In the time before Christ, there was war between the angels of heaven. God was not angry. He reconciled all things to Himself by providing evidence through Christ’s death; evidence which even heaven needed.
Colossians 1:20-22 can be analyzed into the following statements:
- Before Christ’s death, there was “war” between God and some of His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.
- That war was caused by the aggression of some of God’s intelligent creatures against Him.
- God was not angry with His enemies.
- To bring an end to the war, by providing evidence through Christ’s death, God reconciled His enemies with Himself.
- The intelligent beings in heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.
- 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—
War in Heaven
Before Christ’s death, there was “war” between God and some of His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.
“Through Him” the Father reconciled “all things to Himself” and also “made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him” (Col 1:20). To reconcile, therefore, means to make peace between God and His alienated intelligent creatures. This is also seen in Col 1:21-22, 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 (Col 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 (e.g., Job 1:6-; Eph 1:10; 3:10; Col 1:20-22) 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 God, 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).
Cause of the War
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” (Col 1:21).
After they were reconciled and at “peace” with God, they were “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Col 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 is not angry.
God was not angry with His enemies.
Since “Him” and “His” in the current verses refer to Christ, these are things that 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 swear word.
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).
The Cross – A Public Display
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, Col 1:20-22 shifts 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” (Col 1:20). That includes the Colossian Christians, who were “reconciled … in His fleshly body through death” (Col 1:22).
We should not think that His literal blood has any magical power. “Through the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20) means “in His fleshly body through death” (Col 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” (Col 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 Col 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” (Rev 12:9) from heaven (Rev 12:8) to earth (Rev 12:12). 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 discussion 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 about Christ, about God, and about 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 (Rev 12:9-12). Why? This issue is addressed in the discussion of the seven seals of Revelation.
Heaven Needs Evidence.
The intelligent beings in heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.
This brings us to the perhaps surprising conclusion that the intelligent beings in 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” (Col 1:22). As Col 1:23 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 from 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.
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 affected 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 (Col 1:20). It is us that must change. It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (Col 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” (Col 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).