Introduction to Colossians
Colosse had been a significant city in the past, but had deteriorated in importance by New Testament times. Nearby cities such as Hierapolis and Laodicea (Colossians 4:13), especially the latter, had become more significant, though all three had churches planted in them, probably about the time of Paul’s stay in Ephesus. According to the record, Paul himself never visited any of them (though he may have traveled through Laodicea on his way to or from Ephesus (as an important trade highway existed there). It seems probable that Epaphras, one of Paul’s disciples, may have founded these churches while Paul was staying in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; Colossians 1:7; 4:12-13).
The epistle to the Colossians was apparently written at the same time as that to Philemon, both being carried by Tychicus from Rome in connection with the return of Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus (see Colossians 4:7-9,17; Philemon 2,10). As noted in the Introduction to Ephesians, it is very likely that Tychicus also brought Paul’s letter to the Ephesians on this trip. Paul was in house arrest at Rome (Acts 28:30) when all three of these epistles were written.
In many respects, Colossians is similar to Ephesians in content and emphasis, although Ephesians is longer and more fully developed in both its doctrinal and practical aspects. However, Colossians seems to have been written primarily to correct an incipient heresy that seemed to be developing in the church at Colosse and possibly spreading to other churches. This heresy was a tendency to compromise with the pagan pantheistic evolutionism of the Greek philosophers, possibly with an admixture of Judaizing legalism.
Many varieties of evolutionary philosophy thrived in the Graeco/Roman world of the day (Epicureanism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, etc.), but the essential basis of all of them was denial of the true transcendent Creator God of the universe. Hence in the Colossian epistle Paul was led to formulate the greatest Christological passage in the entire Bible (Colossians 1:16-20), setting forth Jesus Christ as Creator, Sustainer and Reconciler of all things in heaven and earth. He then went on to insist that all wisdom and knowledge were centered in Christ (Colossians 2:3) and to warn against all human philosophy (Colossians 2:8).
As far as the authenticity of Colossians is concerned, practically no one, ancient or modern, has questioned its Pauline authorship. Paul identifies himself as author (Colossians 1:1; 4:18) in both the opening and closing verses. Even though he had never visited either the Colossian or Laodicean churches in person (Colossians 2:1), he knew many of the members, as well as those of his own followers who had visited there (e.g., Aristarchus, Epaphras, Luke, Demas). The mention of so many people by name in Colossians 4:7-17 helps still further to confirm the authenticity of Colossians.
The book of Colossians is relatively brief, with only four chapters, but it is very important, with its uniquely powerful and vital presentation of the person and work of Jesus Christ—a message probably more urgently needed in our day than even in Paul’s day.
1:2 Colosse. Colosse was a small city of Asia Minor not too far from Laodicea (see Colossians 4:16). Paul had never visited there, and so addressed them a little more formally than he did the church at Ephesus, even though the doctrinal content of the two epistles is often similar. He apparently wrote while he was in prison at Rome (note Colossians 4:18) and sent the letter to them by Tychicus (Colossians 4:7), by whom he also sent the Ephesian letter, presumably at the same time (note Ephesians 6:21-22), as well as that to Philemon.
1:5 hope. Note the mention of faith, love and hope (see in Colossians 1:4). These three words are noted also in I Corinthians 13:13; I Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 4:2-5; Hebrews 6:10-12; 10:22-24; I Peter 1:3-8,21-22.
1:5 truth of the gospel. The “word of the truth of the gospel” thus includes the promise of heaven, as well as the death and resurrection of Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4). It also includes recognition of the Creator and His great creation (Revelation 14:6-7).
1:6 all the world. Christ had commissioned His followers to go “into all the world” with the gospel (Mark 16:15), and wherever they went, it bore (and still bears) spiritual fruit.
1:7 Epaphras. Epaphras evidently had been the man who first preached the gospel and established the church there. At the time of writing, he was with Paul (Colossians 4:12), having brought word to him of the state of the Colossian church with its need for doctrinal guidance from Paul. He is also mentioned in Philemon 23, where it is indicated that Epaphras may also have been imprisoned with Paul for a time.
1:9 knowledge. “Knowledge” is the same as “science.” The “knowledge of His will” could be considered as the science of God’s will; perhaps one could call this science thelemology (the Greek word for “will” is thelema)! God has indeed given us guidelines for knowing His will. The principles of “thelemology” could be grouped in two categories: God’s general will for all His people; and God’s specific will for each individual believer. His general will includes knowledge and acceptance concerning creation (Revelation 4:11, the last occurrence of “will” in the Bible, there translated “pleasure”), redemption (Hebrews 10:7-10), salvation (II Timothy 1:9), regeneration (John 1:13; Ephesians 1:5), security (John 6:39; 17:24), sanctification (I Thessalonians 4:3; 5:18; I Peter 2:15), and our eternal presence with Christ (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:9-11). The knowledge of His particular will is conditioned on willingness to follow it (John 7:17; Romans 12:1-2), obedience when known (James 1:22; Matthew 7:21), prayer for guidance (I John 5:14-15), obedience to the relevant Scriptures (Psalm 119:105), recognition of relevant circumstances (I Corinthians 12:4,11; Romans 8:26-28), and inner confidence (Philippians 4:6-7; Psalm 32:8; Proverbs 3:5-6).
1:9 his will. It is noteworthy that forty-nine of the sixty-four occurrences of thelema (“will”) in the New Testament refer directly to God’s will, not man’s. Of the other fifteen, three refer to Jesus in His humanity and three to the Father as represented in parables by a human father. Thus, only nine (or fourteen percent) refer to man’s will. Based on this relative frequency of occurrence in the Spirit-inspired Scriptures, it would seem that He considered the will of God far more important than that of man.
1:10 walk worthy. Among Paul’s prayer requests—and evidently the normal results of being fulfilled with the knowledge of God’s will—were a “worthy walk,” “fruitful in every good work,” an “increasing knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10), strength and joy in suffering (Colossians 1:11), and a thankful heart (Colossians 1:12).
1:13 power of darkness. The “power of darkness” (note Luke 22:53) is nothing less than the kingdom of Satan, in which we all once were captive slaves. Note, for example, Ephesians 2:1-3. However, we have now been set free from this bondage and carried into a new kingdom of light rather than darkness (note Colossians 1:12).
1:14 through his blood. The blood of Christ shed on the cross in substitution for us who deserved to die was the redemption price necessary to secure our freedom and forgiveness. See also Ephesians 1:7; I Peter 1:18-20.
1:15 image. This is a clear affirmation of the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. Christ is whatever God is—spiritual, omnipotent, omniscient, holy—all the attributes of the eternal God. The word “image” (Greek eikon) conveys this meaning. Jesus Christ represents—indeed is—“very God of very God.” Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). God in His essence is invisible (John 1:18) but we see all His attributes in Christ.
1:15 firstborn. Christ is “the firstborn,” not in the sense that He ever came into existence from a prior condition of non-existence, but rather as eternally proceeding from the Father, the only begotten Son, always manifesting the Father. This truth can be called the doctrine of eternal generation. He is from eternity to eternity in relation to the Father as a Son. Some are sons of God by creation (e.g., angels; see Job 1:6), and we can become sons of God by adoption (e.g., Romans 8:14-15), but He is the Son, by eternal generation (or eternal relation) the only-begotten of the Father. He also has the right of inheritance of the firstborn (Hebrews 1:2) and is “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18).
1:16 all things created. Jesus Christ certainly is not a created being—not even the first created being—as many have argued, for the obvious reason that He Himself is the Creator of all things in heaven and earth, material and spiritual, visible or invisible. Only God can create, and God did not create Himself! Note also John 1:1-3; Ephesians 3:9; Hebrews 1:2-3.
1:16 powers. The “thrones, dominions, principalities and powers” clearly are in reference to the spiritual creation of the vast host of heaven. The pagan world, whether of the ancient Greeks or of the modern New Agers, has always believed in angels, demons or spirit beings of various types and powers, and it is vital for us to understand that such beings do exist and can wield great influence in the visible world as well as the invisible. Even these, however, were created by Jesus Christ! Many have rebelled against Him, both men and angels, always justifying themselves by maintaining they are the products of some cosmic evolutionary process instead of creation by the eternal, transcendent God.
1:16 for him. All things were not only created by God in Christ, but also for Him (see also Romans 11:36; I Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:10). We cannot comprehend all this now, but even the evil that God has allowed will somehow eventually redound to His glory (Romans 9:21-23).
1:17 before all things. Note the frequent occurrence in Colossians 1:16-20 of the words “all things” and “by Him” (or “in Him”). By Him all things were created in the past, by Him all things consist in the present, by Him all things are to be reconciled in the future. Therefore, in Him all fullness dwells. “Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things” (Romans 11:36). He is Alpha and Omega, all and in all.
1:17 consist. The Greek word translated “consist” is sunistano, from which we get “sustain.” The things created by Christ are now being sustained, or conserved, or held together, by Him. He is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The most basic of all scientific principles is implied in these two verses (Colossians 1:16-17), that is, the principle of conservation of mass/energy, or “all things.” According to this principle, nothing is now being either created or annihilated—only conserved, as far as quantity is concerned. One state of matter can be changed to another (e.g., liquid to solid); one type of energy can be converted to another (e.g., electrical energy to light energy); and under some conditions, matter and energy can be interchanged (e.g., nuclear fission); but the total quantity of mass/energy is always conserved. This law—also called the First Law of Thermodynamics—is the best-proved law of science, but science cannot tell us why it is true. The reason nothing is now being created is because Christ created all things in the past. The reason why nothing is now being annihilated is because all things are now being sustained by Him. If it were not so, the “binding energy” of the atom, which holds its structure together, would collapse, and the whole universe would disintegrate into chaos.
1:20 made peace. Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). He did not say: “Blessed are the pacifists,” those who give in to evil just to avoid fighting for the right. But how does one make peace? God “made peace through the blood of His [i.e., Christ’s] cross.” Man has utterly alienated himself from His Maker by his rebellion against Him, and it took nothing less than His own Son’s atoning blood to reconcile sinful man to a holy God. Because of His shed blood, God in Christ can forgive sins and save sinners. Thus, Christ is the great Peacemaker between man and God. Before peace can truly prevail between man and man, there must be peace between man and God. But although God has now been reconciled to man, man still needs to be reconciled to God. Therefore, the best way Christians can be peacemakers on earth is to beseech men to be reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5:20).
1:20 reconcile all things. Christ’s death on the cross not only paid the price for man’s redemption, but also for that of the whole universe. Because of sin, the creation is under the great curse, as it “groaneth and travaileth in pain together” (Romans 8:22), so it also must be reconciled to God. Again, note the past, present and future aspects of the work of Christ with respect to the entire universe. First, by Him all things were created. Note that creation was a completed work of the past (Genesis 2:1-3); He is not now creating anything, as theistic evolutionists would suppose. Whenever the Bible mentions the creation of the heaven and the earth, it is always in the past tense. Secondly, He is now conserving what He created. Finally, He will reconcile everything back to God. creation, conservation, consummation: that is the cosmic scope of the work of Christ.
1:23 the gospel. The “gospel” which Paul preached evidently encompassed the whole scope of the person and work of Jesus Christ, from creation to consummation (Colossians 1:15-20; note also the reference to “the word of the truth of the gospel” in Colossians 1:5). Thus, this great Christological passage in Colossians 1:12-23 is both introduced and concluded by calling it all “the gospel.” See also notes on Matthew 4:23; I Corinthians 15:1-4; Revelation 14:6-7.
1:23 every creature. It seems to be impossible that the gospel could have been “preached to every creature which is under heaven” in just the thirty or so years since Christ had given the disciples the commission to do just that (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). However, the preposition “to” is the Greek “en,” more commonly translated simply by “in.” Also, the word “creature” is the same as “creation” and is commonly so translated. Thus the clause may read: “ which was preached in every creation which is under heaven,” a statement which is defensible and true. The Old Testament reminds us that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handywork” (Psalm 19:1). The New Testament assures us that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). For those who have eyes and ears to see and hear with their hearts, there can be found in every part of God’s creation abundant testimony to His power and wisdom in creating and upholding all things. There is evidence of His curse upon the creation because of sin, evidence of His love in conserving and saving His creatures, and evidence of His purpose and future consummation. Truly the gospel is being preached in every creation under heaven!
1:25 dispensation. On “dispensation,” see notes on Ephesians 1:10; 3:2.
1:26 mystery. See notes on Ephesians 3:3-11.
1:27 Christ in you. Some interpret this majestic statement as referring merely to the fact that Christ is now being preached among the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The greater truth, however, is that Christ is now in you—that is, He has come to dwell in the heart of each believer, whether Jew or Gentile, through the Holy Spirit. See John 14:17; Galatians 2:20. His spiritual presence in us now assures us of His glorious physical presence with us in the ages to come (Ephesians 2:4-7).