There is a beautiful section of the beginning of St. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians that has impressed itself in my memory for a couple years now. As I’ve slowly grown in the faith and learned a little more about the Early Church’s teaching and practice, this passage has continued to stand out as a significant declaration of our salvation in Christ, over and beyond our modern favorites like John 3:16. The passage I want to look at is Colossians 1:11-20. Let’s walk through it bit by bit
11-12) May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
This is the tail end of Paul’s prayer for the Church. He prays here that we would be strengthened with God’s glorious power in order to endure the Christian life. As part of this strengthening, we are to be giving thanks to the Father – that is, worship God. The main thing we are to thank him for (in this instance) is that he has made us worthy to share the inheritance of the saints – God’s holy people. We aren’t holy, but God qualifies us, brings us up to that level where we need to be. Rather than delving into justification, as many modern Christians would, St. Paul goes somewhere else:
13-14) He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Rather than courtroom language, as the Protestant world tends to gravitate towards, we get citizenship language. God is a rescuer, one who steals us from the devil’s clutches and carries us into Jesus’ kingdom. This is good because Jesus is a King who provides redemption and forgiveness for his people. What else is King Jesus?
15-17) He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
In other words, Jesus is God himself. This identity of God as more than one person, yet one being, is what we call the Trinity. And our salvation is intricately wrapped up in this three-person God. The Father created all things through his Son Jesus, and for his Son Jesus, and it is by Jesus that creation continues to exist. So it makes sense that we want to enter into Jesus’ kingdom, doesn’t it? Our continued life and existence cannot be guaranteed by any other being.
18-20) He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness 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.
The primacy of Christ Jesus is ultimate. He existed before the world existed, so he’s the Lord of the living. He’s the first one to permanently return from the grave, so he’s the Lord of the dead. He is the Church’s head – the source of our wisdom and faith – the King of the wise and faithful. God is fully present in Jesus; he’s not just human, but both God and man in one person. Why?
The reason given here is not the one many Christians today think about. The incarnation – God becoming man – was an act of God for the purpose of reconciling all things to himself. Not just humans, but all creation. The heavenly realms (spiritual world of angels and such), the earthly realms (or the physical universe), everything! Jesus didn’t come simply to save sinners, he came to put the entire universe back together!
And this is (in part) why Christian living, ethics, justice, and works are just as important ministries as preaching the gospel and forgiving sins. This is (in part) why the Sacraments are so profound – the physical world is being reconciled to God in the context of the ministry of the Church, Christ’s body: Bread and wine becomes food & drink for eternal life, water that quenches physical thirst becomes water that quenches spiritual thirst, oil that makes our faces shine makes our souls shine. This is (in part) why environmentalism ought to be of great importance to Christians. This is (in part) why we must be so very wary of false end-times teachings that declare the destruction of the very world God has promised to reconcile unto himself.
Absolutely, this passage does not rule out the reality of the final judgment. Nor does this passage proclaim universalism – the idea that everyone will be saved. Universal reconciliation is God’s desire, but it is not the desire of every human being. One angle of the final judgment that this passage might suggest is that God and the unrepentant sinner will “agree to disagree,” thus leaving those who reject God to lead a hellish life separated from God’s ways.
The ramifications of these several verses can be explored in many directions, echoing throughout the Scriptures, but I’ll leave it at that for now. As with anyone’s favorite Bible verses, it’s difficult to do full justice to the depth of God’s written word.