God and Christ Jesus in the letter to the Colossians, and their respective roles

What view does Colossians have 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?

Purpose

This article is a study of the letter to the Colossians.  The purpose is to understand who Christ Jesus is.  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 most elevated 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).

God

The title “God” appears 21 times in the letter, but never refers to Jesus.  To the contrary, Christ Jesus is contrasted with God, for instance:

Image of the invisible GodHe (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God” (1:15).  This is explained by less literal translations as follows:

Christ is exactly like God, who cannot be seen” (Contemporary English Version).
Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God” (Good News Translation).

God” raised Jesus from the dead (2:12).

Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (3:1).

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1:1).

The letter therefore maintains a clear distinction between God and Christ.

Father and Son

The letter refers five times to the “Father”:

Our Father who is in heavenThe first reference is to “God our Father” (1:2).  Believers are counted as 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 the next article.

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 more detail in the next article, when we ask who Jesus is.

Lastly we find a reference to “God the Father” in 3:17.

Christ Jesus

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 that same name (4:11).

This 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.

God 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 (1:15).

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” (Heb. 2:14). “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.

In Wrath

God is also the Source of wrath:

the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience” (3:6).

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).

Christ is ascribed a passive role. 

Gethsemane

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

The letter to the 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”.

A Kingdom

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.

In Him

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 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 to “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (2:15), He had to combat 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 used His power for His own benefit.

Conclusion

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

Jews questioning Jesus
Jews questioning Jesus

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.

Next Article

Is Jesus God? – A study of the letter to the Colossians

Seventh Day at Creation

God engrained the specialness of the seventh day permanently into human existence.  Every seventh day was elevated above other days to be a blessing to mankind.  The seventh day is necessary to eternally sustain man’s sin-less perfection in a perfect world by strengthening the intimate relationship between man and His Creator.  There is no indication that man, before sin, was required to rest on the seventh like the Jews were commanded to do.  But it is proposed below that man, every seventh day, ceased his normal activities to refresh his connection with His Creator.

Blessed and Sanctified at Creation

The Creator sanctified and blessed the seventh day when He created life:

By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Gen 1:31-2:3; cf. Ex. 20:11)

God rested on one day only, but He blessed and sanctified every recurring seventh day.

The seventh day was blessed.  This means, as Jesus’s stated, that it was “made for man” (Mark 2:27); made to be a blessing to mankind.

The seventh day was also sanctified.  Sanctified means that it was separated from other days by being elevated above them.  God obviously set the day apart for use by people, not for Himself or for angels.

Time on this planet is divided into years, months, weeks and days.  Years are derived from the rotation of the earth around the sun.  Months are derived from the rotation of the moon around the earth.  Days are derived from the rotation of the earth around its own axis.  But the origin of the seven day cycle is a mystery.  The entire world divides time into weeks, but there is no physical seven day cycle in nature from which the week could have been derived.  Critical scholars tell us that the Jews obtained the notion of a seven day cycle from the surrounding nations, but according to the Bible it originated in creation.

Necessary Part of Creation

But it is even more important to understand the relationship between the creation and the seventh day.  Our Creator did not need six days to create life on this planet; He could have done it in a blink of an eye.  He also did not need to rest after six days of creation because He is not a man that He should become tired (Is 40:28).  He “rested” to create the seventh day.  God created in six days to establish the seventh day as special.  The specialness of the seventh day is, in other words, not an afterthought or a mere token of creation, but an integral part of life on this planet; never to be separated from life on this planet.

If one accepts a literal six day creation, with the Creator resting on a literal seventh day, through which He created the seventh day as a sanctified and blessed part of life, then one should accept the specialness of the seventh day as permanently engrained in human existence; blessed and sanctified for all peoples and for all times.  Is that not what Jesus said when He referred to the Sabbath as “made for man”?  Since it was set apart and made to be a blessing before sin, it is not a ceremonial prescript that pointed forward to Christ and that was annulled by His death.

Since the seventh day was part of the creation of order and life on this earth, it is proposed here that the seventh day was made to fulfill a special purpose.  It is not merely symbolic or ceremonial, but a necessary part of life, without which life cannot thrive as intended.  And since the seventh day was made, sanctified and blessed before sin—when the world was still perfect—it was established to sustain perfect life eternally in a perfect world.

The LORD sanctified and blessed the seventh day because He rested on that day (Gen 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11).  That first seventh day therefore was somehow very special.  It is proposed here that “rested” here does not mean to recover from physical exertion, because the Creator does not become tired (Is 40:28) and because God could also rest on the 8th and subsequent days.  Young’s Literal Translation uses the word “ceased” instead of “rested”.  If we use this understanding we can speculate that He ceased the busy-ness of His creation activities to spend time with man and His other creatures in the beautiful home he made for them.  It is therefore proposed here that the purpose of the seventh day was to maintain man’s sin-less perfection by strengthening the intimate relationship between man and His Creator.

Man’s Duty

The Law of Moses commands the Jews, “you shall not do any work” (Ex. 20:10).  They were not told what to do on the seventh day, except to rest.  But in the creation account there is no direct indication of what was expected from man on that day.  In particular, there is no evidence of a commandment to keep the seventh day as a day of physical rest.

The seventh day was sanctified before man first sinned; when man still lived in Eden.  After man sinned, God cursed the ground (Gen 3:17) and expelled man from Eden and prevented him from eating from the tree of life.  The ground was cursed so that it would bring fourth “thorns and thistles”, and man had to earn his food “by the sweat of your face” (Gen 3:19).  “In toil you will eat of it” (Gen 3:17).  Physical rest became a necessity, and perhaps it was for that reason that the Sabbath was later given to Israel as a rest day.  But before man first sinned, when he still lived in Eden, physical rest was not necessary.  It would be a mistake to apply the Law of Moses to the original seventh day, as it existed in perfect circumstances in Eden.

It is fair to assume that man was supposed to do the same as what the LORD did on that first seventh day.  It is proposed here that the LORD used that first seventh day to spend time with newly created man; to establish a personal relationship between man and his Creator.  For that reason it is proposed here that man in Eden, following the Creator’s example, ceased his normal activities on each seventh day to enjoy a much higher activity which was critical for his spiritual well-being; namely to refresh his connection with His Creator, Who is the Source of all Life and Truth.

When Sanctified?

Theologians sometimes argue that God did not sanctify and bless the Sabbath at creation.  They argue that Genesis was written by Moses after he received the Sabbath commandment, and that what Moses meant by Genesis 2:3 is that God sanctified and blessed the seventh day by giving it as a day of rest to Israel, thousands of years after creation.

Firstly, this contradicts the natural reading of the text.  There is no indication in Genesis 2 or anywhere else in the Bible that the seventh day was sanctified only thousands of years later:

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11).

Secondly, this would contradict Christ’s statement that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).

Thirdly, God was not tired after six days because He never becomes tired.  He did not have to rest.  For that reason we conclude that He “rested” to establish and sanctify the seventh day.  But He rested on that first seventh day only.  This would mean that the seventh day was special immediately after creation.

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

NEXT: Evolution

TO: General Table of Contents