8. The Supremacy of the Work of Christ Part 1, The Plenitude and Description of His Work (Col. 1:19-20)
I. Doctrinal: The Person and Work of Christ (1:1-23)
B. The Supremacy of the Person of Christ (1:15-18)
C. The Supremacy of the Work of Christ (1:19–2:3)
1. The Plenitude and Description of His Work (1:19-20)
a. In Relation to God (1:19)
b. In Relation to all Creation (1:20)
2. The Purpose and Application of His Work (1:21-23)
3. The Propagation of His Work (1:24–2:3)
This lesson will deal only with The Plenitude of the Work of Christ, but to show the literary relationship with the verses that follow, points 2 and 3 are included in the above Outline Review.
In 1:12-14, the apostle had encouraged the Colossians to give thanks for what God had done for them through His beloved Son. This included being delivered from Satan’s rule of darkness, being transferred into the kingdom of the Son of His love, and having redemption, with redemption being further defined as “the forgiveness of sins.” But all of this is dependent on two things: the Person of Christ and the Work of Christ. Since any redemption and propitiatory work for sin is dependent on qualification of the person who accomplishes the work, the apostle devoted verses 15-18 to who “this Son of God’s love” really is. He then moves from the description of the person of Christ to a powerful declaration of the work of Christ in 1:19-20, by which God reconciled all things to Himself.
The treatment of the Redeemer’s work parallels the treatment of His person, since His work, as His person, is related in order to God the Father (1:19 ), the creation (1:20 ), and the new creation, the church (1:21–23).150
The Plenitude and Description of His Work (1:19-20)
1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 1:20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—whether things on the earth or things in heaven.
The Son’s Work in Relation to God (1:19)
1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son (literally, “in him”).151
“For” is the subordinating causal conjunction hoti, which introduces the reason why the Son is supreme in the new creation. His supremacy is found not only in Who He is in His person as declared in vss. 15-18, but in God’s purpose to provide salvation totally through the reconciling work of the Son.
Literally, to draw attention to the emphasis, the text reads, “for in Him God was pleased.” This is followed by two declarations regarding what God was pleased to do: (1) that in Him all fullness dwells, and (2) through Him (also emphatic) to reconcile all things…
The subject of the verb, “was pleased,” is not actually expressed in the Greek text and is somewhat uncertain. Some take it to be “God” or “the Father,” others take it to be “Christ,” and some understand the subject to be “fullness.” The NIV and the NET Bible understand the subject of the passage to be God. God was pleased that in Christ all his fullness should dwell.
Perhaps the more difficult question centers in what the “fullness” refers to. “Fullness” is pleroma, and means “the sum total, fullness, plenitude.” “Dwell” is the aorist tense of katoikeo, “to dwell, reside, settle down.” When considered in the light of the simple oikeo “dwell,” or paroikeo, “dwell along side or near,” katoikeo indicates a permanent abode. The aorist here could well be what grammarians call an ingressive aorist, “to take up a permanent abode,” or it could be a constative aorist, a simple reference to the fact that “all fullness resides in Jesus Christ.”
Most expositors understand “fullness” to refer to “the fullness of deity,” that in Christ, the incarnate Son, was the very fullness of God, all the qualities of God’s divine essence. As such it is a powerful affirmation of Christ’s deity, an affirmation that occurs again in 2:9. But this has already been stated in the immediate context and does not seem to fit the context of verse 20 where the subject is now the work of reconciliation. It seems that it might be better to understand “fullness” to refer to the fullness of God’s plan of reconciliation. In other words, Paul is declaring that the fullness of God’s saving grace and provision of salvation resides totally in the work of Christ through the blood of the cross. Nothing else can be added to the work of the Son. Johnson agrees and explains:
The interpretation of pan to pleroma (AV, “all fulness”) is something of a crux interpretum. Most interpreters take “all fulness” to be a reference to the fullness of the Godhead, making this equivalent to the closely related expression in 2:9, where the words tes theotetos (AV, “of the Godhead”) are added. Perhaps the first mention of the expression is to be interpreted by the last in 2:9, but I am not convinced that this is correct. In the first place, the context is not so suitable for a reference to the divine essence at this point. Paul is in the process of giving the reason for the Son’s pre-eminence in the church, and he has indicated that it relates to His redemptive labor (v. 18). To say that He is supreme in the redeemed new creation by virtue of His divine essence seems a bit out of place, especially in the light of the fact that in verse twenty he reverts to His redemptive work under the term of reconciliation. Since the expression probably was in use by the heretical teachers in Colosse in the technical sense of the totality of divine emanations or agencies, the hierarchy of mediators lying between God and man and under whose control men lived, is it not more probable that the expression has reference to our Lord’s redemptive power or position than to His essential nature? Furthermore, Paul has just mentioned Christ’s resurrection in the expression “firstborn from the dead” (v. 18 ). Must not the fullness, then, be that which arises out of His resurrection? By the resurrection He has been constituted God’s saving Redeemer, the one in whom dwells all saving power (cf. Act 5:31; 17:31 ).
In the second place, can it really be said that, in any sense, God was pleased that the divine essence take up its abode in the Son? Is not Eadie right in contending that “…the Divine essence dwelt in Christ unchangeably, and not by the Father’s consent or purpose. It is His in His own right, and not by paternal pleasure”? Were we not right in saying,
“The highest place that heaven affords
Is His, is His by righe’?
Therefore, I think it best to take “all fulness” to refer to that which is official, and not that which is essential. It is the fullness of saving grace and power, which Paul has in mind. It is the fullness that belongs to one constituted a Savior (cf. Acts 2:36; 5:31; 17:31 ). God was pleased that all saving grace and power take up its permanent abode in Him. Then the following verses, which outline His reconciling work (vv. 20–23 ), expand and expound the fullness in its operation.152
This is particularly significant since the false teachers were teaching that Christ’s death or work of the cross was not sufficient for salvation or for sanctification, and that one must also add some form of human religious or ascetic works into the equation for salvation and even sanctification (cf. 2:16-23 and 3:1-4).
The Son’s Work in Relation to All Creation (1:20)
1:20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—whether things on the earth or things in heaven.
“Through Him” is emphatic for emphasis and points to Christ as the sole agent of reconciliation. The false teachers were saying that the angels and emanations could in some way bring men closer to God, but not so; Christ Jesus is the sole means of reconciliation and His death on the cross the sole method that God has chosen to use.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Habakkuk said, “You are too just to tolerate evil; you are unable to condone wrongdoing” (Ha. 1:13). The question, then, is how can sinful man be reconciled to a holy and just God? Those who believe in universalism, the belief that all will one day be saved or reconciled to God, often appeal to God’s love and argue that a good and loving God could never condemn His creatures to eternal separation or judgment. But such an argument ignores other aspects of God’s character as they are revealed to us in Scripture. God’s divine essence involves not only His love and mercy, but also His absolute righteousness, holiness, and justice. Universalists sacrifice God’s righteousness and holiness on the altar of His love and mercy. The result is a god different from the God of the Bible, a tactic that is very consistent with Satan’s distortions. One part of God’s character cannot bypass or ignore another part of His character without going against His very essence.
Is it possible that man can somehow please God by his own good works? No, not at all!! The reason is found in the facts that by nature, man is separated from God (Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:3); by his deeds, he is alienated from God (Col. 1:21); and by his condition, being dead in sin and without life, man is incapacitated and unable to deal with his problem (John 1:12-13; 3:3-6; Eph. 2:1; 4:18-19). If there is to be reconciliation to God, it must come from God Himself.
With the term reconciliation, we are confronted with one of the key words of Scripture that deal with God’s salvation for man. Reconciliation means the sinner, separated and alienated from God by the barrier of sin, death, and God’s holy character, can be restored to fellowship with a holy God. How? Through that which God has done for man in His Son, Jesus Christ. This work of God in Christ results in the reconciliation of the believing sinner to God. But precisely and biblically just what does the doctrine of reconciliation include? What does reconciliation itself mean? Who is reconciled, how, when, and where? These are some of the questions that need to be answered.
The English word “reconcile” means “to cause to be friendly again; to bring back to harmony, make peace.” The Greek words for reconciliation are tremendously enlightening. There is katallasso, the verb, and katallage, the noun. These words come from kata, which means “down,” and allasso, which means “to change” or “exchange.” Thus, katallasso means “to change from enmity or disharmony to friendship and harmony,” or “to reconcile” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-19). Then there is apokatallasso, the term used here in Colossian 1:20. This is a triple compound word because it adds the preposition apo, “from.” It does not occur in earlier Greek and seems to be used by Paul to express the idea of the completeness of reconciliation (Eph. 2:6; Col. 1:20-21). We can properly translate it “to reconcile completely.”153
Each of these Greek words primarily referred to a one-way kind of reconciliation, one accomplished by one person or party. This is important because the Greeks had a word, diallasso, that referred to a two-way or mutual reconciliation—one dependent upon the work of both parties. Diallasso “denotes a mutual concession after mutual hostility, an idea absent from katall-.”154 Though katallasso could be used of a reconciliation between people (1 Cor. 7:11), the exclusive choice of the katalasso family of words for the reconciliation of the sinner stresses that salvation is totally the work of God that man may either accept by faith or reject, but either way, salvation is a work not partly of man and partly of God as it might occur between people, but totally, 100%, a work accomplished by God through His Son, the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17-19; Rom. 5:11). This is why this section, vss. 19-20, has been defined in the outline as “The Plenitude and Description of His Work.”
It is, therefore, quite significant that Paul never looks at reconciliation as mutual concession after mutual hostility. Reconciliation is manward, not Godward, in its direction. It is God’s reconciling of man “unto himself” (v. 20 ). God never has had need to be reconciled to man; He has always loved man. It is easy to see the importance of holding right views here, since our attitude to Christ’s work and our very idea of God are affected. From the beginning of the revelation of God, when, after the fall, He came seeking the rebellious first man and his wife with the loving call, “Where art thou?” (Gen 3:9) to our Lord’s plaintive lament over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt 23:37, italics added), the message of God is the message of a loving God who seeks and desires to save the lost. Our Lord did not come in order that God might love men, but because God loved men!155
The concept of reconciliation is, of course, not limited to the words reconcile or reconciliation. When Scripture speaks of “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1), of Christ as “our peace” (Eph. 2:14), and of His work of “establishing peace” (Eph. 2:15-17), this is reconciliation, the work of God in Christ to remove the enmity and alienation that separates God and man (Rom. 5:1-11).
Since, for the apostle, reconciliation is always to God (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:19; Eph. 2:16), the words “to himself” (eis auton) would stress this fact. God is not reconciled; He is propitiated. It is mankind, through faith in Christ, that is reconciled to God.
In short, reconciliation is the finished and whole work of God through Christ Jesus by which man is brought from the place of enmity to harmony or peace with God (Rom. 5:1). There are other terms used in Scripture of God’s gracious work in Christ like redemption, justification, regeneration, and propitiation, but reconciliation seems to be the over-all term of Scripture which encompasses all the other terms as a part of what God has done through the Lord Jesus to completely remove the enmity or alienation, the whole of the barrier (sin, God’s holiness, death, unrighteousness, etc.). It is this work that sets God free to justify the believing sinner by faith in Christ so there is peace with God, the change of relationship from hostility to harmony. “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
In the light of this definition and explanation of reconciliation, several things need to be kept in mind. First, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, like Colossians 1:19-20, teaches us that reconciliation is all from God through Christ. It is the work of God apart from man’s works. Second, as evidenced by the last words of the Savior when on the cross, “It is finished,” so 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 shows that it is a completed or finished work. It’s a done deal because the Savior has accomplished all that needs to be done to provide salvation. Third, as obvious from Colossians 1:20, the cross is the place, and a vital and necessary part of reconciliation. This is evident in the words, “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20, cf. also Eph. 2:14-18). It is on the cross that Christ became our substitute and paid the penalty for our sin. Fourth, though it is a finished work, people must trust in this work of reconciliation by personal faith in order for reconciliation to be effective for any individual (Rom. 5:2-10; 2 Cor. 5:20).
Finally, this work of reconciliation extends to “all things…whether things on earth or things in heaven.” This shows that God’s reconciliation is not limited to humankind, but we must not assume that this verse teaches universalism or universal salvation, for this would be quite contrary to the rest of Scripture. As Wiersbe explains,
Universalism” is the teaching that all beings, including those who have rejected Jesus Christ, will one day be saved. This was not what Paul believed. “Universal restorationism” was not a part of Paul’s theology, for he definitely taught that sinners needed to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved (2 Thes. 1).156
So what do the words “all things” and “whether things on earth or things in heaven” refer to? In keeping with the apostle’s own teaching, this must be understood in the light of Romans 8:18-23.
8:18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 8:19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 8:21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 8:23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
The answer to the problem is probably to be found in Paul’s words in Romans 8:18–23. The apostle sees man and the creation linked together, and man’s sin has affected the whole creation (cf. Gen 3:17–19). Since Paul elsewhere states that the church shall judge angels (cf. 1 Cor 6:3), apparently even the angelic world is involved in defilement (cf. Job 4:18 [?]; 15:15; 25:5). Answering to this, the reconciling work affects not only man, but the whole created universe. When man’s redemption according to the divine program for the age is completed, then that redemption shall be extended to the physical creation. Just as sin and creation’s curse occurred in history, so shall redemption and creation’s deliverance occur in history. The earthly kingdom, therefore, is a necessary issue of the redemption of man. The creation itself groans and travails in pain as it awaits the day of its redemption (cf. Rom 8:22). As sin brought upon it the curse, so redemption leads to the glorious day when “the wilderness and solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isa 35:1). The significance of this in the Colossian situation is patent: The angels, far from being true objects of worship (2:18 ), are themselves in need of the effects of the Savior’s ministry!157
That Christ reconciles “all things…whether things on earth or things in heaven” points to the completeness of the plan of God for the universe. This will include the defeat of the enemies of God as described in Revelation 6-19, and the new heavens and earth to be created following the millennial reign of Christ (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1), but we dare not miss the fact that the method and means for this is the blood of the cross (Col. 1:20) through God’s sinless Lamb (John 1:29). This truth is beautifully portrayed in the scene depicted in Revelation 5.158 In the right hand of the sovereign God who sits on the throne is a seven-sealed scroll. Many believe that the seven-sealed book contains the story of man losing his lordship over the earth to Satan, the usurper, and its recovery through the God-man Savior, the Lion who is also the Lamb. As the Lamb who was slain, but is alive, He alone is able to accomplish what no one else in the universe can. This is why John is seen sobbing. At first, it appears that no one can recover what has been lost. But through the judgments described in chapters 6-19, which are the judgments of the seven-sealed scroll, the trumpets, and bowls, the Lamb defeats all the enemies of God and comes forth as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). Taken primarily from the book of Hebrews, the following may help to demonstrate the picture.
(1) As originally intended by God, the earth and its dominion properly belonged to Adam and to his progeny or descendants (Gen. 1:26-30; Heb. 2:7-8). In this we see the Divine Purpose for Man Decreed (Heb. 2:6-8a)
(2) God never intended for angels, either the good angels, or Satan and the fallen angels under his control, to rule over the earth and the human race (Heb. 2:5, 8b, 14-15; Rev. 9:1-11; 12:1-10). Because of the fall, we see the Divine Purpose Delayed (Heb. 2:8b), “But now we do not see all things subjected to him.”
(3) Therefore, someone must be found within humanity, a kinsman redeemer, who qualified to reclaim the lost inheritance, someone who was true humanity, yet free and able to redeem—not a sinful man or an angel (Heb. 2:9, 14-17). Note the elements of worthiness and redemption in Rev. 5:9-10. In this we see the Divine Purpose for Man Accomplished (paradise lost is regained) (Heb. 2:9, 14, 17).
In this study and the previous one, we have seen Paul’s declaration of the person and work of the Savior, the Son of God’s love. This has focused on a number of wonderful facts Christ in His person and work that may be outlined as follows.159
Six Titles of Christ
In relation to God:
1. The Son of His love: the very Son of God and the place where the Father’s love abides (vs. 13)
2. Image: the exact and visible Expression of God (vs. 15a)
In relation to Creation
3. Firstborn: the Supreme Lord and Sovereign over all creation (vs. 15b)
In relation to the Church:
4. Head: the undisputed Authority and Ruler of the body of Christ (vs. 18a)
In relation to the new creation:
5. The Beginning: the creative Pioneer and constant Source (vs. 18:b)
6. The Firstborn: the Pioneer of a resurrection to immortality (vs. 18c)
The Work of God in Reconciliation
The Author of reconciliation: “God was pleased that all fullness dwell in him” (vs. 19a)
The Agent: “through him (Christ)” (vs. 20a)
The Means and Method: “though the blood of His cross” (vs. 20b)
The Accomplishment: “by making peace (fellowship with God)” (vs. 20b)
The Scope: “all things…whether things on earth or things in heaven” (vs. 20a, c)
The Goal: “to himself” (God)” (vs. 20a)
The late Dr. M.R. DeHaan, noted radio Bible teacher, told about a preacher who was confronted by a cultist who rejected the deity of Jesus Christ.
“Jesus cannot be the eternal Son of God, for a father is always older than his son,” the man argued. “If the Father is not eternal, then He is not God. If Jesus is His Son, then He is not eternal.”
The preacher was ready with an answer. “The thing that makes a person a father is having a son. But if God is the eternal Father, then He must have an eternal Son! This means that Jesus Christ is eternal—and that He is God!”160
But the blessed assurance is found in not only knowing that our Savior is God, the Beloved Son of God, but that God was pleased to have all the fullness of salvation to permanently reside in the person and work of His Son rather than in our record of good works or religious rituals. I’m reminded of the old hymn entitled, No Other Plea:
My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.
I need no other argument, I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me.161
How comforting it is to know that our Savior, who has redeemed us by His grace and has promised to never leave us or forsake us, is also the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Nothing is outside of His control. Indeed, His sovereignty or kingdom extends over everything (cf. Ps. 103:19). No matter what this life may bring, He is in charge and working all things together for good according to His infinite wisdom and purposes. And that good is ultimately His honor and our growth, which fundamentally means being conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:28-29).
150 S. Lewis Johnson, "Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, Part I," Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, vol. 119, #474, April 62), 141.
151 While the Grk Text actually has “in him”; the referent (the Son; see v. 13) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
152 Johnson, 142.
153 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1960), p. 51.
154 Abbott-Smith, p. 109.
155 Johnson, 143-144.
156 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Complete (Victor Books, Wheaton, Ill., 1986), 56.
157 Johnson, 145. To his comments, Johnson adds the following footnote: Cf. H. C. G. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon, p. 86. There is here, of course, no implication that angels know the experience of redemption, No angel will ever be able to sing, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” The thought, rather, seems to move in the sphere of defilement. The second di autou (AV, “by him, I say”) further stresses the fact that the work is through Christ, not through angels.
158 For a detailed study of this scene, see the author’s discussion of Revelation 5 in Studies In Revelation on the BSF website.
159 With some changes, this material was taken from Murray J. Harris’ work on Colossian, Colossians and Philemon, An Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1991), 55.
160 Wiersbe, 58.
161 Words by Lidie H. Edmunds, 19th Century, Arr. by William J. Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921, Worship and Service Hymnal (Hope Publishing Company, Chicago, 1957), 254.
Related Topics: Christology