In the decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles brought out the significance of His life, ministry, death, and Resurrection in their writings, which are collected in our New Testament. In Colossians 1:11–23, Paul writes:
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 you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. 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.
And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 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, 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.
This passage shows how salvation is grounded in the relationship of love between the Father and the Son. Jesus is the “beloved Son”, echoing God’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) and the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). The fullness of God was “pleased to dwell in Him”, and it is the Father’s will that the Son be preeminent in everything. In turn, the Son reconciles to Himself all things to present believers “before him”—the Father. So the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity to each other is at the very center of the drama of salvation.
Jesus is called “the image of the invisible God”. One aspect of being made in God’s image is that we are God’s representatives, and Jesus is the ultimate representative of God, and even “the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). The Old Testament repeatedly states that it is impossible to see God and live, so Jesus as the incarnate God is the ultimate revelation of the Father. Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, also John 1:18).
Paul gives a dismal picture of life outside of Christ. We were trapped in “the domain of darkness”, “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”. There is no indication in Paul’s writing that the people in this state are unhappy about it; rather, in Romans 1 and other places he explains how sinful people are willing rebels—not only are we trapped in sin, we enjoy it apart from God’s grace. Not only can we do nothing about it, we wouldn’t want to—hence Paul said “you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
So God must take the initiative. He must be the one to transfer us from the domain of sin into the Kingdom of Christ. He must be the one to reconcile us; He must make peace, because we cannot and would not.
The preeminence of Christ is a focus of this passage. He is “the firstborn of all creation”. This does not mean that He is the first created being (this would be the heresy of Arianism). Rather, the word prototokos describes His position of preeminence and authority over creation, i.e. the inheritance rights of a first-born son in that culture. The OT uses the Hebrew equivalent bekôr to describe David, the youngest one, but chosen by God. Hebrews 1:6 uses “firstborn” about Jesus in the same sense1—and this “firstborn” is likewise worthy of angelic worship, so likewise could not be a created being.
This authority is grounded in His role in the work of Creation. Jesus is consistently described as the agent of creation; this is brought out most fully in John 1. Paul makes it clear that nothing, whether physical or spiritual, came into being without His involvement. This also indicates that the Son is uncreated.
Jesus is not only the mediator of creation, He is also the reason for creation—all things were created for Christ. Not only is Jesus the reason for creation, He is also the organizing principle for creation—all things hold together in Him (also taught in Hebrews 1:3).
All this makes Christ supremely suitable to be the one to bring about the reconciliation between God and man. Jesus is called “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead”. As before, “firstborn” indicates authority. “Christ stands at the head of the new creation as the firstborn from the dead, the one who initiates the eschatological resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:20). ‘Beginning’ here thus implies ‘founder’”.2
The means for our reconciliation is the “blood of his Cross”. In Ephesians 2:16, Paul again links reconciliation to the Cross.
When we hear the Gospel and believe, God does several things, which Paul lays out in this passage. God “delivers us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son.” He qualifies us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He reconciles us “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach in him”. So we go from being hostile slaves of sin and darkness to heirs and subjects of Christ.
This reconciliation is comprehensive. This passage is tied together with the Greek word pas, which is translated in English with the words “all” and “everything”. Some variation of the merism3 “in heaven and on earth” occurs several times in the passage to emphasize the scope of Christ’s work.
God accomplished this reconciliation with two great ‘imputations’, i.e. crediting something from one person to another’s account. All the sins that all believers will ever commit were imputed to Christ at the crucifixion, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:6. This cancelled our sin debt and nailed it to the Cross (Colossians 2:14). Simultaneously Jesus’ perfect human righteousness is imputed to these believers (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This reconciliation results not only in a changed status, but a changed way of life. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians assumes that they have experienced this reality. God’s “glorious might” is the basis for Paul calling the Colossians to endurance and joyful patience and thankfulness. Christians can be changed in this way because Christ has reconciled us through His death on the Cross—no matter what sort of sins they had committed before. Paul warns the Corinthians that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God”, and lists a number of sins. Then he says:
And this is so Jesus can present us as holy and blameless and above reproach before the Father. These are basically three ways of saying that Christ took our sin on the Cross so He could present us as sinless before the Father.
But then Paul for the first time talks about something the Colossian believers, and we as believers need to do—there’s an element of conditionality. Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel. This presupposes that the Colossian believers have experienced the objective reconciliation and that this means they are able to continue. Yet they still must continue! And we know they must because Paul tells them to continue. And so must we! As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8–10:
In this passage, we see that our salvation is tied up in the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the relationship between God and His creation. In particular, as the rest of the NT explains in detail, God the Son took on human nature in the Incarnation (John 1:14), and became fully man as well as remaining fully God. This enabled Him to be the mediator between God and Man (1 Timothy 2:5). After His glorious resurrection, He sits at the right hand of God the Father, to be our “advocate”, who “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2). In the future, He will come again and create a new heavens and earth, where believers will enjoy resurrection bodies and eternal fellowship with Him, in a final victory over the Fall.