(Col 1:13-14 ESV) 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
“Has delivered” indicates that it’s an accomplished fact. The delivery has already occurred. We’ve already been transported from darkness to light, from the world to the kingdom.
Now, “kingdom” is a big word. The word might be better translated “reign,” that is, we’ve been delivered from the land of rebellion to the land where God’s rule is honored.
Just so, “kingdom” carries the meaning of “nation.” We are no longer citizens of Rome but of heaven. Jesus is our king, not Caesar. We’ve changed nationalities. We become resident aliens, citizens of another nation visiting this foreign land on the business of our king — who is the true king of this land as well, but whose authority hasn’t yet been fully acknowledged.
“Jesus is King” includes “and no one else is.” The ultimate source of all authority and power is Jesus, and we may serve no other master. Therefore, for example, when we vote, we vote as Christians, not as selfish people of the world. We vote the ticket of service and sacrifice, as this is the nature of the kingdom.
We have redemption, which literally freedom from slavery. Paul is saying to his readers — some of whom owned slaves — that you were all once slaves and God has paid the price of your manumission. He bought you in the slave market and set your free. He paid the price.
You see, “deliver” means “cause to escape” — as in “deliverance.” Paul is paralleling the Exodus, comparing our salvation today to God’s saving the Israelites from slavery by delivering them from captivity and preparing for them an inheritance.
Slavery is a distant memory for Americans, but was a present reality in Colosse, and freemen would have been embarrassed to be called slaves manumitted by God from slavery, but that’s the idea. And just as in the Exodus, this kind of freedom means leaving one country to become citizens of another. The Israelites were no longer citizens of Egypt, but of the Promised Land. And they’d have been crazy to think of themselves as citizens both of Egypt and the Israel, serving both Pharaoh and God. God defeated Pharaoh.
Image of God
(Col 1:15-17 ESV) 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.
Paul now changes the subject, transitioning from our part of the story to Jesus’ role.
“Firstborn” doesn’t mean that Jesus is a created being. Rather, he is the heir apparent to the throne of God. Indeed, he is the “image” of the invisible God. We can’t see God, but have been allowed to see Jesus, and he is God’s eikon. An eikon (or icon) is a portrait or image. In a world without photography, the way you could know what the Emperor looked like was to see a bust of his head — an eikon.
Now, this is a word loaded with meaning.
(Gen 1:26 ESV) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Mankind was supposed to be in God’s image, but we are broken images of God because of sin. Jesus, therefore, is true humanity. He is what we were always meant to be. Jesus doesn’t call us into a new way of being, but into the original way of being. He calls us back to Eden — and, indeed, our inheritance is a return the Garden, to walking once again with God and in right relationship with each other.
And so, Jesus shows us God’s essential nature, but he also shows us our own essential nature — which is an amazing thought. To be like Jesus is to be like God. And so … what is Jesus like? What is the image of God that Jesus shows us?
Well, it’s crucifixion and self-sacrifice and service. It’s washing feet.
We don’t get washing feet today because we live in a different world than Jesus’ Palestine. Back then, people did not bathe daily. And there were animals everywhere. Supper was walking around on two legs an hour before it was served.
I grew up on the edge of a small town. Everyone had at least one dog. Many had more. A few people rode horses. And I played outdoors all day. And when I came in, my shoes needed washing.
In Palestine, the sewer was often a trench down the middle of the road. Everyone walked or rode an animal. Farm animals were everywhere. People wore sandals, not PF Flyers. And feet were nasty. And therefore it was usually the slave’s job to wash someone’s feet.
Jesus washed feet. That’s the image of God. That’s who we were saved to become.
Paul next teaches us a history lesson. Jesus was present with God at the beginning and was part of the making of the Creation. And the created order includes “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” — all things with authority — all authority comes from Jesus. It may be abused. It may be used for sinful purposes, but no one has authority over Jesus. Rather, Jesus has authority over everyone.
Jesus is from before the Creation, but he is not the god of Deism. He continues to be active in this world. All things “hold together” because of his ongoing activity.
“Hold together” has the sense of being organized in the right way. In the Greek, “holds together” means it not only doesn’t fall apart, but it was put together right. Jesus fit the universe — and the powers — in their right places and Jesus continues to hold it together.
This thought is very similar to John’s use of logos in John 1,
(John 1:1-3 ESV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
The “Word” or logos, to the Greek mind, was the force that makes nature works. As the Encyclopedia Brittanica says,
in Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.
The Wikipedia expands on this —
In Stoic philosophy, which began with Zeno of Citium c. 300 BC, the logos was the active reason pervading the universe and animating it. It was conceived of as material, and is usually identified with God or Nature. The Stoics also referred to the seminal logos, (“logos spermatikos“) or the law of generation in the universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos.
Thus, Paul and John argue to a Greek world that God made the world through Jesus and that Jesus animinates the universe. Indeed, in more modern terms, the logos is the reason the laws of nature are true. Stephen Hawkings writes,
Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?
The Greeks would ansewr that it’s the logos, and John and Paul say the logos is Jesus. The laws of nature, you see, don’t cause nature to happen. Rather, the laws describe what happens.
The planets and moons don’t run Newton’s equations to see where to go. They just go — and their position and speed is described by the equations exactly. It’s the logos that puts the fire into the equations.
This is a matter of serious philosophical concern. Science can describe physics with incredible precision, but science can’t explain why there’s a correspondence between reality and math — why the equations reflect reality.
Thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities
Now, we need to add to these thoughts this idea of “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” Who or what are these things? We see similar language in such passages as —
(1Co 15:24-25 ESV) 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
(Eph 3:10 ESV) 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
(Eph 6:12 ESV) 12 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.
(1Pe 3:22 ESV) 22 [Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
It’s obvious that “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” encompasses more than earthly kings. This is not just Caesar. After all, even death itself is a rule, authority, or power. And we need not divine the full scope of the expression to understand the core principle — Jesus is more powerful than and will defeat everything that stands in his way.
You see, whatever there is exists because Jesus made it to serve him — and the in-breaking of the Kingdom is part of the process of defeating Jesus’ enemies, that is, any power that claims his position, that doesn’t submit to him.
In Paul’s day, the mightiest earthly powers were not only Rome, but also the more abstract but equally potent powers of paganism and an economic system closely connected with the worship of false gods — not mention a culture that devalued children and babies and women and family. There were all “powers” that fought against Jesus.
Today, there are, of course, many such powers — and those that don’t serve Jesus will be destroyed by Jesus. We’ll return to this thought when we get to chapter 2.