Colossians 1:21-23 ESV
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
God’s Word has a way of forcing us to look up and look out.
It challenges us to recognize that we are not at the center. We are small. We are characters in Somebody else’s story. And every once in a while we stumble onto a text of scripture that challenges us to recognize that there is a much larger story above our story. Our passage this morning is one of those passages that forces us to look beyond ourselves.
To make sense of our passage we will need to step back and examine a theme that Paul will bring up again in Colossians and that is the theme of conflict in heaven. That is, there are spiritual forces waging war against God and his people.
There is a battle being waged right now in this room if we have spiritual eyes to see it. But before we take that theme up, let me just give you a summary of where we are in Paul’s letter.
First of all Paul is writing to believers in a 1st century church.
He knows that they are believers in Jesus, because of their faith and love, but he also knows that they have been exposed to some dangerous teaching which threatened to lead them away from Jesus as supreme and sufficient, both to bring them into right relation to God and supreme and sufficient for their ongoing walk with God.
When Paul recorded his prayer for them in vs 9-14, he gave us a vision for Christian Maturity and remember that maturity is grounded upon a proper response to the gospel. The gospel has massive implication.
And so last time, we began looking at verse 15-20, where Paul uses a kind of hymn or poem, which placed the glory of Christ as the Lord of the natural heavens and earth before our eyes in order to strengthen our faith in His work for us.
So, Paul is arguing that the hope of the gospel is sure and enduring because of who Christ is. How can you rest in the promises of the gospel? It is because the One who secured those promises is causing the sun to rise and sustaining your heart beat, He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. That was last week.
With this hymn Paul continues to place Jesus before our eyes – this time, to show that the promises secured in the gospel are sure and enduring because the One who secured them is the source and Lord of the New Creation.
Out of the ruins of the fallen world rises One who will bring with Him a new people who are righteous, the church, and it is He who establishes peace in the universe.
Now the way I’d like to go about unpacking these few verses, is by starting in verses 19 and 20 and wrestle out what is going on there, and then we’ll head back to verse 18 and moving forward through the hymn and see if our understanding of the weight and significance has deepened.
So let me read to you the poem as we begin:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (As far as we got last time). 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
So, verses 19 and 20. What struck me as I studied this passage, was Paul’s assumption that there has been conflict in heaven. Look at it.
Jesus is said to have reconciled to God all things in heaven and on earth. – that is Christ has brought peace, He has restored harmony – both in heaven and on earth. This verse assumes there has been a kind of war in the heavens.
I want to take a moment, first, to consider that word reconcile.
There is a lot of discussion around this word in this context. What does it mean that through Jesus, God reconciled all things to Himself? We are probably familiar with the use of this word when, for instance in the very next verses, 21 and 22, we read “and you…he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…”
Where there was once enmity, that is God’s wrath was against us because of our sin, there is now harmony because of Jesus. We now have peace with God and are no longer enemies, under his wrath.
What becomes somewhat difficult in the verse we are considering (vs 20) is that we are told that God reconciled all things to himself through Jesus. What does that mean? Some have taken this verse and said, “Ah ha, universal salvation. Everyone and everything has been brought back into right relation to God. All things are reconciled!” The huge problem with this is that the rest of scripture makes it very plain that this is an impossible interpretation. Hell exists. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matt 7:13).
If not universal salvation, then what?
Well, some think that Paul is saying, all things in the sphere of the new creation are reconciled. The problem with this view is that it does not seem to make sense of Paul’s immediate context. Paul is placing Christ forward and uses the phrase all things, everything, all things.
“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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
So the question is what does it mean that God reconciled all things in the universe to himself.
I believe this universal reconciliation is just what the verse says: a making of peace where there was discord. The universe and all things in it have been brought back into harmony, under the rule and authority of God – But, and here is the key, this peace comes to some as healing and restoring and life and it comes to others as a conquering and a subduing and a destroying.
The application of this universal peace, accomplished by Christ, to you personally (vs 21-22) has everything to do with your relationship to Christ.
All things in the universe are brought back into harmony – things in heaven and on earth – through Christ. This is glorious news for those in Christ, this is terrifying news for those who are without or outside of Christ. So, I want to unpack Paul’s statement that “things in heaven” are reconciled to God through Christ, here in verse 20.
What are things in heaven?
Well, the immediate context of verse 20 is verse 16. I believe Paul is talking about the same thing.
In verse 16, we saw last time, “things in heaven” meant that which is invisible, that which is spiritual. Paul assumes that there has been a conflict in the heavenly realm, the spiritual realm, the unseen realm. And that Christ’s cross work had heavenly, spiritual implications, not simply earthly ones. He made peace by the blood of His Cross in heaven and on earth.
The idea being that Christ’s cross work was the decisive victory for every square inch of the universe visible and invisible.
So, Christ’s Cross work has won a decisive victory in a heavenly war – there has been a spiritual battle raging between God and His heavenly host and the Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We don’t often think about this spiritual drama, but it is significant. And we are going to try to unpack a bit of its significants this morning. Because I don’t think we will appreciate Paul’s point in this hymn, which is designed to strengthen you for a walk worthy of the Lord, if we miss this spiritual conflict.
Paul has already touched on things heavenly, things invisible, in verse 16 and remember there we were told that it was through Jesus that all thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities were created.
Remember that this is the same language that Paul used in Ephesians where he says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
And Paul will raise this theme of rulers and authorities (that is spiritual forces of evil), again in Colossians 2:15. So I think we need to spend some time unpacking, as much as we can biblically, what Paul is talking about.
There is an ongoing spiritual warfare, according to Ephesians, and yet Paul labors here in Colossians to show that every part of the universe is already reconciled to God because of the Cross. The Spiritual Forces have in fact been conquered (according to Colossians 2:15).
So what is this all about?
There is much we don’t know – and we need to guard ourselves from speculation. But there is much we are told. So let me give you a rough sketch of this heavenly drama as it has unfolded above and as it touches down in the earthly drama.
Consider the first character in this heavenly drama, God:
- He is the center of all the dramas in heaven and on earth.
- He is uncreated – all other characters are created.
- He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.
- He is holy, holy, holy. perfect in Power and Righteousness.
God created the universe, both physical and spiritual. Everything in heaven and on earth.
Second, consider Satan. First of all, he is a creature, a created being.
We are not given a great amount of detail about Satan or exactly how any spiritual force works in this drama, but we do know, he was an angelic being, and became swollen with pride. He did not honor God but rebelled against Him and sought to raise himself to be like the Most High. He has a number of names in scripture. Among those names is the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10). We know a host of angelic beings followed him in this rebellion … and God, the holy judge in justice, cast them down, out of his presence (Is. 14:12-15).
So, Satan it seems, became bent on making war with God. Satan and his forces want nothing more than to discredit and thwart the Most High’s plans.
And so we see this wicked creature enter our earthly story in the garden of Eden in the form of a serpent, tempting Eve to rebel against God. He tempted her to reject the Word of God and embrace the word of the snake. And we know that Satan won a massive victory that day, it seemed, as Adam and Eve listen to the snake and sinned against God – they failed to honor their Creator and all humanity was plunged into sin and misery.
We can imagine that Satan rejoiced at this, for God’s good creation was now corrupted and in ruin. And God, the holy judge in justice, must cast them down, out of Eden and give them their just reward: death, cut off from God. Satan had ruined God’s plans – so he imagined.
But imagine Satan’s shock to hear that God did not utterly cast them away, instead he showed them grace – he promised that one day a seed would come from the women, a human, who would crush Satan’s head even as Satan crushed his heel (Gen 3:15).
Not only this, but God continued to show mercy to the race of sinful men – God piles greater and greater promise upon them, even as they prove again and again unworthy and sinful.
So now, the war in heaven has really begun.
Satan and his condemned devils are determined to thwart God’s plans to be kind to sinners.
It seems that Satan’s silver bullet is in fact God’s own character. You see Satan knows that if he can keep people in sinful rebellion, he has won. This is because of God Himself. It is because of God’s very nature. God is just and cannot abide the dishonor of His Holy name – Satan presses on challenging God thinking he can discredit Him – if he can keep the race of men in bondage to sin. How can he lose?
- Satan wants to derail God’s purposes.
- Satan wants to discredit God’s word and show his promises of grace to be empty.
And so the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are working to keep mankind in the grip of sin and rebellion – and in so doing create a foothold, to accuse in the Divine court room.
If Satan can prove sin and rebellion in the heart of man, he can stand before God and demand, on the grounds of justice, that they be condemned! This is Romans 3. If God is Holy and Just He must do justly. If God passes over sin and will not do justice and righteousness – God Himself will be found to be a sinner!
Satan thinks he can trap God and discredit Him.
Satan thinks he will force God to either be a liar, unable to keep His grand promises of grace (upholding his justice), or he will force God to act unjustly, passing over sin and making a mockery of His own holiness (keeping his promises). Satan’s goal has been to make a public spectacle of God one way or the other.
And so there has been tension in heaven. There has been war: The serpent seeking to keep mankind stumbling in sin and accusing them before the Holy Judge, throwing it in His holy face. And God promising to be both Holy and Gracious.
How will God vindicate His holy name?
How will He save a people without excusing their sin? How will God triumph over Satan and the spiritual forces of evil?
Note carefully, in this heavenly war, as Satan accuses us before God – that Satan is really accusing God either of injustice or impotence and falsehood. But here we come to Colossians chapter 1 and verses19-20. Keep this heavenly drama in your mind:
Satan stands before the Holy judge of the universe, and he lays out all your sins before the Holy One and he demands condemnation. He demands death. He demand that God do justly . . .
. . .and God answers Satan in the Divine court Room: “Satan, Meet the Lamb who was slain! – He has paid their debts!”
The Son of God descended: “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 1:19-20).
You see Jesus, God the Son, brought an end to the storm raging in heaven. His cross work brought an end to the tension once and for all – Would God be holy and just or would God be kind and gracious – No, God is both at the cross.
The conflict between God’s unwavering holiness . . . and . . .His promises of grace toward sinners is no conflict because of Christ and His work on the Cross.
There has been a heavenly reconciliation.
The enemies of God are conquered and subdued. A state of peace and harmony has been established. The accuser of the brethren was silenced at the cross. The one who would thwart God’s plans has been defeated. Any foothold the accuser thought to use has evaporated.
What do you have to say now Satan? – Christ has shut your mouth. You are a defeated foe. And there is peace in the heavens and on earth.
Why? Because of who Jesus is and what He has done. The spiritual war in the heavens has been decided – victory has been secured at the cross.
Armed with that understanding, let us go back to verse 18 and begin to place Christ, The Lord of the New Creation, before our eyes.
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.
Here we are told that Jesus is the head of the body, that he is the leader, the founder, the life source of the body, the church.
Sometimes we think that the church is just a building. No, the church is an assembly of people. Sometimes we think of church in terms of local assemblies and Paul does use the term that way, but here Paul is talking about the church in a larger sense. The Church, here, is a very strange group of new creatures, a new creation – it is all those people who have died, but who have been brought to life.
The church is that group of redeemed sinners who have been gathered in from every tribe, tongue, people and nation – and they have been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints, they have been delivered out of the domain of darkness, and transferred into the kingdom of Christ, they have been redeemed, they have been forgiven because they have Christ as their head. He is their head – they owe their very existence to Him. He is their life source and authority. He is their all in all.
What Paul is telling us here is that Jesus Christ is both the Lord and source of the natural creation and Lord and source of a new creation – a people who have passed from death to life.
18b. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
It is Christ who begins a new kind of people by His resurrection. His victory over the grave was the beginning of a New Creation.
He is the firstborn from the dead. In this case he is in fact, literally the first to come from the dead, but far more than that, as we saw last time, he is the preeminent One over all those who come from the dead – He ranks first among them as their source and their conquering King.
Here we find a glorious truth:
- If we are in Christ by faith, we are His Body and He our head.
- He the firstborn from the dead, and we are those who follow Him from the dead.
- He emerges victorious over sin and death, we His body reap the benefits of His victory over sin and death, and so rise with Him.
So He is the beginning of a new creation. He is the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.
Do you know who Jesus is?
Now, verses 19 and 20 come along to tell us how Christ became the source of this new people – this new creation:
Those who stood condemned, disqualified, and guilty, before the Holy God, God has brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ. Satan and the spiritual forces of evil have been silenced and defeated at the cross!
Paul calls us to set our minds upon the fact that Jesus is not just Lord over the first creation – He is also the Victor who defeated the heavenly forces of evil and by His victory has brought peace in heaven and earth and has created a new people who are holy and blameless.
God the Son came as the necessary propitiation – He absorbed the just wrath of God by dying in the place of sinners and therefore God has kept His promises and pours the riches of His grace through Christ.
And in doing so He has brought to nothing the Accuser and silenced any who would question God’s justice or gracious intention and so has made peace on earth and in heaven.
And so there has arisen One who brings with Him a new people who are righteous: His body, the church.
This is your Lord.
How can you be sure that you are qualified? That He is for you and not against you? It is because you have placed your trust, placed your hope, in Christ, who is Lord over heaven and earth, Lord over the New Creation, the Silencer of Satan, the Snake Crusher, the One who has made peace in the cosmos by the blood of His cross. The One in whom you have entrusted your soul is no weakling – He is supreme, He is the Creator of all things and the One who has conquered all of His and our enemies and constituted a new holy people. There is nothing else stronger, no one else higher. Do you know the glory of your Savior?
Now, these glorious soul anchoring truths might raise some questions.
Isn’t there a spiritual war going on right now? If Satan has been silenced what power does He have left? What is he up to? What is he working to do, perhaps even in this room this morning?
Well, according to 2 Corinthians 4:4 “. . . the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Satan knows who Jesus is. Satan knows the perfect victory secured by Jesus Christ at the cross. Because he knows it, he is bent on keeping people from seeing the glory of Christ in the gospel!
The spiritual battle today for us is to believe the gospel. To cling to Jesus as sufficient and supreme. To set our minds on Him and set our hope full upon the grace to be brought to us when He appears.
Satan wants you to walk away from Christ. To ignore and forget about Jesus and His work – the Apostle Paul is laboring to help us see and savor Christ as that treasure that is so valuable that you would count everything else as rubbish compared to him.
Set your minds on Jesus Christ brothers and sisters.
This is the battle for us. Set your mind on the beauty and power and worth of Christ with thankfulness.
When we see and savor Christ for who He is we will become different kinds of people, people who are strong in the face of difficulty, people who can endure difficult circumstances and relationships with patience and even with joy because we know in Whom we have believed.
God loves his people. He wants everyone of His beloved children to grow up. To become mature. And he has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). Set your minds upon Christ and feast your soul everyday upon Christ. And then, turn and tell of his excellencies to others.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys.