Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians while imprisoned in Rome. He had traveled through the area on his third missionary journey on the way to Ephesus. Colossae was on the Lycus River on a busy east-west trade route, but the nearby towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis were more commercially successful. It was in western Asia Minor when in 670-546 BC it was known as the Kingdom of Lydia. Phrygia occupied the eastern part of the region. In 223-187 BC thousands of Jews were transported there from Mesopotamia and Babylon. On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem some of the participants were from "Phrygia and Pamphylia" (Ac 2:10). Paul heard about the church from Epaphras who is said to have planted the churches in that area after he had studied the gospel under Paul in Ephesus. In his epistle to Philemon Paul writes "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you" (Phm 32). He cites that they had learned the gospel "from Epaphras, our fellow bond servant" (Col 1:7). You don't just travel from Colossae to Rome on a long weekend visit. Epaphras was an official co-minister with Paul who said he was "a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf" (:7). It seems that Epaphras needed Paul's advice in an important matter and shared having "informed us of your love in the Spirit" (:8). Consequently Paul replied, "since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (:9). His epistle deals with the region of Phrygia because he instructed "when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans" (4:16). The church was not a large physical ediface of those "who are in Laodicea . . . [but rather like] Nympha and the church that is in her house" (:15). It was a significant presence because, in Ephesus, Paul taught daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years "so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Ac 19:10). In Thessalonica they complained, "'These men who have upset the world have come here also'" (17:6). Paul told the Colossians that the gospel had come to them "just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing" (Col 1:6).
The Phrygians were skilled and sophisticated. There was a Hellenistic culture due to Greek occupation and the Greek language was commonly used. Naturally Greek thought, ideas and philosophy would be understood with its metaphysical tendencies. The church there was composed primarily of Gentiles but there was a sizable Jewish community. There were other so-called religions and the Romans were known to tolerate just about every one and incorporate them into their culture. There was idolatry from pagan practices cultivated from their original sources in Babylon. Greeks, in particular, encouraged pursuing knowledge as Paul discovered that "Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness" (1Co 1:22-23). In a down-to-earth way they believed in the worship of nature because, to them, it was the source of life. However, they were also dualistic because they believed that matter and spirit were co-eternal. In the spiritual sense they had their gods who they believed controlled the universe. On the metaphysical level they believed that spirit (represented by God) was good, but that matter, having been only created, was evil. At least they had a suspicion that they were spiritual beings. But since humanity had been in rebellion against God, their spiritual sensitivities could have been just as much from the imaginations of their mind. Ecstatic reveries were practiced to precipitate spiritual experience. They held ceremonies to placate the gods and Paul said "the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons" (1Co 10:20). "For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false" (2Th 2:11).
Some church people may have gotten the idea that it would be more effective to mix the gospel with what the pagan Gentiles already believed so that Christianity would appear more palitable. When Paul was in Athens "some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him" (Ac 17:18). They observed, "'He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities'-because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection" (:18) and said, "'You are bringing strange things to our ears; we want to know therefore what these things mean'" (:20). They "used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new" (:21). But apparently Epaphras believed that merging Greek thought with Christianity was a threat to the church. That's why he went all the way to Rome to get answers from Paul. A warning came that "wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (1Ti 4:3). Peter said, "There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies" (2Pe 2:1). Paul expressed this concern when he replied in his epistle to the Colossians that "no one may delude you with persuasive argument" (Col 2:4 NASB) "lest any man should beguile you with enticing words" (:4 NKJV). Furthermore, "see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men" (:8 NASB) "lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit" (:8 NKJV). But combining ideas from different beliefs would become syncretistic. That is why this threat has been dubbed heretical teaching from within that church. It may have "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion" (Col 2:23) but they are only the "commandments and teachings of men" (:22) resulting in being "inflated without cause by his fleshly mind" (:18).
To some, Paul's purpose for the Colossian letter was to confront the false teachers and refute the heresy. They see it as a diabolical plan to undermine the church starting with Gnosticism combined with Judaism. Paul lists a number of faults as though they are FAQs but there is no systematic description of the doctrinal errors. Paul seems to answer problems the church had which had been brought up by Epaphras, but their cause is not clear and an explanation must come from clues in the statements Paul made. This must come from studying the content and context of verses 2:8-3:4. Most religions attempt to address the heavenly or eternal. But they can't prove what their senses can't detect so they implement "the elementary principles of the world" (Col 2:8,20) in their schemes. However, Paul is saying the Colossian heretics are shortsighted in their approach by ignoring that it is "according to Christ" (:8). We have "died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world" (:20). If the heresies were circulating in the church they were either ignorant of the church's teaching, or didn't understand it, or felt they would supplement the basics by their own self-effort. Man has a propensity to do things his own way. But "when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" (Jas 1:15). Zechariah prophesied, "'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts'" (Zec 4:6).
Paul cites the pride, earthiness, and ineffectiveness of this asceticism. What value is "self-abasement and severe treatment of the body" (Col 2:23) or to "submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!'" (:20-21). These have their roots in Jewish legalism. Paul warns "let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement" (:18). Were Judaizers active in the church? Paul advised "let on one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival" (:16). Jewish society developed their own traditions by interpreting the Old Testament in a certain way which let to an attitude of separatism and intellectual exclusiveness being "inflated without cause: (:18). However, Paul stated "there is no distinction between Greek and Jew . . . but Christ is all, and in all" (3:11) and "the substance belongs to Christ" (2:17). We "have died to the basic principles of the world" (:20) and are to "fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2), practice the law of love (Jas 2:8), and follow "the law of liberty" (:12). Anything less would be just "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion" (:23).
"The nations were separated on the earth after the flood" (Ge 10:32). Then they said to one another, "'Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name" (11:4). A similar thing happened in Colossae where some would get involved "in the worship of angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen . . . [with] his fleshly mind" (Col 2:18). By taking a stand a person tried to make a name for himself. The Colossians could have been exposed to rudimentary gnostic philosophy. Just like they built the Tower of Babel they began constructing a philosophy based on presumption. Some religions do this too by choosing scripture verses out of context and piecing their own puzzle together using "brick for stone, and . . . tar for mortar" (Ge 11:3). The correct method comes by Christ who is the head of the church which "grows with a growth which is from God" (Col 2:19).
Paul wouldn't have mentioned that there were those who were "delighting in . . . the worship of angels" (:18) just for a couple of people. "Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head" (:18-19 NIV). They believed that there were heirarchies of angelic levels (eons) you would traverse towards God and that secret knowledge (gnosis) was necessary for passage. How could anyone even believe that since we know that it is "Christ Himself in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (:2-3). But there are New Age beliefs that there are spirit guides that lead you through your journey. The main problem with the gnostic's mystical and esoteric beliefs was that they explained Jesus as an emanation (eon) like YHWH who was at a lower level because, to them, YHWH created the kosmos which was composed of matter and not spirit. Even though their thinking would affirm Jesus' deity it denied that Jesus was fully man who is "the one mediator also between God and men" (1Ti 2:5) because "the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (Jn 1:14).
There is a modern religion that believes that man is just like God because "God created man in His own image" (Ge 1:27). God confirmed to Moses that he "'has appeared to you'" (Ex 4:5) even though Moses "was afraid to look at God" (3:6). Later God told him "'no man can see Me and live!'" (33:20) but then said "'I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen'" (:23). Their religion is based on their interpretation citing Moses "endured, as seeing Him who is unseen" (Heb 11:27). They disregard that God is "the invisible God" (Col 1:15), that "no one has beheld God at any time" (1Jn 4:12) and that God "dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see" (1Ti 6:16). It would take deception to engage in "the worship of the angels" (Col 2:18) even though "'you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only'" (Mt 4:10). They even have their own customized version of salvation.
The false teachings may have been more than just one person promulgating the doctrine and it may have spread to a group of churches. Everyone has heard of church splits where doctrine divides. Paul warned, "I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument" (Col 2:4). He continues saying, "See to it [beware] that no one takes you captive [kidnaps, seduces, enslaves]" (:8). The new ideas are speculative and hypothetical and have the "appearance of wisdom" (:23) but are only "empty deception" (:8). Paul warned Timothy to "guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing argument of what is falsely called 'knowledge'-which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith" (1Ti 6:20-21). "Let no one deceive you through empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph 5:6). If someone "takes you captive" (Col 2:8) it is "with all the deception of wickedness" (2Th 2:10) with "a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged" (:11-12). "It was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression" (1Ti 2:14).
The false teachers were mixing philosophy with Christianity. However, Peter "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Ac 4:8) told them "'there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved'" (:12). Those teachers were misled when they combined human ideas with scripture creating a universalism or syncretism and diluted the supremacy of Christ. Paul set them straight because he "was made a minister . . . [for] preaching the word of God" since he had "received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:12). You could say that those false teachers were confused because it had been "the mystery which has been hidden from past ages" (Col 1:26) and therefore the opportunity had been presented to "speak forth the mystery of Christ" (4:3) to enlighten them. The mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (1:27) and by their understanding this it would result "in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself" (2:2).
The gnostics explained existence as beginning at the lowest, evil level of matter and proceeding upward through emanations towards God who is spirit and good and inhabits the highest, heavenly sphere. If you followed these teachers it would undermine what the Bible says about God. At creation God said, "'Let Us make man in Our image'" (Ge 1:26; 3:22; 11:7). The name is Elohim which represents the triune God. Firstly, "the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters" (1:2), and furthermore, Paul uses the greeting in his letters of, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ro 1:7; 1Co 1:3; Gal 1:3). The gnostics said that YHWH created the universe which is composed of matter so he would have to be a lower emanation because he identified with matter. However, YHWH is composed of the four consonants which make up the divine name (i.e. the Hebrew language doesn't include vowels so the readers supply them when they read). Then they decided to be extra-careful not to misuse God's name because, "'You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Ex 20:7). To protect against mistakes the scribes put the vowels from "Adonai" (Lord) beside the consonants to remind them to say Lord instead. Then a Latinized form pronounced Jehovah was created from it which was actually not a real word at all. The real pronunciation of YHWH was lost over time but scholars believe it was probably pronounced Yahweh. Moses asked God who he should say sent him and God replied, "'I am who I am'" (Ex 3:14). Also, God said to say to Israel that he was "'The Lord, the God of your fathers'" (:15). "'This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations'" (:15). "Even the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is His name" (Hos 12:5).
The gnostics had differing interpretations of who Jesus was. Some said he was equal with God so others then pointed out that he couldn't therefore have appeared in a human body. Then others countered that he just seemed human but was really spirit. However, if he was not incarnate then his sacrifice would have been in vain. Also, if he was not completely divine then he wouldn't have qualified as being sinless. "Although He existed in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant . . . [and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death" (Php 2:6-8). After he was resurrected he identified himself to John as "'the Alpha and Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'" (Rev 1:8) and again as "'the first and the last, who was dead and has come to life'" (2:8). In addition, "He is the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15). "He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Heb 1:3). "In Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col 2:9). Jesus told Philip, "'He who has seen Me has seen the Father'" (Jn 14:9). "'From now on you know Him, and have seen Him'" (:17).
Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians in prison where Epaphras had told him about the church which Paul had never visited. He writes them of the "faith and love [they have] that spring up from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven" (Col 1:5). He cites that they had heard the gospel "and understood God's grace in all its truth" (:6). They had heard it in "all" its truth and were not verging on backsliding. He prayed that they would receive "all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (:9). Commentators say that a letter contains certain ideas or themes that possess a flow of thought filling the content contextually so as to present an argument in a logical way. Some might say that his only purpose was to counter the false teaching that was threatening the church. But he was not just addressing questions as with the Corinthians saying, "Now about food sacrificed to idols" (1Co 8:1). Creation and redemption are the two main themes of the Bible and Paul focused on them to build up the Colossians. It would be important to be "strengthened with all power . . . for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience" (Col 1:11). He knew they would accept and approve what was presented and therefore receive any instruction regarding their situation. He proceeds saying, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15). Some would say Paul is applying certain less-used words such as "firstborn" and "fullness" which the Gnostics also utilized that would refute their doctrine by defining them in the correct way.
Paul begins by changing direction somewhat from explaining the kingdom of Christ to a poetic description of the nature of the kingdom in Colossians 1:15-20. Many see this as a lyrical and linguistic change from incorporating a church hymn which Christians would have been familiar with. It also seems likely to some that Paul would have inserted his own theology into the hymn at certain points. One of the main arguments of this epistle is the deity of Christ. Paul says, "He is the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15) which focuses on his relationship with the Father. The word "image" in Greek is 'eikon', and at first glance, it means that he reflects God as a representative and exactly symbolizes him. The same word is used in that "God created man in his own image" (Ge 1:27). The gospel is "the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2Co 4:4). On a deeper level, being an image means that Christ manifests the actual presence of the Father. Hebrews uses the Greek term 'charakter' as "the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Heb 1:3). This must be comprehended at the spiritual level, and because he is "the invisible God" (Col 1:15), it requires Jesus who "made him known" (Jn 1:18). It is possible because he is "God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side" (:18). Jesus asked Philip, "'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father'" (Jn 14:9) even though "no one has ever seen God" (1:18). "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Ro 1:20). We know that Jesus "existed in the form of God" (Php 2:6) but then took human form "being made in the likeness of men" (:7). He prayed, "'Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was'" (Jn 17:5). In our case we are to "put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Col 3:10). This is at the spiritual level. "'God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'" (1Sa 16:7). Paul prayed "that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling" (Eph 1:18). We are to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Ro 8:29) and "transformed into the same image from glory to glory" (1Co 3:18).
Jesus is "the firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15). An average person would probably parse the word into "first" and "born." In the past it referred primarily to the first offspring of a man or animal. The word itself was used mostly in Biblical writing and occurs 130 times in the Old Testament. Births in a family in succession would be seen in the context of time. Some interested in the Bible have taken this to mean that Jesus was God's first creation. The Gnostics took it a step further teaching that created beings were emanations of God and Jesus was in the next-to-highest aeon under God. Arius promulgated this long ago in Egypt, and even today, certain sectarian groups adhere to this idea. But that is not what Paul means by this scripture. Jewish society had a concept of the birthrite where the first son had an honored position in the family. He had certain rights and privileges. Psalm 89:27 says, "I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth." With the birthrite he was the heir and also had the responsibility of managing the family's affairs. Jesus was "appointed heir of all things" (Heb 1:2). "He has inherited a more excellent name than they" (:4). "God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name" (Php 2:9). The term developed beyond the use as primogeniture (physical birth) into the concept of priority and sovereignty. It became a metaphor, as with, he is "the firstborn over all creation" (Col 1:15) which distinguishes him from creation itself and gives him a preeminent position as opposed to a subsidiary role. He is the first begotten Son closely united with God, antecedent to the whole, collective creation. There is an inferential reference to rank in dignity temporally, but Christ conditions the creation and is independent of it. The main point is the Son's permanent relationship with the Father which denotes deity and lays the groundwork for creation itself. "In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son . . . through whom also He made the world" (Heb 1:2).
Paul begins the section saying that Jesus is the image of God and the firstborn of creation (Col 1:15). Is he deliberately confronting the false teachers? Perhaps he thought it was just a good time to share the "stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you" (Eph 3:2). After all, it had been "revealed to His holy apostles" (:5) and he stated "that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery" (:2). He had received "the surpassing greatness of the revelations" (2Co 12:7). He therefore continued saying, "For by Him all things are created" (Col 1:16). "For" denotes a conclusion as if he had said "because." "All things" are specified which designates supremacy which counters the Gnostic's arguments that heirarchys have restrictions of authority. "All things" is repeated seven times to reinforce importance. These revelations had to be to the "prophets in the Spirit" (Eph 2:5) because no man could personally figure this out on his own. "The world was made through Him" (Jn 1:10) and "all things came into being through Him" (:3). The Gnostics might have been able to rationalize this somehow. However, Paul's revelation is all-incompassing explaining "there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him" (1Co 8:6). Also, there is "Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him" (:6). Maybe determining when this happened is the key. Paul points out that "He is before all things" (Col 1:17) which speaks of his preexistence. "He was in the begining with God" (Jn 1:2) and had "equality with God" (Php 2:6). He prayed, "'Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was'" (Jn 17:5). "'You loved Me before the foundation of the world'" (:24).
Here Paul focuses on Jesus as evidenced by the pronouns "He", "Him" and "Himself" occurring fifteen times in six verses. Paul concludes that the purpose is "so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything" (Col 1:18). He sums it up saying "for Him and through Him and to Him are all things" (Ro 11:36). This parallels the verse "by Him all things were created . . . [and] all things have been created through Him and for Him" (Col 1:16). It is obvious that Jesus is not just an aeon as the Gnostics hypothesized. One interpreter explains "by Him" as literally "in Him" which connotes systematically planning the endeavor. "It was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him" (:19). The phrase "through Him" appears three times in verses 16 and 20. It means that he is the agent of creation because he has the power and ability to carry it out as it is he "through whom are all things" (Heb 2:10). Finally, everything has been created "for Him" (Col 1:16), or literally, "unto Him." It is he "for whom are all things" (Heb 2:10). It was God's purpose "through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross" (Col 1:20). It was prophesied, "'Behold I come'" (Ps 40:7) because "'I delight to do Thy will, O my God'" (:8). Then "every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Php 2:11). It was prophesied, "Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet" (Ps 8:6). Finally, "the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all" (1Co 15:28).
"All things were created" (Col 1:16) "by Him" (:16) and "through Hiim" (:16). "He is before all things" (:17). "In the beginning was the Word" (Jn 1:1). "Apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being" (:3). This preexistence gives Christ a supremacy or priority and a prominent position in creation. Creation is conditional upon and rests in him. The context of "all things" does not limit creation to only certain areas because it encompasses everything "both in the heavens and on the earth" (Col 1:16). Since they "have been created" (:16) they remain so. "In Him all things hold together" (:17). It was not just based upon a "first cause" and everything evolved afterwards but that Christ sustains creation and directs development on a permanent basis. Paul described creation "both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible" (:15). Here he uses a literary style called a chiasm which juxtaposes twofold categories to define a relationship. The outside members receive emphasis, so heaven/invisible is highest, followed by earth/visible. Heaven is defined as a place above the earth and where spirits reside (and Christians by way of appropriation). In the immediate context, heaven and earth are set apart but combined for purposes of affinity. Paul elaborates saying that "thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities" (:16) have been created. It seems that the reference is to classes of angelic beings since Colossians 2:8-3:4 discusses the subject. It could be that he is answering the hypothesis regarding eons by the Gnostics.
Many scriptures mention together the words rulers, authorities, and power. "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). "Against" is mentioned five times. However, God "raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion" (Eph 1:20-21). "He is the head over all rule and authority" (Col 2:10). "He had disarmed the rulers and authorities" (:15) and "is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him" (1Pe 3:22). "He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church" (Eph 1:22). Paul was "convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities . . . nor any created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God" (Ro 8:38-39). "The manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph 3:10). Then the end comes "when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power" (1Co 15:24).
Paul's hymn in Colossians 1:15-20 has two parts. The first pertains to who Christ is saying, "He is the image of the invisible God" (:15). The second deals with his purpose saying, "He is also head of the body, the church" (:18). The two halves are tied together with his being "the firstborn of all creation" (:15) and "the firstborn from the dead" (:18). We have seen that "firstborn" doesn't have a time connotation per se but rather means that Christ has prominent position and primacy in authority "so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything" (:18). He is "the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth" (Rev 1:5). He is "the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead" (Ro 1:4). However, there is a time orientation because "He is before all things" (:17) and "He is the beginning" (:18). At a point in time he "made peace through the blood of His cross" (:20). The Greek text places the thoughts "He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead" (:18) side by side in an appositional relationship so that the second restates or interprets the first. Paul stated that "we have testified of God that He raised up Christ" (1Co 15:15) and that "Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits" (:20). In Israel's grain harvest some grains ripened first before the main harvest and they could be gathered representing the firstfruits. The Father "brings the firstborn into the world" (Heb 1:6) so that there would be those "predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He could be the firstborn among many brethren" (Ro 8:29). They would become the "church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven . . . [who are] the spirits of the righteous made perfect" (Heb 12:23). He has "raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6).
Jesus initiated an age of redemption by his sacrifice at the cross and, as such, "He is the beginning" (Col 1:18). It required a new direction "from the dead" (:18) because the status quo was that through Adam "came death" (1Co 15:21) and "in Adam all die" (:22). But fortunately we are "buried with Him through baptism into death" (Ro 6:4) and by Christ "came the resurrection of the dead" (1Co 15:21). "When we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ" (Eph 2:5). Because the Holy Spirit "dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies" (Ro 8:11). Everyone who "believes in Him may have everlasting life" (Jn 6:40) and we "should walk in newness of life" (Ro 6:4). There is "neither Greek nor Jew" (Col 3:11), "slave nor free . . . [or] male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28) and "Christ is all and in all" (Col 3:11). "Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits" (1Co 15:20) and "by Man also came the resurrection of the dead" (:21) so that "all shall be made alive" (:22). But is anything postponed? It says it happens "afterward [to] those who are Christ's at His coming" (:23). Jesus said, "'I will raise him up at the last day'" (Jn 6:40) and "in a moment . . . at the last trumpet . . . the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1Co 15:52). Some of these dead are those who had been killed (Rev 20:4) and "the rest of the dead did not live again" (:4) for a while. It is the "first resurrection" (:5). There are also those "who are alive until the coming of the Lord" (1Th 4:15) who "shall be caught up together with them in the clouds" (:17). In this context Christ's resurrection is a promise of a new life and a sign of things to come.
Colossians 1:15-17 establishes that Christ is infinite (beginning and end) and sovereign (absolute rule over all). You might say that verse 18 makes a transition from the natural to the spiritual by saying "He is also the head of the body, the church." The body is Paul's metaphor saying that as the brain directs and controls the functions of the body so Christ has authority over the operation of his church. The Greek word "ekklesia" defines the church as his called out ones. "You have come to Mount Zion . . . to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven . . . and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect" (Heb 12:22-23). Paul explained to the Ephesians that they were initially "separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise" (Eph 2:12). God had originally chosen Israel saying, "'You are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth'" (Dt 7:6). But Israel decided not to follow God. However, "as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable" (Ro 11:28-29). Consequently, Christ turned to the Gentiles and "is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal life" (Heb 9:15). Peter cites that the Gentiles therefore became "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1Pe 2:9). Paul explained that "in Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11). You are "called according to His purpose" (Ro 8:28). He "has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace" (2Ti 1:9).
"He is also head of the body, the church" (Col 1:18), "He Himself being the Savior of the body" (Eph 5:23). He has the supremecy because its members owe allegiance since he has redeemed them. "The church is subject to Christ" (:24). God "put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church" (:22). This is reflected in the wording of Colossians 1:15-20 and Ephesians 1:21-23: "all things"(6); "He is"(4); "through Him"(3); "in Him"(2); "all the fullness"(2); "all creation", "all rule", "His", "He Himself", "by Him", "for Him" (1). "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ" (1Co 11:3). The church is the precursor of Christ's ultimate kingdom. It is "that in Himself He might make the two into one new man" (Eph 2:15) to "reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross" (:16). We become "fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God's household" (:19) "in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord" (:21).
God "calls you into His kingdom and glory" (1Th 2:12) and it is he "through whom you were called into fellowship with his Son" (1Co 1:9). Paul told them that God has "called you by the grace of Christ" (Gal 1:6) and had "set me apart from birth and called me through His grace" (:15). "Whom He predestined, these He also called" (Ro 8:30) and "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4). You are "those who have been chosen of God" (Col 3:12). "There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope whom you were called" (Eph 4:1). "From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit" (2Th 2:13). He chose you "through belief in the truth" (:13) and "called you to this through our gospel" (:14). There are actually two terms here of "calling" and "choosing" as Peter advises to "be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you" (2Pe 1:10). "From the standpoint of the gospel [calling] they are enemies . . . but from the standpoint of God's choice [choosing] they are beloved" (Ro 11:28). "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph 1:13). Paul said, "I entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling" (Eph 4:1) of God "who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling" (2Ti 1:9). "As long as you practice these things, you will never stumble" (2Pe 1:10) if you "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body" (Col 3:15). "In this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you" (2Pe 1:11).