Colossians 1:13 “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son”. (NASB)
Introduction: The recognized Bible expositor John Piper notes the following about Colossians 1:13-20 – “Paul has just prayed for the Colossians that they would “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (vv. 9-10). In verse 14, he begins a litany of amazing truths about Jesus Christ that are probably the most concentrated description of the glories of Jesus in the New Testament.” http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/all-things-were-created-through-him-and-for-him
Truly the book of Colossians is Paul’s most explicit statement among his four prison letters (the other three being Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon) on the supremacy of Jesus Christ. We can locate the key verse of Colossians in 1:26-28 “that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim Him,admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” If we were to summarize the entire message of Colossians in one succinct sentence, it would be this: “Jesus is enough.” To demonstrate the reality of this statement, Paul pauses in the flow of his writing to behold and marvel at the full glory of King Jesus. Today’s post will aim to begin unpacking this wonderful text of Colossians 1:13-20 in the hope that we can behold the full glory of King Jesus. To achieve this purpose we will make mention of the underlying Greek text and provide ample translation of pertinent details so as to enjoy the depths and heights of this text.
Behold your King!
Now we know that Paul is transitioning from a Father centered series of comments to now focusing upon the Son by what we note in Colossians 1:13 – “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son”. The latter phrase, “the kingdom of His beloved Son”, gives us the theme that will guide us through this text. The term “the kingdom” is in the Greek “τὴν βασιλείαν” (tein ba-si-lay-an) and, according to the Liddel-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon (or dictionary), refers to “a dominion, a domain, a kingly office, a reign.” Certainly if there is a kingdom, then there must be by necessity a King. Psalm 99:1-3 captures what we are communicating: “The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! 2 The Lord is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples. 3 Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He.”
In the New Testament we see oftentimes portrayals of King Jesus in His regelia and royalty. Revelation 1 for example mentions nearly 40 titles of the ascended and exalted Christ. Revelation 5 depicts the lion-like lamb and the lamb-like lion, fully God and fully man, crucified Savior and risen, Conquering King. In Revelation 11:15b we read: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”
What will follow in the remainder of Colossians 1:14-20 are a number of bullet point statements that expound upon the glory of King Jesus. We will look at the first three today.
1. The King’s Work. Colossians 1:14 “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Notice how we have the achievement and application at the heart of the King’s identity. Where does Paul begin to behold this wonderous King? Not at His throne, but at the cross. Paul says “in whom we have”, capturing the beauty of the Greek text wherein we could also translate “in association with whom we have” (ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν = hen ho ek-o-men). To be associated with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords can only come at one place – the cross, and by one means – faith alone. The King who wears the diadems of glory first had to wear a crown of thorns. Jesus Christ is never to be separted from His work.
2. The King’s Deity. Colossians 1:15a “He is the image of the invisible God….“. What does Paul mean by this phrase? The word “image” is the Greek word “εἰκὼν” (icon) from whence of course we get our English word “icon”. Liddel, Scott and Jones in their Greek dictionary describe this word as being an actual description of whomever or whatever it is pointing to. Whenever we see statuary of a famous figure of history, the sculpture aimed to capture the likeness and essence of the original subject. But more than that, Jesus Christ is not just merely a visible representation of God, He is in His by Divine nature God as much as the Person of the Father is by nature God. Hebrews 1:3 states – “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exactrepresentation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This term of course ties to the next description.
3. The King as Rightful heir. Colossians 1:15b “….the firstborn of all creation.” There has been much error that has spawned from an incorrect understanding of the one word in this phrase – “firstborn”. The Greek word behind “firstborn” is the word “πρωτότοκος” (pro-to-tok-os). Jehovah Witnesses will attempt to use this text as a proof text for claiming Jesus as the highest created being. They take the word to literally refer to Jesus as being the first of God’s created beings. In their theological musings, the Jehovah Witnesses will then say that though Jesus is chief among God’s creations, He most certainly should not be worshipped as nor regarded as God.
Two responses to this faulty conclusion will reveal why it does not work with the text of Colossians 1:13-20. First, the word translated “firstborn” itself speaks of inheritence moreso than simple birth-order or blood-ties. Moulton and Milligan in their Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, page 557, quote greek Scholar Adolf Deismann as noting how this word was used to describe the rites of inheritance in lines of priests. Though the word implies there being a bloodline (which would apply to Jesus in regards to His perfect human nature), yet the main focus in on the rights of inheritence. Liddel/Scott/Jones notes in their Greek Lexicon that πρωτότοκος” (proto-tok-os) refers to “rights of the first born, birth-right”. Thus we could rightly translate the text in Colossians 1:15b as “He is the rightful heir of all creation.”
This leads us then to the second response to the Jehovah Witness claims – how well does it fit within the overall argument of Colossians 1:13-20? As you go down through the passage, it is very clear that Jesus Christ cannot be just a created being in 1:15b without doing violence to some of the other statements made by Paul in the passage. For example, Colossians 1:17 reads – “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” If we plug in the faulty Jehovah Witness interpretation, it renders Colossians 1:13-20 incoherent, being that Jesus cannot be the first created being in 1:13 and yet be before all created things in 1:17.
In as much as Jesus came to take upon Himself a human nature, He also is and has always been full Divine. He not only pre-existed before all things chronologically, but “all things” literally consist together in the domain of His reign as Sovereign God. A created being, no matter how powerful, cannot hold all things together. Furthermore, Paul’s argument would turn the Jehovah Witness interpretation on its head, being that unless the Son had been present with the Father from all eternity, no creation could had come into being!
As “rightful heir” of all creation, Jesus Christ in regards to His humanity is the new Adam, who has rights to the title deed of earth. (compare Revelation 5:7) Furthermore, by being fully God in His Divine nature, the Person of Son as God has full-rights to being Sovereign over all creation.
More next time….