John 1 verses 1 to 18 and Colossians 1 verse 15 to 3 verse 17, Part 3
by Karl Kemp
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We continue with the second paragraph of the three paragraph footnote under Col. 1:15 in this verse-by-verse study of John 1:1-18 and Col. 1:15-3:17 here in Part 3.
The intent in Deut. 6:4 (as in Deut. 4:39, for example, "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other") was to claim that the God of Israel (the God of creation, the God who revealed Himself to Abraham, the God of the Holy Scriptures) is the only One who really is God (He alone is God), thereby denying polytheism. All of the peoples that ancient Israel interacted with believed in many gods. The other nations did not especially appreciate being told that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the only real God, but it was the truth, and it was very important for Israel to cling to that truth, and for the nations to learn that truth. All too often though many Israelites joined the Gentiles in worshipping the gods of the nations, but not because they hadn't been taught and warned.
I'll quote a sentence from what J. A. Thompson says under Deut. 6:4, "The word 'one' or 'alone' implies monotheism, even if it does not state it with all the subtleties of theological formulation" ("Deuteronomy" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1974], pages 121, 122). I'll also quote what A. D. H. Mayes says to substantiate the translation "The LORD is our God, the LORD alone," "for this sense of 'echad,' cf. Isa. 51:2; Ezek. 33:24; ...Zech. 14:9; 1 Chron. 29:1" ("Deuteronomy" [Eerdmans, 1991 reprint], page 176). I'll quote a few sentences from what Earl S. Calland says here to show that this Hebrew word (echad) was sometimes used for a "oneness" that consisted of more than one part. "To the Jews v. 4 is not only an assertion of monotheism, it is also an assertion of the numerical oneness of God contradictory to the Christian view of the Trinity of the Godhead. This kind of oneness, however, runs contrary to the use of echad in the sense of a unity made up of several parts. In Exod. 25:6, 11, the fifty gold clasps are used to hold the curtains together so that the tent would be a unit (echad)..." ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 3 [Zondervan, 1992], page 65).))
See pages 13-16 of my paper "More on the Trinity" for a fuller discussion on Deut. 6:4, which is one of the verses most often used by those who hold a oneness view of God and deny the Trinity. (That paper is available on this Christian article site in five parts.) I'll quote part of a sentence from that I said there, I believe that "the proper way to understand this verse (the way intended by the ultimate Author of the Bible) is to see that the name Yahweh refers to God the Father in Deut. 6:4, as it typically does throughout the Old Testament, not to the Trinity, even as the word 'God' typically refers to God the Father throughout the New Testament." But it is very significant that the name Yahweh is used for God the Son in the Old Testament several times, even as the word "God" is used for God the Son in the New Testament several times, which clearly demonstrates His deity. I also mentioned that God's revelation is progressive, and the Old Testament was written before God wanted to fully reveal the Person of God the Son and the Trinity.
We don't have to understand all the details to accept the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. (How could we understand all the details about God when He hasn't revealed them to us and when we are dealing with details from a dimension far above our present dimension. God isn't limited to our dimension of time, and He isn't limited to the physical dimension or our world, which He created. Time was created when our universe was created.) God the Son became a man, but He was much more that just a man; He never ceased being deity; He was the God-man; He was not spiritually dead; and He never sinned.
The Lord Jesus Christ clearly manifested (as an "image") God the Father and His nature (what He was like) through being who He was (the God-man) and through saying the things that He said and doing the things that He did.]], the firstborn of all creation [I prefer the NIV's "the firstborn over all creation."]. [[Many (including the Jehovah's Witnesses) have appealed to these words ("the firstborn of all creation") to argue that Jesus Christ is not deity, that He was only the first being to be "born" of (created by) God. ((I had a footnote: Some orthodox Christians (especially in the past) and some translations of the New Testament (including the NASB; KJV; and the NKJV) refer to God the Son as the "only begotten [Son]" in John 1:14; 3:16, 18; and 1 John 4:9 (also compare John 1:18), but (as we discussed in some detail in this paper under John 1:14) those Christians did not mean to communicate the idea that there was a time that God the Son did not exist; they believed that He eternally existed, being eternally generated by the Father. As we discussed in some detail under John 1:14, the most common view in our day (which is reflected in the NIV; NEB; RSV; the New American Bible, and the Jerusalem Bible) is that the Greek adjective translated "only begotten" should be translated "one of a kind/unique" or the equivalent.)) Orthodox Christianity has always agreed that that doctrine is heresy, a serious deviation from the balanced truth taught by the Bible. If He had been created, He would not be deity/God. There are many verses in the Bible that clearly show that God the Son is deity, an uncreated Being, who always existed with God the Father, and through whom all things were created (cf., e.g., Isa. 9:6; John 1:1-18; 20:28; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-18; Heb. 1:2, 3; and there are many more such verses). ((I had a footnote: The deity of Christ and the distinction between Him (God the Son) and God the Father is discussed in the study of Isaiah 9:1-7 in my paper, "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Selected Eschatological Prophecies from the Book of Isaiah" (see under Isa. 9:6 and the two-page discussion located at the end of that chapter). Also see the discussion on the deity of Christ in the book of Revelation under Rev. 21:6 in my paper on Revelation chapters 20-22. Both papers are available on my internet site. The paper on Revelation chapters 20-22 is also available on this Christian article site.))
It is not difficult to interpret these words ("the firstborn [over] all creation") in a way that fits the biblical doctrine of the deity of Christ and that fits a biblical use of the word "firstborn." The word "firstborn," like many words in the Bible, is sometimes used in a figurative (non-literal) sense. Consider Ex. 4:22, for example, "Then you [Moses] shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD [Yahweh], Israel is My son, My firstborn.' " It is clear that the nation Israel was not born first (did not exist first) in any literal sense. What God was saying here was that He had a special relationship with Israel vis-a-vis His relationship with the other nations, very much including Pharaoh's Egypt. Israel enjoyed a privileged relationship with God, like the privileged relationship of the "firstborn" son in his family in the ancient world. God was telling Pharaoh that he had better hasten to free Israel from bondage to Egypt and let His people go - Israel was very special to Him.
There are two comparable uses of the word "firstborn" in the Old Testament, uses where there is no idea whatsoever of someone literally being born first (Psalm 89:27; Jer. 31:9). Also, there is an important and interesting figurative use of the word firstborn in Heb. 12:23. I'll quote HEBREWS 12:22-24, "But you [speaking to born-again Christians, and contrasting the glory of the new covenant with the old covenant given at Mt. Sinai] have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, (23) and to the general assembly and church of THE FIRSTBORN WHO ARE ENROLLED IN HEAVEN [my emphasis], and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect [These words at the end of verse 23 are discussed on pages 166, 167 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin."], (24) and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel [the blood of Abel cried for vengeance (Gen. 4:8-15); the blood of Christ brings full salvation to those who submit to the gospel in faith.]." The Greek word translated "firstborn" in Heb. 12:23 is plural, as is the participle that follows this word and is tied to this word, "who are enrolled [in heaven]." The "firstborn" ones here are new-covenant believers (Christians). They were not born first in any literal sense, but they enjoy the privileged status of being "firstborn" sons of God (through union with, and salvation in, the Lord Jesus Christ).
When the apostle Paul called Jesus Christ "the firstborn [over] all creation" here in Col. 1:15, he did not mean to communicate the idea that the Son was a created being or that there was a time when the Son of God did not exist. He was simply saying, using figurative language, that Jesus Christ has the privileged status of being the firstborn Son over all creation. As the apostle continues in verses 16, 17 (and he has already informed us that Christ "is the image of the invisible God"), he gives something of the basis for the fact that Christ can be called "the firstborn [over] all creation," including the facts that all things that have ever been created have been created by/through Him and for Him and that He is head over (has authority over) all things that have been created. Note that verse 16 starts with the word "for."]] (16) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. [[On all things being created by/through the Son of God, see under John 1:3 in this paper. Some of the thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities, both visible and invisible, in God's universe, are evil (being headed up by Satan; compare, for example, Col. 2:15), but it is important for us to know that they were not created evil (Satan rebelled through pride and many have followed him in his rebellion against God, including a third of the angels [Rev. 12:4]), and it is important to know that all evil beings/persons (which includes that part of mankind that does not repent) will ultimately be subjugated and removed from God's kingdom through the judgment of the Lord Jesus Christ (see under Col. 1:20).]] (17) He is before all things [[In that "all things have been created through Him," it is clear that He existed BEFORE all things that were created. But Paul undoubtedly intended to say more than that here. The Greek preposition "pro" translated "before" here was sometimes used in the sense of BEFORE in status or position, which fits Christ perfectly and fits this context perfectly.]], and in Him all things hold together ["consist" KJV; NKJV]. [[All things that were created "consist" and "hold together" in an organized way in Christ - in divine order, including the laws of physics and chemistry. If not for the entrance of sin, everything would still be in divine order. After God has finished His work of saving, glorifying, and judging, His universe will be perfect (all evil will have been removed and cast into the lake of fire).]] (18) He is also head of the body, the church [In the preceding verses (verses 15-17), the apostle has shown (using different words) that Christ is the "head" over all creation (cf., e.g., Eph. 1:20-23). Here he shows that Christ is also head (head in a very special sense) over the church, the body of Christ.]; and He is the beginning [Christ is the "beginning" of the Christian church in the sense that the church (in a very special sense) has its origin in Him. As we have seen in the preceding verses, all things that exist originated in Him (cf. Rev. 3:14).], the firstborn from ["out from"] the dead [["from among the dead" NIV. As in Rev. 1:5, these words mean that Christ was the first man (though He was much more than just a man) to leave physical death behind and be born into the fullness of eternal life. We (all believers, those who have died and those still living on the earth at the time of Christ's return) will follow Him in that birth when He returns. (I had a footnote: I have discussed this glorious birth for the saints extensively in my eschatological writings. Start with Rev. 12:5 in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture" (chapter 21).) Christ is called "the firstborn among many brethren" in Rom. 8:29. After we have been born into the fullness of eternal life, we will have "become conformed to the image [of Christ]" (Rom. 8:29). We will not, of course, become deity or be worshipped with God the Son, but we will be glorified and reign with Him forever. What a destiny! What a salvation plan!]], so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything ["so that in everything he may have the supremacy" NIV; "that in all things He may have the preeminence" NKJV]. (19) For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him [["in Christ." Colossians 2:9 says, "For in Him [in Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Compare John 1:16. As the apostle will discuss in some detail in Colossians chapter 2, everything that we could ever need forever has been provided through new-covenant salvation in union with Christ Jesus. We do not have to look elsewhere (for example, to angels, men, the flesh, or to religious works that have not been prescribed in the new covenant, very much including the ceremonial works of the old covenant. As a matter of fact, for us to look elsewhere is to insult God and His new-covenant plan of salvation and for us to ensure that we will not receive everything that we need (that is, if we look somewhere else than to Christ and the full salvation that has been provided in Him). Here in verse 19, however, in this context with verse 20, the emphasis is on the fact that Christ has everything He needs ((I had a footnote: For one thing, everything that the triune God has is available to Him (cf., e.g., Col. 2:9).)), being God the Son. and the God-man who has fully solved the sin, Satan, spiritual death problem in His atoning death, resurrection, and ascension, to restore peace and divine order to God's universe, including His glorifying His people and the creation itself and His judging and removing all unrepentant rebels.]], (20) and through Him [Christ] to reconcile all things to Himself [to God the Father] [[The translation "reconcile" is a common translation for the Greek verb used here, but this translation is easily misunderstood, and some have understood this verse in a heretical way. They have come up with the doctrine of the "ultimate reconciliation of all things." Those who hold that doctrine insist that eventually all people and all other fallen beings, even the devil, will be reconciled to God; they will be reconciled to God in the sense that they will repent, be saved, and have a place in His eternal kingdom. (Some don't go beyond speaking of the reconciliation of all people, and some allow for the possible loss of a small percentage of people.)
That doctrine is based on a wrong interpretation of this verse ((and they typically use a few other verses too [I had a footnote: Ephesians 1:10 is another key verse (written by the apostle Paul) that is often used in a distorted way to come up with the doctrine of the ultimate reconciliation of all beings. That verse is discussed in my verse-by-verse study of Ephesians chapter 1 that is available on this Christian article site.])) that contradicts a rather large number of verses that are quite clear on the point that the devil and those who follow him (including a large number of people) will have their eternal destiny in the lake of fire - and that isn't salvation (e.g., Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 14:9-11; 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8; and 22:15).
What Paul meant here is that all things will be "reconciled" to God, one way, or another. Those among mankind (I had a footnote: The Bible does not speak of the devil, evil angels, or demons ever repenting and being saved; it speaks quite clearly of their being cast into the eternal lake of fire.) who will be saved (the elect) will be "reconciled" to God through repenting and submitting in faith to His salvation, to His lordship, and to His divine order. Those who continue in rebellion against God, without repentance (the devil, fallen angels, demons, and a large number of people), will be "reconciled" to God through being subdued (cf. Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:10, 11), judged, and removed from His kingdom forever, which will establish "peace" in His universe/kingdom. There will be "peace" in the sense that the rebellion, strife, and warfare will be brought to an end; there will be no place for these things in God's ultimate kingdom. Note the word "peace" as this verse continues.
This verse goes on to show that "peace" will be established through Christ on the basis of His atoning death. The Bible makes it quite clear that Satan and his followers are overthrown through Christ and His atoning death (cf., e.g., John 12:31-33; 16:11; and Heb. 2:5-14 [Hebrews 2:5-14 are discussed under the verse-by-verse discussion of Psalm 8 in my paper on selected eschatological psalms on my internet site.]). For one thing, Satan gained authority over man through the sin of Adam (and the sin of Adam's offspring has intensified the problem), but Christ took away that authority by bearing the sin of Adam and his offspring with the guilt and penalties (including the major penalties of spiritual death and the bondage to sin that comes with spiritual death [see Romans chapter 5, for example, which is discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ"]). He gives new-covenant believers spiritual life and makes them righteous and holy (cf., e.g., Romans chapters 6 and 8; Col. 1:9-14 [these three super-important passages are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin"]; 2:13-15).]], having made peace through the blood of His [Christ's] cross; through Him [through Christ], I say whether things on earth or things in heaven. [[I would translate "in the heavenly places" here or "in the heavens." (The Greek has the noun for "heaven" in a plural form, and it has the definite article [similar to our "the"] with this noun.) In the margin the NASB says, "Lit [in] the heavens." The NAB has "in the heavens." The Greek here is exactly the same as the Greek in verse 16, which the NASB translated "in the heavens." We often use the word "heaven" of the place where God's throne is, but "the things in the heavens/heavenly places" spoken of here include Satan and his hosts in the spiritual dimension.]] (21) [Colossians 1:21-23 are discussed in more detail on pages 186-190 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin."]] And although you were formerly alienated [The apostle is addressing Gentile Christians. They had (before they became Christians) been alienated from God through sin, and they, unlike the Jews, did not have a saving covenant with God. The apostle discusses this alienation from God and from His covenant people in Eph. 2:11-22.] and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds [[These Gentiles (speaking of the time before they were saved from sin and spiritual death through faith in Christ) had been "hostile in mind." They had been hostile in their thinking against God and the laws of God, and this hostility had been manifested in their sinful living, having been "engaged in evil deeds [works]." (Wrong thinking always leads to wrong living. The way we think in our hearts, including what we believe, makes all the difference.) Part of the problem, of course, was that they had been under the influence of the god of this world and his demons (cf., e.g., Eph. 2:1-3), and they had been taught about many gods, but still they were responsible before God - they were without excuse for their sin (cf., e.g., Rom. 1:18-32), and especially after He sent the gospel to them.
I have observed over the years that most Christians, even including most ministers, do not have an adequate understanding of the word "mind" as it is typically used in the Bible, including here in Col. 1:21. They typically limit the mind to the head, and many ministers point to their head when they mention the mind or thinking. It is true that we think with our heads, but it is also true that our most important thinking takes place in our hearts/spirits, and especially when it comes to our thoughts about God and our priorities, attitudes, and motives.
When the apostle spoke of being "hostile in mind" here he was definitely including the "thinking" that we do in our hearts/spirits. A major aspect of our salvation in Christ is that God renews our minds (that is He renews our minds to the extent we submit to Him and His Word through faith) - He enables us by the Holy Spirit to think right in our hearts/spirits and to live right (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:1-9; 12:1, 2; and Eph. 4:17-24). (See pages 116-120, 138, 139 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" on these verses from Romans, and see my paper on Ephesians chapter 4 on this Christian article site on these verses from Ephesians.)]], (22) yet He [I agree with the widespread viewpoint that "He" here refers to God the Father. For one thing, the context with verses 19, 20 strongly favors this viewpoint.] has now reconciled you in His fleshly body [The Greek here should be translated something like, "by the body of His [Christ's] flesh." The NIV has, "by Christ's physical body."] through death [In other words, God the Father has reconciled us (He has saved us) through the atoning death of His Son, the Lamb of God. Romans 5:10 says, "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son...."], in order to present you before Him [Himself (before God the Father)] holy and blameless and beyond reproach [[Paul is speaking here of our being presented before God at the end of this age (cf., e.g., Col. 1:28; Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23; and Jude 1:24). ((I had a two-paragraph footnote: 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13 are discussed on pages 183-185 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin"; 1 Thess. 5:23 on pages 178, 179; and Jude 1:24 in endnote 5 on pages 217, 218 of that book. All three passages are extremely important to help us see the apostle Paul's viewpoint here in Col. 1:21-23, especially 1 Thess. 3:10-13 and 5:23, in that these verses were also written by Paul. The discussions of all three passages are part of the last chapter of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin." The entire content of that lengthy chapter (pages 169-219) is relevant to the interpretation of Col. 1:21-23. Colossians 1:21-23 are discussed there too, on pages 186-190.
I consider the teaching of that chapter to be extremely important, along with the corroborating content of much of the rest of the book that helps confirm the good-news viewpoint that God really has called and enabled us to be holy and have the victory over sin now. I am sorry to say that most Christians do not agree with this viewpoint. The two most common interpretations for passages like Col. 1:21-23 are that we will finally be holy at the end of the race, after we die, and especially after we are glorified, or that we are holy now, but only in a legal, positional sense, not that we do (or even can) stop sinning until after we are glorified.)) We must be ready for that day of judgment, so we can be found "before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach." For all such people the day of judgment will be a great blessing.
Paul was not speaking here of our gradually being made "holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (of a lifelong sanctifying process) as so many think he was (though it is true that we must continue to grow more like the Lord Jesus Christ; cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 3:18). Nor was he speaking of our being made "holy and blameless and beyond reproach" by a transformation at the end (though it is true that all true Christians will be glorified at that time). As Paul continues he shows that he is speaking here in verse 22 of Christians being "holy and blameless and beyond reproach" now, and of our maintaining that status (of living in an abiding state of holiness, which is the Christian ideal to which we have been called) until the end of our lives, or until Jesus returns.
The New Testament is full of passages like the following one from the apostle Paul that confirm what I said in the last paragraph, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; (15) so that you will prove yourselves to be BLAMELESS AND INNOCENT, children of God ABOVE REPROACH [my emphasis] in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, (16) holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ [when we will be presented before God] I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain" (Phil. 2:14-16). Paul would have "toiled in vain" (in one sense) if the Philippian Christians had all backsliden (which wasn't about to happen) and were not ready to stand before God in judgment at the end. (Actually Paul would not have "toiled in vain" in a personal sense, even if all the Philippian Christians had backsliden, as long as he had faithfully fulfilled his ministry before God.)
I'll also quote Phil. 2:12, 13 (the two verses that come just before the three verses just quoted), "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (13) for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." As these verses show, we have our part to play. God does not make us get saved, or make us stay saved; He does not make us get holy, or make us stay holy - we must "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" by grace through faith. The "fear and trembling" go with fearing to sin against God, knowing that we will sin if we do not continually appropriate and cooperate with His sufficient grace through faith. The Bible, from the beginning to the end, teaches that we must fear sinning against God. Philippians 2:13 makes it quite clear that we are totally dependent on God's grace, but that does not mean that we don't have a role to play in His salvation plan (as confirmed by Phil. 2:12, 14-16 and a very large number of other verses in the Bible). "Faith" is the most important word used in the New Testament to describe our role (what God requires of us). "Repentance" is another key word.
We will continue with what I said under Col. 1:22 in Part 4 of this paper.
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