What view does the letter to the Colossians present of Christ Jesus? Is He called God? Are we saved by Christ Jesus, or by God? Who created all things and who reconciled all things; God or Christ Jesus?
This article is a study of the letter to the Colossians. The purpose is to understand who Christ Jesus is. However, that question is addressed more specifically by the next article. This article lays the foundation for that article.
The letter to the Colossians has been selected for this study because it contains perhaps the highest view of Christ Jesus of all of the New Testament letters, apparently because Christ’s supremacy was challenged (2:4) by the “deception” (2:8) in ancient Colossae.
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
The title “God” appears 21 times in the letter, but never refers to Jesus. To the contrary, Christ Jesus is presented as distinct from God, for instance:
1:15 “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.”
Christ, in this verse, is explained by less literal translations as “exactly like God, who cannot be seen” (Contemporary English Version), or as “the visible likeness of the invisible God” (Good News Translation).
2:12 “God” raised Jesus from the dead.
3:1 “Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.”
The letter therefore maintains a clear distinction between God and Christ.
Father and Son
The letter five times refers to the “Father”:
The first reference is to “God our Father” (1:2). This refers to believers. They are sons of God (e.g. Rom. 8:14). Christ Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 6:9). He is our Father because He loves us and cares for us.
Next we find two references to God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3; cf. 1:12-13). The word “son” in Colossians is only found in 1:13, where Jesus is described as “His beloved Son”. This is not discussed in Colossians, but Jesus is the Son of God in a different way; He is “the only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14). This mystery is discussed further in Only Begotten Son of God.
Next we find “Father” in 1:19: “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” As already stated, Colossians maintains a clear distinction between God and Christ Jesus. “Father” is another name for God. What 1:19 therefore says is that it was God’s will for “all the fullness” to dwells in Jesus. This amazing statement is also discussed in God is the Head of Christ.
Lastly we find a reference to “God the Father” in 3:17. He is the Father of both His begotten Son and His created sons.
The title Christ is used 26 times. The name Jesus is used 6 times, but never alone, always as Jesus Christ or as Christ Jesus. Jesus was a common name at the time. The addition of “Christ” was therefore necessary to Identify Him. Paul, in this letter, actually mentions somebody else by the name Jesus (4:11).
The title “the Lord” appears 11 times; most often simply as “the Lord”, but also as “Christ Jesus the Lord” (1:6), “the Lord Jesus” (1:17) and “the Lord Christ” (4:24). This title is therefore not used for God; only for Jesus.
The Father is the Active Force in Salvation.
We often hear people say that we are saved by Jesus, but this letter presents God the Father as the Active Force in salvation:
Grace is from “God” (1:6).
God selects His messengers. Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (1:1). He was made a minister of the church according to the stewardship from God bestowed on him (1:25).
God saves us.The Father rescued us from the domain of darkness (1:13) and qualified us to share in the inheritance (1:12). God canceled out the certificate of debt, having nailed it to the cross. (2:14; cf. 2:12-13). God raised up the believers from death when He raised up Jesus from death (2:12-13; 3:1). We must thank “God the Father” through Christ (3:16-17; cf. 1:3, 12).
God gives growth to the church (2:19). He chose the believers (3:12) and will open up a door for the word (4:2). It was God’s will to make known to His saints what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles (1:27-28).
Through the Cross God brought peace to the universe. Not only did God reconcile us to Himself through Christ’s death, He also reconciled the things in heaven to Himself through Christ’s death (1:19-20). He made peace with all things through the blood of His cross, whether things on earth or things in heaven (1:20, 22). God, through the cross, “disarmed the rulers and authorities … having triumphed over them through Him” (2:15). Hebrews 2:14 contains a similar statement: “that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” “The rulers and authorities” therefore refer to “the devil” and his supporters. See Rulers and Authorities or Disarmed the rulers and authorities. As Revelation 12 explains, His death made an end to the war in heaven. See the discussion of Colossians 1:20-22 or the article War in Heaven.
God is the Active Force in Wrath.
God is the Source of wrath:
“the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience” (3:6).
God is the Active Force in Creation.
“By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (1:16 NASB).
The NASB says that “by Him all things were created”, but later adds “all things have been created through Him.” This means that God is the Creator, but God created through His Son. This is made clear by various translations:
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (NIV).
“Through him God created everything in heaven and on earth” (Good News Translation).
For a further discussion, see God created all things through His Son.
Christ is ascribed a passive role.
The letter refers to “Christ’s afflictions” (1:24), which reminds of Gethsemane, where “His sweat became like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44), indicating His severe internal suffering. All evil forces focused their attention on Him in an effort to make Him commit even a single sin. But apart from these “afflictions”, this letter does not mention anything which Jesus do or did. The Father did everything. This is consistent with what Jesus said, as recorded in John:
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).
“The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19).
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge … I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).
“The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 14:10).
Redemption through unity with His Son
Colossians presents God as the Active Force, but He does everything through His Son. We already saw that He created all things through His Son (1:16). Now we will also see that He saves through His Son, and that we therefore thank God through His Son (3:17).
Reconciled through Christ
“It was the Father’s good pleasure … 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” (1:19-20).
God allowed Jesus to be killed to reconcile us back to Him (God). The Cross did not reconcile God to us: We had to change; not God.
Redeemed by being united with His Son.
Colossians presents believers as redeemed through unity with Christ. This unity is explained in a number of ways:
A Human Body
“His beloved Son … is also head of the body, the church” (1:13, 18, cf. v24).
“The head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God” (2:17-19; cf. 3:15).
He is the head. The believers are the other body parts. All are “held together by the joints and ligaments”.
“The Father … transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:12-13).
When we are “rescued” (1:12), we become the subjects of a spiritual kingdom of which His Beloved Son is King.
The redemption of believers through unity with Jesus is also presented with phrases such as “in Him” or “with Him”:
“In Whom (His beloved Son) … we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13, 14).
“In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands” (2:11).
“In Him you have been made complete” (2:10; cf. 1:28, 2; 2:6-7).
Death and Resurrection
The letter describes believers as united with Christ in His death and resurrection:
“You have died with Christ” (2:20).
“He made you alive together with Him” (2:13).
“You have been raised up with Christ” (3:1).
“Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (2:12).
Believers did not literally die with Christ; nor have they been literally made alive with Christ. But they are rescued through His death and through His resurrection. It is not Christ’s death that was important; it was His life. His entire life was a test, and the last days and hours of His life was the highest test possible. He lived a sinless life, even to death, and His resurrection was confirmation there-of. His “afflictions” (1:24) were also physical, but mostly spiritual. Jesus said “do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt. 26:53) But He “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (2:15) by combating them on His own. Even God withdrew His presence from Jesus, leaving the disoriented Jesus to cry, “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me” (Mt. 27:46), but even at that time of utter darkness, He did not sin or use His power for His own benefit.
God reconciled all things—things on earth and things in heaven—to Himself through the death of His Son. Therefore, Paul presents believers as united with Christ. They are united with Him in His death, they are united with Him in His resurrection, and “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28 – from Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill). This seems to be more than a symbol: it is a mysterious reality.
Overview of this article
Colossians never refers to Jesus Christ as God, but maintains a clear distinction between God and Christ. It describes God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and Jesus as His Beloved Son. Jesus is never simply called Jesus. He is called Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus or the Lord.
The letter describes God the Father as the Active Force in salvation and in creation. God selects His messengers, rescues people and gives growth to the church. In contrasts Christ is ascribed a passive role. Apart from His afflictions this letter does not mention anything which Jesus do or did.
Although the letter presents God as the Active Force, He does everything through His Son. Through His Son He created all things. Through the Cross the Father reconciled all things to Himself. In Jesus Christ believers are symbolically circumcised, do they have the forgiveness of sins and have they been made complete. They have died with Christ and have been made alive together with Him.
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