equivalents, according to an interlinear translation, are as follows:

Not – oun therefore – tis anyone – hymas you – krinetō let judge – en in – brōsei food – kai or – en in – posei drink – ē or – en in – merei part of heortēs to a feast – ē or – neomēnias a new moon – ē or sabbatōn a Sabbath

This article focuses on the Greek words ‘en merei’.  The KJV  translates this phrase as “in respect to”:

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days (2:16).

‘En merei’ is derived from the noun meros.  Meros literally means:

  • a part something or
  • a piece something or
  • a portion something or
  • one aspect of something, as opposed to a whole.

Nowhere else in the New Testament is meros translated as “in respect to”.  Below all 39 instances of the word meros in the New Testament is analyzed:

In the vast majority of instances it indicates a part of something, namely:

    • part of a geographical area,
    • part of a group of people,
    • part of a body,
    • part of some assets,
    • part of a fish,
    • part of a garment,

  • part of a body of knowledge,
  • part of a period of time,
  • part of a city and
  • part of human

In a small number of instances it indicates that a person shares in something, namely sharing in God’s kingdom, sharing in an event and sharing in an eternal inheritance.  But to say that somebody shares in something still has the meaning of a part of a bigger whole.

Since meros consistently refers to a part of something, 2:16 should be translated as “Let no man therefore judge you  in meat, or in drink, or in part of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”.  Please consider the important difference between “in respect to” and “in part of”:

In respect to” may imply that the Colossian Christians were judged for keeping or not keeping these holy days OR for how they kept these holy days.

The phrase “in a part of” cannot mean that the Colossians were judged for keeping or not keeping these holy days.  “In a part of” can only mean that the Colossian Christians were judged for an aspect of the holy days, not for the holy days as such.  This implies that the Colossians did observe these holy days, and that Paul is saying that they should not be judged for any part there-of.

The KJV translation is generally extremely reliable, and it is with unease that I go against the KJV of Colossians 2:16.  But it must be pointed out that all translations are interpretations, and that the standard interpretation of theologians is that the Colossian heresy was syncretic in nature; combining Jewish and pagan ideas.  They therefore translate meros as “in respect to” because they believe that 2:16 warns against Sabbath observance.

The proposal here is that we read these verses in their context.  As discussed in the article on 2:16, the church, less than 30 years after Christ’s death, when the letter to the Colossians was written, still observed the Sabbath and the Jewish Festivals, for the church at first was entirely Jewish, and even today we observe some of the Jewish Festivals, such as Passover (Easter) and Pentecost.  The Jews observed these days in anticipation of what these feasts pointed to.  Christians keep these feasts to remember what happened 2000 years ago.

In the Jewish tradition the specials days were days of gladness, eating and drinking (See, for instance, Nehemiah 8:9-11).  But the Colossian deceivers were ascetic and adhered to principles of “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (2:23), with rules such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”.  They were therefore critical of the feasting practices of the Christians in their community.  (See Pagan nature of the Colossian Deception).  They judged the Christians, not for observing these special days, but for HOW the special days were kept.

Analysis of the use of the word Meros in the New Testament

The following are all the instance of the Greek word meros in the New Testament; 39 verses in total.  Only in Colossians 2:16 it is translated as “in respect to”.  In most instances it is translated to refer to a part of some larger entity, such as:

  • Part of a geographical area, for instance “regions of” or “district” of a larger area (Mat 2:22; 15:21; 16:13; Mark 8:10; Acts 2:10; 20:2), “the upper country” (Acts 19:1), and “the lower parts of the earth” (Eph 4:9).
  • Part of a group of people, such as “one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees” (Act 23:6) “the Pharisaic party” (Acts 23:9)(Mat 24:51; Luke 12:46; Rom 11:25; 1Co 12:27) “a place with the unbelievers” (Luk 12:46), “a place with the hypocrites” (Mat. 24:51).  Rom 11:25 indicates that “a partial hardening has happened to Israel” this is understood as that a part of Israel is hardened.
  • Part of a body (Luke 11:36)
  • Part of assets, such as “the share of the estate” (Luke 15:12), “a portion of it (money)” (Acts 5:2); Act 19:26-27)
  • Part of a fish, such as “a piece of a broiled fish” (Luke 24:42)
  • A part of a garment, such as “His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier” (John 19:23)
  • Part of a boat, namely “the right-hand side of the boat” (John 21:6)
  • Part of a body of knowledge, such as “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1Co 13:9) and “I know in part, but then I will know fully” (1Co 13:12), “in part I believe it” (1Co 11:18), “I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again” (Rom. 15:15), “you also partially did understand” (2Co 1:14), “of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebr. 9:5 – stated differently: we cannot speak of the parts of these things), “But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case” (2Co 9:3)
  • Part of a period of time, such as “enjoyed your company for a while” (Rom 15:24) “each in turn” (1Co 14:27)
  • A part of a city, namely “The great city was split into three parts” (Rev 16:19)
  • A part of human existence.  Acts 19:26-27 refers to idol-worship or the making of idols as “this trade of (part of) ours”

In all of these instances meros is used for a part of something. In the following instances it refers to a small share of something much larger, namely for a person to:

  • Share in an event, such as “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection” (Rev 20:6)
  •  Share in an eternal inheritance, such as “their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev 21:8), or “God will take away his part from the tree of life” (Rev 22:19).
  • Share in God’s kingdom, such as “you have no part with Me (Christ)” (John 13:8) “you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1Co 12:27), “from whom …. according to the proper working of each individual part (the whole body)” (Eph 4:16).

To say that somebody shares in God’s kingdom still refers to a small part of something much larger.

The remaining two instances are more difficult to classify.  In one instance it means “in some degree”, namely “he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree … to all of you” (2Co 2:5), which is still part of the full possible extent.  In the last remaining instance it is used to compare a smaller glory to a larger glory:

For indeed what had glory (the ministry of condemnation), in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it (the glory ministry of righteousness). (2Co 3:9-10)

It should therefore be clear that:

  • 2:16 is the only place in the New Testament where mero is translated as “in respect to”.
  • Meros is refers to a part of something.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

 

Colossians 1:1-13: Verse by verse discussion

The Colossian deception taught that Christians are incomplete without the higher level knowledge and wisdom available from supernatural sources. Paul responds by saying that Christians are already complete in Christ.

Summary

Paul in chainsPaul wrote the letter to the faithful believers, with Timothy’s assistance, from prison in Rome around AD 60-63.  This was about 30 years after Christ’s death.  Paul was sent by Christ by the will of God our Father.  He therefore had the authority to write this letter.

Paul himself never worked in Colossae. While Paul was in a Roman prison, the gospel traveled through the earth and has reached Colossae via Epaphras; one of Paul’s faithful co-workers and a native of the city.

The gospel is the message of God’s merciful kindness; His free gift, particularly through the Person and teachings of Christ, as recorded in the four gospels.  The gospel includes the promise of the eternal inheritance which believers will receive from God when Christ is revealed.  Paul added clarity with respect to the relevance of the Jews and their Law, but Christ and His teachings are the core of the Christian message.

Epaphras, when he visited Paul in prison in Rome, informed Paul of the Colossians’ faith, but also of the Colossian deception that was threatening his church.  The letter does not describe the Colossian deception fully.  We only have Paul’s rebuttal of the deception.  From that we have to infer what the Colossian deception was.

Paul in prayerPaul was a man of prayer.  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God.  He assures the Colossians that he is continually praying for them, asking that they may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians, from which we conclude that the Colossian deception claimed to have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  This commentary assumes that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, are in response to the Colossian deception, and therefore indicate the nature there-of.

Verses 1 to 3 and verses 12 and 13 focus on God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the Father who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints, through Jesus Christ. It is the Father who rescued us from the domain of darkness (supernatural beings hostile to God) and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  Christ is the Means, but it is the Father that accomplishes all these things.

The Colossians deception judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and that they will only become spiritually complete if they submit their teachings, such as “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  Paul responds with a three-fold message:

  1. In Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (2:9).
  2. Therefore Christians, since they are “in Christ” are already complete (2:10-15).
  3. Therefore they do not have to submit to the demands of the Colossian deception (2:16-23) to become complete.

These are the three main points of the entire letter.  They are particularly clear from chapter two, but chapter one contains aspects there-of.  In 1:12-13 we see that the believers are already qualified, already rescued and already transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  This is the second of the three points above.

Verse by Verse Discussion

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother

Paul: According to the custom of the day of writing letters, the author’s name is given first. Paul wrote the letter probably from Rome at around AD 63, which was about 30 years after Christ’s death.

An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God: Paul was qualified to write this letter of instruction to the Colossians because he was an apostle.  Literally apostolos means ‘one sent’.  At its deepest level it denotes an authorized spokesman for God; one commissioned and empowered to act as His representative.  Paul is an “apostle of Jesus Christ”, which means he is sent by Christ, but it is “by the will of God”.

And Timothy our brother: Timothy was an honored companion of Paul, but he was not an apostle because he did not receive a direct instruction from Christ.

1:2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: grace to you and peace from God our Father.

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ:Saints and faithful brethren” are the same people; not two different classes of Christians.  Every true Christian is a saint. It is possible that Paul adds “and faithful brethren” to contrast the saints with those who embraced the false teaching that concerned Paul so much in this letter.

Who are at Colossae: The city of Colossae is not mentioned in the Book of Acts. All our Biblical information about the church there comes from this letter and a few allusions in the letter to Philemon.  Historically, Colossae was a prosperous city, yet by Paul’s time the glory it had as a city was on the decline.  The city of Colossae was probably the smallest and least important city that Paul ever wrote to.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father: Grace is God’s unconditioned goodwill and mercy.

1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

We give thanks to God: We receive grace and peace from “God our Father” (1:2), and in return we thank “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).  That is the true circle of life: He gives us everything we need and we love and praise Him.

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: The focus in verses 1 to 3 is on the Father, not on Christ.  For instance, Paul was an apostle “by the will of God” (1:1) who is identified as the “Father” in verses 2 and 3.  As in the prayer which we received from our Lord, God is “our Father” (1:2), which means that He cares for us deeply and continually protects us.  The Father is the active Force behind Paul’s work (1:1) and behind Christ’s sacrifice (1:12; 2:13, 15).  God is also “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  As Jesus said, “‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17).  See the article Jesus is the Son of God, but is He in all respects equal to God? 

Praying always for you: Although he probably had never met them, the Christians of Colossae were on Paul’s prayer list. He prayed for them not only often, but always.

1:4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints:

Genuine faith in Jesus will always have a true love for God’s people as a companion.

1:5 Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

The hope laid up for you in heaven:Christ in you” is “the hope of glory” (1:27), namely the hope for “the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  “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).  These were not merely theological ideas for Paul; but dominated his thinking as a Christian.  It is also our privilege to have this hope.

In verses 4 and 5 we notice the familiar triad of faith, hope, and love:  “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel: The four gospels were written decades after the Cross as tools to teach the believers what Christ taught.  The gospel of John was one of the last books of the Bible to be written; about 50 years after the Cross.  To teach Jesus means to teach what He taught, as recorded in the gospels.  Some people today hold the letters of the New Testament up high, but the basic teaching in the first century was what Jesus preached.  Paul added clarity with respect to aspects such as the relevance of the Law of Moses and the relationship between Jew and Gentile, but his teachings are not core; what Christ taught is the core of the Christian message.

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians to oppose a specific distortion of the truth (2:4, 8, 16, 18).  Perhaps for that reason we find early on in this letter an emphasis on “truth” (1:5, 6).  Because we do not live in that time and place, we do not know what the Colossian deception specifically was.  Paul, in his letter, only gives us one side of the story; we only have his rebuttal of the deceptions.  From this we have to infer what the Colossian deception was.

1:6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it: and understood the grace of God in truth:

The Gospel is represented as a traveler, whose object it is to visit the whole earth.  So rapid is this traveler in his course, that he had already gone nearly through the whole of the countries under the Roman dominion, and will travel on until he has proclaimed his message to every people, and kindred, and nation, and tongue (Rev. 14:6).  The phrase “in all the world” was a legitimate hyperbole, for the gospel was spreading all over the Roman Empire.

Grace is God’s merciful kindness; His free gift.  Everything we receive from Him is His free gift.  The kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  We are saved by His merciful kindness; we can never earn it as a wage.

1:7 Just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf:

Learned it from Epaphras: Paul himself had not worked in the area of Colossae (1:4, 7-9; 2:1).  Apparently, Epaphras, one of his helpers, and a native of the city (4:12), established a group of believers there (1:7; 4:12, 13).

Who is a faithful servant (KJV – minister): The word “minister doesn’t mean that Epaphras was superior to the other Christians in Colossae. The word minister means servant.  Paul probably wrote the letter because of a visit of Epaphras from Colossae.

1:8 and he also informed us of your love in the spirit:

It seems as if, while Paul was in prison in Rome, Epaphras visited him, and informed him of the spiritual growth of the Colossian church (see also 2:5), but also of the “deception” (2:8) troubling his church.

1:9 for this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you:  and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding:

Paul in prayerNot ceased to pray for you: Paul was a man of prayer (1:3, 9).  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God (1:9).  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

Knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding: Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians.  It is important to note that Paul wrote that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (2:3) “so that no one will delude you” (2:4).  This is understood to mean that some people in Colossae were trying to delude the believers, claiming that they have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  The interpretation in this commentary is based on the assumption that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, indicate the nature of the Colossian deception (2:8).

1:10 So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord: to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Paul also prayed that they would walk (live) according to the knowledge which they received.  Our life is based on our knowledge of God and our understanding of His will.

1:11 Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously:

His strength is there to help us meet all of life’s challenges, and to endure and overcome problems with patience and joy.  God is the source of all power.  Whatever power we have, or hope to have, we only have because He gave it to us.

1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light:

The Father is mentioned as the active Force of redemption. He initiated the plan of the ages.  It is the Father who qualifies us, through Jesus Christ.  The ESV and other translations render 2:18 as “Let no one disqualify you”.  It is there quite possible that Paul, in 1:12, is contradicting the Colossian deception.

1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son

He rescued us from the domain of darkness: The domain of darkness is Satan’s domain.  Jesus referred to “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53) that led to His arrest, suffering and death.  The power of darkness are the supernatural beings marshaled against God and His followers for combat in the spiritual realm.  “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).  These “rulers and authorities are a particular emphasis in the letter to the Colossians (1:15; 2:15, 18), implying that the Colossian deception involved such supernatural beings.

Note the contrast between the light in verse 12 and the darkness in verse 13.  Light allows us to see; to receive “knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9).

And transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son: According to Barclay, the word translated “transferred” had a special significance in the ancient world. When one empire conquered another, the custom was to transfer the entire population of the defeated empire to the conqueror’s land. It is in this sense that Paul says we have been transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

His” in these verses (1:9, 11, 13) consistently refers to “the Father” (1:3):

Verse 9, for instance, refers to “knowledge of His will”, which is explained by verse 1 as “the will of God”, who is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

His glorious might” (1:11) refers back to “God” in 1:10, who is identified in verse 3 as “the Father”.

Verses 12 and 13 therefore continue the focus of verses 2 and 3 on the Father. Some Christians think of Christ as their Savior, but these verses inform us, as already indicated by 1:2-3, that the Father is the Active Force that “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  The kingdom belongs to “His beloved Son” (1:13), but it is the Father that “rescued us from the domain of darkness”.  In Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14), but it is the Father that “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).

Note Christians are already rescued and already transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  This is another emphasis in the letter to the Colossians.  It is again emphasized in 2:10, where Paul states that Christians are complete in Christ.  The Colossian deception judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and that they will only become spiritually complete when they submit to “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  In response Paul wrote that they are already qualified (1:12), already rescued and already transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Reconciled to God

God is not our Enemy; we were His enemies. God was not angry; He initiated salvation through Christ. Christ’s death did not reconcile God to us, but we were reconciled to God; the Source of all Life. The death of His Son did not change God; it changed the on-looking universe.

SUMMARY

What it means, that God reconciled us to Himself, is discussed below.  In summary:

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy, committing evil deeds as acts of aggression against God.   But God reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).  How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained differently by different people:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God; God is not hostile to man.  And it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.

God is not angryIt is often said that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God.  In other words, man changed; not God.

In is also said that God’s righteousness demands that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, but this seems inconsistent with God’s wise and loving character.

How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained here as follows:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must live in His presence.  If we become separated from God, who is the Source of Life, we will become corrupted and eventually die.
  2. Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures, but worship must be an act of free will.  Forced worship is no worship at all.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.
  3. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, in free will rebelled against God and withdrew their worship from Him.
  4. When Satan deceived our first parents, this rebellion was expanded to earth. Since that event we lived outside God’s presence.  This caused sin, degeneration and death.
  5. God did not reject mankind.  God continually sent prophets to earth to turn people to Him.
  6. While God accepted repentant people back in His kingdom, He rejected Satan. Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return to God.
  7. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people.
  8. Satan is extremely talented, and the angels could not understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan. A lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.
  9. God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment, but Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  10. Even heavenly beings were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”. By providing proof of His justness—through the Cross—also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, allowed the heavenly beings to fully return to a trust (faith) relationship with God.

In the end God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually erupt in another rebellion.  God is resolving the conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issues in the universe-wide conflict have been made clear, and He is able to subject His enemies to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

For an explanation of how the Cross provided this proof, please see the related article titled God Disarmed the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Col. 2:15).

For more information on the “War in Heaven”, please see that separate page.

To understand why are we still at war if the cross made peace, please refer to the discussion of the discussion of the Seven Seals, where John saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth until the bond-servants of our God have been sealed on their foreheads (Rev. 7:1-3).

MORE DETAILED DISCUSSION

Colossians 1:22 reads;

yet He (God the Father) has now reconciled you in His (Christ’s) fleshly body through death”.

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy: “you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Col. 1:21).  We previously “were enemies” (Romans 5:10).  “Evil deeds” are acts of aggression against God.  It is not God that was hostile to man; God’s intelligent creatures were hostile towards God.  Belonging to the race of Adam, we are born alienated from God.

But God made “peace” (Col. 1:20) and reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED DIFFERENTLY BY DIFFERENT PEOPLE:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God (Col. 1:21-22); God is not hostile to man.  The Father is not angry with His enemies; His enemies are angry with Him.  They try 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.

Furthermore, it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.  His enemies are angry, and God seeks reconciliation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  Colossians 1:20-22 uses the word “through” four times, focusing on what God did through Christ.  Christ was the Means of reconciliation, but it was the Father that made reconciliation.  It is the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints (Col. 1:12) and that delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son (Col. 1:13).

One often hear people say that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God; never the other way round.

To reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20)

Reconcile them both (Gentiles and Israel) in one body to God through the cross” (Eph. 2:16)

While we were enemies we were reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10)

God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18)

We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20)

In other words; God was not changed by the cross; it is man that was changed.  Christ’s death did not change the Father’s attitude towards people,

In reformed circles it is usually said that God’s righteousness demanded that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, therefore we receive what He deserves.  But the Bible reveals God as supremely wise and loving.  The concepts in the Bible are infinitely high above the thoughts of unregenerate man, and continually elevates the mind of man.  To say that the wrath of God would be satisfied by the suffering of an innocent person seems inconsistent with His character.

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED HERE AS FOLLOWS:

First, some general principles:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must remain sinless, because sin, by definition, is something that destroys.  To remain sinless, intelligent creatures must live in His presence, and the natural response to being in the presence of the infinite One is to love and worship Him.  Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures.  If we break that link, we will become corrupted and will eventually die.
  2. Worship and love, to be worship and love, must be an act of free will. God forces no one to worship Him.  Forced worship is no worship.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.

Next, how the crisis in the universe developed:

  1. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, rebelled against God and withdrew from His presence.  Why this happened cannot be explained.  To find a reason for it, is to excuse it.  There was no fault in God’s governance that could justify it.  God created mankind and angels free to make their own decisions, and in their freedom these angels withdrew from God.  Isaiah 14 describes fall of the king of Babylon (v3), but seems to use words from the fall of Satan:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn! …

13 “… you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.

  1. This rebellion was expanded to earth when Satan deceived our first parents. Since then we lived outside God’s presence, which caused sin, degeneration and death.
  2. God did not reject mankind.  God did not leave mankind to suffer the natural consequences, but continually sent prophets to turn them to Him: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
  3. While God remained willing to accept man back in His kingdom, God rejected Satan. Satan has gone too far to return to God.  Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return.  Therefore God rejected him.  We must remember that Satan was not just any angel; he was the one that stood in God’s immediate presence.  He was Lucifer, which means Morningstar (Is. 14:12); the one who taught the other angels about God.  The only way that God can draw sinful creatures to Himself, is to reveal more of Himself, but already Satan knew everything about God that an angel can know.  He rebelled with full knowledge of God.  Therefore it is impossible for his to return.  Therefore God rejected him: “And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire”. (Ezekiel 28:16)

Ezekiel 28 describe the king of Tyre (v12), but seems to go beyond this king to a description Satan:

12 “… You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering: …
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you. …
14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, …
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 … You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;
Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;

This seems to be more than a description of an earthly king; it describes, a “covering cherub” that was “blameless” and had “the seal of perfection”; “perfect in beauty”.

  1. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment. God “passed over the sins previously committed” by His people on earth (Rom. 3:25).  Satan, pointing to the sins of God’s people, accused God of unfair judgment (Rev. 12:10).
  2. Satan is extremely talented and previously held a very high position. This made it impossible for the other angels to understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan.  And according to God’s principle of freedom, God allowed him full access to the heavenly beings to argue his point.  The angels were not able to conclude who is right; a lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.  This mystery is symbolized by the sealed book of Revelation.  “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev. 5:3).
  3. But the Cross demonstrated the justness or fairness of God’s judgment (Rom. 3:25) “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment.  God reign over a universe where everybody is completely free to form their own opinions and do whatever they want.  Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  4. The Cross is therefore important for mankind, but even the heavenly beings also needed the Cross. Colossians 1:20 indicates that they also were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”.  By providing proof—through the Cross—of His justness, and that in everything He does He is motivated by love; also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, God reconciled them to Himself.  The Cross has shown that God loves and protects His creatures.  We may not able to see this, but the heavenly beings are able to perceive this.  “Reconcile” in Col. 1:20 may therefore be understood as returning to a trust-relationship; to know for certain that God loves you and will protect you.

The influence of the Cross is felt throughout the entire universe.  The war that was started in heaven, is concluded on earth.  The spiritual war that we are involved in has cosmic consequences.

Some theologians (e.g. Bruce, Moo) argue that we must understand “reconcile” and making “peace” in Col. 1:20 as “pacify”; in other words, that God will eventually subject all hostile beings to His will.  But if it was God’s intention all along to “pacify” His enemies, why did He not do it right from the start?  The reason is that, to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually result in another rebellion.  God wishes to resolve the current conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issue in the universe-wide conflict has been made clear, and He is able to subject them to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

NEXT: Disarmed the rulers and authorities

TO: General Table of Contents