Reconciliation

 

Sunday School Lesson for November 2, 2003

 

Focal Teaching Passage: Colossians 1:15-22

 

Jesus and Creation  (1:15-17)

 

Verse 15

In this incredible section of Scripture, what some New Testament scholars believe is an ancient Christian hymn devoted to the exaltation of Jesus as the divine Son of God, Paul set forth the absolute supremacy and Lordship of the Second Person of the Trinity.  Previously (vv. 13-14) the apostle had announced that, through this One, God the Father had rescued believers from the “domain of darkness” and fully redeemed and forgiven them according to His great mercy.  Here in these verses the nature and identity of this Savior and Lord are more fully revealed. Paul employed two major claims regarding Jesus:

 

  • First, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”—The use of the word “image” coveys the truth that Jesus is the only perfect representation and revelation of God to men [Carson, 42].  This is the same idea that is expressed in passages such as John 1:18—“He has explained Him”—and Hebrews 1:3—“He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.” To say such a thing about Jesus was to claim nothing less than His full divinity and unique role as the visible expression of God.  While it is true that “God dwells in light inaccessible, and may not be seen by human eyes,” yet, in the Son, “we may see His true likeness” [Carson, 42]. The words of the Nicene Creed (A.D.  325) are especially clear on this same point, declaring Jesus to be “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”

 

  • Secondly, Paul stated that Jesus is the “first-born of all creation”—This unique phrase advances the primacy or preeminence of Jesus over all of the created order. The use of the term “first-born” expresses the special place of priority occupied by Jesus, somewhat like the status enjoyed by the first-born sons in Jewish families.  However, the difference here is that the Son, being co-eternal with the Father, had no beginning and, therefore, His status and place of privilege is infinitely greater. Scripture teaches us that Christ was eternally begotten of the Father and not created. That He is the “first-born” manifests the truth that He is the Lord and King of “all creation,” a point made with even greater clarity below.

 

 

Verse 16-17

In these verses Paul more fully explained Christ’s role in the creation and governance of the cosmos.

 

  • For by Him all things were created” (v. 16)—This means that Jesus was the originator, designer, and agent of creation.  The stress of this verse is on the fact that “Jesus conceived of creation and its complexities. Creation was His idea” [Melick, 217]. Paul made it clear for his readers that the creation in its totality, including the “heavens”—the invisible world of spiritual beings—and the “earth”—the visible, physical world—were brought into existence by Christ. Likewise the apostle John declared that “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3).  The inclusion of “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” sets forth the scope of Christ’s Lordship. He has no rival and, in the end, every earthly and spiritual power will be held accountable to Him.

 

  • all things have been created by Him and for Him” (v. 16)—Here Paul stressed that the creation exists for the glory and sovereign purposes of Christ.  As Carson suggests, Jesus is the “very goal of their creation. They exist with a view to His glory, and so are subservient to His eternal purpose” [43]. A similar point is made by Paul in Romans 11:36—“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”

 

  • He is before all things” (v. 17)—Again, Paul emphasized that Christ is Ruler and King over all that has been made. Since He existed before there was anything at all, He is the rightful ruler and owner of the cosmos. 

 

  • in Him all things hold together” (v. 17)—This amazing claim establishes the truth that the creation was not simply brought into existence by Christ, but that its very preservation and continued integration are due to His power and divine control. It is “His power alone which holds creation together” [Carson, 43].

 

 

Jesus and the Church (1:18)

 

Paul’s description of Jesus continued in this verse with a statement concerning His relationship to the church. According to the apostle, “He is also the head of the body the church.” This indicates that not only is Jesus the Lord and Redeemer of the church, but that there exists an essential unity between Christ and His people (cf. Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-26; Eph. 4:15-16).  The use of such ‘body language’ shows that the very life of God’s people—the church—flows from her Savior. Herbert Carson explains:

 

As Head of the church He is in an organic relationship, for the Church shares His very life just as the limbs share a common life with the head.  He is, further, the directing and controlling power to which the limbs must submit. Indeed that which gives them their unity as a body, and enables them to function purposefully, is the control of the head [44].

 

In addition to being head of the body, Paul declared that Jesus is “the beginning, the first-born from the dead.” Having been raised from the dead never to die again, Christ enjoys the supreme position as Lord over life and death itself.  With this announcement, Paul made it clear that “Jesus entered the world of sinners, endured their punishment, and rose victorious with the power of the Spirit. Thus, in Christ, there is a new order of existence. It is a resurrection existence” [Melick, 222-223].

 

The purpose of the resurrection—“so that He might come to have first place in everything”—was to make it explicitly clear that Jesus was and is exactly whom He claimed to be. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:4, the resurrection was the mechanism by which Jesus was declared “with power” to be the eternal “Son of God” and King of the universe. 

 

 

Jesus and Reconciliation (1:19-22)

 

Verse 19

In this section, Paul continued to declare the identity of Jesus and, in particular, His work of redemption and reconciliation.  Before speaking of His ministry to those alienated from God by sin, the apostle once more trumpeted Christ’s deity as the Son of God.  Here Paul spoke of Jesus as the One in whom “all the fullness” of divinity resides.  That this was due to the “Father’s good pleasure” means that in eternity past, the Triune God determined that “the human Jesus would be God, sharing all the properties, characteristics, and prerogatives of God himself” [Melick, 224].  Thus, the One who, according to Philippians 2:8 was “found in appearance as a man,” was not one “merely endued in a special way with the Holy Spirit, but is rather the dwelling place of the very essence of God” [Carson, 46]. 

 

 

Verses 20-22

Furthermore, the One who took on human flesh is the One who came to “reconcile all things to Himself” by means of His very “blood” which was spilled on “His cross” (v. 20). This dramatic language highlights the fact that human sin has resulted in cosmic effects, not only alienating men from their creator, but also bringing the created order under the divine curse (cf. Rom. 8:20-22).  Yet, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross decisively put an end to the power and destructive effects of human rebellion. By means of His violent death and bodily resurrection, Jesus “made peace” between God and men (v. 20).  As Carson observes, we are confronted here with

 

the heart of the apostolic message of the cross, that Christ by the offering of Himself through death accepted the curse which was due to us. Thus His death was the basis for a return of sinful men to a position of fellowship with God [46].

 

In verses 21-22 Paul emphasized that the reconciliation accomplished by Christ resulted in a radical change in those who believed in Him.  Those who were once estranged and “alienated” (v. 21) from God were “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (v. 13).  Those once “hostile in mind” and “engaged in evil deeds” have been made right with God and given new spiritual life.  Additionally, the ones who were once the very enemies of God and His righteousness will one day stand before His throne adorned in Christ’s righteousness, having been declared “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (v. 22). This, then, is the ultimate aim of their reconciliation—the exaltation and revelation of God’s mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. 

 

 

Major Themes for Reflection and Application

 

One: Who is Jesus?  From passages such as this one, can there be any doubt about the true identity of Jesus?  Consider how such claims regarding Jesus radically distinguish Christianity from other world religions.  In light of this powerful passage, is it sufficient to admit that Jesus was a gifted teacher, holy prophet, moral example, or Spirit-empowered leader?

 

 

 

Two: The way to peace:  Observe the irony present in verse 20peace came through the spilling of blood on the cross.  The way God provided for such peace and reconciliation between Himself and sinful men is vastly different than the way we seek to create peace among adversaries. How is peace typically achieved among men?  Hint: It usually involves the compromise of one’s position—a negotiation or agreement to meet in the middle.  However, in achieving peace and reconciliation between God and men no such compromise was made. Consider how the cross of Christ displays both the reality and tragedy of our sinfulness and the glory of God’s absolute holiness.  

 

 

 

Three: Who owns the church? If Christ is really the Head and King of the church, why do we so often act like we own it?

 

 

 

Four: The ultimate makeover: Look carefully at the dramatic contrast present in verses 21-22. Pay special attention to the words “formerly” (v. 21) and “now” (v. 22).  What were you like before you believed in Christ?  What are you now, and where are you headed? Food for Thought: A noted nineteenth century atheistic philosopher once said something to the effect that, “I will believe in the Redeemer when Christians act redeemed.”  Is there any validity to such an objection?