Some of the biggest moments in our lives can seem on the surface kind of ordinary and insignificant. One of the big moments of my life was when I was 16 years old and I signed my name to something and then I stood in front of a blue sheet and got my picture taken and then a lady behind a desk handed me a piece of paper and said “This is your temporary one. The permanent one is coming in the mail,” and told me to have a good day. May seem kind of insignificant. But it was big moment, because at that moment I was licensed and qualified to drive a motor vehicle by myself on public roads. From that moment on I no longer had to walk to and from school. From that moment on the world beyond a 2 mile radius of myself was accessible to me as long I had my parent’s permission. And at that very moment my coolness level I think went up 5 notches. Another big moment was when I was holding Ally’s hands in front of a bunch of people and next to a preacher and I just simply said, “I do.” It was just 2 words. And I signed a paper. And man, did that have big implications for my life ever since! Another big moment was walking into a court room with Ally and little Noah who was only 6 months old, and there was Kim Christopherson (our lawyer) and a man dressed in a black thing behind a big podium and some other people. And few words were said and we took a picture and were only there for a couple minutes and we walked out. But that was a big moment because at the moment Noah officially legally became our son, and all parental rights were ours.
The picture up here is from a few weeks ago. This is Kim’s cousin in-law Julie rising from the water at Vince Ellingson’s hot tube after being baptized in the name of Christ. (And Julie is planning on moving here soon by the way, and being a part of our congregation.) But on the surface this may look like an insignificant occasion, like she just got wet. But this was a big moment for her. In fact this was the most significant moment of her life. At this moment the God of heaven and earth did some huge eternally significant things on her behalf in the unseen spirit realm. And all of us who have done what she did, all of us who have, with faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and commitment to live according to His will, obeyed His command to be baptized in His name, we’ve had an equally significant moment.
Let’s read what God had done for the Colossian Christians when they responded to the gospel like Julie and like many of us have in faith and obedience. Picking up in the second half of Colossians 1:12 it says that “the Father… has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” All this big stuff, this qualifying and rescuing and transferring and redemption all takes place at the same moment. But it can’t be seen. It all takes place in the spirit realm. On the surface it might seem like a person is just getting wet. But God is doing all of this.
I want to show you something about this language that Paul uses here and where I think he got it from. Acts 26, Paul is making a defense for himself before King Agrippa and host of other leading men and women, and in his defense he tells of the appearance of the risen Lord Jesus to him on the road to Damascus. And at Acts 26:18 Paul is quoting what Jesus said to him on that occasion about the job He had for him to do in this world. v18 is what Jesus told Paul He was sending him to do among the Gentiles, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” Doesn’t that language sound a lot like Colossians 1:12-14? Look at all the words that you see in both passages. “Inheritance”, “saints” in Colossians 1:12 is the same as “those who have been sanctified” in Acts 26:18,” light”, “darkness”, “from the domain” or “dominion” (same word in the Greek text of both verses), “darkness”, “forgiveness of sins”.
I point that out to just reemphasize that Paul was not just writing what he thought about stuff. Paul was writing what had been directly revealed to him by the risen Lord Jesus. Paul was conveying to the Colossians and indirectly to us the word of the Ruler of all Creation. That needs to register. You need to feel that when you read what Paul says.
Have you responded to the gospel in faith and obedience? Then this is what the Father has done for you. Let’s take a closer look at it.
He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints.
We understand what it means to be qualified for something. To be qualified for a driver’s license means you have met a certain vision requirement and scored so well on the written exam and so well on the actual driving test. All the requirements are met. To be qualified for a job means you have all the necessary licenses and education and training and ability for the job. Like that, we are qualified, we are sufficient, we have everything we need, all the requirements are met for us to share in the inheritance of the saints. And we didn’t qualify ourselves. God did it for us. God fulfilled all the requirements and applied them to us. God made us sufficient to share this inheritance.
Now, this language of sharing in an inheritance refers to the kind of thing the people of Israel did in the OT when they took possession of the land of Canaan. That whole land of Canaan was called their inheritance, because God gave that land to them. They didn’t earn it. It was a gift. God freed them from slavery in Egypt and God sustained them in the wilderness and brought them to the land and God was with them and fought for them against the inhabitants of the land to drive them out. God gave them the land. It was their inheritance. And God divided that land up and gave each tribe of Israel a potion of it. They shared the inheritance.
God has qualified us Christians to share an inheritance like that with the rest of His people. But that doesn’t mean we’re each going to get a few acres in the land of Palestine. There’s a another promised land.
When you think about taking a vacation to just the perfect place what comes to mind? Beautiful palm trees and white sand and pure clear ocean water, gardens, 75-80 degrees, slight breeze, everything just restful and peaceful? Do you realize that in the beginning God made a place even better than we can imagine? It was called Eden. The Hebrew word Eden means pleasure, luxury, delight. It was a wonderful perfect paradise of a place. It says that everything was very good. There was no curse on the earth. There were no thorns or thistles. Man didn’t have to work so hard just to eat. Woman didn’t have the childbearing pain. And there was the tree of life. Man and woman never ever had to die. Can you imagine that? And God lived with them. They walked and talked together. But man sinned and we lost all of that.
But the promised land that God will give to His people as an inheritance is a new heavens and a new earth in which we get all that back. II Peter 3:13, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Acts 3:21, Peter says of Christ, “whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” There are those prophecies of wolves lying down with lambs and children playing on the holes of cobras and they will be no evil or harm in all My holy mountain (Isaiah 11:6-10). And the prophecy “He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:8). And the prophecy that says Behold I create a new heavens and a new earth… and behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness. I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying (Isaiah 65:17-18). There are those visions in the prophets of paradise regained.
Listen to these statements from the end of the Bible. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away’… He who overcomes will inherit these things [This is our inheritance]… On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face… and they will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 21:1-4,7; 22:2-5)
If we’re Christians like the Colossians to whom Paul wrote, God has qualified us to share that perfect world to come with Him and His people forever.
Now, what was involved in qualifying us? Let’s notice some other things here that God did.
He has brought us from darkness to light.
Notice the word “light” at the end of v12, which is where the saints are. The saints are in light. And that’s in contrast to the “darkness” mentioned in v13 where we used to be. God turned the lights on for us. God enabled us to see a lot of stuff that we couldn’t see before. He did that by bringing us in contact with the gospel. The gospel enlightened us to see that God really does love us despite our unworthiness and He proved it in the death of Christ for our sins. It enlightened us to see that He has so much more in mind for us than a short meaningless life on this earth, that we’ve been created to be loved by God and love Him in return, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. He’s enlightened us to see how to live, the path to take in life, to see what God is looking for in a human being in Jesus. He’s enlightened us to see what matters and what doesn’t.
What else did God do to qualify us?
He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
The word “domain” is another way to refer to a kingdom. This domain or kingdom of darkness Jesus described another way when speaking to Paul on the Damascus road. Do you remember? He said, “Paul, I’m sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God…” The domain or dominion of darkness is the dominion of Satan, the kingdom of Satan.
What all does that mean to be in the kingdom of Satan as we once were? What is that situation? I know it includes that our minds and lifestyles were heavily influenced by Satan. I know it includes that we were destined to go with Satan and his angels to where they’re going. Matthew 25:41 on the judgment day Jesus will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” But is there more to being in the kingdom of Satan than just that you’re heavily influenced by him and you’re going ultimately where he is going? Could it be that Satan can do things to those in his kingdom that he not allowed to do those in God’s kingdom? Could it be that even in this life there are protections and securities from Satan in the kingdom of Christ that those in Satan’s kingdom do not have? You know, Satan had to ask permission to kill Job’s children and take his possessions and afflict him boils. Satan told God in Job 1:10, “Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side?” Satan couldn’t touch him without God’s permission. But was that “hedge” a special protection Job had as one in God’s kingdom? Are those in Satan’s kingdom not so shielded? I John 5:19 does says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” I don’t know. I don’t know what all it means to be in the dominion of Satan.
But like God rescued the Israelites from the kingdom of Pharaoh who was afflicting them and controlling their lives, God has rescued us from the kingdom of Satan. And He has changed our citizenship over to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
And v14 is a blessing of citizenship in the kingdom of Christ.
In Christ we have redemption.
Redemption means being bought out of slavery or captivity, being set free by somebody else paying the price. And the freedom bought for us that Paul has in mind is freedom from our sins, because he clarifies this redemption as “the forgiveness of sins.”
God sees you and treats you as though you’ve never offended Him before, as though you have no debt to Him at all, as though you lived the perfect life that Jesus lived, though you haven’t at all.
This is why we’re qualified to share the inheritance, because in the kingdom of Christ His blood washes away all our sin.
Now, it appears from the clues we have in this letter, that these truths were ones that the Colossian Christians were not for sure about. They were not for sure that in the kingdom of Christ, that Christ totally takes care of their sin problem and makes them fit to share in the inheritance of God’s people. They weren’t for sure that Christ is sufficient to make us sufficient to live with God in the hereafter. They were being told that they’re not qualified to be with God unless they’re circumcised and keep the Jewish law and unless they fast more often and treat their bodies more severally and they need to attain the help of certain angels as well and they need A, B, C and D in addition to Christ or they’re not qualified. So what Paul does in the next 6 verses is he describes who Christ is to show that if you’ve got Christ you’ve got everything you need and more.
How big is Jesus? How powerful is He? How qualified is He to qualify us to live with God? What are His credentials? What’s on His resume? We’ll just get a taste of it here. We’ll just look at the first couple of things Paul says about Christ in this incredible description of Him.
He is the image of the invisible God.
He makes visible the invisible God. When you see Jesus stooping down and writing in the dirt instead of condemning a woman who has been caught in the sin of adultery, you are seeing something about God. You are seeing that God is merciful. When you see Jesus give strength and usefulness to the legs of a man who had been paralyzed from his birth and telling this man “Your sins are forgiven,” you’re seeing the something of the grace of God. When you see Jesus weeping outside the tomb of Lazarus because of how much people are hurting over his death, you’re seeing something of the compassion of God. When you see Jesus eating with and befriending tax collectors and sinners, and washing the feet of these disciples who were so slow to learn not understanding or believing things He’d been telling them, and washing the feet of Judas who would betray Him that very night, you’re seeing something of the kindness and patience of God. When you see Jesus making a scourge of cords and driving the money changers and animals out of the temple, you are seeing something of the wrath of God and the righteousness of God. When you see Jesus suspended between heaven and earth nailed to a cross and asking the Father to forgive the people who did it to Him, you are seeing the love of God. And when you go to the empty tomb or you go to that room with the 11 and you see the imprints of the nails and the hole in His side, you are seeing the very power of God over our greatest enemy, death. Jesus has made God more visible to us. Jesus has revealed God to us.
You remember His conversation with Philip on the night of His betrayal? Philip said, “Jesus, just give us a glimpse of the Father and it will be enough for us.” And Jesus said, “Philip, you’ve got to be kidding me! I’ve been with you 3 years and you still don’t know who I am? If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” (Jn 14:8-9). As Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”
An application of that that would have been helpful for the Colossians is that this means if Christ says we’re okay then God says we’re okay. All that Christ requires of us is all that God requires of us. However Christ feels about us, whatever His opinion is of us, that’s how God feels about us, that’s God’s opinion of us, because Christ is the image of God, the exact representation of His nature.
Then Paul says…
He is the firstborn of all creation.
The title of firstborn in the Bible can mean 1 of 2 things. It can, of course, refer to the order in which one was born in relation to their siblings, that one was the first one born among others. Some understanding it that way in this verse say that Jesus was the first being created.
But the title firstborn did not necessary mean literally first one to be born. It came to be used often to refer to the status that one had over others. In ancient times the first one to be born was exalted and honored over the other siblings. The first one to be born would be given a double share of the inheritance and normally would become the manager or leader of the family. And so the title firstborn was used to refer to the one who was exalted over all the others, the one who had preeminence and status and privilege over all the others, whether that one was literally the first one to be born or not.
Let me give you 3 passages to prove that to you, so you’re not just taking my word for it. These would be good ones to write in your margin next to Colossians 1:15 to be able to show how the term firstborn was often used.
- Exodus 4:22, “Then you [Moses] shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.'” That didn’t mean Israel was the first nation to come into existence. Egypt and other nations existed before Israel ever became a nation. But by calling Israel “My firstborn,” God was saying that He had decided to exalt and honor and privilege Israel over all other nations of the earth.
- Psalm 89:27 is about King David (cf 89:20). And God says of David, “I also shall make him [David] My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Now, David was not literally the first one born in his family. He was actually the youngest. He had 7 older brothers (I Sam 16:10-11). But God made him His firstborn in the sense that He exalted him to be the highest of the kings of the earth. See, firstborn often meant the highest one, the preeminent one, the one exalted over all the others, and had nothing to do with birth order.
- And then there’s Hebrews 12:23 where the church is described as “the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven“. And the word firstborn in Hebrews 12:23 is plural. It could be “the church of the firstborn ones who are enrolled in heaven.” As Christians were are the firstborn ones of the world. That doesn’t mean we’re all the first to be born among our siblings. It means that God has exalted and honored and privileged us over everybody else in the world.
- (Study also Genesis 41:50-52; 48:1-20; Jeremiah 31:7-9)
So is Colossians 1:15 saying that Jesus was the first one to be created, or is it saying that He has been exalted over all others, that He is the preeminent one, the highest one? Well, I think Paul indicates to us that it’s the latter, because in the next verse Paul says “For by Him all things were created…” He is not created. He is the creator.
Now, I’ve discussed this with some Jehovah Witnesses who wanted to tell me that Jesus is a created being and this is their primary text to try to show that. And they say that God first created Jesus and then Jesus created everything else. But that can’t be, because of passages like Isaiah 44:24, “Thus says the LORD [their version will says “Jehovah”. It’s God’s name in the Hebrew, YHVH], your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the LORD [Jehovah], am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone‘“. (See also Isaiah 45:12,18). If Jehovah made all things, stretched out the heavens and spread out the earth all by Himself, all alone, and Colossians 1:16 says that by Christ all things were created, then what does that make Christ? Jehovah, YHVH. He is God who emptied Himself of the prerogatives of being God and became a human being to show us who God is and what God desires of a human being and to die for our sins.
So He is the firstborn not in the sense of the first one created. He was not created. But in the sense that He is the highest, the preeminent, the most honored one over all creation.
So if Jesus says, “You’re forgiven,” if Jesus says, “You’re qualified for the inheritance,” if Jesus says, “You’re good. You’re safe,” there is no other being in all the universe, in heaven or on earth, visible or invisible, no throne or dominion or ruler or authority that can argue with Jesus or change what Jesus has decided.
– James Williams