Christ, the Work of Christ, and the Mystery

Col. 1:15-2915Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20And, 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. 21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23If 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; 24Who 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: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To 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: 28Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:15‑29).
The Colossian saints were in danger of being drawn away from Christ by philosophy and vain deceit, thus losing the consciousness of the fullness of their resources in Christ the Head, as well as the true relation of the assembly to Christ as His body. To meet these snares the Spirit of God, in this portion of the epistle, seeks to attract our hearts to Christ by unfolding the glories of His Person, the greatness of His work and the glory of the mystery.
Vv. 15-17. Already the apostle has brought before us the Son in relation to the Father, as the One under whose sway believers have been brought; now he sets before us the glories of the Son in relation to God. He is the image of the invisible God. In His essential Deity God is invisible; but in His moral being God has been perfectly made known in the Son become flesh. "The Only Begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father he hath declared Him." None but a Divine Person is adequate to fully reveal a Divine Persona Not until the Son carne into the world could the Father's heart be declared.
Scripture speaks of "image" and "likeness"; the difference is that likeness is being like another-having the same traits and features; "image" gives the thought of representing another, whether like or not. God said, "Let us make man in our image after our likeness." Adam was like God, in that he was made sinless; he was also in the image of God, in that he represented God as being the center of a system over which he was to have dominion. Man is still said to be in the "image of God" (1 Cor. 11:77For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. (1 Corinthians 11:7)), though, as fallen, he is very unlike God. The Son is never said to be in the likeness of the invisible God, for He is God, and to say that He is like God might imply that He is not really God. Nevertheless, the Son is "the image of the invisible God," and One who in His own Person, perfectly represents God in His character and moral attributes, before the whole universe.
Secondly, there passes before us the glories of the Son in relation to the whole created universe. Having come into creation, the Son is "the firstborn of all creation" (N. Tn.). The word "firstborn" is often used in Scripture, as with ourselves, to signify priority in time-the one who comes first. Scripture also uses the word to signify preeminence and dignity. God speaks of Ephraim as "My firstborn," though, historically, Manasseh was Joseph's first-begotten son (Jer. 31:99They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. (Jeremiah 31:9)). Again it is said of David, "I will make him my firstborn higher than the kings of the earth" (Psa. 89:2727Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. (Psalm 89:27)). Here the word is used to express the pre-eminence of David over the kings of the earth, and thus a figure of Christ. If the son comes into the creation He must of necessity have pre-eminence in position and dignity above every created being, and, in this sense, He is called "the Firstborn of all creation.”
Moreover, we are told why the Son has thus the supreme place as the Firstborn. "For by Him were all things created," whether in heaven or on earth; whether seen or beyond the limits of our vision; whether material powers, or spiritual powers. Further, not only were all things created by Him, they were also created "for Him," as equally for the Father. Then we are further guarded against the infidel thoughts of men who may profess to believe in His pre-eminence over creation, and yet say that He, Himself, had a beginning; for we are definitely told, "He is before all things." This statement tells us in no uncertain terms of the divine and eternal glory of the Son. We are carried back to a time when there was nothing created that has been created, to learn not merely "He was," but "He is." These are words that while they forbid the thought that "He began" or that "He was made," plainly tell us of His eternal existence as the Son. Lastly, in relation to creation we are told, "All things subsist together by Him" (N. Tn.). Not only do created things subsist, but they "subsist together." The vast creation is sustained by the Son in all its several parts as one harmonious whole. Men would use what they speak of as the laws of nature to shut the Creator out of His universe; but apart from the sustaining power of the Son all would dissolve into ruin. Doubtless there are laws by which God maintains the universe, for God is a God of order, and possibly amidst all men's changing speculations they may have partially discovered some of these laws. But we may ask if gravity is one of these laws, by which the earth is held in its orbit round the sun, Who is it that sustains gravity? Scripture answers, "By Him all things subsist.”
Thus coming into creation the Son takes the place of supremacy as the firstborn, for all things were created by Him, and for Him, and He is before all, and by Him all things subsist.
Vv. 18, 19. Thirdly there is brought before us the glories of the Son in relation to the assembly. "He is the Head of the body, the church." Here we are carried in thought beyond the earth, and beyond death. To be the Head of the church it is not enough that the Son should come into creation and take His place as pre-eminent in the world His hands had made; He must go further, even into death, and become pre-eminent in resurrection, thus to become the beginning of a new creation beyond the power of death. In this new scene He associates with Himself His assembly.
There is, as we have seen, the pre-eminence that belongs to Him in creation by reason of who He is: there is also the pre-eminence that He has acquired by reason of the work He has accomplished. Thus in all things He has the pre-eminence—"For in Him all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell" (N. Tn.). Very blessedly He revealed the Father; but He did more. He revealed the Godhead—the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for in Him the "fullness" dwelt.
V. 20. Having brought before us the glories of the Person of the Son, the apostle passes on to speak of the glories of His work. Even as the glory of His Person is presented first in connection with the creation, and then in connection with the assembly, so the glory of His work has this double aspect. First His work is seen in relation to creation (v. 20), then as it affects those who form the assembly (vv. 21, 22).
All creation has been affected by the fall. Sin has defiled the whole universe; and a defiled creation must be unsuited to God. So we read in another Scripture, "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom. 8:2222For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. (Romans 8:22)). It is God's good pleasure to reconcile all things to the Godhead, so that everything being in accord with His mind, He will at last view the vast universe with complacent delight.
To remove the pain and discord of creation it was not enough that the Son should become incarnate. He must go into death. It can only be "through the blood of His cross" that a ruined creation can be reconciled to God. The blood has been shed, and put upon the mercy seat, and thus peace has been made before God. How otherwise could God have righteously borne with a defiled creation since the fall? Nevertheless we wait to see the full application of this work to creation.
V. 21. Apart, however, from created things there are those who form the assembly. Created things bear witness to the defiling character of sin; persons are also alienated in their minds by wicked works. In further contrast to created things we learn that believers are already reconciled. The work of Christ has not only removed our sins, but brought us into a condition before God in which He can view us with complacency, as "holy and unblameable unreproveable." This is how we are viewed by the Godhead as in Christ. Alas! in our practical ways we are too often far from being unblameable and unreproveable.
V. 23. The truth of reconciliation supposes that we are true believers.? A reality that is proved by continuing in the faith. The apostle speaks, not of the individual's faith, but, of the common faith the truth believed. If a man who has professed the truth gives up the common faith, we cannot absolutely pronounce upon the individual faith of his soul. We can, however, judge of the faith he owns, as to whether it is the truth or not. One has said, "A person may be sincere in what is wrong, or insincere in what is right; but the truth is an unbending standard. If one judged on the ground of an individual's heart, one could never speak at all; for of that who can pronounce but God? If one acts on the ground of the faith, the moment a man goes against the truth, giving up what he professed, we are bound to judge it leaving the question of his heart's faith in God's hands.”
As the Colossians were in danger of departing from the truth, the warning is given to continue. If they give up the truth no one would have a right to view them as having part in those who are reconciled. Hence the warning not to be moved from the hope of the gospel. The hope of the gospel is in heaven, in contrast to Israel's hopes that are on earth. There were those who were attempting to beguile these saints from their heavenly hopes by the adoption of asceticism, feasts, and ordinances, which connected them with earth. Such teaching was not according to the gospel that they had heard, and of which Paul had been made a minister.
Having presented the glory of the Person of Christ, and the glory of His work, the apostle now completes the truth by presenting the glory of the mystery. The glory and the pre-eminence of the Person of Christ have been presented first in connection with creation, and then in relation to the assembly. The glory of His work has also been presented in connection with these two spheres creation and the assembly. Now the apostle presents the ministry of the truth in this double aspect-first, the ministry of the gospel to "the whole creation which is under heaven" (N. Tn.); secondly the ministry of the mystery to the saints.
V. 24. The ministry of the truth of the mystery had brought the apostle into prison; and in connection with this great truth, he filled up what was behind of the afflictions of Christ, and completed the Word of God. The truth of the assembly, more than any other truth, exposed the apostle to persecution and suffering, especially from the Jew. The truth that set aside the religion of the Jew and the philosophy of the Gentile—that paid no respect to the flesh in either, and proclaimed grace to all—was abhorrent to both. This hatred found its expression in persecution and a prison.
Christ had, indeed, in His great love suffered for the church on the Cross. The apostle, in his love for the assembly had suffered for proclaiming the truth of the mystery. However great and perfect the atoning sufferings of Christ, it was no part of His service of love to publicly proclaim the truth of the mystery. This awaited His new place in the glory, and the coming of the Spirit. Then the apostle takes up this service of love, with the sufferings entailed, and thus fills up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ.
Moreover, the truth of the mystery completes the great circle of subjects comprised in the Word of God. This entirely excludes any other subjects that men may seek to introduce as truth or development of truth. One has said, "The circle of truths which God had to treat, in order to reveal to us the glory of Christ and to give us complete instruction according to His wisdom, is entire, when the doctrine of the assembly is revealed" (J.N.D.).
This great truth the assembly composed of believers taken from Jews and Gentiles and formed into one body, united to Christ as a glorified Man, to form a heavenly company-had been hid from ages and generations. It was unknown through all the past dispensations, and unrevealed to the generations of God's people, or even to Angelic hosts. When God was dealing with Jews and Gentiles as such, how could a truth be revealed that sets aside both to form a new and heavenly company?
Now it is manifested to saints, to whom God would make known not only the mystery, or the glory of the mystery, but, "the riches of the glory of this mystery." The apostle, writing to those who were called from among the Gentiles, specially presses that it is made known among the Gentiles, and then emphasizes the side of the truth, so needed by these Gentiles believers, that the mystery involves the great truth "Christ in you the hope of glory.”
It is true that the mystery also involves the great truth that the saints are represented in Christ-the Head (compare Eph. 3:6,116That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: (Ephesians 3:6)
11According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: (Ephesians 3:11)
), but the truth that Christ dwells in the hearts of the saints, and that His character is to be seen in them, was the truth most needed by the Colossian saints to meet their dangers. This great truth is the hope of glory, where Christ will so perfectly be displayed in His people, as we read, "He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" (2 Thess. 1:1010When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. (2 Thessalonians 1:10)). It is important to keep clearly before our souls the two great aspects of the mystery, as unfolded in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Firstly, it is the purpose of God that in the church there should be a company of saints in heaven who share the exaltation and acceptance of Christ—the Head. This is developed in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 2:6;36And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:6)). Secondly it is the purpose of God that the character and moral beauty of Christ—the Head, should be displayed in the church—His body, now on earth, as well as in the coming glory. This is the great truth developed in the Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 1:26, 2726Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To 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: (Colossians 1:26‑27)).
Vv. 28, 29. In the meantime Paul preached Christ, warned and taught every man, to the end that each saint might reflect Christ and thus be "perfect in Christ," an expression which implies a full grown Christian.