“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is not addressed to unbelievers for the purpose of conversion, but rather, the epistle is an appeal to believers about the preeminence of Christ. Confronted with the news that some Christians in Colossae are turning to other spiritual pursuits in a kind of Christian syncretism, or an amalgamation of different religions and mystical practices, Paul seeks to reignite their devotion to the Gospel. The problems, or heresies, that Paul addresses are indicative of a first century Roman household situated within a pagan culture. Though the church at Colossae was not among those Paul had personally established, the apostle writes, nonetheless, to remind them of the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ, whether earthly or spiritual.

Prior to presenting a hymn of praise (1:15-20) to Christ as the universal Lord, Paul presents a summary statement affirming that Christians have been delivered from a realm of bondage and brought into one of freedom.[1] Paul reminds his readers that God has rescued them from the “dominion of darkness” and brought them into the “kingdom of the Son he loves” (1:13), through whom they have been redeemed and their sins forgiven (1:14). Paul’s use of language here is indicative of the Exodus account, which proposes to show the Colossians, and by extension us, that God has delivered them much in the same way He delivered the ancient Israelites out of the hand of Pharaoh. However, unlike a geographic change, such as from Egypt to Canaan, Paul depicts a spiritual exodus that precipitated the forgiveness of sins and a transfer from bondage to Satan to freedom in Christ.[2] Kingship is attributed to the Lord, and the Colossians now live under His reign, as evidenced by their setting aside their former way of life in the flesh.

He 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 (Colossians 1:15-20, ESV).[3]

The hymn presents a description of God’s character and purpose in Christ. According to Paul, Jesus makes visible the invisible God, Jesus is the firstborn–that is head of all creation; Christ is begotten not made, reveals the invisible and uncreated God, and is the head of the church, His body.[4] The Son is not made in the image of the Father, as Adam was created; instead, Paul is clear that Jesus is the incarnate image of God. In agreement with the Gospel of John (1:1-3), Paul maintains that Jesus created all things, and that He is before all things. In addition, God’s purpose, according to Paul, is the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of broken humanity unto Himself.[5] Paul touches on ecclesiology (the church) by proclaiming that Christ is the head, as well as on soteriology (salvation) by delving into God’s redemptive plan for humanity and creation as a whole. Ultimately, this passage in Colossians assures Paul’s readers that God is a loving Father to all believers who has not only forgiven them, but in demonstrating His rich compassion, has cast aside the sins of His children “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

Paul makes the case in Colossians 1:13-20 that Jesus Christ came to reconcile all things to God, as Lord of the universe and head of the church. According to Thayer’s lexicon, “to reconcile ἀποκαταλλάξαι” in verse 20 is a double compound verb implying restitution to a previous order of things. Paul’s use of ἀποκαταλλάξαι infers that the universe was originally created as something good, and it is God’s intention to return creation to its original condition; the entirety of the universe, including the earthly and spiritual realms, are subject to Christ. In many ways, the modern Christian faces many of the pressures and temptations shared by the Colossians. The modern mindset is too often characterized by an attempt to gather an assortment of seemingly helpful elements from various philosophies and religions in order to improve life, even Christians fall prey to various forms of mysticism in their worship; however, Paul’s letter to the Colossians is a reminder to believers (then and now) that life should be one of faith, centered on Christ alone. Be encouraged! 

[1] Teresa Okure, “’In him all things hold together’: a missiological reading of Colossians 1:15-20,” International Review of Mission 91, no 360 (January 2002): 64.

[2] Ibid., 65.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

[4] Okure., 66-67.

[5] Michael Trainor, “The cosmic Christology of Colossians 1:15-20 in the light of contemporary ecological issues,” Australian Biblical Review 53 (2005): 64.

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