“And He is the Head of the Body, the Church”. Colossians 1:18
The Colossian epistle is written around two great facts which govern all history and which solve the mystery of creation in its meaning and purpose. The first is the FACT OF CHRIST, and the second the FACT OF THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS BODY.
In the first part of our introductory exposition of the Colossian epistle (Serial Number 026-1) we have emphasised the words of Paul that all things were made by Christ, and for Christ, who is before all things and by whom all things consist (Col.1:16-17). It is our task now to proceed to a consideration of the second great fact contained in the words, “And he is the head of the body, the church.” (Col.1:18). That body is a mystical body in which and through which the life of the Risen Christ expresses itself in terms of a new and deathless creation which takes the place of the old and fallen creation of sin and death.
It follows by consequence that this new creation is the ultimate purpose of God in which all His designs are realised and through which His glory, grace, wisdom, love and power are fully unfolded. Moreover, it must be clearly seen that as ‘the Church which is His body’ is in fact the new creation, there cannot be any other ‘new creation’ nor can there be any other body, or sphere of salvation, or area of the divine working in redemption, outside the Church. In short, “the Church which is His body” is the all-inclusive, all-exclusive world in which the wisdom of God finds its fulfillment.
The strange theory which has grown up in the last one hundred years that “the Church which is His body’ is irrelevant to prophecy and therefore to be disregarded as the true and final and full objective of all creation and all history, is so incredible that it must be put down to that steady decline in divine knowledge which has been the all too familiar pattern of these last days. That we do not exaggerate this situation, will appear later in this paper in a quotation made from the Scofield Reference Bible, one of the most widely circulated and reverenced of all Bible editions during the last one hundred years.
In his Colossian epistle Paul shows that in His mystical body, the Church, Christ suffers, feels, acts, endures, and triumphs; and therein He attains His true destiny and finds His glorious fulfillment - or as Paul puts it in an incomparable passage in his companion epistle to the Ephesians, the Father “hath put all things under his (Christ’s) feet and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, THE FULNESS OF HIM THAT FILLETH ALL IN ALL”. (Ephesians 1: 22-23)
If the Church is Christ’s fullness, or completion, that in which He fulfils His own glorious destiny, then there can be no other destiny, no other fullness, no other objective in creation save that which Christ realises for Himself in the Church which is His body.
The holy mystery of creation is that the Son should be eternally united in glorious and divine wedlock to His Bride, the Church, whom He redeems with His own lifeblood. Christ (says Paul) “loved the Church and gave Himself for it”. (Ephesians 5: 25)
It is also an inescapable consequence of the doctrine concerning Christ’s body, the Church, that the Church began with the human race in the Garden of Eden, under the same covenant of mercy which thousands of years later was sealed in the blood of Christ, but which was anticipated in the wisdom of God before the world was, according to the Pauline exposition, “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world”. (Ephesians 1: 4)
The continuity of the Church from the beginning of time to the end thereof, without interruption or curtailment, is one of the clearest teachings of Holy Scripture, though it has been strangely overclouded in these perilous last days. The salvation of the Church exhausts all the redemptive purpose of God and as there has never been any other means of redemption from the Garden of Eden onward, than faith in the promise of life in Christ Jesus (see the PROTEVANGELIUM or first statement of the gospel of Genesis 3: 15), all believers before Christ are as much a part of His Church as those after Christ, as we hope presently to make clear.
Those who plead for any special or exclusive place for Israel as a nation, and who think that Paul teaches such a future destiny for the Jewish people in Romans 11 must at least admit; that even in that much-quoted chapter there is no reference to the Jewish people as a body of believers considered apart from the Church. It is fundamental to the understanding of Paul’s argument in Romans 11 that Jew and Gentile are comprehended in the one work of salvation, the one covenant of redemption, the one body, the one “Olive Tree”, and they share the one glorious destiny.
“For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:
Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” (Romans 11:30-32)
These verses allow no room for a separate Jewish church or kingdom.
The pre-eminence and finality of the Church in all the purposes of God as containing within herself the meaning and object of creation and thus revealing “the mystery of God and of the Father and of Christ” (Col. 2.vs.2), is elaborated by Paul to the full in the third chapter of Ephesians just quoted:
“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world bath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus Our Lord:” (Ephesians 3:9-11)
Involved in the redemption of the Church is the original purpose of God in making heaven and earth, which is that MAN should be the visible representative of the invisible God, ruling over all the works of creation (see Genesis 1, vs.26; Psalm 8, vs. 4-6; Hebrews 2, vs. 6-9). That destiny of MAN was to take precedence over the creation of angels (“For unto angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak” Hebrews 2, vs.5). Unquestionably it was Satan’s envy against man (who was yet untreated) which brought about the fall in the angelic creation, and precipitated into darkness the angels who sinned and kept not their first estate.
We know how quickly MAN also fell, and thus it seemed that the purpose of God was thwarted and unattainable but He who is above all and matchless in His wisdom had decreed from the beginning to turn evil into good by making it the means of the highest good. This could only be done by an act of self-abnegation by God Himself, and so the Eternal Son became man and yielded Himself in utter weakness to the power of evil. In the agony of the garden and under the curse of the tree He restored the Father’s name and glory, and having approved Himself thus to be worthy to hold sway over all creation He as Man ascended on high and united Godhead to manhood. He realised in Himself the divine purpose in creation which was to display to the uttermost the divine wisdom and perfection and glory, and unite heaven and earth in acclaiming the greatness, the worth and the eternal love of God. Thus it is that in Jesus Christ Our Lord, man achieves his destiny in spite of sin and the fall.
Christ is the second Adam, the head of the new creation, and in Him man eternally reigns. Only as God is One in Essence yet subsisting in Three Persons could this be done, and only as He who died was God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father who was God and with the Holy Spirit who was God (yet one God undivided in essence), could the task be accomplished. They who deny the deity of Christ have no atonement. They who deny the Holy Trinity have no God, and no answer to the problem of creation. But the redemption of the church as the new creation of God never to be corrupted, never to fail, but eternally to be glorified because her head is Christ and she is His body - this is the divine mystery revealed, the secret disclosed. These are the “unsearchable riches of Christ” which Paul marvelled that he should be the unworthy instrument of unfolding (see Ephesians ch.3).
If then the Church is as we have tried, to show, the object of that redeeming work by which God everlastingly determined to reveal Himself, and that this revealing of God is the mystery of creation, the secret which lay in the hidden depths of the divine wisdom till the hour should come when Christ should reveal it - then the Church must be and is the central and the greatest object in history, and takes precedence over all other institutions, orders, systems which may have gone before her. Certain it is that there can be nothing after her, for she is the bride, the body, the spouse of Christ and the total fruit of His sacrifice of Himself at Calvary. It seems almost irrelevant in the face of this to contend against those who allege, that the Church was not the sole and unique object of Christ’s coming into the world.
The theory that the Church is only a temporary expedient to tide over the time till God’s real purpose shall be resumed in the establishment of an earthly kingdom with its metropolis at Jerusalem is not only contrary to the Saviour’s words to the Woman of Samaria (“Neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem” John 4:20), but is also irreconcilable with the Pauline doctrine of the Church that she is the eternal object of the divine purpose in creation, the consummation of all God’s wisdom and of His vast designs in time and in eternity.
In the light of the Pauline doctrine, any attempt to prove that the Church is irrelevant to prophecy or is not the real and exclusive object of Christ’s coming into the world, or that she has to be moved out of the way before the end in order to establish an earthly economy centred on Jerusalem, must be furnished with very formidable arguments and proofs. So far as we know, this proof has never been presented.
We have little doubt that there will be many who will be glad to have an exposition which makes valid their own faith and standing in Christ and which assures them that the death of Christ for them transcends all boundaries of nations or of time and that the atonement which covers their sins has elevated them to the rank of sons of God, they having received the spirit of adoption whereby they cry Abba Father (Romans ch.8). What more can, any earthly kingdom in Palestine do for them, seeing that in Christ they have already overcome death and sin and Satan and realised the entire object of God’s purpose in creating the heavens and the earth?
ONE CHURCH IN OLD TESTAMENT AND NEW TESTAMENT
It appears to us moreover that not only is a very great error being permitted regarding the nature and standing and pre-eminence of the Church in relation to the impending future of the human race, but there is equal misunderstanding regarding the past history of the Church. That “the Church began at Pentecost” is a statement not quite true. What began at Pentecost was the N.T. manifestation of the Church, the Church’s full and most glorious chapter on earth. That the church is one in N.T. and O.T. is settled beyond all argument by Paul when he preaches that all who are in Christ are the children of Abraham who is “the father of us all” (Rom. 4, vs.15; Gal. 3, vs.29). Indeed Paul goes so far as to say that Jews no more than Gentiles may be regarded strictly speaking as the seed of Abraham. There is only one Person who is in that category and He is the Lord Christ alone. (“and to thy seed which is Christ” Gal. 3, vs. l6). The Jew is not the seed of Abraham. Christ is that seed and only as any are born again in Christ are they the children of Abraham and the children of God. “If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise'” (Gal. 3, vs. 29). These fundamental Scriptures are so much ignored by all parties in this controversy that we make no apology for insisting upon them here.
In the famous “circumcision” passage in Romans ch.4 Paul makes plain that the doctrine of justification by faith was revealed in Abraham before he was circumcised, and circumcision (the fleshly sign of being a descendant of Abraham) has therefore no significance in the realm of faith, for Abraham is shown to be the father of all who believe though they be not circumcised and the father of circumcision to those Jews who are not of the circumcision only but who walk in the steps of that same faith of Abraham which he had being yet uncircumcised (Rom. 4, vs.12).
Paul enlarges upon this when he declares that the promise to Abraham that he should be heir of the world (for so Paul interprets the O.T. promise as ranging far beyond the land of Palestine) is fulfilled only in Christ and, through Him in all who attain to the '”righteousness which is by faith”:
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” (Romans 4, vs. 16)
FATHER OF MANY NATIONS
After the same manner Paul interprets the promise to Abraham that he should be the father not of one nation but of many nations (vs.17) whose faith is the same in quality substance and object as Abraham’s, be they Jew or Gentile. Thus was the promise to Abraham fulfilled which was implied in the change of his name from Abram (great father) to Abraham (father of many nations).
We intreat our friends to give careful study to these passages and set them alongside the view which so widely prevails that there is a special future for the Jew as a Jew. They will perceive that as Abraham is the father of all who believe be they Jew or Gentile, then are we Gentiles members with Abraham of the same church. Therefore, the church existed in Abraham’s day and he was a member of it, and before his day for the catalogue of those who believe and are justified by faith alone stretches back in that great chapter of faith Hebrews 11 far beyond the flood, right back to the father of the human race at the beginning of human history – “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than that of Cain by which he obtained witness that he was righteous and by it he being dead yet speaketh”. (Heb. 11:4)
How say some therefore that the Church only began at Pentecost 2,000 years ago, when in fact it goes back to the first generation of the human race? The only difference between the faith of the O.T. Church and that of the N.T. Church is that O.T. believers looked forward to the fulfillment of the promise in Christ whereas N.T. believers look backward to the promise fulfilled. It is this promise of God and faith therein which constitutes the Church, and as the Church had her origin in the beginning of the human race so she will be on earth until the trumpet calls all creation to judgment.
It can scarcely be said nowadays that the doctrine of the Church is the subject of profound erudition amongst the Lord’s true people. We have been harassed for so long by theories well nigh frivolous which are propounded with a minimum of thought but with a maximum of incredible confidence, that it is difficult for the voice of truth and sanity to be heard in our evangelical corridors. We are awed by the almost sublime authority with which the strangest predictions are made regarding the Church’s future in terms of her secret disappearance from the earth and her equally remarkable reappearance exactly seven years later to mingle, immortals with mortals, surviving Jews (now converted) and huge numbers of surviving ungodly under the personal rule of Christ seated upon a throne at Jerusalem for the next one thousand years. Multitudes of ungodly are alleged to be there, survivors somehow of the event of the Second Coming. Nor is this one thousand years’ reign a complete success, seeing (if the literal view be accepted) there shall be need of police, jailers, and hangmen, and terrible plagues to discipline those who absent themselves from religious festivals (see Zech. ch.14). It seems to us that the only hope for our friends is to spiritualise the Millennium and recognise that Christ is reigning NOW, and must continue to reign until all His foes are put under feet (1 Cor. 15: 25). But who are we to oppose interpretations which are propagated with such remarkable tones of infallibility? The Papal announcements from St. Peter’s chair in Rome are modest compared with the prognostications now available in evangelical literature.
THE SCOFIELD BIBLE
The late Dr. C. I. Scofield (of whose character and Christian standing we desire to speak nothing but good), was surely terribly entangled in false prophetical theory when he wrote (page 975, Scofield Reference Bible - note on Zechariah 11, vs.11) “Neither the Gentiles nor the Gentile church corporately are in view. Only the believers out of Israel (italics) during this age. The church corporately is not in O.T. prophecy”. We understand that in the latest edition of the Scofield Bible the editors have quietly dropped this sentence. We wonder why, when the note is essential to the survival of Dr. Scofield’s system. Dr. Scofield was only ploughing with Mr. J. N. Darby’s heifer, and it must be admitted that if the prophetical theory he inherited from this great “brethren” patriarch was correct he was being no more than logical when he insisted that the church as such is not to be found anywhere in O.T. prophecy. Yet Paul insists that the Church is the body of Christ; that the Church is the eternal purpose of God. The prophet prophesied of the salvation which the Apostles proclaimed says Peter and their words were only relevant to N.T. times (see 1 Peter 1:10-12). And Amos’s wrote of Gentile salvation, said James, as he quoted from Amos ch.9.the words related to the setting up again of David’s fallen house (See Acts 15). James quoted this prophecy to prove the validity of gentile salvation then being called into question.
Paul labours in all his writings to show that the Church of the N.T. is the lawful successor of the Church which existed in the O.T. and whose history is traced back to the first page of human history. Who can withstand his argument in Galatians that he who was child of the Law in O.T. times, subject to the schoolmaster’s rod in the shape of the elements or rudiments of legal observances, ,rituals, dietary laws, and the whole apparatus of Levitical statutes is the grown up son who having come of age, enters into the full inheritance and statue of sonship and inheritance in the N.T., the Spirit of Adoption now crying within him “Abba Father” to denote his coming, into the full and promised inheritance? To quote Paul’s words directly:
“Now I say, that the heir as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son unto your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ”
Galatians 4: 1-7
CONTINUITY OF THE CHURCH
The servant becomes a son, the child becomes the inheritor, and therefore the altered status must be regarded as a new beginning, but not a new person. This was what Christ was indicating when He said to Peter “On this rock I will build my Church” - not a new Church which never before existed, but the Church in the endowment of her full privileges, released from the bondage and servitude of the O.T. into the enjoyment of the full liberty and privilege and standing of the N.T.
This doctrine of the continuity of the Church has far reaching consequences for the interpretation of the prophecies. That which was earthly and geographical in the O.T. is Spiritual and heavenly in the N.T. The prophets spoke in ancient times in terms and figures of the Church as she then was, as the nation of Israel with all her apparatus of an earthly throne an earthly priesthood, temple and city and with natural boundaries and topographical details. Prophesying of the N.T. glory of the Church they could speak in no other terms, and hence the many prophecies which speak of the exaltation of the earthly city, the elevation of the throne of David above the nations of the world, the glory of Jerusalem or Zion as the bride of Jehovah, exalted above the hills and all nations flowing into it, the subjugation of the world, the new and mild nature of the wild beasts, and the earth “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”. When we say that these are figures of speech descriptive of the new and exalted character of the Church in the N.T. we are being no more than logical. We go further and say it is impossible to interpret consistently these prophecies in the literal or natural sense, for if we do we shall stumble headlong into the some error which the Jews of Christ’s day committed when they rejected Christ because in their literal and natural interpretations He did not fulfill the prophecies of the expected kingdom.
The Jews never understood the spiritual nature of the promises and were wedded to the false view that the Mosaic Law along with its priesthood and its temple was a permanent feature, of the Lord’s arrangements on earth. But Paul tells us in Hebrews that “The priesthood being changed there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7, vs.12). “There is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof” (Heb. 7, vs.18) “If the first covenant had been faultless there should no place have been found for the second” (Heb. 8, vs.7). The change of covenant is prophesied in Jeremiah 31, vs.31-34 and it is an extraordinary indictment of the state of evangelical theology today that there is an almost universal stumbling at the words with which the New Covenant is introduced in Jeremiah – “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”. The claim is made on O.T. grounds that this New Covenant does not belong to the Church at all but to the Jew of a generation yet future, whereas Paul in Hebrews views it as already being in full operation in his day two thousand years ago - the change having taken place, the Old Covenant having been disannulled and the New Covenant having been set up in the blood of Christ whose heavenly priesthood began to operate for the Church when He rose from the dead, and the Temple having fallen along with its priesthood when the veil of the Temple was rent at the moment of His death.
And what covenant is it that Christ inaugurated at the last supper when He took the cup and said, “This cup is the N.T. in my blood”? Are there two New Covenants, a Jewish one and a Gentile one? And upon what covenant do we Gentile Christians rely for the forgiveness of our sins if it is not this New Covenant of which Jeremiah speaks, there being no other New Covenant? Who therefore can deny that “Israel and Judah” here mean the church? At the time of the prophecy the church was still under the tutors and governors of the old Law but from the time of the Cross Church has been free - the Son has made her free (John 8, vs.36). She is the true successor of the Church of the O.T. in unbroken continuity and the heir to the promises made to Israel – “All the promises of God in him (Christ) are yea and Amen”.
Our friends cannot dispose of this argument without rending the N.T. away from prophecy and covenant promise and leaving the Church (as indeed a formidable element in the Church does in fact leave her) without a prophecy, without a lawful existence, and without a valid future.
The Church must learn afresh to interpret prophecy as the N.T. interprets prophecy -- in spiritual and heavenly manner, as enduing her with the realisation of all the hope and expectation of the righteous in those far off days when it was revealed unto them that “not unto themselves but unto us they did minister the things, (namely the prophecies) which are now reported unto us by them that have preached the Gospel unto us with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven”. (1 Peter 1, vs.10-12)
JEHOVAH’S ERRING WIFE IN HOSEA
As though to make certain that we understand plainly his intention to give the O.T. prophecies to the Church in a gospel and heavenly interpretation, Peter a few verses later quotes the prophet Hosea in proof of the fact that the Church was all along the objective and the true fulfillment of O.T. prophecy. We quote from 1 Peter 2, vs. 10 “Which in time past were not a people but are now the people of God; which had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy”. (See Hosea 1:9 and 2:23)
To make doubly sure we are not mistaken in Hosea’s prediction that the Church takes the place of Israel, we have Paul stating the same thing in Romans 9:25-26, quoting precisely the same prophecy of Hosea.
That Peter and Paul interpret these verses as being descriptive of the N.T. Church is beyond question a token of the principle therein established of the true and spiritual method of the interpretation of prophecy. Our expositors for the most part find in the words of Hosea only the promise of a restored Israel in the fleshly, natural sense. But Peter and Paul view it otherwise. Hosea’s prophecy is built around Jehovah’s relationship with Israel as with an erring wife who commits whoredom against her husband. That Gomer the daughter of Diblaim (Hosea 1, vs.3) never existed as an actual wife of the unhappy prophet is clear from the remarkable signification of the name. The name Gomer signifies “completion” and indicates here that the apostasy of the people of Israel was complete. The name Diblaim is a dual form in the Hebrew and means a cake usually of figs composed of two layers and signifies the two nations, Judah and Israel. In the names of Hosea’s prophetic children (or rather Jehovah’s) is shown the impending rejection of both houses of the Israelitish nation, Israel and Judah. In the child Jezreel
is figured the end of the dynasty of Jehu (which meant the end of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel). The other two children are Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. “Lo” in Hebrew denotes the negative. Hence the meaning given in the first chapter of Hosea, “No longer mercy” and “No longer my people”, which describes the casting off of both houses of Israel and Judah under the dreadful sentence, “I will not be your God” (vs.9).
That this judgment (finally fulfilled in the disaster of A. D.70), was intended to indicate the end of the earthly people as touching their special relationship with God, and the continuation of God’s purpose and promise in the N.T. Church is shown clearly in Hosea 1:10 which we have already quoted. The rejection of the earthly people is shown by this verse to be only the starting point of a new and more glorious chapter in the history of the people of God, when their numbers would be increased worldwide so as to be innumerable as the sands of the sea and would far outreach the boundaries of the earthly nation, for “It shall come to pass that in the place where it is said ye are not my people there shall it be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God”. That this is the N.T. Church there can be no manner of doubt for Peter says it is - that the prophecy has already been fulfilled.
He goes further and tells us that this is the new or heavenly Zion where the temple is no longer of stone and lime but composed of “living stones” built upon the great corner stone, Christ, which God has “laid In Zion”. He shows that the true people of God are the stones of that spiritual temple and they are therefore “a chosen generation a royal priesthood a, holy nation a peculiar people”.
Could inspired language make it more plain that the Church is the fulfillment of prophecy? If Hosea’s predictions are the pattern of all true interpretation we have Peter’s authority for declaring that all O.T. prophecy of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, is realised in the Church and nowhere else. All natural figures therefore such as Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, the building of the walls of Jerusalem, the throne of David, the pre-eminence of the kingdom, are to be interpreted spiritually in precisely the same manner as some of our friends have succeeded so well with reducing the measurements and furnishings of the tabernacle and temple of O.T. times to gospel terms and heavenly doctrine (as Peter does with the living stones of the N.T. temple). We admit the accusation of our friends that by these interpretations we “take all the curses and give them to the Jew and take all the blessings and give them to the Church” - because this is precisely what James (Acts 15, vs. 14-17) and Peter and Paul do in the N.T. and (if we may say so with profound reverence) what Our Lord Himself does in the Gospel.
“Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof. And whomsoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whosoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21: 43-44)
THE EXPOSITION RESUMED
Having done what we could to clear the ground by stating the Pauline doctrine of the Church as the BODY OF CHRIST, we now proceed to a brief sketch of the remainder of the Colossian epistle.
Paul’s epistles to Ephesus and Colosse were written while under house arrest in Rome and they came in the same mailbag by the hand of Tychicus and Onesimus to their respective destinations - near neighbours in Asia Minor. Onesimus also carried a personal note from Paul to one of the principal officers of the church at Laodicea (another neighbouring town), a man of wealth and influence named Philemon. Onesimus traveled hopefully to be welcomed and received by his old master, no longer as a runaway bondman, but now converted and a brother beloved.
The Ephesian and Colossian epistles naturally have much in common having been written at the same time and in the same place by the same hand but they also have distinctive features which give to each a special significance.
In that to Ephesus Paul traces the origin of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ back to a divine decree eternal in its nature and transcending all time and all creation (“He hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians ch. 1, vs.4).
In Colossians Paul wrestles more particularly with the problem of Jewish encroachment upon the integrity of the Church and devotes the whole of the second chapter to a refutation of the claims of false Judaising teachers who sought to bring the Church under the dominion of O.T. ordinances -circumcision, dietary laws, sabbaths, priesthood, festivals and new moons. His method of doing so was to establish first the supremacy of Christ over all things in heaven and earth, and secondly to show that the coming of Christ to save and redeem His people by His incarnation, His atoning death and His glorious resurrection and ascension established a new order which took precedence over all which had gone before. This meant that the Jewish order was to be seen not as a permanent feature of God’s plan but as an interim and preparatory phase until the incarnation of Christ. Since Christ has come and established His kingdom on the imperishable and immovable rock of His own divinity and His redeeming work upon the cross, the types and shadows and disciplines of the Old Covenant have given way to the inward and spiritual realities of the New Covenant or as Paul so uniquely puts it in Ephesians, “He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” - not in earthly and rudimentary institutions.
THE PASSING OF THE JEWISH COVENANT
For Jewish believers, while the Temple still stood, Paul tolerated the continued observance of the old ordinances until it pleased God to remove them in His own time. This the Lord did within ten years of the writing of Paul’s epistles, by releasing upon the Jewish nation (still unbelieving after forty years of divine patience since the crucifixion), the Roman legions in a stupendous act of providential vengeance when Temple, priesthood, sacrifice and nation fell in. A.D. 70-73. Writing about the same time in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Paul predicted the early removal of the Old Covenant relics in the sentence which we have in Hebrews 8, v.13: “In that He saith a new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away: Paul perceived that the old Jewish order, even while he was writing, was about to vanish into history.
For Gentiles the old ordinances (sacred though they were because ordained by God through Moses) had no relevance. The believer was perfect already in Christ and must not be brought under the bondage of religious rites which were not only obsolete but subversive of the Gospel. Paul saw (as he makes clear in all his writings) that to yield to Jewish prejudice and to revert to Jewish forms on this point was to destroy the Church and abolish the cross of Christ. Nothing less than this was at stake and he took steps to protect and assert the Church’s faith and the integrity of her standing in Christ, even though Peter and Barnabas were carried away by the Jewish dissimulation. (See Galatians 2, vs.11-13)
To the Ephesians Paul shows that the Church’s origin was not in the Mosaic constitutions but in a decree of election promulgated before all creation (Ephesians 1:4). To the Colossians he shows that the Church is already complete in Christ, and to go back to Moses and the Law is to betray Christ and make His cross of non-effect. (Col. 2:10)
Hence too we see a new lustre shed upon Paul’s statement to the Colossians that they had been “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son”. A new order has come in. Christ has established a kingdom which over-rides and crushes all the power of darkness (which the Jewish kingdom never did). Christ’s kingdom is founded upon the fact of the empty tomb, the overcoming of sin and death and the deliverance of those who through the fear of death were all their life time subject to bondage (Heb. 2, vs.14, 15). Having accorded to Christ the precedence over all things in heaven and earth (as we have shown in our first paper on this subject) Paul goes on to declare the far reaching consequences to believers under the New Covenant of grace.
“Christ is the head of the body the church” declares Paul. It is impossible to exclude from this statement Paul’s preoccupation with the danger to the church arising from the false teaching which gave to the ordinances of the Law a precedence over the Gospel. The Colossians were to look to Christ alone as their head, receiving directly from Him that new and mighty stream of grace which He by His merits and atoning death opened up to the world.
When Paul says that He who is the head of the body the Church is also the first-born from the dead, he shows the complete fallacy of the teaching which would carry the Church back under the regime of the old Law. The Law was powerless to overcome the enemy death. It could only point forward to the One who was to come, the Seed of the Woman, who in death would destroy him who had the power of death even the devil, and deliver those who, whether with or without the Law; were all their lifetime subject to bondage and fear.
“The first-born from the dead” carries us back to David’s prophetic word in the Second Psalm (vs-7), “Thou art my Son this day have I begotten thee”.
The word “begotten” in this place does not relate to the Eternal Sonship of Christ as though the Only Begotten had no existence till the moment of resurrection. As explained by Paul in Acts 13, vs.33, 34, the word in Psalm 2 relates to the act of God in raising His Son from the dead that He (the son) might occupy the eternal throne as the representative and firstborn from the dead of all redeemed creation (See Romans 8, vs.29, “That He might be the first begotten among many brethren” and Rev. 1, vs.5 “The first begotten from the dead”).
Again Paul proceeds in his relentless purpose to establish Christ as the first of all creation and the One in whom the Father realises all the great purpose of His life, wisdom, love and power –
“It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell”.
Colossians 1, vs. 19
This can only imply in Paul’s context that there is completeness in Christ alone. Christ must not be united with the Law and its ordinances, nor must He in the wider context of the world be considered in the same category as other religious teachers and thinkers. He is the first of creation (as touching His prerogative as the Father’s heir and the bearer of the Father’s name). He has no equal and no competitor. Of no other being in the universe may it be said that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him. If then all is complete and full in Christ there remains no place for anything which went before Him in this world, be it Law, ceremony, sacrifice, temple, or priesthood. Christ is all, and all is realised, accomplished, and fulfilled in Him. Anything less than this is not the Gospel and not the Christian faith or the Christian Church. It follows that there remains nothing after Him to alter or vary in any way the finality of the Church in Christ.
“And having made peace through the blood of his cross by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him I say whether they be things in earth or things in heaven”. (Colossians 1, vs. 20)
The cross is the sole instrument by which Christ has achieved the purpose of creation. To make peace is to settle the question of the relationship of God with sinful man. It is manifest that Moses and the Law failed to achieve this. The enmity remained. The verdict of the Garden of Eden and the apostasy of Man still remained as it was from the beginning, until Christ’s obedience unto death extinguished the righteous fires of divine wrath and established peace between God and Man. The cross therefore solves the problem of Creation which is the problem of evil and restores peace and harmony in heaven and in earth. By these words we perceive that the work of Christ transcends all earthly things and has reference to conditions in heaven as well as in earth. For heaven itself had been rent by the original apostasy of angels long before the creation of man. The problem of evil extends throughout all Being, and though Christ did not die to redeem angels, His bearing of all evil, sorrow, shame, and death, stabilizes and unites all creation, visible and invisible. This does not mean the universal reconciliation of fallen men and apostate devils, but it does mean that the answer of the cross is the answer of God to every ungodly imputation against His truth and righteousness. It silences all discordant voices, so that in hell the devil is dumb and the wicked cease from troubling, and the name of Christ reigns universally over heaven and hell. This is recognised in the fact that “at the name of Jesus every knee must bow of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”.
(Phil. 2, vs. 10-11)
The higher reconciliation - that which is unto eternal salvation -is shown in the words following:
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:”
(Chap. 1: 21-22)
Again Paul shows that the work of the Law and the entire apparatus of the Old Covenant have no part in the work of the Gospel. Through death alone is life brought forth. The One who dies as the Man of Sorrows, despised and rejected, is, as touching His divine nature, above all Law for He IS the Law in Himself, and therefore unique in all creation as the only One qualified to submit Himself to the verdict of the Law on behalf of others. Salvation comes through Christ alone - and such a salvation: Not only does He reconcile the sinner to God but He is able by His sacrifice of Himself to present us holy and unblameable and unreproveable before God –
“If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;” vs. 23
This does not denote a conditional justification depending on the sinner’s ability to continue in the way of righteousness for that would be to share the credit of salvation with Christ, but the words denote the nature of true repentance which is to turn continually to God and through trial, temptation, and all the assaults of the evil one, to show forth the work of God in the soul by the grace of perseverance.
That God gives the grace of final perseverance cannot be doubted, but that it is ministered in such a way that none can presume upon the divine mercy is also a sure principle of the Gospel.
CHRIST’S OFFICE NOT A JEWISH ONE
The universality of the Gospel as against the restricted and purely temporary character of the Old Covenant is shown in Paul’s words that the Gospel was preached “to every creature which is under heaven”, as attested by Paul’s special ministry as the apostle of the Gentiles – “Whereof I Paul am made a minister”. This worldwide ministry will never be recalled and it should be a matter of serious thought to every true Christian minister whether there is not something perilously wrong with any teaching which would imply a time in the future when the special grace of God will be lifted off the Gentile world and placed again on Jewish shoulders. The office of Christ is not a Jewish one; else the whole of the N.T. would have to be rewritten.
There is a special force likewise in Paul's words in vs. 24 -
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:”
Paul was in prison. His afflictions for more than two years since his arrest in the Temple at Jerusalem (Acts ch. 21) were solely on behalf of the Gentiles. Other believers of the Jewish community at Jerusalem were tolerated by the authorities because they were “zealous for the law” and kept the Mosaic constitutions. But Paul was known and hated for this above all, that he preached to the Gentiles and founded communities amongst them which owed no allegiance to Jerusalem. All his sufferings therefore were the outcome and the consequence of the special commission given to him as the Apostle of the Gentiles and he regarded his suffering as the confirmation of that ministry. His endurance of these trials was a proof of his uncompromising defence of the freedom of all believers from the obligations of the Mosaic constitutions.
Indeed he claims that these sufferings were part of “that which lay behind of the afflictions of Christ” for the Church which is His body.
Who can measure the depths of these words? Christ suffered once for our sins in making atonement for us. But Christ suffers still in His people in the trials through which they and the whole of His Church must pass, in persecution, bonds, imprisonments, martyrdoms, afflictions, trials, for His sake. Is it not a thing to be marvelled at that the pains that we endure for His sake are felt by Him in heaven oven more keenly than we feel them on earth?
As the paraphrase runs -
‘In every pang that rends the heart
the man of sorrows has a part.
He sympathises with our grief
and to the sufferer brings relief.”
“For we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities”.
(Hebrews 4, vs. 15)
THE SECRET REVEALED
Proceeding in the usual Pauline manner in a series of consequences, the inspired Apostle pleads his unique office amongst the Gentile Colossians to “fulfill the Word of. God” -.that is, as the AV-KJV margin puts it (vs.25) “fully to preach the Word of God” - and describes his message in most elevated terms as “the mystery hid from ages and from generations but now is made manifest” to the Church (vs. 26). Again he is approaching his fundamental theme, the unique character of the N.T. Church as the final expression of divine grace and the full unfolding of the divine mystery. The “mystery” is the same as that of which he writes simultaneously in his letter to Ephesus (Eph. 3, vs.3-11). The mystery is not that God will have a Church, for He has always had a Church from the beginning of the world. The mystery lies in the full revelation of the nature and purpose of the Church. Till Christ came it could never be fully understood that the Church is a body of believers in direct communion with God through Christ their head and destined to be raised to the highest degree of grace and glory in eternal union with God Himself through the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.
Paul makes this clear in the remarkable words -
“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of: glory.” (vs. 27)
Christ is revealed not only as the One through whom we receive forgiveness of sins but higher yet as One who, being the everlasting Word, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead bodily resides, dwells within His redeemed people and unites them to the living God as being all one with the Father. The goal of redemption is the goal of creation, namely that God should have a myriad sons as His offspring through whom He will reign, to whom He will give universal dominion as Lord of Creation, in whom He will see Himself and through whom He will make visible His own eternal glory and nature so as to fill all creation with joy and praise.
“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:” (Ephesians 3, vs.10, 11)
As the purpose of creation was forfeited by sinful man so that the race through which God’s design was to be realised was disinherited and cast off, therefore Christ came, the Seed of the Woman to crush the serpent’s dominion and by becoming MAN to achieve what man failed to do- Hence in the Upper Room at the moment of His departure for the agony of the garden and the sacrifice of Golgotha, He prayed, “I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work that thou gavest me to do, and now O Father glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17, vs.4,5). The atonement was completed when the Son rendered to the Father that which creation had denied, and uniting in Himself God and Man, carried humanity up to the eternal throne where in partnership with Him and by His merits alone, the redeemed will reign forever over all.
Paul summarises it all in the words, “The riches of the glory of this mystery, Christ in you the hope of glory”. (Col. 1, vs.27)
So stupendous a conception must not be placed in peril by earthly doctrines which bypass Christ and go back to the “weak and beggarly elements” of outmoded Judaism. (Gal. 4, vs. 9)
Not for one moment would the great Apostle hazard so great a destiny by compromising on this fundamental issue. He devotes the whole of the second chapter of Colossians to a defence of the Gospel mystery against all such beggarly conceptions
“For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;
That their hearts might be comforted being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;
In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2, vs. 1, 3)
Here are riches of assurance, understanding, enlightenment, and infinite treasure of wisdom and knowledge.
Yet not understanding this unveiling of the full and final “mystery of God and of the Father and of Christ”, there are those (sincere men beyond. all doubt) who mistakenly and most enthusiastically contend for the right to cut the ground from under their own feet by writing the Church small and characterising her as a mere temporary expedient to bridge the gap created by Jewish unbelief two thousand years-ago. They boldly teach that all the apparatus of the Old Covenant must yet be restored in the shape of temple, priest and sacrifice and the old rituals displace that divine worship of the Father “in spirit and in truth” which Christ told the woman at the well was the purpose of His coming into the world (John 4: 21-23).
With invective almost fierce, and pleading most affecting, the Apostle seeks to draw the Gentiles from this great error of substituting the earthly for the spiritual. If in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge then having Christ we have all, and look for no further or future development or alteration on earth of the divine purpose.
“This I say lest any man should beguile you with enticing words”
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ”
“For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you (Gentiles) are (already) complete in him who is the head of all principality and power”. (Chap. 2: 8-10)
Circumcision? The “cutting” of the Old Covenant? We have a circumcision made without hands in the new birth by which we have put off the body of the sins of the flesh (vs.11).
Our baptism (Paul continues) signifies much more than any Jewish ordinance. It shows we are buried with Christ in His tomb of death and are risen with Him through “the faith of the operation of God who raised Him from the dead” (vs. 12). “We were dead in sins and the unregeneracy of our flesh, but now have been quickened and made alive in Christ, all our sins being forgiven and taken away” (vs.13).
The Old Covenant which was written upon tables of stone has been shattered. It never could be kept because of the weakness and depravity of sinful man. Its writings along with all the apparatus of external ordinances, was contrary to us. The Law could never pronounce us righteous and its rituals have been blotted out by Christ. The entire apparatus of Judaism has been “nailed to His cross”. (vs. 14)
What the old Law could not do, Christ has done. He has “spoiled principalities and powers”. He has destroyed Satan and brought down the devil’s kingdom in ruins. He suffered death that He might destroy death, and endured evil that He might end all evil and restore creation to the Father as a pure and holy thing. (v. 15)
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat or drink or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days;” (v. 16).
These ordinances were only shadows. The substance is Christ (v.17).
Beware (the apostle warns) lest any man rob you of your reward by teaching you to observe rites which Christ has abolished, and by inventing pieties and religious observances which God has not authorised (v.18).
For all these things are not so much sins of ignorance as willful sins of religious pride. They spring from an apostate source – “not holding the head” - a denial of the body of Christ. The Church being united to Christ spiritually receives all increase and blessing from the one true source (v.19).
Why, if you are as dead to the earthly shadow of O.T. observances as Christ was dead to them when He lay in the tomb - why are you so ready to live again according to those fleshly rules “touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the- using” not being of the substance of everlasting life?
Man-made doctrines, teaching the alleged permanence of outward forms, impose upon the minds and consciences of the unwary and the ignorant. The fleshly mind loves the outward forms of religion because it is averse to things of the Spirit. It loves to surrender itself to the charm of fleshly religion, rather than to the spiritual experience of Christ. Outward forms of religion please the carnal mind because of the illusion of merit conveyed by a voluntary submission to forms and ceremonies no longer commanded by God. It gives an illusion of humility which is really a subtle form of religious pride. To neglect the body is no substitute for feeding the soul. Excessive and ostentatious fasting give an appearance of sanctity as though voluntary deprivation pleases God, whereas it is only a subtle satisfying of the flesh. This is what Paul is saying in verse 23. Forsaking of sin is a very different thing from practising the outward forms of ritualistic piety.
The remainder of the Epistle to the Colossians (ch. 3-4) consists of instruction concerning the consistent behaviour of those who, risen with Christ, ought to be seeking the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God (ch.3, vs.1).
The first principle of our new life is to set our affection on heavenly things for we are dead in Christ to this world and our true life is with Christ in God (vs.3). When Christ our life appears at His second coming, that will be the signal for fullness of life in the eternal glory (v, 4). How consistent then must it be for those whose destiny is so high and glorious that they mortify the deeds of their carnal nature by refraining from the pollutions of sin and the errors of this world, steadfastly devoting themselves to the nurture of that new and divine nature which is formed in them after the image of Christ? Let them behave as it becomes the Lord’s elect, holy and beloved, Let them be merciful and kind, humble, meek, and patient, even as Christ, living and forbearing, putting on the garment of love and peace. Let them manifest the word of Christ in themselves in spiritual worship, songs of praise, and psalms of divine instruction. Let all be done in the name of Christ and His glory. (See vs. 12-17)
Wives and husbands, children and parents, should fulfill the obligations of true and blessed family religion. Earthly duties and relationships should be regulated according to the rule of Christ. Let servants and masters see all things through the eye of Christ whom they both serve. Let prayer be maintained, especially that the Word of God be preached and go forth to all men. Watch your speech - especially when the ungodly are around! Take examples from the lives of notable saints. See what varieties of gift and grace God has set in the church, and let those who bear responsibility in the church be diligent in the execution of it, and never forget to pray for me Paul in my bonds!
(See from ch. 3, vs.18 to the end of ch. 4.)
End of introductory exposition of Colossians. There will follow a special study of Paul’s development of the doctrine of the Church in the light of history and present day errors.
[Note: It may be that the series on the Puritan Illusion is what Brother Alexander alludes to here, but that is only a guess.]