The Glory of Christ in Colossians

As I was reading Colossians this past week, one of the things that struck me is how often I come to the Word of God seeking what it has to say about me and what I should do etc. This is all well and good, but what has hit me is that I’ve been so focused on the didactic, that I have not reveled in the glory of Christ and who He is.  It’s been all about me, me, me…

It is not hard to feel such conviction while reading over what is perhaps one of the richest Christological passages in Scripture. Colossians 1:15-20 presents us with a picture of Christ that is nothing short of mind-blowing, and mind renewing.

Meditating on this passage provides for some wonderful Christ-drenched thought, and it is in that spirit that I thought I’d take a brief look at these verses and make a few remarks. Stop with me for a few minutes and set your mind upon Christ…

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 

Much of this passage reminds me of Hebrews 1:1-3, but this verse most of all because it proclaims that Christ is the “image” of God”, just as the author of Hebrews proclaims that Christ is “the exact imprint” of God. And so the first thing that Paul tells us here is that Christ is a perfect replication of the God that no man can see. In other words, if you ever wanted to know what God was like up close and personal, then set your gaze upon Jesus. God was pleased to send His Son, His only Son, to be born of a virgin and dwell among us, as one of us, and so even though Christ was fully God and perfectly divine, He was also fully human and perfectly displayed what it means to be truly human in the way that God originally intended – that is why we call Him the ‘Last Adam’.

John’s opening prologue the first chapter of his gospel states this truth very clearly, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

The second thing that Paul says is that Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” and then goes on explain that some more in verse 16…

1:16 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. 

There are two great truths here for us to discover, first, Christ is the maker of all things (John 1:10), and second, all things exist for Him. It is often difficult for us to think about Christ in the role of Creator, because many of us have grown up thinking that the second person of the Trinity really didn’t arrive on the scene until we open our Bibles to the New Testament. But Scripture is clear that all three members of the Trinity were involved in Creation. Because we know that all things were created “through” Him, and because we know that Christ is “the Word” of God, its probably safe to assume that when God spoke things into existence in Genesis 1, it was Christ who was uttering the words (although I’m sure our anthropomorphic language really doesn’t do justice to what occurred). This is an amazing thing to think about, but it makes a lot of sense when we consider that even during His ministry here on earth He used His voice to calm the stormy sea, and to bring life from death (as in John 11 and Lazarus). “The Word became flesh” seen in this light now adds another dimension to our understanding of Christ’s role in the creation account. For it does not say “the word became the word” as if He wasn’t the word prior to His incarnation, but rather that “the Word became flesh.” The preexistent Word, the second person of the Trinity, was poured into the flesh of a man.

The second great truth here is that “all things were created through him and for him.” Therefore, all of the things that He spoke into existence were made for Himself. God made all things “for His own glory” as the Westminster Divines tell us, and it is texts like this that give them the footing to declare such a statement.

There are obvious (and several) ramifications for this, but let me mention just one for now, namely that He made you for Himself. This is a very previous truth indeed, and it reminds me of what Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” It is a wonderful thing to think about that I was made for Jesus. He knows me, loves me, and actually made me for Himself. If that doesn’t send tingles down your spine then check your pulse…

1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

This is similar to the point Paul made earlier about Christ being the “first born” of all creation because “first born” is indicative of his preeminence. There are two ways in which Christ is “before all things”: First, He existed before all things from a time-perspective. John the Baptist declares this truth when he states, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me’” (John 1:30).

Secondly, He is “before all things” in that He is over, or above, or in charge of all things. The Greek word here though is “pro” which usually means “before” as in “prior.” So I don’t want to read too much into it as meaning “above” because it only means that a few times in the New Testament, however, this second sense of the word might just be what Paul is referring to since he then proceeds to tell us that it is Christ who holds all things together. This holding of all things together is a role carried out by someone who is of a higher order than us humans, and therefore it makes sense that Paul would say that He is “before” all things.

The last part of the verse is interesting because it can kind of get your mind in a bind if you think too hard on it.  We just touched on it briefly above, but Paul says that in Christ “all things hold together.” Similar language is used in Acts 17:28 when Paul tells the gathering at Mars Hill that, “In him we live and move and have our being.”  But perhaps Hebrews 1:3 is the closest we come to a similar thought when the author says that Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

That is an amazing statement, and the more you contemplate it the more you grow amazed at the shear power of God. Sometimes we read the gospel accounts and the weakness of our finite minds we see Jesus, the man, teaching us, caring for the sick and so forth. But we must not forget the same Jesus who cared for the sick also calmed the raging sea, and we’re told here, upholds the entire universe by the word of His power.

What this means is that if Jesus were to utter the word, the entire universe could collapse into a blackhole, or evaporate into nothingness. It means that chaos is kept at bay by the fact that Jesus keeps it at bay. All science, and all math, operates upon the rules of His decree. We live and breathe and exist because it is His pleasure that we do so. When one truly comprehends who “the boss” of the universe is, the spectacle of the cross becomes all that much more radical and offensive. One begins to shake at the fact that humans – created beings – put their creator to death in response to His loving them, and that the Creator would condescend to such depths of pain and shame on our behalf, all in order to show forth the glory of His Son.

1:18 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. 

Now Paul begins to talk about how these facts influence ecclesiology. If Christ is the first born of all creation, if he is the One through whom all things have been made, then should it come as a shock that He is the head of the church? Of course not! For He is preeminent over “everything.”

It’s also interesting to hear Paul refer to the church as “the body” and Christ as its head. He’s used this anthropomorphic language in other letters to other churches as well, and it signifies how closely we have come to be associated with our Savior. We are part of Him – we are His body!

Therefore, if He is our head, we must contemplate what that means for our daily lives. How does our own physical head function in relation to the rest of the body? Well, it may sound odd to put it this way, but one might say that the head is “in charge” of the rest of the body. The rest of the body functions because the head tells the rest of the body to function. The head sends the orders and the body obeys. Such is the relationship between Christ and His people. He sends the orders and we obey.

Lastly, Paul sums up his thought process by restating again that Christ is preeminent, and this is because God the Father wanted Him to be preeminent in “everything.” Drilling down to what that word “everything” means is important because up until now Paul has been talking about very big concepts – creation, the church, the universe, heaven, earth and so on. He is saying that Christ is above all of these things and actually made all of these things and directs them according to His own will.

This too has ramifications for our lives, not simply so that we can know “how things works as they do” (to quote the Children’s Catechism), but so that we can order our lives around the same facts that the universe (both heaven and earth) are ordered around. What I mean by this is that if Christ is preeminent over all things, why do we fool ourselves into believing we are preeminent over all things? You think I go too far? I doubt it. For we not only place our own desires before serving and communing with Christ, but we also place our own opinions above His revelation to us (the Bible). Therefore, if what Paul is saying is true (and we can be assured that it is), then we ought to be making Jesus Christ the top priority of our lives. That means all things ought to revolve around Him. Anything other than that is not living in reality, but rather creating a false reality that denies His preeminence. Therefore creating our own self-centered priorities that usurp the priorities of Christ is, in essence, creating for ourselves a fairyland.

The benefit of living in reality, and ordering life on the priority and preeminence of Christ, is that we’ll be made into His image, which means that we’ll become more truly human (the way we were created to be) than we would if we were simply focused on our own fleshly desires. Ironically, becoming truly human means dying to ourselves and living in the reality of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by submitting to His Lordship and renewing of our image.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 

Paul now gets to the point of things. Christ is preeminent because He is God. God is the highest Being in the universe, and because Christ is God, He is therefore preeminent by default.

Paul uses the word “fullness” – plērōma in the Greek – to indicate that Jesus didn’t lack anything in His Godness (so to speak). He never ceased being God. He did “lay aside” (if it is proper to speak so) some of His attributes (omnipresence etc.) due to His humanity, but He never ceased from being fully God – a truth of such magnitude and such incomprehensibility that scholars of every generation have had to defend it against “critical scholarship” and heretics throughout the centuries since Christ’s time on earth.

The last thing I want to examine here is that God was “pleased” to dwell in and with humanity. Let it be known to every Christian that God does what God does for His pleasure. All things happen by and for Him as we read earlier – and note especially “for” Him. That word “for” is indicative of “His pleasure” because whatever He does He does for His own good pleasure. Let that sink in…

1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Verse twenty is remarkable because after describing all of who Christ is, Paul now goes on to remind us of why He came to earth, namely to die for our sins. Paul has us so enamored with the magnificence of this God-man that we are in a state of adoration until He preaches to us the gospel in verse twenty and we can do nothing at this point except weep and praise God for His mercy. For here is the Christ, the preeminence of all creation, the God-man, the only begotten Son of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords and now Paul is saying this Being, this Radiance, has sacrificed His blood for the goal of reconciling us to God. Here we are, hostile rebels who have had the mercy of obtaining favor from heaven. God sent His Son instead of His wrath and we stand in the merciful wake of this unbelievably awesome act of mercy.

This verse reeks of mission. It is Christ’s mission, to seek and save the lost, to reconcile us to God…this is why He came, and what blows my mind even further is that when we put all the pieces together from the last few verses, we see that He does this for His own pleasure. How then can we not surmise, with John, that “God is Love”?

And so after Paul commends to us the magnificent nature and person of Christ, he ends on the magnanimous work of Christ on our behalf. He reminds us again that it was because of our sin that the beauty of the Son was marred. What an amazing story of grace! Paul ends with this sentence because he knows that one cannot separate the attributes of Christ from the work of Christ. His righteous work flows from His holy character.

I hope this passage has brought your mind once again to that place of worship and adoration and that you can join me in saying “Soli Deo Gloria!” for the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Study Notes 7-14-13: Judgment is Inaugurated

Here are the study notes for John 12:31-26

12:31-33 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

God rest ye merry Gentlemen let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day,

To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh tidings of comfort and joy!

An Answer to the Greeks?

Verse 31 is a crucial verse for understanding Christ’s mission here on earth. His whole flow of thought here is really interesting. He sees the Jews hailing Him, but for the wrong reasons, then the Greeks come to seek Him and this sets off a red flag in His mind, so He tells those around Him that His time has come to be glorified, to be die so that many will live (the seed image), and to be lifted up and glorified on the cross, and that He will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). So while He doesn’t seem to answer Andrew and Philip who have come to Him with this report of the Greeks seeking Him, in a way He does. Their message kicks off a series of theological points here in these verses that all have to do with the salvation of humanity – note that He wraps up by saying that He “will draw all people to myself.” Not just Jews, but “all people” from every tribe tongue and nation!

The Judgment of this World

The first thing Jesus says in verse 31 would be odd if we hadn’t already looked at this in chapter three a little bit. He says that “Now is the judgment of this world.”  Well what does He mean by “judgment” is “now”?  As Ryle points out, this in undoubtedly a difficult saying, and I think there is perhaps some nuance to it that can easily be missed.  But in order to understand it we must understand the context.  If we don’t see that Christ is talking about several things during this short discourse, including the salvation of men from outside of the Jewish race, the triumph and shame of the cross, the difficulty of the task of the cross and the anguish of Christ’s soul, and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His desire for the glory of God.

Because of this context and the fact that the discourse has been set off originally by some gentiles wishing to Jesus, it is thought by some that “judgment” refers to the fact that Christ has judged the Jews and found them unfaithful and is therefore offering salvation to “all men.”  But this also misses a larger plot line, and the close tie to Christ’s declaration of coming victory of Satan and his power over all mankind (we will see how this relates to the larger redemptive plotline in a moment).  And so because of the fact that he is talking about a much larger plotline here, referring to Satan, to “all men”, and because the conversation could be seen as His reaction to the Gentiles seeking to talk with Him in the first place, I think it is reasonable to say that He is here referring to all men/mankind and their enslavement to sin.  It is worth looking at Carson’s comments on how this is so:

Judgment is in one sense reserved for the end of the age, for the ‘last judgment’. But the texts just cited also show that judgment begins with the first coming of Christ, climaxing in his passion. As the light of the world, Jesus forces a division between those whose evil deeds are exposed by his brilliance, and those whose deeds prompt them to embrace the light in order to testify that what they have done ‘has been done through God’ (3:19-21).

Perhaps the greatest example of an earlier text in which the metaphor of the light and darkness is given is indeed that passage Carson cites from chapter three:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)

This is a passage that I’ve referred back to probably more often than any other passage we’ve studied thus far in this gospel. I think the reason for this is that it explains so much of who we are, and who He is in contrast. We are creatures who love the darkness, and when the light shines into the world, we scurry away like cockroaches.  We not only hate the light, we love the darkness. We love our sin. But there is more to the analogy than simply who we are. There is also who He is. He is the light. And the light has immediate and unavoidable consequences when it enters a place of darkness. Separation occurs immediately, and that is the judgment. It is apparent and obvious and unavoidable. It simply occurs because of His presence on this earth: His light separates the good from the evil, but on the final day of judgment it will be God’s voice booming from the throne and His holy angels who will conduct that final separation between the “sheep and the goats.”

Crushing the Head of the Serpent

Now we need to continue on and examine the second part of verse 31 that states that the “ruler of this world” and his defeat.  Ryle says that, “there can be no doubt that Satan is meant by the ‘prince of this world.’”

First we assume by this comment that, at least in a certain sense, Satan’s work had been largely unhindered. He had been roaming freely on the world and deceiving the nations as he pleased. When Christ came is signaled the beginning of the end of his kingdom. In a recent book by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson the noted theologians say that one of the manifestations of the plotline of history thickening and Satan getting ready for a final fight was the presence of so many demons on earth tormenting people (which we read about in the gospels).  Whether or not this is so, it is evident that Scripture tells us that when Christ came and died He won a significant victory – a victory that had been anticipated for thousands of years.

We see the first proclamation of this victory in Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel. 

These words were spoken to Satan. The prediction here is that one day in the future the seed of Eve will land a death blow to Satan.  That day that God foretold and Moses recorded is the same day Christ here has His eyes fixed upon. Jesus knew that He would be the seed of Eve that dies in order to bear much fruit and in order to bruise the head of the Serpent.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (John 12:24)

In so doing, Christ is gaining the victory. Paul explains further in Colossians, as does the author of Hebrews:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

And…

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV)

When Christ died on the cross He did so in order that “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” This devil has been “cast out” and has been “disarmed” and “put to open shame.”

The irony of it all must not have been too enjoyable for Satan. Carson’s comments are insightful:

Although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat. In one sense Satan was defeated by the outbreaking power of the kingdom of God even within the ministry of Jesus (Luke 10:18). But the fundamental smashing of his reign of tyranny takes place in the death/exaltation of Jesus.

But What Does this Mean For Us Today?

Well what does this all mean in light of the fact that we still battle the Evil One, and that we still live in a fallen world?

It means that when Christ died and rose again He began the death sentence on Satan. The same way in which God told Adam that the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (Gen. 2:17). Did Adam die on that day? No he didn’t die directly, but it he was as good as dead on that day because from that day onward his doom was sealed. He would no longer live out his days in peace with God, he would no longer walk in the cool of the garden, and he would one day see the deterioration of his physical body. In this same way, Satan’s doom was sealed the day Christ rose from the grave.

As D.A. Carson remarks, “When Jesus was glorified, ‘lifted up’ to heaven by means of the cross, enthroned, then too was Satan dethroned. What residual power the prince of this world enjoys is further curtailed by the Holy Spirit, the Counselor.”

We live in times where Satan’s death and final destruction have been assured. While he is still a great danger to us, he is also a man marked for death. His time is waning.

All People

In the latter part of verse 32 Christ tells us that He will draw “all people” to Himself if He is lifted up. And so here again we have that mysterious word “all.” We must look at the context once again to understand what Christ is saying, and to look at all of Scripture’s teaching on salvation.

If we believe that “all” mean includes every man anywhere for all time, then we are Universalists and not gospel believing Christians. Nor is this “drawing” here of an ineffective kind, as some would say – those who might use the word “woo” for the behavior of Christ toward His elect. Does Christ “woo” all people to Himself?  Well obviously no.  There are many men and women who have not heard the gospel and are not drawn to Christ, and many others who hear and reject the gospel. And therefore Christ’s words “draw” and “all people” are not compatible with the Armenian viewpoint of “wooing.”

But if we understand the word “all people” in the context of Christ’s response to the gentiles (as well as the Jews who were listening to Him), as well as the larger context of the redemptive metanarrative Jesus has been addressing in His pronouncement of judgment on the world, and on Satan, then we will see that “all people” is meant to be “all people from every tribe tongue and nation” (as in Rev. 7:9).

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a decent idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)