King Jesus the Founder of the Kingdom Part Two (Col 1:18-23a)
Advancing the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in a Disorderly World:
Last month we started examining this great Christ hymn which indeed is among a special class of New Testament passages. Paul presents Jesus the King as the founder of the kingdom, and in so doing defines who we are. It is only because of Him that we are what we are. Let’s read the passage again,
“[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven”!
We learnt last month that the hymn has two stanzas: Col 1:15-17a speaks of Christ and Creation, whereas Col 1:17b-23 speaks about Christ and Recreation. We also said in its broad sweep, the passage describes the relationships between Jesus and God His Co-Existing Father, with God’s Creation, God’s Church, God’s Cosmos and finally God’s Children. We only managed to look at the first two and must now examine the rest. So let’s go straight to the third aspect of this hymn.
The King’s Relationship with God’s Church (Col 1:18-19)
After speaking about the relationship between King Jesus and God’s Creation, it is only natural that Paul should turn his attention to the Church Why is it natural? Well because the Church is the agent by which Christ will restore God’s creation. God, we said last time, is not going to give up on His creation because it belongs to His Son. It is the Son’s inheritance. That is why His son came to this world, and died in order to redeem it. And His plan is to use the Church as His agent to bring back creation into synchrony with its creator. That is also why the first thing Jesus did in his public ministry when He came from the wilderness was to go to the beach of Galilee and there, commanded two fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mk 1:16-17). The Church is His agent for restoring alienated creation. That is why Paul naturally turns next to the Church. And what does he say about the relationship between the King and His Church? He says five things.
The King is Head of God’s Church (1:18a)
Paul first says “He is the head of the body, the church” (Col 1:18a). Previously, he said the King is related to God the Father as His Image. He is related to God’s Creation as Firstborn. Now he says, King Jesus is related to the Church as its Head. Creation may be alienated from its firstborn now, but the Church is glued for life to its Lord. The picture here of the Church is that of an organic united body, and the Lord Jesus is its head. In ancient Greek thought, the head is the source of life for the body. Without the head, there is no life in the body, and there is no growth. It is from the head that life flows and flourishes. As head therefore Jesus gives the Church Life sustaining growth, strategic Leadership, and far-sighted guidance. He is related to His Co-Existing Father as His Expression. He is related to Creation by His Exaltation. And He is related to the Church as its Emperor. He rules all Creation, but He Reigns in His Church. He is head of the Church. This clause in many ways summarizes the other four things that he is about to say.
The King is the Beginning of God’s Church (1:18b)
Paul next says Jesus “is the beginning” (1:18b). He started it all. He told Peter and the rest, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). I will build my Church! He thought about it. He Planned it. He Planted it. He Implemented it. He Owns it! He Protects it. And He Causes it to grow. He is its beginning! He is the grain of mustard seed that fell to the ground and died so that the big tree, the Church will come out of it and bear fruit and make branches for the birds of the earth. He is the beginning. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13). He is the “foundation” of the Church. “No one can lay a foundation, Paul told the Corinthians, no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”, (1 Cor 3:11). Christ is the cornerstone and the capstone of the Church Without Him the Church cannot exist. He is the beginning of the Church!
The King is the Firstborn from the dead (1:18c)
He then says Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” (1:18c). We meet the word, “firstborn”, prototokos, again. We met it last month, in 1:15. He is firstborn, not in the chronological sense. Lazarus was resurrected before Him, even though that is a different kind of resurrection. Long before Lazarus, Elijah raised the widow’s son from the dead. Jesus Himself raised another widow’s son from the dead in Nain. At His death Matthew says graves were opened and many came out of the dead. Yes these are not in the same class as Jesus’ resurrection. Yet, they prove that “firstborn” in Col 1 is not used to mean he was born first. No! Firstborn is used in the topological sense, not in the chronological. He is firstborn in the spatial sense. He is the highest of rank in the gathering of those who have and will taste the resurrection. He is high and exalted and elevated above all else.
I am reminded of the vision Apostle John saw of the Lord and records it in Rev 1. John says, he was in the Spirit one Sunday on the Island of Patmos when he heard the Lord’s voice like that of a trumpet. Then John turned and lo and behold the Lord, walking in the midst of seven lampstands. By the way the seven lampstands represent the Church. John says the Lord was clothed in a long robe with a golden sash around His chest and His eyes like flaming fire. And John says, the Lord spoke to him in the vision, “Fear not, He said, Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1:17-18). He is the first and the last, the living One! The Prototokos from the dead! That is who He is. Amen!
The King is Pre-eminent in Everything in God’s Church (1:18d)
Paul next says Jesus is head of the Church “that in everything he might be preeminent” (1:18d). In other words, He is incomparable. He is firstborn so that He might also be pre-eminent in everything. In everything in the Church! You got that? In everything! In the way we do everything here at Celebration, that He might be pre-eminent. That in everything God’s people do, Jesus would be exalted above all, be projected as unique and worshipped as He should be. Not only that He be exalted, but that He might be seen to be exalted. Nothing must stand in the way of making Him preeminent. Nothing must be allowed to cast a shadow over His glory in everything in His Church!
He must be Pre-eminent and Prominent. No darkness. No fog! And no cloud must hide or blemish His Pre-eminence!. No spec must be allowed to spoil His pre-eminence. No human ambition must spoil it. No human wisdom must taint it. No human personal preferences must hinder it in His Church. No! Not in His Church! No human well-meaning plans and activity must distract from His pre-eminence. No laziness and no half-hearted commitment must be allowed to rob Him of His glory and His pre-eminence in His Church. In everything, Paul says, that He might be pre-eminent in His Church! Praise the Lord!
Our former Church in Ghana employs this clause “that in everything he might be preeminent”, it employs it as its mission statement. Recently when the Church celebrated a landmark anniversary, they gifted Edna and I beautiful traditional outfits sewn from a special anniversary commemorative cloth. This clause is repeatedly written all over the cloth: “that in everything He might be preeminent”. I was tempted to wear it here today, but I wasn’t bold enough to enter the pulpit improperly dressed. It is a wonderful mission statement. I think every church must have it boldly written somewhere in its mission statement, or prominently displayed in the Chapel. Christ is pre-eminent in everything we do here! Tell me! Is He? Is He really pre-eminent, in everything? Is He?
The King is Fully God in His Church (1:19)
Paul then makes one of the most profound statements in the Bible: “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19). Where do we start with this amazing statement? The fullness of God dwells in Christ! Everything that is in God is placed fully in Christ! We saw this fact in a different form in Col 1:15 when Paul said Jesus is the image of the invisible God. So in a sense here he repeats that statement but in a converse manner. Not only does Jesus represent what we can see of God, but now He says, you cannot see God outside of Jesus. “All the fullness of God”, not bits of Him! Not best parts of Him! Not 99% of Him. All the fullness of God, dwell in Jesus. Your king is not only God. He is fully God.
What Paul does here however is not just to repeat what he had already said. In Col 1:15, the Son’s divinity is stated in relation to Creation. But here in 1:19, His divinity is stated in relation to Recreation. In other words, the Son is God in relation to creation and remains fully God in the New Creation, the Church. His incarnation did not diminish His divinity one bit! We worship Him because He is God of Creation. But now in the Church, we worship Him even more because He is also the God of Recreation. The first worship is great. But boy oh boy, the second worship is even greater. In the first, we worship Him, Jesus, our Creator. But in the second we worship Him who has Redeemed and Recreated Us. We Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave, And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save. His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high, Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die. We worship Him, not just because He is Creator. We worship Him even more because He is Re-creator! How marvellous is that! How marvellous!
The King’s Relationship with the Cosmos (1:20)
You know what, my dear brothers and sisters; this Recreation is not going to stop there. Paul then says in 1:20, “through him, that is through Christ, [God] reconciles to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”. So he continues the theme of recreation, but this time in relation to God’s reconciliation with His Cosmos, through “the blood of [Christ’s] cross”. Through what happened on Calvary, the whole of the cosmos, all things, not just on earth but also in heaven, all of the cosmos, this cosmos that is alienated from its Maker will be brought back in sync with and at peace with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice. This passage is not suggesting that the entire universe is already saved. Neither is it saying that by hook or by crook, everybody will be saved because Jesus has secured reconciliation for the universe. There are people who teach this idea of Universal salvation. But that is not the sense here in 1:20. The Redemption of the Cosmos should not be understood in the same way as we understand salvation. It must be understood in the sense that the Cosmos will be brought under the complete control of Jesus the Son of God! In other words, the blood of His Cross has secured King Jesus the right to rule all of the Cosmos so that, as Paul put it to the Corinthians, “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). That is the kind of reconciliation described here. The king will Judge the whole Cosmos, and each part of it will receive its just recompense. But that will occur because the blood of His cross has brought the cosmos in sync with God the Creator.
The King’s Relationship with God’s Children (1:21-23a)
Most interpreters take it that the actual hymn ends at 1:20. The style of the phrases certainly changes from 1:21, so that while from 1:15-20, everything that Paul says is fixed on Christ, he suddenly now in 1:21 turns to the brothers and sisters and addresses them: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”. So there is a change from the language of worship in 1:15-20 to the language of exhortation in 1:21. From language of adoration in 1:15-20 to language of admonishment in 1:21-23a! However there is also a sense that Paul has not yet finished describing the Person and work of Christ. After all, Discipleship and Christology are always intertwined in New Testament language. Remember, we are what we are because of Him. So it is natural for Paul to next speak about the relationship between Christ and Us; between Him and God’s Children. Having spoken so loftily about the king, this is what it means for you His People. He says three things.
He has Reconciled Us (1:21-22a)
First He has reconciled us. See our condition before we became saved: “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”! We were alienated, cut off completely from the life of God. We were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). But even worse, Paul says not only were we alienated, but we were “hostile in mind”. Ouch we must say! We were not just passively removed from Him. We were actively opposed to Him! We couldn’t stand His name. We couldn’t stand the Gospel of His Name. And we couldn’t stand the people of His Gospel. We were hostile in our minds! Then he says, not just hostile; we “did evil deeds”. Foreign and alien in our spirits! Hostile in our thoughts and imaginations! And repulsive and vile in our deeds! We were on a terrible collision course against Him. But all that changed because of His cross. Paul says in 1:22, “He has now reconciled [us] in his body of flesh by his death”. Thank God for His grace. In His Body, the alienation was removed. The hostility was set aside. And the repulsion nullified. We became part of God’s recreation, reconciled into Him through the Body of Christ crucified on the cross. No more condemnation I dread. Jesus and all in Him is mine! Oh what a beloved Gospel. And what Grace!
He has Regenerated Us (1:22b)
Paul then says, we have been reconciled “in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (1:22b). In other words we are regenerated, born again and become His own. That is the meaning of the description here. Everything that belongs to Him is “holy and blameless and above reproach before him”. Because we are reconciled to Him, we naturally therefore stand before Him as sanctified, holy, and without charge. All the charges against us are dismissed, as if they never happened. He even goes further. He says we are also “above reproach”. How wonderful!
He has Reordered Us (1:23a)
Paul finishes this glorious passage by coming back to the theme of His letter. Remember the letter’s theme is Advancing the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in a Disorderly world. And since Col 1:12-14 when he broached that theme, he has so far been explaining the founding and the founder of this Kingdom. Now he returns to the theme of advancing the kingdom to show how what he has been saying in the song links to this theme. We are Reconciled. We are Regenerated. And now he says, we are Reordered: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col 1:23a). We have been moved from the disordered world which lacked stability and steadfastness into His kingdom of faith. Continue stable and steadfast in it, he says. The work of the King must be sustained in the daily lives of His people by their continuation in the faith, and by their stability and steadfastness in it, “not shifting from the hope of the gospel”. So, in His kingdom, we continue with Stability and Steadfastness in two virtues, in the virtues of faith and in hope. What do we know about these two virtues? Well, you may recall that earlier this year when we reflected on the thanksgiving report of 1:4-5, we looked at the ways by which the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Advances. And there we found these two virtues together with love constitute the cardinal signs of the presence of the kingdom. The kingdom advances internally through faith, it advances interpersonally through love, and it advances imminently through hope. You remember all that? Paul comes back to those virtues.
So after raising the banner of the Lord Jesus as the King who leads us to advance His kingdom, Paul in effect says, Come on then, keep hold of the weapons by which you are going to march behind your King. Continue steadfastly in them. Do not shift one inch from these. For it is the Lord Jesus, the King that you follow! Raise up His banner high. Be ordered even in your disorderly world. Be stable and steadfast in it.
So, my dear friends, this is what Paul has been driving at. The doctrine of Christ that he has so painstakingly elaborated was meant to serve this purpose – to stabilize the believers so they will remain steadfast at advancing the kingdom in this disorderly world. The doctrine is of little relevance if it does not evidence in practical Christian Discipleship. Christology must shape discipleship; otherwise it is no true Christology. Christians can only truly advance the Kingdom of Christ if they allow their knowledge of the Christ who saved them to shape their daily existence. As we go through Colossians, especially in Col 2, we will see how the brothers and sisters in Colossae failed to let doctrine affect their practice. It must not be the same with us. If the Christ we serve is truly who this passage says He is, then we His people must be known as people of faith and hope and love! Oh, may the Lord let this glorious vision of Christ the King shape and strengthen and confirm all of us in the faith, not shifting from the hope and the love to which He has called us!