Colossians: 1:18 – 23

Colossae mound

(Col 1:18-20 ESV) 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.

The body of Christ

It’s familiar cant to say that the church is the “body of Christ.” But we should pause to consider why Paul chooses to refer to the church as a body. There are multiple reasons.

He, of course, famously uses that image in 1 Cor 12 and Rom 12:4-8, when speaking of spiritual gifts, to emphasize the essential unity of the church despite the diversity of gifts within the church.

But I think that’s not his main point. You see, Paul uses the same image in such verses as —

(Rom 7:4 ESV)  4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Here, “body of Christ” refers to the crucified body. Similar is —

(Eph 2:14-16 ESV) 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Here “body” refers to the church and to Christ as a spiritual unity, but again it’s the crucified body of Christ that we participate in as part of the body of Christ.

In Ephesians 5, Paul applies the same argument to marriages —

(Eph 5:23-30 ESV)  23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  … 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  … 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  30 because we are members of his body.

The idea of being Christ’s body again refers to the crucifixion, but also the assurance that Jesus “nourishes and cherishes” the church with the same care we have for our own bodies.

Paul applies the lesson to husbands — to give yourselves for your wives. But this tells us some of what it means to be Christ’s body. We have been given for others. We are servants. We don’t come to be served, but to serve — to wash feet.

We Christians tend to emphasize the benefits of being in the body — spiritual gifts, Christ’s tender care for us, unity — but we don’t think of being a part of his crucified body — where we share in his sacrifice, submission, and even his sufferings.

(Rom 6:3-7 ESV)  3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Baptism is baptism into the death of Jesus — meaning we have also been crucified, not only by participating in the forgiveness bought by his crucifixion but also by the killing of our “old self” and the destruction of our “body of sin” freeing us from sin — by the power of the Spirit (as Paul will explain in Rom 8).

Thus, being the body means being purified from sin and brought into a new way of living through the Spirit.

And Rom 6 tells us that we also participate in Jesus’ resurrection — our baptism assuring us that we will “be united with him in a resurrection like his.” We are raised from the water in anticipation of the resurrection not yet realized but faithfully promised.

The fullness of God

(Col 1:18-20 ESV) 18b … 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.

“Beginning, the firstborn from the dead” means that Jesus’ resurrection is the first resurrection, which assures us that the rest of his “body” will follow in due course.

Now, Jesus is not the first person raised from the dead. Jesus himself raised several people. But he is the first to be “resurrected” because he is the first raised never to die again. And our resurrection will be like the resurrection of Jesus — not Lazarus — because we, too, will never die again.

His status as “firstborn” makes him “preeminent” (literally, “in first place”).  In the ancient world, the firstborn of the king was not only heir apparent, he was usually a co-regent, having rule over the kingdom with his father. Paul’s point is that Jesus is fully “Lord” — a title given to God in the Old Testament and transferred to Jesus in the new covenant. Jesus has absolute authority.

Next Paul makes a truly breathtaking declaration: “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” “Dwell” means to live in a house. The Old Testament says God “dwells” in the temple. The New Testament says the Holy Spirit “dwells” in each of us. God’s fullness lived in Jesus — but not just a part of God. His “fullness” lived in Jesus.

Therefore, when Jesus died on the cross, God’s fullness died. When Jesus was insulted and beaten, God’s fullness was insulted and beaten. Jesus was (and is) fully God. He is not identical with God the Father, but he is fully God — and was fully God before his crucifixion (the clear implication of “was” rather than “is”).

God further reconciled “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” through the cross. Well, God’s sacrifice through Jesus was utter — a complete self-emptying and giving up. And therefore it was enough to redeem not only those who come to Jesus with faith, but also the heavens and earth. And the promise of Rev 21 – 22 and the Prophets is that God will redeem it all —

(Rom 8:20-22 ESV)  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We think of God destroying the creation, but the reality is that the creation will be “set free from bondage” — redeemed! — just like the Christians. We will all be freed from the corruption of this existence.


(Col 1:21-23 ESV) 21 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.

Paul now speaks specifically to the reconciliation of Christians. His emphasis is on our changed lives — we once did evil deeds but now we are “above reproach” — provided we remain true to the gospel.

We tend to think of the gospel as what saves and as being all about baptism, but Paul speaks of the gospel as governing how we live after we’ve been baptized. You see, the gospel is not only that we can be forgiven, but also that we are raised to a new life, in which we are transformed by the Spirit to be blameless and holy.

Indeed, if you go through Paul’s ethical instructions here and in, for example, 1 Cor, and study how he reaches his conclusions about how to live individually and as the church, Paul over and over goes back to the gospel and explains how the gospel tells us how to live and how to live with each other. (We’ll consider this further as we get to Paul’s ethical instructions here.)

All creation

There’s an ambiguity in the Greek: “in all creatIon under heaven” could also be “to all creatures under heaven.” The translations go both ways. There is a third possibility: “to all creation under heaven” — the “gospel” being a declaration of God’s good news of forthcoming redemption. And this would be quite consistent with Rom 8:22-22, which speaks of the “whole creation … groaning.” It’s a thought. It may even be right and it would fit well with “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” in v. 20. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s right.

Now, if God intends to redeem the creation, then he intends to restore the creation to Eden — just as he intends to restore mankind to his image (Gen 1:26-28). If that’s so (and it is), we have to consider —

(Gen 2:15 ESV)  15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

This passages places two burdens on man: to make the world productive and to protect the world. “Keep” refers to guarding or protecting. And this means that Christians and the body of Christ have a redemptive role to play today — to keep the environment, but also to use it for the good of mankind. It’s both “work” and “keep.”

This does not make us into pantheists who worship nature. Nor does it force us to agree with every position of the environmental lobby. But it does mean we truly care about the environment and the impact our decisions have on future generations. Christians cannot be irresponsible with the creation — indeed, if God’s mission is to redeem the creation, it’s our mission, too. We are, after all, the body of Christ.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Colossians: 1:18 – 23

  1. Melanie Holt says:

    What is your opinion of what happens when we die? Do those who are saved go directly to heaven? If so, what about the judgment? People who have died and been revived claim to have gone to heaven. Reading the book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, leaves me confused. I am unable to find scriptures that explain this. Can you provide guidance? Thanks.

  2. Laymond says:

    That is the problem with placing books written for selling, on the level of those written for informing.

    Jhn 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, [even] the Son of man which is in heaven.

  3. Laymond says:

    Melanie, lets examine your question a little more, and maybe we can get someone else to explain , even better. there are a lot of smart people who comment here.

    I believe Paul told the story of his rising to heaven , to
    enhance his bona fides as a God picked apostle of Jesus Christ, no! I don't believe he did , I know he did because I can read 2Cr 12.

    Now I believe those who say they have been to heaven to see God during a near death experience, are doing the same thing for their own reason.

    Paul said.
    2Cr 12:2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

    Jesus said; to Nicodemus.
    Jhn 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, [even] the Son of man which is in heaven.

    Seems to my human mind there is a contradiction here, and Paul's statements to the Corinthians could be the foundation for those today who claim to have visited heaven.

  4. Jay Guin says:


    Time is a part of the creation. God therefore exists outside both time and space. This is evident from modern physics as well as ancient theology. Augustine, for example, reached this conclusion more than 1500 years ago based on a close reading of the scriptures.

    Therefore, when we die, we don't necessarily wait on the Judgment. God can transfer us instantly to the end of time, where we will meet both grandparents and grandchildren. Therefore, I don't buy the holding-tank theory that some are held in Paradise and some in Tartarus pending the Judgment. Rather, I think we go straight to Judgment.

    Of course, if I die and pass briefly into heaven, that doesn't mean I'm saved. I suspect the damned will be made very well aware of what they lost before they suffer their fate.

    You might want to look at the series Surprised by Hope and Surprised by Hell at /index-under-construction/e… and /index-under-construction/e

  5. Laymond says:

    " I don’t buy the holding-tank theory "

    Jay, unless you are prepared to say all the following, is "hogwash" and you believe none of it, then I believe you must admit that what you said is nothing but speculation and therefore the afore mentioned "hogwash".

    Mat 25:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats:
    Mat 25:33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

    Rev 20:11 ¶ And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
    Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
    Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    I see no holding tanks in the quoted passages. I've not denied that people will be judged. I just said I believe we pass from death straight to judgment.

  7. Laymond says:

    1Th 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
    1Th 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
    1Th 4:15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
    1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
    1Th 4:17 Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
    1Th 4:18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

  8. Laymond says:

    " them also which sleep in Jesus "
    " the dead in Christ "

    Is this the " holding tank" you are searching for Jay ?
    I did notice you had no response for this.
    Do you not believe what Paul said, or is it just to hard to admit you could ever be wrong.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Laymond wrote,

    Do you not believe what Paul said, or is it just to hard to admit you could ever be wrong.

    How about: I've been in elders meetings and dealing with client issues? Sometimes, life intrudes.

    About 100 years ago, a tract was published called "Where are the dead?" and it was adopted as orthodox thought in the Churches of Christ and many other denominations. The tract teaches that between death and judgment, the saved pass to Paradise and the damned pass to Tartarus. When the world ends, everyone then goes to Judgment — although it's hard to imagine that anyone will be surprised at the outcome — and then to either heaven or hell.

    The theory of holding tanks called Paradise and Tartarus is what I objected to in my comment. I think we'll pass straight to Judgment. After all, if we go to two different tanks, we'll have been judged already.

    The NT often refers to those dead as "asleep" — which is a euphemism for "dead" intended to convey the idea that, like sleep, the dead will "awake" at the end of time. The word certainly suggests that the dead are not conscious during this time — but this creates a diffculty with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I think the difficulty is resolved when we realize that God exists outside of created time and therefore the dead (as they experience it) pass straight to Judgment but they appear asleep (as we experience it).

    But because Judgment takes place in God's realm — outside of time — nothing prevents the rich man from seeing his friends and imploring Abraham to send someone to straighten them out. Indeed, I think part of the punishment of the damned may well be to see the results of their own sins and lost opportunities.

    Remember that God lives outside of time, and so anyone in God's presence is also outside of time, meaning that there's no time barriers. God is thus omnipresent in four dimensions — he exists everywhere and every time simultaneously.

    Now although God presently exists outside of time, Rev 21 teaches that God and the dead in Christ will descend to earth and join heaven to earth to form a new heaven and new earth, as prophesied by Isaiah.

  10. Laymond says:

    Well we are getting down to the facts of what we believe and why, I totally agree with you on the holding pens theory. I don't see anywhere in the bible where it is said that we will do anything except lie as if we are asleep, and the day we are all awaken will seem as if we had just begun to sleep. As you say if the Goats are put in one pen, and the sheep are placed in a seperate pen, that in itself constitutes judgment day in my opinion. but I disagree that it is written anywhere that we will be judged on the day we die. I agree we will go from death unto judgement, with nothing in between,but the elapsed time here on earth could be a long time.

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