Colossians: Chiastic Structure of 1:3- 2:5

Paul arranges the introduction to his epistle to the Colossians chiastically:

A: Thanksgiving for good report – Paul absent yet represented through Epaphras (1:3-8)

B: Prayer for Colossian’s growth in Christ (1:9-14)

C: Creation and new creation in Christ (1:15-20)

C’: New Creation in Colassae (1:21-23)

B’: Paul ministering for Colossian’s maturity in Christ (1:24- 2:3)

A’: Warning against deception – Paul absent in body yet present in spirit (2:4-5)

Bookending the section is the fact that, though Paul is not physically present with them and has not met them, he longs to be with them, and his co-laborer, Epaphras, is representing him. He begins (A) by giving thanks for the good report from Epaphras, and ends (A’) warning about dangers that could lead them away from their good beginning. He does not want his absence from them to discourage the young church or to take away from his apostolic authority.

Paul prays (B) that they will grow in their knowledge of God, and then shows (B’) how his ministry is for the goal of their maturity in Christ. The Colossian’s growth into full maturity forms the driving goal of the epistle (see also 2:8-10.)

And, central to the section is Paul’s Christ hymn (C) exalting Jesus as captain of creation and new creation, and (C’) Jesus’ new creation in Colossae. This is the basis and center for Paul’s argument throughout the letter: The world has died and been reborn in Christ, and the Colossians likewise have been made new in him. Paul’s goal of their maturity finds its basis here explicitly in 1:22 when he states that they were reconciled in order that Christ might present them “holy and blameless and above reproach,” if they persevere.

The Cosmic Gospel: Col. 1.15-23

Sermon, Christ the King Sunday, November 25, AD 2012

Introduction

People today tend to find their identity in what they call their story. Our postmodern culture is fascinated by personal narratives, or the “story” of one’s life that makes that person who they are. In this culture, everyone has their own story, and that story defines their “truth.”

But, if our lives are simply a bunch of individual and unrelated narratives, what meaning do our lives have? If that’s true, then what’s important in your story might not be important in mine; what’s true in my story might not be true in yours. However, there is an over-arching story, a meta-narrative, that binds all of our stories together. It is a story that gives each one of our stories meaning. That story is God’s story.

In this text, St. Paul tells this story. The plot moves from creation to new creation, the reconciled cosmos. It centers on one figure: Jesus, the “Beloved Son” of God. It is in this story about Jesus as the Cosmic Lord who reconciles the broken universe that we find our place. We are Christ’s body, objects of His grace, and agents of His reconciliation.

This story reshapes our idea of the gospel. The gospel is more than simply how Jesus saves you, or how Jesus saves people in general. It is that, but it is far greater than that. The gospel is the story of how Jesus saves the universe. This gospel is a cosmic gospel. Paul gives us the big-picture gospel.

Summary of the Text

Colossians 1:15-20 is often considered a hymn or poem, and Paul gives the poem a two-fold structure. The first, vv. 15-17, describe the lordship of Jesus of the created order; the second, vv. 18-20, describe His lordship over the new creation. Paul’s main message is that Jesus, the revelation of God and the Captain of the universe, is the creator and sustainer of all things. Through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He is reconciling the fallen universe to Himself through His body, the Church. As reconciled people, we are called to live holy lives and persevere in the hope of the gospel.

 Main Body

Jesus is Captain of Creation: In this first section Paul establishes Jesus’ lordship over the created order. He identifies Him as “the image of the invisible God,” and “the firstborn of all creation.”

Jesus is, Paul tells us, is the revelation of the Father. No one has seen the Father at any time, St. John says (Jn. 1:18.) God’s face was veiled from view in the times of the Old Covenant. In the tabernacle, the Holy Place and the Most Holy place were sectioned off with veils. But in the incarnation, God has revealed Himself in His Son. When Phillip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus answered “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9.) Jesus came to make the Father known (Jn. 1:18.) He is the image and reflection of God. In Jesus we see who God is. If we want to know what God is like, we have simply to look at the life of Jesus.  He is God-with-Man, the Word Incarnate. He is the New Tabernacle, where God and Man meet. To see Him is to see the Father; to know Him is to know the Father.

Being the “image… of God” also reckons back to Adam, made in God’s image. Jesus is the Image of God and  thus the Second Adam.

Jesus, the God-man, is called by Paul the “firstborn of all creation.” This does not mean that Jesus Himself is a created being and simply was created first, but rather that He ranks above all of the created order. In Psalm 89, a psalm about Christ, the offspring of David, God says of Him “I will make Him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (Ps. 89:27) So, Jesus is the highest in rank over all creation. He is the King, or the Captain, of creation. All things are under His authority.

Why? Because, “in Him all things were created.” As the Captain of the created order, all that is was created in Jesus, that is, in His domain or under His headship. This includes “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” The entire cosmos was created in Jesus. Paul especially highlights authority structures: “… whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities…” Every earthly and heavenly authority is under Christ, whether political rulers or the angelic realm. Kings and nations are called to submit to Jesus as Lord. Psalm 2 counsels kings to “Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way.”

This applies to the angelic realm as well. Both the righteous and the rebellious spiritual rulers are under Christ’s authority. They owe their very existence to Him. The way that Satan to God is demonstrated in the story of Job: he cannot touch God’s servant without God’s permission, and he can do no more than God allows. The same is true of the demonic host: Jesus demonstrates His authority over the demons in His earthly ministry as “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” (Mk. 1:27) This reality should be a great comfort to us. Though Satan and his host are powerful and wicked, they cannot lay a finger on us outside of God’s sovereign will.

So, Jesus is the head of creation, and He is also the means and the goal of creation. “…all things were created through Him and for Him,” Paul says. He in whom and by whom all things were created is the end, or goal, of creation. The universe is, in fact, sustained in Him as well (v. 17). All things hold together in Jesus. All of history is to be summed up in Christ, for He is governing all things for His eternal purpose. Jesus is the center of the cosmos.

Jesus is Captain of New Creation: Paul moves now to the reconciled world. The created order was disrupted and under curse because of Man’s rebellion and covenant-breaking, but in God’s grace He re-creates and puts the world to rights through His Son.

Jesus, the image of God, “is the head of the body, the Church.” (v.18) Thus, the Church, in union with Jesus, is the image of God in the New Creation. The Church is also a microcosm of the universe. The future of the universe is bound up with the Church. As the Church is reconciled, we become the agent of reconciliation in the world. As head, he gives life to the body. He is the source of our life, he sets our course, and our actions are to serve His will.

So, the body of Christ, the Church, is the center of the New Creation. The Church is the central and most important institution in our lives. Our families, communities, and state are important, but none are more important than the Church. This is the primary institution through which God works His reconciliation. It then flows to our family life, communities, state, and the whole world.

Jesus is not only the “firstborn” of creation; He is “the firstborn from the dead.” (v. 18) He is “declared the Son of God in power… by His resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4)

Jesus is the Inaugurator of the New Birth, and He is leading a great host to follow in resurrection.  Paul elsewhere says Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers.” (Rom. 8:29) We as His body share in His resurrected life, and will one day be a part of that great resurrection of His people. Once again, the term “firstborn” also implies rank. Paul says that the result of Jesus being “firstborn from the dead” is that He is preeminent in all things. He is the Captain of the New Creation.

Jesus is the Temple of the New Creation, for “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (v. 19) Whereas God once dwelt in the physical Temple, that Temple has now been destroyed and Jesus is the meeting place for God and Man. Thus the Church, as Jesus’ body, is the Temple in the world. In Jesus, the New Temple, all things are being reconciled to God, and the means by which they are being reconciled is “the blood of His cross.” In Jesus death on the cross, He made peace by becoming the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and He also made peace by reversing the curse over the universe. His death purchased our salvation and the salvation of the universe.

The very same things Christ exercised authority in the created order are now being reconciled in the New Creation: “whether on earth or in heaven.” Rulers and authorities and dominions are being reconciled to the Son. We may wonder how that can be when we look at the present state of rulers of the earth. Most of them are certainly not bowing the knee to King Jesus. Does that mean this reconciliation will never be manifest in this age? No, Paul says that reconciliation is a reality, but one that will be worked out progressively through Christ’s agents of reconciliation, the Church. As Jesus works through His Church, the state may begin to function under the ethics of the Gospel.

Application and Conclusion

This text brings us all the way through the story of the Son of God ruling over history. He is the Captain of creation, and the Captain of New Creation. He is reconciling all things- us, the world, the whole universe- to Himself.

In this story we find our place.

  • We, Christ’s Church, are His body and the agents of reconciliation. We are to herald the news that Jesus is King over all, calling all men to repent and bow to Him.
  • We are to work this reconciliation into every sphere of our lives, because Jesus is Lord over all of it. Our family, our vocation, our friendships, our communities, and our state are all arenas in which we can bring the reality of the gospel of reconciliation.
  • Finally, Paul exhorts us on the basis of our personal reconciliation to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.” (v. 23) The goal of our reconciliation is to be presented holy and blameless by Jesus, but only the ones who persevere to the end will be saved.

So, let us live in the reality of reconciliation. Bring the gospel to every creature. Acknowledge Jesus as Lord over all of your life. Press on in the hope of the gospel.

Amen.

Parallelism in Col. 1:15-20

In this text, St. Paul structures his poem about the cosmic gospel to draw parallel between Creation (vv. 15-17) and New Creation (vv. 18-20), demonstrating that Jesus is the captain of both the created order and of the reconciliation. Below is a rough sketch of corresponding ideas in the two sections:

  • 1:15 Image of God; 1:18 Head of the Church
  • 1:15 Firstborn of creation; 1:18 Firstborn of the dead
  • 1:16 All things created in Him; 1:19,20 In Him the Fullness of God dwells, reconciling all things to Him
  • 1:16 Things in heaven and on earth; 1:120 Whether on earth or in heaven
  • 1:17 In Him all things hold together; 1:20 Making peace by the blood of His cross