In previous chapters we have seen how the Colossian Christians had been persuaded to adopt another religion. Together with many of the later Gnostics (offering salvation by gnosis or special knowledge), the false teachers gave a high place to Jesus as a wonderful person who showed us the way to become divine, but they denied he was the Son of God. We have to find our own way to find illumination by adopting some philosophical ideas, ancient traditions, and rules to control our bodily appetites (Colossian 2:8, 16-18). So Paul reminds them of who the Messiah is, and all that we have in him.
1:13 - Man centered religion tells us we have to search for the light and attain the needed illumination. But no amount of human effort can find a way out of "the power of darkness" that holds us in its grip (as in Luke 22:53, Romans 7:23, Ephesians 4:17-18). The good news is that Jesus is the light of the world (John 1:4,9, 8:12, 9:5, 12:35-36). And he comes down into our dungeon and rescues us. There is nothing we have to do except welcome his deliverance.
Charles Wesley (1707-88) captured the imagery of this experience perfectly "Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray - I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose went forth and followed Thee" (And Can it Be?).
Not only does the Messiah rescue us from the dark dungeon of hopelessness, but we find he has immediately "transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son." A better translation is "the kingdom of the Son of his love." In the Old Testament the prophets often spoke of the Lord reigning among the nations. In the Gospels we find he has appeared among us, and declared that "the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15). He used parables to explain the way his kingdom works (Mark 4:11, 26, 30, Matthew 25:1) and the very different principles upon which it is governed (Mark 10:42-45). Then he invited men and women of all nations to serve in that kingdom (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:29).
1:14 - (Ephesians 1:7) As this change occurs, we find that we are "ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven" (Praise my soul, the King of Heaven, by H.F.Lyte, 1834 ). The words redeemed and ransomed are important. Slaves are redeemed. Captives are ransomed. In both cases the experience of deliverance is the same. They are now free to go as they please and begin a new life. At the time they may not understand who their redeemer or ransomer is, or what was involved in their deliverance. Often understanding how we are saved comes later.
At first there is a nagging sense that our past will catch up with us. Surely we have to pay back and earn our salvation. But slowly it dawns on us that nothing of our previous life as a slave or captive can be held against us. There is not only the freedom of having been ransomed or redeemed but the slate is clean and we have a total "forgiveness of sins." With God our past will not even be remembered. Speaking of the new covenant the prophet wrote "I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34).
1:15 - Later we discover that the Messiah who has redeemed and ransomed is "the image of the invisible God" (as in in Philippians 2:6,7, Hebrews 1:3). This does not mean that the Messiah is a second hand image or replica of God himself. God is an eternal Trinity of three Persons held together by love. And we experience each Person in a different way. The Father is never seen (John 1:18). Like a loving parent behind the scenes he sets up our environment without us knowing all that is done for us every day of our life. As Jesus said, we are "the children of our Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).
The Spirit is also unseen. Like the wind that moves the sailing ships and lifts the birds to soar in the sky, we can experience his power (as Jesus explained to Nicodemus, John 3:8. See Romans 8:11, 14-15, 15:13).
But it is the Son of God whose special function is to come into contact with humans (beginning in Genesis 3:8, and his many "comings" in the Old Testament, see Advent Comings of the Lord among the Nations). He is also appears from time to time, including the thirty years when he came and lived among us (John 1:14, 6:40, Hebrews 2:17). In that sense by making himself accessible, and on occasion visible, "He is the image of the invisible God."
Applied to the eternal Son of God, the word "firstborn" does not refer to a time when he was created the Son of God (this was taught by the Arians of the fourth century). The word refers to his status and authority, as opposed to our own adoption as children of God (John 1:12, Romans 8:16, 20, Galatians 4:5-7).
1:16 - Our Christian faith is Theistic. That means we distinguish the Creator from his creation. In Genesis 1 the world is pictured as being brought into being by an Artist, who steps back and sees each stage of his creation and finds it good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 31). But monistic models of religion (see God of Many N ames chapter 2) do without a creator. In such forms of religion the world comes into being by its own energy, or by its inner life or soul. And this may well have been the philosophy taught by the false teachers in Colossae, and it is still propagated in our day.
But the New Testament reveals that our creation was effected by the Son of God. "All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being" (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:2). The idea was captured by C.S.Lewis in the Narnia stories when he had Aslan singing the vegetation and trees and birds and animals into being.
As in the later Gnositicism, the false teachers had various levels of spiritual being working behind the scenes of our world (2:18). Paul does not deny that God uses angels (messengers) not only to bring messages but to intervene directly for our protection and deliverance from danger (see Daniel 8:16, Acts 12:7, 27:23). Some of these powers work in and through the nations of our world (Daniel 10:13, 12:1). But angels and other subsidiary powers are not to be worshiped as divine. They are merely servants of God. And whatever forces and spiritual beings are at work influencing what goes on in our world, "whether thrones,or dominions, or rulers, or powers," they were all created by the Son of God "through him and for him" (as in Romans 11:36)
1:17 - "He is before all things" is not a priority in time, but it refers to the Messiah's total preeminence. As a result of his willingness to empty himself, take human form, and become "obedient to the point of death" Paul concluded, "Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11).
And "In him all things hold together" which means that if the Messiah let our world fly apart it would immediately disintegrate into its natural chaos.
1:18 - In the next chapter we will see what Paul calls "the mystery" of the cosmic reconciliation that the Messiah is bringing about through his church. But already the Colossians should realize the total triviality of the "philosophy and empty deceit" (2:8) that the false teachers had offered. Their aim was to dethrone the Messiah and bring people of other nations into submission by circumcision and submitting to Jewish tradition (2:11, 16-22). As in our day, people are easily persuaded to adopt a form of religion that offers a way of illumination by their own wisdom and personal efforts.
Chapter 5 .....